PMPM -- Planning Part Two

Last time, on project planning...

We talked about focusing on the scope of your project and getting started with the first tiny doable step. This time we will talk about two other areas of focus: time and money.
Which is heavier in your world?
But before we get started, a quick check-in. Have you initiated your PM working yet? Have you actually done your very first simple tasks? This is not a "how to plan" course. It's a "how to get shit done" course, specifically a "how to tackle really large, long-term goals and get shit done" course. So if you haven't actually kicked things off yet, I suggest you go do that. Remember, initiating the project doesn't mean you know everything you need to know to finish it. Because if you wait, you will never start. So start already and then when you've figured out a few first baby steps come back and keep planning as you go.

In your PM working charter, you included the high level requirements and objectives and the summary budget / and milestones. Just as the goal gets broken down into the scope during planning, the summary budget and milestones get broken down into the full budget and schedule.

Time and money are really the material costs of the project. And it's useful to have an honest look at those costs up front.

The Relationship Between Time and Money

You know it's true. In our world there's almost always a direct inverse relationship between time and money. You can do it yourself or have it done for money. You can put in the hours and reap a financial reward. You can spend more and have what you want sooner, or wait and save.

Before we get sidelined into discussion about how magic doesn't have to be about those kinds of material things, just stop. Even if your working has a completely non-magical goal, there are still ramifications to pursuing that goal in meatspace... and dollars and minutes are some of those.

For example, if your goal is to be happier, that's great! But maybe you need to quit your job to be happier, or go back to school, or join an ashram, or take more time for yourself by outsourcing some of your responsibilities. Each of those has a cost in terms of time and money (and energy, but I'm handling that one separately).

Whether that cost is worth it to you depends what's commonly referred to as your "personal calculus." But you won't know until you actually do the math. This is the first step, which is getting an understanding of what your working is going to cost you.

Budget Planning
Looking at your scope, you need to identify what if any costs are associated with the various items. Some items will be really specific (get PMP certified with class and test: $1500) and some will be vague (apartment deposit: up to $1500 and no more, private luge lessons: $100-$300?).

There may also be several options with different costs. For example, a weekend out in nature can cost from nearly free (if you have a tent) to thousands of dollars (if the nature you like is in, say Costa Rica). Note the most likely options.

Corporate projects will usually have some budget allocated in advance. But for your working, you may not have all the money you think you need. This means that getting the money becomes part of the scope of the project. If there's a cost you've identified that you don't have the cash for right now, note that in your scope and determine some ways of meeting the requirement (which may involve getting more money, but may not).

You may not have detailed cost information for the steps that are further away and this is to be expected. Just as with the scope, the further out you get, the less you know. But with cost especially, you want to make sure you've got the initial steps covered so that you can launch any mitigations for missing costs early. You don't want to get rolling and then pull up short because you've hit an unexpected expense. And remember, you'll be revisiting your plan as you go.
  • Domain registration: $60 (in savings)
  • Email hosting: $100 (in savings)
  • Professional website development: $500 (cost issue)
    • Mow lawns
    • Put in overtime
    • Hit up mom
    • Barter your cousin the geek for homemade pie
Now, one caveat. It's useful to know what stuff costs, but don't get too hung up on it. You will be meeting your goals through magical means, which can open the door to other options. Notice that in the list above, bartering is right there along with getting cash. And if you are doing spell work for any item in your scope, always spell for the thing, not the money to get the thing. If you need a professional website, then enchant for that, you might just get it without spending a dime.

Finally, if you're working is to get more money, you still need to do this step. Because it's a really good idea to find a real world pathway to manifest that money (instead of just conjuring it out of whole cloth). For example, if getting more money means getting a better job, you may need clothes. Clothes can cost money, so note what that interview suit will run you at the store. Then hit up every upscale consignment shop in the best areas of town, put out a call through your network for a cloths swap, and enchant for a better wardrobe rather than cash.

Schedule Planning
So, whether or not your working has actual monetary costs, it's going to have a time cost. And that's why we do the cost planning first, because depending on the options you list, you may have a different time investment. If I decide to sew a whole new work wardrobe, I may reduce my costs (assuming I have a sewing machine and actually, you know, know how to sew) but I will also increase my time.

There are three aspects to schedule planning.

The first has to do with how much time you plan on spending on meeting your requirements. As with costs, your estimates will get more and more vague the further out you get. Hiring someone to do your website may take a small amount of time, but having it made will certainly have a schedule impact beyond your actual time investment. So your duration for the requirements is, say three weeks.

You only really need to think about duration for requirements where:
  • There is a waiting time
  • It's a blocker for future tasks (you can't launch your online business before your site is done)
  • You have concerns about the time impact on your overall schedule (maybe your site is over-designed and you should launch with a much more stripped down site and add functionality as you go)
Otherwise, you can focus on when you would like to complete the various stages of your plan.

Even though you started with duration for some tasks, you need to create your schedule based on calendar dates, even rough dates. Better to include "Create website: by September 1" rather than "Create website: three weeks." Having real calendar dates has three clear benefits:

1. Motivation. Let's be honest, having a deadline tends to give people a kick in the ass. It has more visceral power.

2. Reminders. Sure, you'll be looking at your plan regularly, but the plan is high level. Most of the work you do will be in the details. Having calendar dates allows you do visualize the things you need to do in the future, and see the path you need to take to get there. I can't overstate how powerful this is for accomplishing your goals.

