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Planning Essentials

It’s hard to underestimate importance of planning. It is (or should be) integral part of any conscious activity that requires more than 1 step and implies a target. Especially when we deal with complex processes of various kinds. Contemporary prejudice about planning is that it’s only relevant to big projects like construction, IT, space exploration, military operations, massive production etc. However any activity that involves setting up a goal and steps to achieve it requires planning.

Why is it necessary? Because we need to:
1. Estimate approximate date/time to reach the goal
2. Understand what/who is required to achieve the goal
3. Measure success or failure
4. Review and adjust the plan if needed.

So planning may help not only at work, but also in personal life which will in turn positively influence our so-called work-life balance.

Planning should only serve one purpose – reaching as close as possible to the target. Very often this idea is being overlooked and buried under a pile of wrong approaches to planning. Some of them are:

a) Assumption that one size fits all when using planning patterns and templates
b) Planning for the sake of planning which happens when work is only consists of planning
c) Underestimation which is worse that overestimation
d) Using unrealistic data when planning.

It’s very easy to start spending time on planning and re-planning and shuffling of steps without any benefit to the process of reaching a goal or use planning activities that are not relevant to the project or goal that is currently being implemented.

Consider the following examples.

Example 1. A project starts with a planned party after successful completion on a certain date. Both vendor and customer representatives are invited by project manager. Half way through the build phase problems arose that affected both delivery date and relationships between customer and vendor. The project manager though kept having that party in the calendar. Finally there was neither a party nor project completion.

Example 2. After some project start the decision of how to name certain Web sites and areas of final product took 90% of project time. That affected the whole process and people in delivery team spent days and nights trying to resolve the problems and finish the project in time.

Example 3. Very often complaints are heard that our politicians don’t know how to don the budget, that their policies are wrong etc. Question – how many people know how much money they earn and spend per month or week for what and how they plan to manage that money next year or five years ahead?

Therefore it’s always good to start right now by doing better in planning yourself. It’s easy to by using the following concepts:

- Prioritisation. This is a key to successful planning. It should consist of several priority items that are required to achieve.

- Perseverance. It may be better said than done, but it is important. For example, when you collect data to estimate something in the future it’s always easier to start with credible initial information. Your personal achievements in some activities will always be slightly or very different to others therefore using some random data will not help. What will be useful is collecting data about your personal (and team members if you work in a team) effort, output and time every day for some time period to get statistics. The keyword here is “everyday” for some period of time. Then the estimations will be handled easier.

- Measurement. Without measurement there is no point of planning at all, because there won’t be assessment of success or failure possible. Measurement implies starting point, end point and metrics. This is also corresponding to performance evaluation.

- Revision Process. When activities are being planned from time to time it is mandatory to review the plan, current status, what may have changed since the start and how it affects the goal. It should be aligned with priorities all the time.

- Automated Tools. It is important to use contemporary technology and automated tools that will help in planning. Some of them provide more features than others, but the key ones are:

i) A tool that allows easily track of any activity that is coming up or is planned (i.e. Toggl, Asana)

ii) Budgeting tool (i.e. Excel)

iii) Project/Tasks management (i.e. Microsoft Project, Basecamp) For personal use some software like Microsoft Project is an overkill and Excel or some other spreadsheet software is a good idea to start with.

Happy planning!


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