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Lean Project Planning

Getting projects started can feel like pushing a giant boulder up a hill. Why is it so hard to getting projects off the ground?

The answer to that question is that there are more questions than answers at the beginning of a project, which stifles action and progress. Once the team has many of the answers they need, the project begins to flow much more smoothly, but it can seem painfully long to get to that point.

These delays cost time and money — not to mention motivation and enthusiasm for the project. Fortunately, there are ways to get projects started faster and more efficiently: good project planning.

Some former colleagues of mine were fond of saying, “You never know less about a project than at the beginning.” This is the crux of why projects start slowly. Teams want to be efficient and avoid making costly mistakes, so they have a strong desire to answer all of the questions they have before they begin “real” work.

That the beginning of the project is when you know the least about it is precisely the reason why trying to answer all of the questions up-front is a trap. Even if the team gets a lot of answers at the beginning, many of those answers will turn out to be wrong. The idea that knowing everything at the beginning is more efficient is an illusion — in reality, it never works that way.

Lean project planning focuses on knowing just enough to move forward.

If the team can focus on answering just enough of the unknowns to get to the next step, they can begin making progress faster. Done in short steps, this also allows the team to change course quickly when a set of answers or decisions turn out to be wrong.

While this sound a lot like an agile process — and truthfully, it is an agile-like process — it is different in so far as “just enough” planning can consider the entirety of a project (or product, or solution), beyond what is planned for the next sprint. It is a more holistic way of planning without over-planning in greater detail than you can accurately know at any given time in the project.

There is also no single way this approach to planning has to be done. It can be formed and shaped according to the specific styles and composition of your team or organization. I have applied this approach to a number of different teams and organizations, and can help you find the right fit for your group.