Choosing a Format - Project Planning

(This is a co-post with the one called "Visual Facilitation - Project Planning".)

Sometimes a project is a bit complicated, or people are unsure how to get it started, or there are a bunch of stakeholders who do not necessarily see eye-to-eye, or the project manager is new to project management and seeking some direction.

These are great opportunities for facilitation.  As facilitator you get to work with people who are passionate about the topic and getting ready to fully immerse themselves in it.  And its great for the participants.  When the facilitator is external to the project, the project manager, project director (if participating) and other stakeholders can participate, rather than getting caught up in determining the process.

At these sessions I believe the two most important things to establish are:
  1. Why is the project being undertaken?
  2. What does the project need to achieve?
Sometimes these can be answered almost immediately; other times you can spend hours.  Either way I have always found this time well spent.

You can ask these questions directly, or sneak up on them.  I quite like to sneak up on 'big questions' like these.  For example, you might ask 'What specific events led to this project being identified?' or 'If this project is successful, what will be different?'  The first question is a good one to ask everyone to answer individually (ask them to write down their answer).

The second question is potentially lots of questions - there are 'tangible deliverables', 'tangible short and long-term outcomes', 'intangible immediate outcomes' and 'intangible short and long-term outcomes'.  And probably more I haven't thought of.  Tom Peters talks about BHAGs (big hairy assed goals).  And I like to ask people about their 'aspirational objectives'.

I don't think this post would be credible if I was unable to provide some examples, so here goes:
  1. Why is the project being undertaken? should be answered by examining current conditions, such as "I have so many tools that I cannot park my car in the garage" or "My partner will leave me if I service my motorbike in the kitchen again". 
  2. What 'tangible deliverables' does the project need to achieve? could be answered with "building a shed which is also a workshop".
  3. What 'tangible short and long-term outcomes' does the project need to achieve? - "a space where I can keep my tools and service my motorbike".
  4. What 'intangible immediate outcomes' does the project need to achieve? - "new skills in shed building" and "my partner appreciates that I'm making an effort".
  5. What 'intangible short and long-term outcomes' does the project need to achieve? - "a space apart in which I can do my own thing" and "household harmony".
Some other questions that you may need to answer include:
  1. What is the project called?
  2. Who are the key stakeholders?  And what role do they need to take in the project?
  3. What keeps/could keep the project manager awake at night?
  4. What intermediary outcomes could be achieved 'along the way'? 
  5. And one possibly for another session:  How will we get there? (tasks, people, resources, funds, etc)
As usual flexibility is important, as the session may not go as you expect.  Or more likely, you will find out that a particular topic that you expected to breeze through actually gets you caught up.  Or something you expected to take up a lot of time is finished almost before it started.  This could be the topic of a whole post, but for now I'll just suggest that you bring a lot more topics/questions than you expect to be able to get through.

Watch for cues from the participants, as you (and maybe a small number of participants) might be intrigued by a topic that others have no interest in.  Also, pull up before you exhaust people - a couple of half-days are much more likely to be fruitful than one full day.