Focus over sequence
Planning meetings. We’ve all been in them. We go in with the best intentions. Let’s work out our high level priorities for the year and how we’re going to tackle them. Great. But, all too soon the meetings descends into endless, circular arguments and frustrations.
It never ends happy.
What we get right
The truth is that we get a lot of things right when we do this planning. We’re usually pretty quick to weigh the pros and cons and for the most part we can typically agree on what goes into the top 10. There might be some disagreement, but it’s one of those areas where we can disagree but commit.
I’ve found the best way to support this process is to be explicit. With every item that you propose provide three things
- A brief description that can fit on a post it note
- An estimate of the cost to get it done (usually time per person)
- An estimate of impact of getting it done
The aim of doing this is to move away from subjective discussions towards more focused disagreements. It’s much more effective to say “I think the cost is too high” and explain it than to argue in circles moving from point to point, without resolving anything.
A quick note on the description. When you find you’re disagreeing on estimates, revisit your post it note and ask other parties in your group to explain the project. Be clear on what the project isn’t and where the scope ends – that’s often a source of misunderstanding.
What we get wrong
Where I see teams come unstuck is in the sequencing.
“There’s no way that’s number two, it’s clearly less important than this one!”
Even with the best will in the world. With the best discussion on the most focused estimates and costs, and even with everyone completely clear on the description, almost all of these planning meetings become disagreements on priorities.
And that’s where things go wrong. Because sequencing doesn’t actually matter.
If you’re planning for the right time frame, then often it doesn’t matter what the order of your priorities is. If you’re going to get all of the things done, does it really matter? In order of importance, for a successful year or quarter it’s
- 50% – Agreeing on the top 10
- 40% – Executing on the top 10
- 10% – Sequencing the top 10 correctly
Getting it right
I’m not saying don’t have the discussion. Just draw a line in the sand. Timebox it. Once you’ve committed to a top 10 (or five or three or whatever) have the discussion on what the right ordering should be. It will help you understand the items better. But after 30 minutes or so, call time. Ask the question: if we get all of this done by the end of the year are we happy with this sequence?
Then focus all of your energy on executing on that list. Discuss, commit and then get it done.