Resource Planning: The Uncommon Way

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Any team lead or manager bumps once in a while into non-functional limitations of digital calendars/schedulers/planners, especially when it comes to planning the tasks of more than 15 people.

During a recent mission that was not different for me: no (digital) tool was capable of what I wanted. I wanted something visible, tangible, structured and flexible. And since boring stuff gets ignored and ignored stuff makes no sense, it had to be fun to use for all concerned parties/people. As the project was a very rapidly changing initiative, planning further than two weeks made no sense, so I had no need for a long term planner.

While searching for inspiration, I found different approaches to tackle my ‘issue’. I could go with 3M Post-it® notes, but this was a no-go as I know by experience the notes are not that sticky as claimed. Another type of planner I found was based on studded bricks (think “LEGO®”) as seen sometimes as of the late sixties up to the eighties being used in production planning or at logistics companies… Actually, these bricks were nothing else than smaller LEGO® bricks branded Modulex. Initially meant for architects but embraced by industrial planners… Eventually, the “Bit Planner” from the design studio “Special Projects” inspired me getting to my solution:

Figure 1: The Studded Planner The Studded Planner is based on:

  • three 48×48 studs building plates (the biggest available from LEGO®),
  • hundreds of differently colored bricks of 2×2 studs representing ‘time’ (½ day per block, every color represented a defined time consumption e.g. testing or supporting),
  • 2×2 flat tiles serving as a base for adhesive labels (Dymo®) and
  • a LEGO® Minifigure for each team member. One can also use (studded) objects for non-human resources, e.g. a door or window for a meeting room. Be creative!

Each block (4×4 studs) represents ½ day (or 4 hours). Nevertheless, one can use single stud bricks, and use the planner to cover hours instead of ½ days. LEGO® can offer almost unlimited possibilities.

The leftmost building plate contains an overview of the tasks (i.e. the legend). Each task had a flexibility attached: how easily can one (inter)change a task. When you cannot change a task, a red 2×2 brick was attached next to the task. Unavailability (e.g. yellow with 2×2 red brick next to it) is rigid. When changing a task needs to be discussed with the manager, a 2×1 red brick was attached next to the task. When tasks are interchangeable, no red brick is next to the task. The bunch of bricks next to each task description are just spare bricks to avoid rumbling in a box. Both the central and rightmost building plate are the actual planner, stating vertically the days and horizontally a line per individual (next to her/his Minifigure). The central building plate was the running week. The rightmost plate was the week ahead. As we only have 5 working days per week, I didn’t include the weekend… But one can add them easily when needed: plenty of space!

In order to avoid changing all blocks at the end of the week from one plate to the other, I used self-adhesive Velcro®-tape to “hang” the base plates to the wall.

Figure 2: Removable base plates

Initially, the planner was received by some with rolling eyes as they associated LEGO® with toys and thus playing. But most of the team members saw the added value sooner or later. The planner brought structure in the before rather chaotic approach and made that structure even visibly tangible. Using The Studded Planner is the ultimate in transparency and accountability: studs don’t lie.

But beyond the transparency, there is another big advantage to using studded bricks: it is fun. And because LEGO® (or alike) is, by its nature, expected to be rebuilt, patterns don’t appear stuck in stone or printed in (digital) ink, which made it for me the ideal planning tool.

Posted by Olivier Swyngedouw

Spelen op het werk: een must!Spelen op het werk met LEGO® Serious Play®!

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