View Full Version : issues with defining projects - top end
07-04-2003, 05:25 PM
Thanks to all those who replied to my previous posts re what to do with certain pieces of paper and how not to lose them in a tickler etc. You were right - I needed to not be so afraid creating projects - ie anything that requires more than one task etc. I have populated the project list with those what I considered 'minor' projects and it's working well. I've ditched the full on paper tickler and am working with just monthly combined with electronic tickler and one tickler support file. That seems ok.
My issue NOW is that I find that my project list is full of some 'funnies' that probably aren't technically projects. I'll give two examples of what is on there that I'm worried about - perhaps they shouldn't be there - I even moved one to someday/maybe because I didn't know how to 'tackle' - DA site/book doesn't seem to be able to help or maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.
I have as one project 'resume greek' which means that I want to at least begin to open my greek study books (I learned it for four years and now feel like I"m losing it because we have no teacher so now it really needs to be self-study ... requiring discipline). There are things I can do to start that - ie schedule some time to do a weekly 'lesson' - find the tapes , try to organise a class reunion and i can do that but perhaps there is a problem with the 'definition of the project - I'm not sure but all I want to do is start to get back 'into it' - so that in the event I get the opportunity to go to Greece then I will be able to speak it a bit like I could before.
The other issue is that I want it to be an 'ongoing project' if you like so that is where I"m not sure how it sits... do 'ongoing projects' stay in the project list as such?
A similar issue is my daughter - she needs some language help - she sees a speech pathologist and there are quite a few complex problems - we need to work on various things with her - some exercises from the pathologist, other things like 'listening' to her properly and helping build her confidence come up, and then also practising writing stories or letters or notes etc - I want to use GTD to ensure that we move forward on this otherwise the weeks fly by and we've not made any inroads - and it is such an important one - more important than the greek which is a nice to have really. I've got it down as 'help Bronte with her language' but it seems too broad - I find the definition of projects ie the outcomes quite difficult ie how to make them specific .....
A futher example I just thought of is that we've got a new puppy - and I've got 'train Ruby' - like there are actions that are needed but I'm stuck with that one as well..
I'd better end this post here but I think you get the general idea.
It might be that these things need to go into the 'notes' section of my palm/outllook and I create mini projects from them - but any ideas would be much appreciated.
I'm on overload with family illness/a lots of work/new puppy/kids changing schools/renovations about to start.... so if anyone wants a week in sydney to come and sort me out let me know :-)
Have a great weekend....
07-04-2003, 08:30 PM
Hi Helen, I can sense the complexity and enormity of the projects that you mention (Greek, your kid's language remediation, puppy training). While I remain bogged down in my own similiar propjects, I have some suggestions that I think are compatible with GTD. May I suggest that you give yourself some defined time to play with pencils and llarge-sized paper and brain storm each of these--just jot down your thoughts in what ever form works for you. In doing so, you may think of reference material that you have or need to get on the projects, if so, note that. also any fears, barriers, wishes etc. Note the desired outcomes and impacts. Then create either a highly preliminary time line or outline for each, something that lets you see the steps you will need to take. Then for each project think about what methodology would let you manage the steps of the project. Maybe for your kid you will use check lists in different contexts (car, home, etc,) but for your Greek you just need to do something from your list on a regular basis (anything is better than nothing), such as read a page of grammatical rules or put three words on your mirror each week to study. I hope this helps and that you can share your success here. I have a terrible time with projects myself--I seem to complete the first step or maybe the second and then lose my momentum, even forget how much progress I have made and then fear getting backn to the project!
07-07-2003, 09:17 AM
I think the Projects list is the perfect place for these. Starting with the last example, training Ruby. I would put an entry on the Projects list that says "Ruby has been trained." (I like to phrase things on the Projects lists that are either true of false. True statements get checked off; false statements indicate more work is needed and hence a next action is required.) As behaviors come to mind that you want Ruby to acquire, I would list those in the note section of that Project. During the weekly review, looking at that entry and its notes will trigger you as to some specific actions to take (Books-A-Million--Buy dog training book on @Errands, Jim--Where did you take your dog to be obedience trained on @Calls, Vet--what treats would you recommend to us in training on @Calls, Teach Ruby to sit on @Home).
