Thursday, January 31, 2008

Getting Things Done review: Chapter 3

Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning

Initial expectations

In chapter 2, we defined a project as any "open loop" that requires more than one action to get it "done". This chapter should go into more detail about how to deal with these multi-step projects. At the end of the chapter, I should know what to do when a "project" lands in my inbox.

Chapter Summary

Whereas the previous chapter took a "horizontal" aspect of productivity, by defining a framework for capturing and dealing with all the "stuff" in your life, this chapter delves into the method behind detailed project planning. This requires a more "vertical" view. Here, Allen presents us with the five phases of project planning.

The Natural Planning Model
  • Defining purpose and principles - This is the starting point. Before progressing any further beyond the identification of a project, determine why you are doing it, and the standards and values with which you are ready to work. This step defines success, creates decision-making criteria, aligns resources, motivates, clarifies focus, and expands options. If you don't know why you're working on a project, then it will be difficult to complete it effectively.

  • Outcome visioning - Here, you develop a focus on the outcome you are looking for from the project. Essentially, take a view of the project from beyond the completion date, and then envision a "wild success" outcome, in as much detail as you can imagine. This will develop a picture of what you are working toward.

  • Brainstorming - This is the idea-generation phase of planning. Having defined the purpose of the project, and the desired outcome, start throwing out every idea that occurs to you. This step is really a purge of everything floating in your mind that may be related to the project; you'll evaluate the individual ideas in the next step. Just throw everything out there, without judging or criticizing.

  • Organizing - Here we sort through the ideas that were captured in the previous step. Look for natural patterns and relationships, and sort the information accordingly. The level of detail required here will be different in every case.

  • Identifying next actions - Finally, we get to making decisions on allocating resources to get the actual work done. In some cases, all the "moving parts" defined in the organizing phase will have a clearly defined next action; in others, the next action will be to do more planning.
Allen contrasts this planning model with the unnatural, or "reactive" planning model, which is essentially the exact opposite: start with action, and work your way back to the purpose. This reactive approach is counter-intuitive and counter-productive, yet it is all too often the default method used in business contexts. Following the natural model uses the way the brain is used to working to get a project effectively under way.

Did this chapter deliver?

This chapter seemed fairly dry, but it was very effective at laying out the steps in planning a project. It was interesting to me to see the reactive planning model laid out, as I can think of dozens of cases where I've seen this unnatural approach used at work. Contrasting the natural and reactive models really drove home the effectiveness of the natural model.

It's good to get a sense for the "vertical" aspect of GTD, as I expect much of the book will focus on the horizontal capture-and-action cycle of dealing with work across all your projects.

Want to read more?

Go to my GTD review index page.

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