Project planning is not something that comes easy to me. When mapping out the steps necessary to finish a project, I often leave out some crucial details. These details are the ones that push back the deadline later on in the project because the team did not anticipate how long they would take.
Lately I’ve recognized the importance of taking the time to visualize your project from start to finish and writing down all the critical milestones, checkpoints, reviews and approvals. This can sometimes take a while.
It’s important because there are going to be a lot of unknowns when you start down your project path. There are always going to be details you could not have predicted, but if you’ve run through the project from beginning to end in your mind’s eye, you will uncover about 80% of the details and be that much more prepared for the game.
This visualizing method is akin to David Allen’s Natural Planning Method which he discusses in Getting Things Done.
What is the Natural Planning Method?
Let’s say I tell you to plan a trip to Paris. What does your mind immediately go to?
I need to find a hotel. I need to book a flight. But before that I need to decide when I’m going. I need to see when I can take off work and if I have enough vacation days.
Your mind naturally visualizes the end goal and then backtracks quickly to the steps that will get you there. Before you know it you have a few key tasks that are necessary for reaching your goal.
It makes the process easier and more effective if you use your mind’s natural tendency for planning:
- You identify something you want
- You envision what having it will look and feel like — what will be true once it’s accomplished
- Everything (information, ideas, actions) associated with getting it floods into your mind
- You organize those ideas, actions, and info into patterns and steps
- You determine the very next thing you need to do — and do it
When we’re working on projects much more complex than planning a trip or choosing a restaurant to eat at, we often jump right in and start taking action without any planning.
We get overwhelmed by how much needs to be done so we start knocking things out but with little direction and no plan in place. We may be starting in the middle of the plan which just gets us lost and turned around halfway through.
The next time you need to plan out an extensive project try mentally visualizing each step from the very beginning. Think of your end goal and walk yourself through each milestone that leads you there.
If you need some guidance, check out this useful worksheet from David Allen that lays out the steps for determining your plan using the Natural Planning Method.