3. Impact and analysis. So what if your site isn't done by Sept 1? What if you haven't saved your down payment before you have to sign a new lease? By having things laid out on a calendar, you can see what else will slip and get a sense of what the impact will be. And you can see where the dangerous risks are (couch surfing because you didn't get a new place lined up in time? that's a risk right there).

In creating your schedule, you will want to use both forward planning and backward planning. Forward planning starts now and identifies the critical dates at the start of your project. Backward planning starts with the deadline and slots the dates in backwards.

For agile projects, you will want to stick to forward planning. If your working is "Figure out what I want to do with my life" then you want to start now and keep plugging at the items in your backlog until something clicks. You can do the working for 6-months or a year, but the end date is less relevant than your forward progress. At any point you can decide that you are done (you know what you want to do with your life).

On the other hand, the "Find a new place to live before my lease is up" project has a very hard deadline. Going over time may be a huge risk. Better to start at T (when you must have a new place to live) and t-minus your way back to the present.

It's feasible to do both for some projects. If you have a goal to launch a new business, you may want to start by setting yourself some hard deadlines at the end ("First $1000 in sales") and then skip to the front and set a timeline for the immediate tasks. Ignore the middle for now and use your end plan to motivate you. Most people are motivated by deadlines and your brain sometimes can't tell the difference between an externally imposed one and an internally imposed one. Use this to your advantage.

There are a zillion ways to schedule and plan and remind. There were a ton in the days of paper and a ton more now that we have computers. As someone who loves schedule porn and can get caught up in it, let me please warn you against overthinking this. Find a place you can record your dates, in a way you can see them coming, and then move on. You can always adjust later.

Here's where we depart from standard PMP project planning a bit. The best way to not only keep on top of your working, but to infuse it with magic, is to identify and implement repeatable and regular processes. Agile already does this to an extent, but you really want to incorporate this into your plan.

First, determine what cycles you will use. Month, fortnight, week, day is an obvious one. Or you can go Pagan and base your longest cycle on the quarter and cross-quarter days. Or you can go lunar and do moonth, waxing / waning half, quarter cycle. Just make sure you are comfortable enough with your chosen cycles not easily keep track of where you are.

Now, looking at your scope, identify three kinds of repeating tasks:

First, what PM processes will you want to repeat regularly? I mean things like reviewing your plan, checking in with your stakeholders, logging your progress. You may not know all of these yet, but note the ones you do. Will you review your plan monthly? Check in with stakeholders every other week? Identify and record risks every Friday?

Second, what repeating tasks will you want to schedule on a cyclical basis? Things like calling two prospects a week. Seeing four apartments every Saturday and Sunday. Doing your happiness survey once a month.

Third, what repeatable magic will you do? I'm thinking here of things like altar work, charging sigils, and energy workings of various types (more on this is coming). They can be general. For example, if you want to charge your sigils every Wednesday, the sigils themselves can be added to and adjusted over time. If you want to anoint your briefcase on the full moon, you might adjust your ointment formula. Of course some magic is of the major milestone type. A big push and then let it go. But for a year long working it makes sense hone a regular practice, where things are reassessed and re-enchanted on a regular basis.

Back to Scope
Now that you have a sense of the cost of your project (in terms of time, effort, and money), take a hard look at it. Is it remotely feasible? It is actually doable? Did you just sign up for way more stuff than you will ever do? Be realistic. Better to scope down, do less, and actually get it done, rather than failing because you over-scoped.

You need to own the Hyperbole and a Half book... everyone does.

Here are how large projects fail:
  • Unrealistic optimism so that you get burned out
  • Under-estimating the time and costs so that the scope keeps expanding
  • Scope-creep, constantly adding to the scope of the project as you go so as to never be able to finish
  • Not breaking things down into small enough tasks so that you can't really start
  • Not keeping the plan in mind as you progress so that you get off course
  • Not knowing what done means so you miss the mark entirely or don't know when to quit
  • Running out of energy so that... you... yawn, what was I saying?
The last two are yet to be covered, but the first ones are all things that you can start watching out for right now. 

Imagine that you are actually creating this plan for someone else to follow. Someone who's not you, but them. Why plan for this worst case scenario of you? Because when confronted by big scary change, uncomfortable analysis into personal goals, and months of concentrated effort... human nature is to turn into that worst case scenario. The one who'd rather veg on the couch than actually get up and do stuff. The one who'd rather surf mindlessly until 3am than really think about risks and goals. The one who's scared and lets their fear stop them from doing what they need to do.

I totally resemble these remarks. I'm not immune to this! Thinking about getting more exercise makes me want to eat a bag of BBQ potato chips and have a nap. I have goals that are so wrapped up in baggage that making one step toward them makes me want to take three steps back. There are things I'm really good at (PM obviously, work goals, career stuff) but I have my weaknesses, oh yes. I have to plan for the absolute worst, laziest, whiniest, pathetic version of myself. Because that person will show up at some point. Maybe not in the halcyon days of the early project, but certainly later, when the going gets tough.

This is not something that most PMs have to worry about. Sure, you have to support and nurture your team. But you don't have to coax them out of bed and to work in the morning... if you do you just fire them and find someone more motivated. But you can't fire the "problem employee" inside yourself... and even if you could you wouldn't want to. Because that person also has a role to play (but I'll get to this later).

OK, part three of planning is risks (which we've already covered, so will be brief) and quality. Note, the deeper content for planning is being delivered all in one batch after the final part. And it will include worksheets!

We'll also talk about energy, which applies to planning but that I'm approaching from a wider perspective.


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