Once your preparations are complete, call in the first few members of your team, and use the Robust Project Planning process. Starting with one of the tangible deliverables from your list, ask the following five questions:
1) “What is this deliverable?” The purpose of this first question is to achieve the same, clear understanding as to what’s expected of the project. The responsibility for achieving this clarity rests with the project manager, even though the answer comes from the recipient, which could be the customer, someone in marketing, or even a high-level manager of the organization. The written description of each tangible deliverable (final or intermediate) is the destination for which the predecessor plans an itinerary. It is vitally important that successor and predecessor, both, plan to reach the same destination.
The answer to this question should be written on a white Post-It note.
2) “Who makes this deliverable happen?” When this question is asked for the first time for a specific tangible deliverable, the answer can come from any number of sources within the organization itself. When this question is asked in reference to any intermediate deliverable, the answer comes from the recipient of the intermediate deliverable. Of course, this question does little more than identify the resource who creates the deliverable. But this is useful information nevertheless.
The answer to this question should be written on new, yellow Post-It note.
3) “What’s the last significant thing that you do?” This question is asked of the resource who is expected the deliverable. Note the use of the word “last.” This is done purposely, to prevent the individual from providing a long list of micro-steps, which have no business being included in the logistical network. Understand, too, that the answer to this third question is nothing more than the label of a task. It could be anything, and it would serve its purpose. Far more valuable information is provided by the answers to questions 4 and 5, below.
The answer to this question should be written on the same yellow Post-It note used for the answer to question 2.
4) “What tangible inputs do you need?” The answer to this question defines the interaction between the team member from whom we expect a specific deliverable and other team members who provide his/her required inputs. This and all similar exchanges of inputs and outputs define the logistical network of the project.
Notice, too, that the answer to this question is very much process-specific. Only the task owner has the experience with which to define the correct set of inputs for his/her task. For this reason, the timely participation of all team members in the creation of the project plan is indispensable.
The description of each of the tangible inputs provided as the answer to this question should be written on a separate, white Post-It notes. Arrows, from each input to the task that needs it, should be used to capture the logistical relationship.
5) “Are these tangible inputs enough?” The final question provides a simple test for logical sufficiency. Usually, the response of the involved team member, to this question, is “Nothing more. I’ve listed all the required inputs.” But occasionally this last question triggers the team member’s memory and causes the contributor to remember an otherwise missing input. Such occasional discoveries typically avoid many months of unnecessary delays.
The description of any additional inputs identified in response to this question should be written on separate white Post-It notes, with arrows to the description of the task (yellow Post-It note) that needs them.
When the first cluster of your logistical network is done, simply select one of the tangible inputs defined by as part of that first cluster, and continue asking the set of five questions. Then, rather than moving across to one of the other tangible inputs at the same level, keep going deeper into the logistical network. Experience shows that this depth-first-search for information helps to keep team members focused, whereas a breadth-first-search for information (jumping from branch to branch) causes confusion.
The Robust Project Planning process creates a flow of information about the needs of the customer of the project. That flow begins at the customer and moves upstream, ever deeper within the organization. This is illustrated by the next figure. As the flow of information continues, it identifies simultaneously all the required team members and all their tangible inputs and outputs. Thus, it identifies all the interactions among team members, which the project manager must monitor and manage.
When building a project plan, it isn’t necessary to gather the entire team at one time. It is sufficient only to bring the team members into the process individually, in a timely manner, and only for brief periods. Thus, creating consistently effective project plans that exhibit accuracy relative to logistics need not be time-consuming.
The Robust Project Planning process can become slightly tedious at times. It is your responsibility, as project managers, to create the right level of discipline in your team members. You do this by being a master of the process. Your skill with the Robust Project Planning process makes it that much easier for your team members to contribute successfully and consistently.
Once the logic of your logistical network is complete, it’s time to bring your team members back into the planning facility, so that they can estimate the duration of their tasks. To make this part of the Robust Project Planning process equally productive for your team members, prepare each of the large sheets of flipchart paper by numbering all the Post-It notes and by writing in the corner of the each sheet of flipchart paper the names of the team members whose contributions are contained on the sheet. This allows the team members to scan the larger sheets of flipchart paper quickly, rather than forcing them to read the individual Post-It notes, which can number in the hundreds.
As each team member comes back for this second pass at the plan, have him/her provide two estimates of task duration: a safe estimate with which the team member feel comfortable making a commitment, and a shorter estimate of the process time of each task. These estimates become the basis of your plan’s accuracy relative to duration, which is discussed in much greater detail in the next section.