Planning made easy

Planning sounds like something depicted from a management book and sounds boring and not something you want to do. You just want to get the problem and jump into solving it. If you are working alone and responsible only for what you do it might work, but if you work in a team and you have to be able to give the client an indication on when you are done you need to enter an activity called Planning, which can be less of a headache if you learn some basic rules and steps.

I know you will roll your eyes and say: “Come on, yet another Scrum theory probably”, but wait and bear with me a little bit.

Basic rules:
1. First time you will probably screw it.
2. Next few times you will probably screw it less, if you analyse what you did wrong the previous times.
3. When you’ve finally got it right and things will look good, the universe will show you its great unknown and he will screw you.
4. Every minor change in your landscape will impact your planning. Never ignore the possible impact of a person or a situation, not even a sudden spring snow 😉
5. Learn to learn from your mistakes, otherwise just quit.
6. If for a while you are always getting it right then yes, you are good, but surely you can do better. So, don’t sleep on it and remember the third rule.

With these in mind there are a few steps that even though seem logic we usually skip them. There are several things we need to think of before actually jumping into the HOW and split the work and plan it. Think of this in similar manner to planning a journey.

1. Purpose: What is the desired effect and what is the undesired effect from your and/or the client’s perspective? Looking at both sides of the coin can trigger your attention into things you might naturally skip while looking only on the purpose. For example: “I want this sprint’s work to be perfect quality wise”. “The customer cannot afford any delays on this work.”. Can you meet both conditions? Do you need to do something in the planning to influence one or the other? Questions you need to ask from the beginning and establish clear commitments based on them.
In our journey metaphor this is the: “What do we want to accomplish by this journey?” “Relax. Sightseeing. No feet pain and lots of sleep. My husband complaining about the large luggage and the heat.”

2. Context: What are my conditions, constraints, risks and resources? This is the part where we look at the map and roads ahead, check the weather channel, TripAdvisor for advices, the bank account, the passport’s expiration date, the mood of the wife/husband, how many free days do we have..; so everything that can influence our trip in ANY manner.

3. History: What useful historical data do we have? It is established by people smarter than me that everywhere there are patterns and similar behaviours, so as planning is more or less of an educated guess, the more educated it gets the closer to reality it tends to be. Back to our journey this is similar to: how much money did we spend the last holidays, how many days did we go and it was enjoyable, how much luggage do we need for a 7 days trip, did we find shampoo in the B&B…?

4. Plan: Now you can actually start planning: what needs to be done, when and by whom taking into consideration the info you’ve got from the above steps and what you need to do by breaking everything into small, estimable and easily doable pieces.

Nothing extraordinary as you could figure out by now. A lot of times we tend to partially skip the first 3 steps. We cover parts of the second point in the fourth point because the discussions on the actual work can trigger discussions on risks and maybe constraints, but only the obvious areas are touched. The third point is also covered for areas where we had major problems and left behind in cases the error was between some tolerable numbers for us; numbers that are never quite aligned with history, but rather with our expectations.

The above will not lead you to the perfect planning, but get you closer to reality in more knowledge and control of your environment. For the perfect planning try the following: genie in a bottle, magical wand, tarot, witches and future readings 😉

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