How is it Different / Does it Work?

How is it Different / Does it Work?

How is it different from conventional project management?

The central problem in project management is that we have to predict the future.  We have to make a plan – a prediction of the future – and then make that prediction come true.  Of course, none of us can do this.  If we could, we’d be down at the race track or spending or nights in casinos or buying lottery tickets!

Where this problem becomes most apparent is in the fraught business of estimation.  If we could estimate with 100% accuracy, then there wouldn’t be a problem with predicting the future.  Given that we can’t estimate with 100% accuracy, our next best bet is to keep the estimating error as small as possible.

The two ways we do this are to:

  1. Put lots of detail in the plan
  2. Use actual data from similar, completed projects – assuming that such treasure is available.

In the absence of #2 – which is very often the case – lots of detail is the only thing available to us.

The next question then, is what the right level of detail should be.  What we teach on our courses is that the project needs to be broken down into elements whose size is in the range:

  • ½ – 5 days duration, or
  • ½ – 5 person-days work.

Anything smaller than ½ is too small – we don’t want to go to a silly level of detail – and anything bigger than 5 needs to be broken into smaller (i.e. ½ – 5) elements.  This technique will ensure that (a) uncover as many potential issues in the project, right at the beginning and thus (b) keep the error in your estimation as small as possible.

(There are exceptions to this – certain military operations, for example are planned at the minute level of detail.  However, this ½ – 5 rule will work for most of the projects we encounter.)

If you want to shorten your project or shorten time to market, there’s just one small change you need to make to this:

You need to plan at the day level of detail.

(If you’d like more on the justification for this statement check out or go to


So how exactly does it work?

Unlike in conventional project management, the project planning is done in two passes.  Ideally, both of these passes are done by the team who will actually carry out the project.  If that’s not possible, do it with at least one other person – the worst thing is to do it by yourself.


1 Pass 1 – Estimate the project down to the ½ – 5 day level of detail

In this first pass, the plan is estimated properly down to the ½ -5 day level of detail.  (If you don’t have a properly estimated plan in the first place, there’s no point in trying to shorten it.  If you haven’t properly estimated your project, it means that you’ve already pretty much guaranteed you’re going to lengthen it i.e. it’s going to take much longer than anybody could possibly have imagined.)

In this first pass, your focus is on trying to capture everything that needs to be done to get the project done and to estimate all of that as accurately as possible.


2 Pass 2 – Estimate the project down to the 1-day level of detail

In this second pass, you determine what each team member is going to do each day of the project. 

People are often appalled at the notion of having to do this but – if you think about it – you’re going to have to do this anyway to get the project done. Unfortunately, most people do it on the fly, in real time, as the project is unfolding.  All we’re suggesting is that you get most of it done at once, right at the beginning, upfront.  Then, it’s out of the way and you can get on with the business of delivering your project.

A good way to lay out this day-level plan is to put it on a strip board – essentially a spreadsheet with a column for each team member and a row for each day of the project. Each cell contains what that person is doing that day.

In this second pass, your focus is on trying to figure out whether there is any way each of the ½ – 5 jobs can be done any quicker.  There are a number of techniques for doing this and I’ll be talking more about these in subsequent posts:


3 Execute this day-level plan

Once you’ve done this second pass and started the project, project tracking is laughably easy. Draw a horizontal line on your day-level plan at the end of each day.  Everything above that line should be finished.

  • If it is, you’re on target.
  • If not, you’re behind schedule.
  • If some things below the line have been done, you’re ahead of schedule.

One of the most interesting effects that I’ve noticed when a team tries to shorten a project, is that as soon as they find themselves running ahead of the original schedule, a momentum builds up to pull even more ahead of schedule.  Or more simply, ‘Once a team finds itself ahead of schedule it will try to get even more ahead of schedule.’