Avoiding the Overloaded First Quarter Plan

Planning wheel example.jpg

Albert Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.”  Yet why do we tend to load our yearly planning with a massive amount of first quarter projects?  The tendency is natural because at the beginning of the year everything seems “urgent” and “important”.  In reality there is an order to the prioritization of projects and careful planning now will prevent the feeling of failure and being overwhelmed later.

You might remember the concept from Algebra called “Order of Operations” which says that certain math functions in an algebraic equation have to happen first (such as those in parenthesis!)  The same is true with critical tasks and projects in your business which have a natural flow based on available resources including time, people, and money.  In reality most of us can only successfully handle two or at most three major projects/initiatives in a quarter with a maximum of nine a year.

Engaging your team in the process of scheduling and prioritizing these projects is critical because they will live with the deadlines.  In this context, we’re looking at initiatives that extend beyond day to day and would typically have significant capital and expense budgets associated with them, and take multiple months to complete or may be significant one-time projects that provide additional capabilities or capacity.  A helpful visual to use in planning discussions is a circle divided into four quadrants representing each quarter.  While discussing timing on these projects, also identify a break-out of the 5-7 major milestones that occur within the project.  This can help to identify the best sequencing and overlapping of initiatives.