Collaborative Milestone-Driven Planning Process


Quick Summary
What do you do when you have to plan a complex project involving members from different organizations with varying expectations about planning -- level of detail, who does it, whose work has to show up in the plan, etc.? Try this approach to practical collaborative planning that works off visible "business milestones" important to the success of each and every group on the team.


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What this is

An approach to practical collaborative planning that brings team members together around the visible "business milestones" important to the success of each and every group that's part of the team. This approach is useful for aligning any team's members to the "big events" that constitute success on the project, but especially valuable when you have a team composed of various independent groups, possibly with different ideas of how a planning process should work, or disagreement around how much they should be required to show their work in the master plan!


Why it's useful

This guideline was originally developed to aid the leaders of a large team of multiple organizations facing a long-term R&D effort involving joint roadmapping, planning, and ultimately execution. These groups were charged with creating a multi-year coordinated R&D plan that would link the work across multiple independent entities and ensure the total plan would meet the objectives established by a corporate-level oversight committee. The Planning & Management team faced a challenging deadline for having the initial plan developed, and interim milestones for getting staged approval from an oversight committee along the way

Why was this a "big deal?" Because the different organizations involved in this effort had radically different planning and management cultures. The leadership group itself had different opinions about to what level these different entities should be required to "tell us their plan details." The project managers in the mix were of course worried that without enough plan detail and plan integration across the groups, important work wouldn't get done - or done in time to meet the milestones; and without adequate joint planning, the various groups wouldn't even achieve sufficient mutual understanding of just what constituted successful completion of each milestone.

This guideline documents this Planning and Management team's ultimate expression of why and how they needed to go about joint planning. It was developed to help them launch a planning process that the representatives of each organization could agree to - because it would so obviously support the success of the overall effort.

The goal was stated as follows:

The overall goal of our joint planning process is to ensure that the major pieces of work for this initiative are fully identified and due dates are driven by the critical program milestones we all want to meet. Furthermore, the process will give the leaders of these various groups the context they need to plan the details of and manage their own internal efforts to meet those milestones.

How to use it

  1. Critical Attributes of the Proposed Milestone-Driven Planning Process: Read this to develop ideas for how you might incorporate elements into your own planning process, as well as communicate the value of the approach.
  2. Key "Design Aspects" of the Resulting Work Breakdown Structure and Schedule: Read this for ideas on how the WBS and schedule out of the planning process can support working well with multiple outside groups, as well as help you communicate effectively with stakeholders.
  3. Conceptual Process for a Joint Planning Iteration: Read this concise step-by-step for ideas on how to take a group from a "business milestone" through to planning all the work needed to achieve that milestone successfully.

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