Same idea with the other two. Something like "Bronte's no longer needs speech therapy" and "I am fluent in Greek." When you do your weekly review and see these two false statements, think in terms of what specific action would move them a little closer to being true. As other ideas come to mind related to those projects, capture them in the note section of the project.
Hope this helps,
07-07-2003, 05:13 PM
Jamie: thanks for your advice and support - it probably would be very challenging for me to list my 'fears, barriers' etc to my projects but doing that along with some kind of timeline or mind map could be really helpful. I'll let you know how I go and good luck with your 'major' projects.
Frank: at first I was confused by your way of listing the projects but now I really like the idea - of stating the 'outcome' as the project name. Could you give me an example of any that you have as 'false' statements - I'd really appreciate seeing how I could implement those as well.
I've got some large work projects that I would like to get moving - using Jamie's advice I will see if I can break them down into smaller projects - for others that do this - do they keep the 'big' project in their list as well as sub-projects? Once I have some idea of the smaller projects I will try to list them as the outcome or 'vision'.
I could use this for other things like my exercise/weight management, community work etc - shall see how it goes and report back on any successes.
07-07-2003, 07:43 PM
Helen - I think Frank meant he lists all projects as outcome statements he wants to be true when he completes the project. If, at his weekly review or whenever, the outcome statement is still false - then there must be a next action task or two left to do before the statement is true and the project is complete.
07-07-2003, 10:40 PM
Thanks Guy.... brain a little cluttered :-)
07-08-2003, 03:38 AM
Guy, that's it exactly. I phrase the project as a statement of what the project will look like when it's completed. I find it helps me see more clearly when a project is "done" and there is still work to do. There is another benefit. The way I work the projects puts a noun (usually the start of the project name) up front rather than starting with a verb. Outlook sorts my projects alphabetically, so it makes it easier to go right to a particular project if I am looking for it on the list. Finally, if I need to establish a project support folder, there is no question as to how to label the folder.
07-08-2003, 07:54 AM
I think this is a really good idea and I am going to test it. I get irritated looking at my alpha list of action verbs: Complete, Conduct, Create, Design, Develolp, Finalize, Gain, Implement, Improve, Launch, RND, Resolve, Decide, etc. I think your idea of starting with the noun could be really good for referencing the project list and would also cluster projects and sub-project moving parts together by topic.
More important, your approach seems to really drive outcome thinking on the front end and could be more satisfying in terms of focusing on and achieving more inspired outcomes as compared to the simple state it with an action verb approach. Said another way, I like the way it creates a mini-vision and outcome statement. The action verbs sometime feel a little like drudgery (that's when I know I need to change up the language) and I think your approach reinforces the mental image and picture of "why" I am doing all of these things and in determining the right next action.
I am going to convert my project list over right now and see how it goes. Any pitfalls to watch out for since this is a variation on the nuts and bolts GTD?
Thanks for the discussion.
07-08-2003, 08:05 AM
My comment is not how to manage the projects you are working on, but is specific to the "I am fluent in Greek" project. I would highly suggest you put it on your someday/maybe list. It sounds like you really have your hands full at the moment and this may not be a high priority one. When you do begin planning your trip to Greece, you will have plenty of time to refresh your language skills then. The fact that you will then have the trip to look forward to will motivate you to really work on it and enjoy it. You might also put a someday/maybe "I am going to Greece" project on your list as well.
That being said, if refreshing your Greek is something that you would enjoy doing, by all means, keep it on the active list. With all the balls you are juggling at the moment, you should be sure that a couple of them are fun.
