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Cards on the Wall

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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”
(Woody Allen, probably)

When it comes to creating project plans, I still use the “cards-on-the-wall” technique I first read about in 2001. This technique is rather old fashioned (compared to the current agile mainstream), but I still like it.

The main dimensions I am using are people (aka “staff”, aka “resources”) and time:

cotw-sketch.jpg

In reality it looks much less clean:

cotw-real.jpg

Each tasks should be exactly 5 days, but that is rarely the case, so you have to mark the estimated effort on the index cards (either with a simple number, or a visual cue: just some boxes (at most five, and some empty place holders.) You can add an ID, some description (preferably on the back) and what ever you like. Just keep it simple.

cotw-two-cards-with-effort-marker.jpg

The main advantages for me are:

  • Everyone (up to 6-7 people) can participate, can understand the reasoning, discuss and finally the whole group decides on this plan.
  • It is much easier and faster to move tasks around, group them, put them aside for a moment etc. On a computer screen I can never do that

Sure it’s still a plan (someone is laughing). And therefore will be changed. The first planning round is just to see, if the project is feasible, to discover blunders, previously overlooked dependencies and especially missing tasks. And at the end of each iteration, we will adapt the plan — sometimes even more often.

Much too often, there are no user stories, there is just a plain old “functional requirements” document. So this is the best technique I could find to create such a plan. The alternative is much too grim: sitting on my computer, at best with one other person, and creating some monster of a wallpaper that no one ever wants to change and no one understands — me included.

But here’s the catch: in most cases someone wants this plan in electronic form and wants some progress report based on that plan. Let’s not start a discussion, if that is the most effective way to track a project. Let’s say it is just part of some contract or something like that (in my experience you can convince people higher up, that this plan is sufficient; as long as you take some pretty pictures as the one above for record keeping, but it takes time, it takes at least one successful project).

So how do I create that plan? Back to some project planning monster? I haven’t yet found a program that has a view like the one above, where I can …

  1. … assign tasks by drag and drop to some “resources”
  2. … still move taks around

At least for the first requirement I finally have found a tool, at least if you are using a Mac: OmniPlan. You can see it in action for yourself here. If only the dependencies would be visible and if I could still directly move a task around (change dependencies, prioritize, etc.) in that view.

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