How to boost leadership, teamworking and collaboration with index card planning

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Posted by APM on 15th Dec 2014

Bryan Barrow gave an entertaining presentation to members of the Midlands Branch at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Birmingham, introduced by volunteer Richard Sanders.

Bryan stated that in 2012, aside from successful and failed projects, there were still 40% of projects that were considered to be challenged, which opened the first part of the talk - why many projects fail. He listed reasons for this including the lack of a clear goal, silo-working resulting in low levels of collaboration and poor estimating. Bryan interacted with the audience to discuss some thoughts on project management vs. leadership and whether the profession has been focusing on the true root-causes of project failure.

The second part of the presentation covered the use of Sticky Notes. These are often used in planning exercises but Bryan pointed to several limitations: that the workshops are largely dependent on the skills of the participants to successfully articulate their knowledge, participants often presume that they can attend without preparation, there is no standard method to the sessions and notes are often difficult to read.

Bryan then introduced the concept of Index Card Planning. He outlined the benefits of the approach: index cards are larger than sticky notes with room for extra info on the back, can be printed (removing the issue of illegibility), and create a common vision (enabling everyone to quickly see what success looks like) as part of an integrated plan. He suggested that facilitating an index card planning session also maximises leadership potential by empowering people to get involved whilst creating excellent conditions for team-working.

Bryan advised that the sessions should be facilitated by someone other than the project manager of the project to allow the PM to focus on the content of the session. Workshops should typically last 3-4 hours (with the project vision outlined in the 1st hour) and 8 to 12 key people should attend.

Finally, using examples of previous sessions, Bryan showed photographs of how the index cards are placed on a table, how 6 colours represent different artefacts (green for milestones, white for optional tasks, for example), and the use of wall-posters for capturing other key details (such as vision, risks, and assumptions).

Attending, Fellow of the APM Andrea Pisoni commented after the event: Very interesting presentation which gave me some good practical tips on how to use index card planning. I would recommend this to new practitioners as well as to experienced professionals, as it challenges some of the normal thinking on how to prepare a new plan from scratch.

Emma Carroll-Walsh (RPP, MAPM) said: Bryans energetic and enthusiastic approach to index card planning was thought provoking. From someone who has been a sticky note planner for some years, the approach of using pre-printed index cards was certainly a light bulb moment for me, especially with the time it would save in having to re-identify all the key deliverables that a project requires.

APM volunteer Jakub Achenbach added: Bryan gave a very energetic and entertaining speech on how to challenge the traditional approach to project planning. By using analogies and examples from other industries and professions, Bryans points were provocative, easy to comprehend and refreshing. index card planning is definitely a useful approach a modern Project Manager should be familiar with.

Adrian Turner, Midland Branch Volunteer.

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