Frank, I really like putting things in the true/false context. Not only does it make it clear whether there is still an action to be taken related to the project, it puts it in a positive affermation context as well. To read "The puppy is trained" has a totally different psychological impact than "Need to train the puppy".
07-09-2003, 05:32 AM
I think David does advocate phrasing your projects as outcome statements that evoke a true/false response when you see them. However, Frank's method of starting with a noun ("August vacation is fun and relaxing") just feels different than starting with a verb ("Enjoy August vacation").
Verbs are best used in the action lists (call hotel, research whale-watching tours on web, file receipts, etc). Nice division, Frank -- thanks.
07-09-2003, 08:24 AM
Frank, thank you for posting your approach to project definition. It's helped me realize that (a) my project outcomes are not clearly defined and (b) my projects are too large! I need to subdivide my large projects into smaller ones with clearly-defined outcomes. (Looks like I have to create a Next Action for my "GtD Implementation" project!)
07-09-2003, 11:37 PM
I've been working at changing my projects over to mini outcome statements after Frank shared his method with us and I think it's nice to see them that way - they could be a far more inspiring list I feel!!
Jeff - how did your transfer go?
Robin: thanks for your thoughts about the Greek - I did have it on my someday list for too long, and that is the problem - I couldn't bear to see it there anymore despite all the things I have on my plate so I wanted to begin to move forward. Like Jamie suggested I think I"ll just take it very very slowly - a few sentences a week, one tape while I'm exercising - I will get there. It's an important 'release' for me in a way because I get a lot of satisfaction from achieving something that on the surface looks difficult!
I did have a minor breakthrough with a personal project yesterday so will share this mini success. I was with my daughter at the eye hospital and while she was recovering from her little eye operation to divert her mind from how unwell she was feeling I took out my palm pilot and keyboard and I brought up the project "Bronte has held a fun filled 'leaving' party" and she and I brainstormed while I typed and my notes page is packed full of all the steps/ideas etc needed for us to make sure she really has this party before her first day at her new school at the end of the month.
It was something that could have easily slipped by these holidays with so much going on and I was 'craving' the 'time' to get it done - however I felt that significant progress was made by grabbing the time we had in between some bad moments of being ill at the hospital' These little 'windows' of time are really valuable and I remember David mentioning them in his book.
I have started to change my project list over to mini-outcome statements as well, and I have a question: in doing this, I've realized that I have a couple of projects that will (hopefully) have two different outcomes. Should both be included in one statement, or should they be two different projects? The action steps for both outcomes are exactly the same. It's like this: I have a long term project with an end date of November 2003. The outcome of the project is not only its successful completion, but it will also put in place a structure for an even larger (similar) project for November 2004. So, the outcome is "Project X is successfully completed in 2003, and structure is in place for Project Y for 2004". Or should it be two disticnt things? Am I making this too hard?
07-10-2003, 05:16 PM
To Frank Buck: "Great Idea!" I'm going to give that a try.
To AMS: I think what you are touching on is the fact that outcomes can be decomposed into other, smaller outcomes. Let's take the example of "Ruby is Trained." That can be decomposed into: Ruby can sit, Ruby can stay, Ruby can heel, Ruby can mix a mean Margarita. (Good Ruby!) Frank mentions adding these additional sub-outcomes as notes on his project. In a sense, they form the completion criteria for your overall outcome. Ruby is not "really trained" until she can sit, stay, heel, and mix Margaritas. (Good dog!)
To get to your example, your main outcome might be "The 2003 project is complete." This can then be decomposed into "The 2003 stuff is done" and "Structures are in place for the 2004 project." (Forgive these mushy outcome statements, but I don't know what your project is really about. Hopefully they are enough to give you the idea.) You now have two significant completion criteria for your project, since the project won't really be done until both are true. You also have completeness criteria for your project plan, since your plan is not complete unless it contains steps that accomplish both sub-outcomes.
