Planning for EQ Projects

Planning -- To Organize the Yet Non-Existent

Planning is the basic preparation for all actions which aim is to have a certain impact. By planning we ask us questions about the times to come, but also about our wishes, fears and resources. If we look at it from that viewpoint, we can already tell something about the natures of planning: it can be reactive or proactive. Preferably it is both, as the world is both outside and inside our circle of influence. Some things you can only react on, like the weather, and some things you can be proactive with, like preparing the right clothing no matter the weather.
(Proactivity is very well described in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey.)

A good plan is based on at least four factors: the vision, the goal, the needs of those involved in its realisation, and finally, the shareholders (e g the part of the community not involved in the project, the environment etc). To constantly ask your self How does this plan support or affect the four factors? minimalizes the risk to loose focus and motivation as well as cause bad relations to the shareholders. And while you keep the question in mind you can use the following structure when designing the plan.

Visualize the Plan

Everybody has experienced as a kid when you're trying to see What is going on over there? and remember how the curiosity turned into anger if you weren't let into the circle standing around the thing. Well, adults are just large kids and therefor it is important to make discussions visible to everyone you wish to engage. Graphics makes it so much easier to describe a linear set of actions, what is exactly what a plan is. As you will see below, the planning process moves back and forth in time, and without graphics everyone except chess masters will mess up all the moves in their head. Use big sheets of paper, sketch a timeline from now to the end of the project, and scribe the plan as it grows.

Scribing is using simple generic symbols, quick drawn and easy to understand compared to words which exact meaning usually are more personal. Scribing also activates the right side of the brain (as words activate the left side) which opens up to more brainpower in the process. (Pictures showing scribing symbols)

Post-It notes are another very useful tool as they can be moved time and time again when the plan changes to new information. Let the different colors represent different groups or kind of tasks.

Personal Needs

A plan is supposed to be realised by human beings. No matter how grand the cause is, these humans have needs and obligations to fulfil. So to make a realistic plan, make sure to know the needs and adjust the plan to them. By doing so in the beginning, people are given an honest chance to choose their degree of commitment in the different phases of the project. As a project manager it is important to be a role model by being honest on your own needs, both for showing that it is okay and to make sure that the others know when they need to take some of the managers load.
If the project runs during a long time, make sure to update the plan on personal needs.

Action Plan

When the personal needs are plotted on the plan poster, it is time to see what needs to be done to achieve the goal with the project (more on goals, click here). This is a part where people's different perspectives are really valuable and to make sure that everyone's ideas are heard, spend some time brainstorming. (Book on brainstorming, click here)

The rules for the most basic brainstorming process are very simple:

All ideas are accepted. No critizism is allowed.
You have to tell all your ideas briefly so even if they themselves are really stupid, can inspire someone else to a good one.
Write down all ideas. Someone who is not brainstorming but merely focusing on getting everything on paper can do this.

When you have a nice list of things to do it is time to sort and analyze. Let everyone explain their ideas and keep on developing them. When you finally have come up with actions you believe will take you to your goal, move on to next step: the time plan.

The Time Plan

Setting a time plan is all about two things: to make sure that the actions come in right order and to avoid collisions with personal needs. Now it is time to go back to the plan poster and start spreading out the actions over the time line. The Post-It notes are really good for this.

The Feeling of Accomplishment

A disadvantage with graphics is that they can frighten its viewers, projects come to look so huge, and are is easily seen as a one-way motion from now to then. But within this flow there are several small project cycles as the sub projects unfold during the way. By marking the sub projects as steps on the way you make it less frightening. Make sure the sub projects go through the same phases as the big project, and every time a sub project is finished, make room for the great feeling of accomplishment and celebration in some way.

No Plan Is Perfect

As life and circumstances changes, there will be a need for adjusting the plan along the way. Sometimes it is difficult to keep focus on the big picture once you have started to work on your tasks, so to update the plan it is wise to set some dates for review already at the beginning. These dates can of cause also be changed along the way, but there is at least a mark on your plan poster to remind you about it.

An Important Distinction

Remember one thing: a plan is just a plan. As long as the team keep up the good work it doesn't matter whether you follow the plan, because there is a huge difference between not following the plan and not doing anything at all. Only you and your team can make the decisions to make your work successful. You must rule over the plan, not the other way around.