Collaborative planning: post-it note gantt charts

In Process

There are a lot of ways to plan any project, design research or otherwise. The hardest thing for me has always been: how do you productively involve the team in making that plan?

The best way I’ve come across is what Ash Alluri likes to use for our projects at TACSI: making a collaborative gantt chart. I think he may have adapted this from a David Sibbet’s visual meetings book, or perhaps from Sunni Brown and David Grey’s Gamestorming book.

Naturally, Robin and I used this to plan this research phase of Kitestring. It’s pretty straight-forward and probably best-suited for teams of 6 or less (it could work for more, but I imagine you would need to make it a more structured workshop-style exercise, and at that size you probably would want to think about breaking into sub-teams anyway).

All you need to do is:

  1. Roll out a large sheet of butchers paper
  2. Mark off the weeks of the project
  3. Mark off horizontal lines for the different kinds of activities in your project (like interviews, write-ups, etc). Ash suggests leaving the top section as a place to put availability, planned leave, and big milestone dates.
  4. Put the most critical project outcomes or goals in the upper-left (or wherever works for you)
  5. Cut some post-it notes into strips
  6. Start planning what happens when

The primary benefits of this collaborative process is that it builds shared understanding and lets team members poke holes in each others’ assumptions about how the project will go. On top of that, I find it useful because:

  1. Sheer simplicity. You don’t need MS Project or any complex tools.
  2. It’s built as a shared artifact that grows as your understanding of it grows. This helps everyone participate and not get overwhelmed with the big picture all at once.
  3. People are more likely to give useful input when you’re building a plan together than when reviewing a pre-prepared plan. People engage at every key decision as opposed to skimming a summary.
  4. It goes on the wall so it’s always visible and easy to include as part of your weekly stand-up or check-in.

For projects with remote team members, you can send around weekly photos, train a web-cam on it, or you can convert it to a digital version in your project management tool of choice. Even if you end up converting it into a more complex digital version, your team members should have a much better shared understanding from the beginning.

If you’re looking for other ways to have a good conversation about project assumptions, Robin and I complemented this planning tool with a pre-parade and pre-mortem, which we first heard about in Dan and Chip Heath’s book Decisive.


Submit a comment