As I've been writing this, I have been going back and forth with myself about whether or not you could (or should) design the work breakdown structure for a project based on such an "outcome tree." Right now I thinking that you could and you should. If there is any interest, we might take it up later.
07-11-2003, 09:05 AM
OK - I am in day 3 post-conversion to the "mini-outcome" method of writing project lists and I have to say, generally it is going quite well. I'll be doing my weekly review right after this to test it further. Here are some of my experiences so far:
1) I feel much more inspired and motivated about the list - It describes outcomes that I genuinely feel excited about.
2) Project list items and next actions now require two different "mental models" which feels awkward. I didn't realize how unconsciously competent I was at automatically thinking in terms of the "start it with an action verb" method i.e., I have a new project so boom - Scope out Project X vs new method - Project X scope is fully agreed upon by project team and sponsor.
It tends to require more words to describe the project but I like the color and texture it adds vs the old list of alpha action verbs.
3) I feel it naturally pushes me to be clearer on the desired outcome although I do notice that my thinking tends to now move a little higher & broader in scope using this method. Not bad or good experience yet, just different.
4) I really like how it "clusters" moving parts of a "super" project. For example, I am responsible for the Associate Opinion Survey (AOS) so I now see all of the following projects alpha listed together:
-AOS follow up process is approved and supported by Executive Committee.
-AOS Department Feedback Meetings are complete according to schedule.
-AOS Integration Teams are formed and chartered.
-AOS Results presentations are complete
-AOS Process deck provides a blue print for '03 and future survey process.
I really like seeing all of these together as it provides the opportunity for some good "whole-parts-whole" thinking, identifying interdependencies and identifying consolidation or making pieces more discrete.
5) Next actions definitely have to stay with the action verb method in my opinion - Send meeting planner to Tom.
6) I also keep a Projects Now list and a Projects Soon List for work. Typically, Projects Now is about 50 - 60 and Projects Soon about 20. I am going to be more rigorous in the weekly review and get Projects Now down to about 10. No way I am going to act on 50 projects in a particular week and I think it may be diffusing effort. I am going to try to bring more of a "critical few" mentality to it on a weekly basis but still have benefit of the whole inventory right there and easily accessible.
That's it for now......
Good luck to everyone else who is engaged in the elusive pursuit of "The Perfect Project List".....
07-13-2003, 03:52 PM
Many thanks for your thorough review of Frank's mini outcome statement project method. We all seem to be experiencing the same enlightenment with regards to more descriptive projects but maintaining the next action use of 'verbs'.;
I use the prioritising feature to separate my large project list. I have projects - personal and projects - professional - then for the ones that I want to be focusing on I put them as high priority, making sure that I never do that with more than 10-12 or a full palm screen - seems to work well.
Have to report thatso far Ruby SITS and STAYS but couldn't mix a mean margherita to save her life! Bit of work to do on that one :-)
04-30-2007, 07:27 AM
IMHO, this is the (only?) fault in the David's Getting Things Done book.
He did splendid job in renaming amourphous 'to-do's to doable 'Next Actions'.
I have no idea why he chose to stick to 'Projects', instead of calling them 'concrete outcomes' or just 'outcomes'. Well, maybe he'll fix it on his 3rd book.
04-30-2007, 09:05 AM
I'd like to add to all above mentioned. Outcome is a fine tool. Try to answer the question "What is there for me?". Train pappy is maybe too general. At least for me it would be. Try to find what is there for you. Maybe "Train pappy to have a good sleep so he doesn't bay the moon" :)
There's nothing worse one a project stays on the project list for some time and you see no progress doing it. And the second advice I found helpful is to divide the projects by 1-2 months steps. All the rest goes to Someday/Maybe. For instance, "Learn Greek" could be a project that will take 1-2 years to complete. The first part could be "Learn basic grammar and small talks". That will take 1 month and goes on the project list. When finished go to your master project "Learn Greek" and take another subproject for the next month. That will give you some milestones and progress, at least you can feel it monthly.