Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

The holiday seasons are already over when you read this article but I still want to give you a gift for Christmas. When the times are tough and we have fewer and fewer resources for doing our work, it is easy to neglect planning and dive in immediately doing “real work.” So my gift to you all is having time to plan.

In Finland, we have a proverb “well planned is half done.” What people often fail to see is that planning is part of the work, not something extra that hardly takes any time. And if the planning is considered part of the work, “well planned is half done” means also that planning should take a considerable amount of time in the total work. Because it is just a proverb, planning might not actually take half of the time, in fact, it might take a lot more than half.

As an example, consider a project in which Nokia rearranged our internal support documentation for using our tools and processes in customer documentation. In spring 2003, we spent a many hours doing contextual inquiries, Web surveys, and usability tests to find out what our users actually did, how they searched for information currently, and what their preferences were in finding information. Later in 2003, we analyzed the current information, created mock-ups of the navigation, and conducted more usability tests to find out if the architecture was intuitive enough for the users. We found several more improvements to be made during the tests. The actual time to rearrange the existing material to the new structure took about two person weeks. It was a simple copy-paste operation with small modifications to the content to fit the new standard. If we had not done the planning and the tests, we would probably have spent a lot more time rearranging the material over and over because we would have found out that the architecture did not work at all. So far, we have received no negative feedback on the site, and I believe that the satisfaction survey we are planning to do soon will also give good results.

Sometimes planning may sound unnecessary because the activities seem so small that an official plan seems like overkill. However, my advice is that unless you are the only person doing the work and the work is really small, you create some kind of a plan. It does not have to be an elaborate one but it should contain the goal of the activity (and as I noted in my last article, setting a clear goal is very important), subtasks for getting to the goal, and the persons participating in the tasks. If the project is any bigger, you should include work estimations and more detailed timetables. Thinking about the subtasks usually reveals things you have not thought about initially. Putting the persons and timetables in place serves as a reality check so that you don’t end up in a situation where the deadline is impossible right from the beginning. The plans should naturally be communicated to people who are taking part in the activity.

It is actually not in my power to give you time to plan. I hope at least that you take the time to plan yourself. Just writing down some notes about the activities on your notepad will probably reveal some insights that make you see that a more detailed plan is in order. It is so easy to create action plans that state the action in one sentence and have a deadline and the responsible person. Then you assume that the action happens. However, what typically happens is that when the deadline approaches, the responsible person starts calling meetings with people whose time has not been reserved for the actions. These people might not be able to participate or, if they can participate, most of the meeting time is spent explaining what the action is about and discussing whether it should be done at all. The result is typically less than optimal.

My New Year’s resolution is to… Well, they aren’t kept anyway so better not promise anything. I just wish you all a happy, planning-oriented, New Year.

This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia.