You and I know how to Plan. Right?
Planning and Evolution:
Once upon a time, about two or three million years ago, our ancestors underwent a transition. A transition that probably came in handy to Plan and execute their next kill.
This is the most poetic thing I have ever read about the Brain! For the first time in a million years, the brilliant networks of the Brain started developing in specific ways, witnessing the formation of the very first Frontal Lobe.
Isn’t it incredible to think of the Million years and all the minute changes our physiology underwent to arrive at where we are today? In evolutionary terms- this grey mass- is the youngest significant addition to the Human Brain.
Complex Planning happens in an area of the Frontal Lobe called the Pre- Frontal Cortex.
I came across this five-fold technique when I was reading up a book by David Allen. After applying the technique to my Project Planning, I noticed it gave insane clarity.
This technique has five techniques arranged in a specific sequence. If you miss the sequence, it leads to more confusion than clarity.
The five-fold technique of Planning
Internet Noise is everywhere! We hear different Types of Planning advice. “The key is to remember the bigger picture”, “The key is to stop thinking and start acting!”, “The key is to understand your purpose”, “The key is to hire a Strategy consultant”…
Those of us who are innately talented in making successful plans apply these 5 levels of thinking subconsciously.
The five steps involved in the technique require you to think and write about:
1. Purpose and Principles
5. Next actionable steps
The five levels of a Perfect Planning Process
Neuro- ScientificTip: Put your thoughts into writing- be it on a piece of paper or on your phone. It sets your focus laser straight.
1. Purpose and Principle
It is obvious, right?
Ask yourself the Why Question. Answering it will give you what the Bigger Picture is.
Why do you want to do this project? Why do you want to get married to that person? Why do you want to meet your Marketing Director?
1. Defines Success.
2. Provides the criteria to make decisions.
3. Helps you align resources to reach a goal-set.
5. Clarifies focus.
6. Expands options.
Purpose helps you understand the Bigger Picture, instead of being stuck in the nitty- gritties.
Let us ask why you want to call your friend. The answer could be: “I wish to stay connected to people who care for me. I want to show I love them. I’m interested in learning about their life.”
This helps you cool off before you fly into a raging argument about why you think their latest favourite movie is trash.
The Why question is just advanced common sense but, it must be answered first. You know you need not severe ties over this movie. “Your purpose is showing love, Calvin. Back off!”
Without establishing it clearly in your mind, you will simply end up having multiple unsuccessful meetings with your Marketing Director and losing friendships about that stupid alien movie.
It just dawned on me that all my projects that stopped abruptly, failed due to a mismatch in Principles with a third party.
To understand ways to answer this appropriately, fill the sentence: ” I will give others complete control as long as they:____”. Fill the blanks based on the requirements of your projects and your value systems.
The answers could range from: “as long as they respect strict timelines and follow rules.”, “as long as they stick to the budget and bring in profits.”, “as long as they are loyal and truly care.”, “ensure a healthy team and work- environment.”
Clarity of purpose gives you direction and, establishing your Principles will layout the boundaries within which one can function.
This level of Planning which involves Purpose and Principles forms the bones to your Planning Process.
Any compromises made in this level will ultimately lead to disasters, dissatisfied lives and halted projects. Here is where you must learn to put your foot down.
2. Clear Outcomes
An ideal outcome is not limited to thinking through the project’s vision. Having a clear outcome provides the actual blueprint of a final result.
You can arrive at defining your ideal outcome by answering the “What” question in great detail.
What would your project exactly look like when it successfully appears in the World? – David Allen
Note: If you are trying to answer the “What” question, you will realize that it is possible to answer it clearly only if you already gained clarity on the Purpose and Principles of your project.
You and I would be wiser if we answered “What would my conversation with my friend exactly be like?. It would involve talking about her health, my vacation plan, her new project, my newfound interest in reading lite- poetry.”
See? No need to fight over alien movies.
Once the why, what questions are answered, the ‘how’ question must be answered. It basically means coming up with ideas, plans and solutions to reach the desired outcome.
There are three key rules of Brainstorming, according to Mr Allen:
- Don’t be analytical: At this stage, it is essential to let a free flow of ideas to come to you. Do not judge, challenge, evaluate or criticize ideas at this stage.
- Get more ideas: Having a number of ideas will expand your outlook on your project. Even bad ideas help in establishing a clearer context for developing better options and builds more trust in your choices.
- External Brainstorming: Create a Mind Map of each individual idea outside your Brain.
Neuroscientific studies discovered that the best way to process ideas is through External Brainstorming. You need to put your ideas on a piece of paper or a digital device.
This idea is called Distributed Cognition: It is building an external mind. It helps you to hold the idea, focus on it step by step and to continuously reflect these steps back to you.
Mind Mapping is a fancy way of saying: draw your ideas. The core idea is placed at the centre. All activities involved to achieve the core idea are drawn as branches.
Once you use Mind Maps to jot your ideas down, a natural structure emerges.
- You need to carefully identify the Project into various components and events.
- Sort them as a sequence of events, priorities and subcomponents.
- Define the independent and related events of the project in great detail. Clearly state the milestones and timelines.
Most Project Plans end at this step. This is the reason why they lag.
5. Next Steps
The fifth technique needs to be updated frequently, till the end of the project. Spot all Actionable Next Steps of the project and start working on them right away.
Some of these steps could be physical actions and some could be mental tasks like planning or decision making.
New actionable steps keep emerging as the project moves forward. But identifying the Next Immediate Actions increases the Project’s clarity and speed.
This is the five-fold technique of Complex Project Planning. I dedicate this to one of my cousins. She loves to plan.