I was chatting to someone at EuroSTAR last week and we got talking about personal productivity.
I shared with her my way of working using a concept I’ve been calling Shipping Forecasts. It’s based around the simple premise that I will be shipping something (a project). It is called a forecast because no amount of planning is a guarantee, so I am forecasting about what is involved in shipping this project.
My view is that projects are simply containers for tasks, and completing the tasks is what’s most important. But these tasks should be viewed in the context of what I’m trying to achieve – i.e. why am I doing this project?
Anything worth shipping will take a significant amount of effort and will need some form of forecasting.
This forecasting could be a quick scribble in a notebook or a full on project plan – a lot depends on your own style and own way of working. I like to visualise my work and list out what I believe needs to be done to complete the project.
By breaking a bigger project in to smaller chunks we can start to see what is truly involved. I also believe that any project that will take more than about 1 month should be broken down in to multiple projects. Each one of those projects should be shippable and feedback should be sought before moving on to the next project.
In a sense it’s the basics of iterative software development.
I thought I would share with you my Shipping Forecast idea that I use to break down my own projects in to manageable chunks.
Since I’ve started using this technique I’ve been uber productive.
There are times when I get a little lost or don’t feel like producing anything but rarely does a project sink because I didn’t understand it, or couldn’t actually complete it, or didn’t know what was involved in completing it.
A few people have been using the Shipping Forecast for some time now so they have been through a few reviews but there is always room for improvement – don’t expect the templates and the idea to be complete – I’m still hacking it.
How to use the Shipping Forecast templates
To start with you’ll need to define a project in the format of
This……(date, time period, month, year, etc)
I will be shipping…….. (the end product)
So that I can…………….(the reason why you are shipping it)
I will be shipping my new blog hosted on ghost.org
So that I can start blogging about my addiction to stationary
If you cannot fill in these sentences then you need to question why you are doing the project.
The project must have a deadline otherwise it will meander on and on. Don’t fall in to the trap of relying on your own enthusiasm and energy. Most projects require hard work and tiresome commitment – a deadline will help. You don’t always have to specify an exact date, but the information you fill in should mean something to you. For example: “This Week” is fine if you know that your weeks finish on Saturday for example.
You should be able to describe what it is you are building at a high level. You must know how to recognise the end result. Is it a product? A website? A new blog post? A new t-shirt design? A new test automation tool? You must also think about how complete you need it to be. Are you shipping the finished item, or just phase/design 1 of it?
Your project should also have a reason why you are doing it. I’ve seen too many project stumble because the project owners didn’t know why they were doing it. Don’t do something because you think you should. Do something because you need to or want to. Why are you bothering to commit to this project?
There are some prompts below the description on the template to help you think about how you will measure your progress, how you will know you are done and whether you are reliant on others. Projects can fail because they rely on other people and these other people didn’t know that.
There is an action section with 20 spaces. If your project takes more than 20 tangible actions that can be marked as complete, then it may be that your project is too large or you have broken the activity down too much.
Some people use this form to work out the 20 activities they need to complete and then break those 20 items down further in another tool, like a To Do list manager. This could work really well but I’ve found that any more than 20 deliverable items to achieve Shipping is just too much. I find it’s better to have more projects and ship each one than try to do too much.
And that’s it. The Shipping Forecast – a tool for helping you work out what you need to do to ship stuff.
Here are some examples of Shipping Forecasts that I have done.
Our Garden Project
An example company launch
Updating your CV
My own publishing of the Shipping Forecast template
Here is the PNG (image) of the Shipping Forecast for you to download. I’m working on getting a better quality one created.