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Episode 264: How to Plan Your Project Using Index Cards (Free)

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Episode 264: How to Plan Your Project Using Index Cards (Free)When it comes to identifying a reason for why so many projects fail then Bryan Barrow (http://nova-consulting.co.uk - http://uk.linkedin.com/in/bryanbarrow) has a simple answer for you. He says that a root cause of poor project delivery is poor planning. But he also says that this is not a failure of project management, but instead this is a failure of project leadership.

So if poor planning is the culprit then there has to be a better way to plan our projects. Right? Right!

Bryan is an advocate of planning your project with index cards. So in our interview we are going to first discuss what the problem is with planning your project using sticky notes, and then we’ll look at the benefits of index card planning for your project, in particular on improved leadership, greater financial control, improved project governance and improved cross-department team-working and collaboration.

And by the way… Bryan Barrow will be speaking on the topic of Index Card Planning on April 29th at the 2014 Project Zone Congress in Frankfurt Germany. So if you are listening to this interview before April 2014 you can find out more at http://projectzonecongress.com/ [2019 Update: the template website is no longer available, so we removed the link]

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. 

 

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode # 264. This is the Project Management Podcast at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.

When it comes to identifying a reason for why so many projects fail, then Bryan Barrow has a simple answer for you. He says that a root cause of poor project delivery is poor planning. But he also says that this is not a failure of project management but instead, this is a failure of project leadership. So if poor planning is the culprit, then there has to be a better way to plan our projects, right? Yes, right!

Bryan is an advocate of planning your project with index cards. So in our interview, we are going to first discuss what the problem is with planning your project using sticky notes and then we'll look at the benefits of index card planning for your project in particular on improved leadership, greater financial control, improved project governance and improved cross-department team working and collaboration.

And by the way, Bryan Barrow will be speaking on the topic of index card planning on April 29 at the 2014 Project Zone Congress in Frankfurt, Germany. So if you're listening to this interview before April of 2014, you can find out more at www.projectzonecongress.com [2019 Update: the template website is no longer available, so we removed the link].

And now, let’s put all the cards on the table. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Bryan Barrow, Project Management Consultant and Speaker.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Bryan! Welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!

Bryan Barrow: Hi Cornelius. Thanks for having me.

Cornelius Fichtner: You're very welcome. Thank you for joining us today here. We want to talk about how to plan your project using index cards. But before we go to the index cards, I think one of the main reasons why you came up with this approach is because the usual paper-based or post-it-based approach that people have for doing a planning workshop doesn’t really work all that well, does it?

Bryan Barrow: No and it's not really to knock the use of post-it notes or sticky notes in planning because it is a very good approach mainly because it's collaborative. You're getting people in a room asking people for their ideas and contributions and trying to plan the project together. So far, so good but there are still some drawbacks.

One of those being that quite often you rely on subject matter experts and the knowledge in their heads. Another one is a low-level of knowledge transfer. So you can get people in a room, get them to throw out their ideas but it doesn’t necessarily reference back to the company's project management or software development methodologies. So you can come up with projects which would seem well planned but perhaps do not convey the right message that reinforce the way that a project should be working.

And then you've got things like problems with facilities and with layout of logistics. Everything from what do you do with all the brown paper and the sticky notes you got all over the walls? So what do you when the sticky note start falling off? So what do you when you want to transfer all the information off the walls and into other tangible work products or artifacts? So those are the key problems.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! Let's do a quick process check here what we mean about the brown paper and post-it planning workshop. Take me through such a workshop briefly so we understand what we're talking about here.

Bryan Barrow: Okay. So a number of people I have worked with before have tried to plan projects with sticky notes so they'll get their project charter or their project mandate, they work out who they need to invite to that workshop. They'll bring them all together, explain the purpose and start getting them planning. And typically, it will become a let's do a bit of a brain dump. All of the things that we think we need to do and we'll put them all over the walls. We'll then start talking about them, what order should they be and how do we group them together and at that stage, you start to find that people have to stop and check so they have first of all have to stop and check what everybody else has written so that can take some time then they have to reflect to what they see and start adding more notes. And then you get in to the first of our problems which is re-reading what people have read, understanding what they meant and then making sense of it all. And those things together start to slow things down.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! You also have a very humorous approach of describing this in one of your articles. You say: "You know then the post-it notes start falling off the wall and you have to put them back up probably in the wrong place."

Bryan Barrow: Yeah! As a project manager, the project manager organizes the planning workshop maybe a few weeks ahead of time. People have sufficient time for it. Most people, they don’t really plan for the event. They just turn up expecting that because it's a sticky note planning workshop, they can do it on the day. The participants get together and they get briefed on the goal and then they'll start to write down the key activities and milestones that they need to complete to deliver the project or at least, it's the ones that they remember this time around. Next time, they'll come up with a completely different set.

And of course because they're trying to do this quickly, they're starting to write notes and some people have great handwriting. Some people write like spiders and another problem we get is we have to decipher what people have written and at that stage, you start to get people who don’t really want to admit their writing is terrible so they keep their hands down when someone says: "Who wrote this one?" Once we start going through everything, we're reviewing it as when the note start falling off the floor and you can spend the rest of the half an hour, 2 hours, 4 hours picking up pieces of paper from the floor and trying to remember where on the wall they really were.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. And you say, there is a better way. What is that better way?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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