Plan The Work, Work The Plan - Part I
Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Maximizing your success at work is executing splendidly on two things:
Execution Success = Plan the Work + Work the Plan
Work well planned is half the success. This post is about how to plan the work well. In my next post, I will tackle the second part of successful execution, which is working the plan.
Zoom out - Start with the bigger picture
Figure out how your work fits into the organizational goals and your Manager’s success. If you don’t see a direct line of sight of your work and how it fits into the larger organizational goals, ask clarifying questions of your manager to ensure this alignment is clear. Organizational goals are typically set at a much higher level than your individual goals, so asking these clarifying questions to get alignment is super important, so you can focus your work on the right outcomes.
Be specific and measurable on outcomes
Once you have figured out the project goals, ensure the outcomes are specific, actionable and measurable. Write them down and get these reviewed by your manager and stakeholders so the expectations are crystal clear. For example, are there external events, like a major conference, that you need to align project releases and hence will make timelines non-negotiable? Secondly, get clarity on the relative priorities of these sub projects and which outcomes might be more important or more easily traded off to achieve certain other outcomes. This enables you to focus on your own work, so that the highest priority outcomes get the most of your attention and focus.
Identify Communication channels
Working with the other stakeholders, design the communication plan. What documents need to be written and who needs to sign off on the proposals? Who should be part of the core working group, how often should they meet and what does the standing agenda look like? How do changes to the plan happen? Should we send regular status emails to keep the broader organization in the loop or are additional project reviews necessary? Unwanted meetings are a major productivity killer. Efficiency in the communication plan is important to maximize your time and purge unnecessary fire drills.
Besides projects, prioritize your professional goals
Delivering on projects should not be the only focus for professional development. You should have additional professional development goals, and ensure you can allocate time for those activities. For example, you might be interested in growing your public speaking skills and you have set a goal to speak once a month. Finding these events to speak at, preparing and rehearsing the content and finally time spent in actually delivering the talk can take up meaningful time at work. Without careful planning, these professional development goals take a backseat when your projects need more of your time. Be focused. Have no more than 1-3 areas and allocate the time they deserve to do it well versus peanut buttering your time across multiple activities. Research has shown that when people commit time on their calendar, it is more likely to get done. Once you identify what these goals and actionable steps are, we can allocate the time needed when we "work the plan".
Develop your NOT list
To be focused on what you will do and to maximize your chances of success, it is equally important you develop a specific “will not do” list. These could be those tempting activities that you might find it hard to say no to. Saying No to things you want to do allows you more time to do the things you need to do. And you saying No doesn't mean the activity does not happen at all. These activities could be great candidates for networking or delegation, For example, if you are really good at something - for example, event planning - and you know someone else on the team that is looking for more experience in this area, you can kill two birds with one stone by providing a developmental opportunity to that person while still supporting the events that you care about.
With these broad categories sorted - your “must-do” project goals, your communication plan as well as your top professional development goals for the year - you should make a “top down” estimate of the amount of time you expect each activity to take on a weekly or monthly basis. This is the final step of “planning the work”. Don’t worry too much if you actually will have that much time or get the estimates wrong, we will tweak it during our execution phase of “working the plan”.
People generally overestimate what they can achieve in the short term and underestimate what they achieve in the long term. So apply some buffer in your estimates - e.g. an additional 10% to whatever time you estimate these activities will take when you develop your initial plan.
That should give you a pretty good approach to “plan the work” for the year ahead. In my next post, I will tackle how to “work the plan”.
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