Planning Guidelines

Planning is a way to organize ourselves, to create explicit expectations and transparency, negotiate promises, and have a direction of what we’re working on for the quarter and the year ahead!

This document is intended to be a lightweight guide on how to approach planning.

Put at least 2 hours aside to start, below are some guiding steps for planning.

Step 1: Retros

Always start with a retro on your last quarter, what did you achieve, what didn’t you achieve, why, what can we do differently next time? Use the take-aways to inform your planning session.

Step 2: Outputs

Come to a planning session with the big outputs you know you have to focus on for the upcoming quarter (ship this feature, launch the new website, create a finance manual etc etc etc).

Outputs are things that you deliver that take up your time. We can think of different types of outputs as rocks, pebbles and sand. Say your work time is a bucket, there is only so much time and space in the glass and you can fill it with different outputs. Rocks are the big things that are important; they take up most of your bucket. Pebbles are smaller things, day to day, still important but not as important as the rocks. Sand is everything in between, the emails you send, the things you fix, the small things that emerge on a daily basis.

We all have each but in general we don’t need to include the sand and most pebbles in planning.

Come to a planning session with the idea of the rocks or big outputs you know you have to achieve over the quarter. Start there and lay it out, think about how much time each of these things will take, make sure you can articulate WHY these activities are important, but we will get to that.

Step 3: Review Objectives

Look at your objectives for your team, are they still relevant this quarter? Objectives don’t change that frequently, but they may.

Are you still focused on achieving the same objectives? Do you have a clear understanding of why those objectives are important and how they fit within the company goals?

Not all objectives need to roll up perfectly into a “company objective”, we are building a web not a hierarchy, some things on a 3 month basis may be more loosely related to company objectives but they are need to have a clear story as to why this objective is important for the team, for the company and is helping to achieve the vision of Informal.

Think about this as you review objectives, do I know how this relates to the long term goals of the company? If you can’t answer that question, just ask anyone who is a customer on a 1 year goal.

Step 4: Results/Outcomes

Now that you’ve reviewed your objectives and have a sense of the big “rock” outputs you’re focusing on for the quarter, time to negotiate and write quarterly results. You know what you have capacity to do, now start to think about the outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

Defining good results is hard but every Workflow negotiation should end in a promise to deliver some well defined results. Results should describe the actual outcome or value you want to create in the world. Often people put down outputs or activities, not outcomes. “Publish 5 articles” is an output, not an outcome. Why do you want to publish those posts? For what purpose? What outcome are you really looking for? What value do you want to create in the world?

Activities are things we do. Outputs are things we produce from our activities. Outcomes are the value we create by our activities and outputs. Generally we can control our activities and our outputs. But it's harder to control the outcomes. That's what makes good results outcomes.

ActivitiesThings we do
OutputsArtifacts we produce
ResultsOutcomes we create in the world

You can read more about how to write results here:

You know the big rock level outputs you need to focus on, if you’re struggling to write the result, start with the activities you think you should perform and the outputs you think you should produce. Then ask, why do I want to do these things? What outcome do I really want ? What value do I want to create in the world? Often it’s just a small change in phrasing that’s required.

For instance, instead of “Promote cephalopod as a leading validator”, which is clearly an activity, a better result would be “Two independent news articles mention Cephalopod as a leading validator” or “a thousand people understand that Cephalopod is a leading validator”.

At the end of the day, it’s less important what specific text you write for a result. The more important thing is the conversation you have with your team around the result and the shared understanding you build around what you’re doing and why and what you plan to achieve in the next time horizon.

OKRs are a tool for building shared understanding in the teams and across the company about what we’re doing and why, for the purpose of increasing autonomy and improving coordination, getting us all resonating and rowing in the same directions.

Remember every result is a workflow negotiation between two people, you are making a promise to someone to achieve a result in a given timeframe. If you know you don’t have the capacity to do something, don’t make the promise and don’t make it a result. A planning session is a dynamic negotiation between a team about what they will all be working on for the quarter.

Also remember planning is dynamic, it changes every quarter but every individual has a certain percentage of their time working on “role based” results and activities. For example, we don’t add “run payroll” as part of the quarterly planning, it is a steady state requirement of the Finance Manager role, though it takes up time. Don’t forget about these role based results and activities and how that impacts your time, capacity and promises you make.

Step 5: Step Away and Come Back Later

Step away from the plans, leave them alone for a couple days. Then revisit it, does it all still make sense? Is this all achievable? Have we over/under estimated our time? Make updates before you finalize them.

Step 6: Lock

We “lock” the plans in order to look back and have retros about what we did and didn’t know, what changed.

Step 7: Maintain

On an ongoing basis revisit your planning, whether you do it on a team meeting, in github, make sure you stay up to date with the results and promises your team made for the quarter so you can evaluate your planning skills in order to get better over time.