Planning is a social process!

I have just finished reading an article by Simon Harris on the use of 3M’s ubiquitous Post-It Notes in developing a schedule. Reading the article and taking a quick tour of Simon’s website reinforced a whole range of thoughts ideas and practices I have held for a long time:

  1. Schedules cannot control the future, there are numerous posts on this blog and papers on the Mosaic scheduling home page that explain why. Bookies and casino owners make money, this would be impossible if people could predict the future.
  2. I have also been posting and writing on the value of scheduling as a way to develop a communal view of what might be a good ‘future’ and the power of the schedule to influence people’s decisions and actions to help create that future. The schedule is a communication vehicle and needs to be as simple as possible to make sure the message is understood.

Whilst it is implicit in the stuff I have written, one of the elements that has probably been understated is the critical need to involve the project team in developing the project schedule if they are going to accept the schedule as ‘theirs’ and work to make it happen. This is where Simon’s dragged me back to ideas we used to teach 10 to 15 years ago.

Using Post-It Notes to shape up a schedule, particularly the activity definition and sequencing has always been a valuable process (at least since the launch of the notes in the early 1980s – I can still remember the first free samples that arrived in a magazine). Simon’s article reinforced the value of the process:

  • To start with, people really do think better on their feet; the cerebellum is important for physical movement, cognitive thinking and importantly planning future behaviour. The standing and moving associated with a Post-It Notes planning session (PIN-PS) helps the thinking.
  • Negotiating and debating ideas in a non-confrontational way needs the idea under discussion to be separated from the person. Focusing on the PIN-PS means looking at the wall; eye contact is minimised and the ‘idea’ (ie, the Post-It Note) is separated from the person. The interpersonal challenge is minimised.
  • Everyone can contribute, draw lines, move the notes and discuss the options. No-one controls the keyboard! This allows group consensus to be reached and group ownership of the outcome. The photograph of the finished wall is the single version of the truth.
  • The physical limitations of the process prevent too much granularity. Excessive detail does not assist understanding or accuracy.

The power in the process is not the physical elements of the PIN-PS it is the discussion an shared understanding that’s developed. Later as the project schedule hits the inevitable problems this shared understanding allows options and solutions to be reached quickly with team buy-in.

But before rushing off to try a PIN-PS there are a few tips…..

  • Use glass or paper as a background – Post-It Notes don’t stick well to whiteboards once they have been cleaned or vinyl wall coverings. Whiteboard markers work well on glass.
  • Cotton or wool can be used for link lines if whiteboard markers will leave a permanent stain (most paints, cloths and papers).
  • Peel your Post-It Note off the pack from the side – if you peel from the bottom the gummed portion curls and does not stick well.

If you think this is just plain common sense as a final thought Simon defines common sense as “that which is commonly considered right and proper when observed”, not “that which anyone and everyone has already thought of”.

The full article was published in the December 2009 edition of Project Manager Today. For more SOOPs (Simon’s observations on projects) see


One response to “Planning is a social process!

  1. Thought I’d say “Hi” and “Thanks” as I just found the cross-reference. I like the site 🙂 first link I tried led me to Bill Duncan – now I know why he was so wary about my views on pmi’s practice guide on breakdowns. The black swan article reinforces several of my frustrations with “standard” descriptions of project risk, namely: you can’t attach percentages and a risk is a future state that has many possible independant as well as compound causes (and many outcomes). Simplistic publications that espouse condition-cause-consequence (singular) and probability times impact are almost devoid of practical project use.

    Keep up the good work folks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s