Creative, Collaborative Scheduling

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whiteboard_schedule

Creative, Collaborative Scheduling

Have you ever had a project with several cross-functional workstreams, multiple internal and external parties, an aggressive schedule, and leads that wouldn’t commit to a deadline?  Sounds like just about every project, doesn’t it?

Several years ago as a budding project manager, I was introduced to the concept of a MAP Day.  MAP (Make A Plan), is a concept created by Intel to foster buy-in to a high-level plan.  The process involves opening up the scheduling activities to the entire project team.  In a one-day session, all cross-functional teams collaboratively map their key tasks and dependencies.  The teams are given homework prior to MAP Day: each must document the key deliverables and activities and their associated dependencies and outputs.  On MAP Day, the deliverables & activities are transferred to large, sticky notes.  The teams then place those on a massive white board relative to all others based on dependencies & outputs.  The result represents the project timeline.

When first I heard about this approach being suggested on my project, I responded with predictable incredulity.  As the project manager, I saw it as my responsibility to be in the driver’s seat;  I alone should create the project schedule.  In my mind, I was the head chef and had just been asked to invite the patrons into the kitchen to create the meal.  Oh, how wrong I was.

As it turned out, the meal was better with everyone involved and I learned several, valuable lessons in the process:

  • Project Management and Change Management Go Hand-In-Hand.  One often hears the phrase “all project team members are change agents”, yet we don’t truly live by those words.  A project not only creates change for the stakeholders, it is a disruptor for the project team members.  It creates enormous change for their day-to-day lives.  How do we manage this change and make it easier to absorb?  Invite the team members to the process the defines the project.  This makes all the difference when it comes to obtaining commitment to the schedule.  It is painfully obvious that team leads do not feel vested in the schedule if they do not take a visible and active role in shaping it.
  • Let Go of The Steering Wheel.  Don’t be a control freak.  In order to get buy in, be comfortable letting the workstream leads do the driving, while providing the guardrails.  You have to establish the framework; e.g. communicate the schedule targets and challenge the teams to match the expectations while they map out their tasks and dependencies.  You’ll find that team leads and SMEs will make collaborative, well-informed decisions, and will call out risks when they are challenged.
  • It’s Not Just About The Schedule.  Having everyone in a room for MAP Day creates an incredible communication and knowledge sharing opportunity.  You’ll find that when each team presents and maps their tasks and dependencies, it triggers rich conversations with other teams.  Leverage the opportunity to identify risks that ought to be tracked and mitigated.  Every time I’ve done this, it results in a fruitful risk identification exercise.
  • Map Day Is Step One in Defining Accountability.  Defining the schedule is truly everyone’s responsibility.  If a project manager is only comfortable with creating a schedule based on limited interactions, usually that’s a recipe for failure.  Having the leads walk everyone through their tasks and dependencies, enforces and accountability structure.  This places the burden upon the leads to communicate their work; the project manager helps guide them so that the collective workplan is integrated and meets the requirements of the stakeholders.
  • Cast a Wide Net.  The accountability structure (roles & responsibilities) has to be in place in order to have a successful map day.  Once that is in place, you can cast a wide net.  You are guaranteed to learn more about your project than you previously knew.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus.  How many projects end sidetracked and unfocused?  Defining your critical path by using the inputs from a MAP day will objectively establish the tasks that require the highest level of focus and management attention.
  • Use Creativity – Make It Fun.  Not many people revel at the thought of being locked in a room for a whole day.  Use an icebreaker exercise to help foster some camaraderie.  One that I heard of recently is “Introduce yourself not by your title or role, but by naming the theme song you want to have playing when entering a room”.  Leverage the opportunity to build some bonds and team spirit.  What you do at the inception defines the pulse of the project.

For many PMs, especially those new to the profession, MAP day may initially seem counterintuitive.  Fortunately, every time I have adopted this approach, I have found great success.  There is a reason why firms like Intel have adopted it and why writers and practitioners like John Stenbeck pronounce its value:  it works.

If you are interested in adopting this approach on your project or would like to learn more, contact me at kashif.choudry@aspirent.com

– Kashif Choudry, Principal

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