Do you;

  • Find it difficult to draw up initial plans for your project? Or get a big picture overview of the project?
  • Need an easy tool to help your team identify risks, issues, stakeholders, requirements for your project?
  • Want to engage your team in identifying the project’s critical tasks and dependencies?
  • Struggle to track progress of individual tasks?

Well have I got good news for you?! There is a cheap, simple tool that requires no user training whatsoever and you probably have it in your desk drawer already!

Obviously, I am talking about the humble Sticky Note (often called ‘Post it’. Originally invented by accident in 1968 by 3M in the United States it is an invaluable addition to your tool kit because:

  • When used in workshops it encourages participation and engagement
  • It requires no training, people know how to use it right away
  • It requires no set up or installation
  • It is very portable
  • It can be changed, moved or if completely messed up – thrown away and replaced without great effort or expense

How you can use sticky notes to improve your project?

Creating a high level plan or roadmap

Before even thinking about building a detailed schedule, or starting to type things into your project tool of choice you should take a step back and create a high level plan.

This should not contain individual tasks, rather the main deliverables or “themes” of work and the purpose is to give you an initial overview of the project as a whole and how the major pieces of work hang together.

Do this:

  1. Gather your team
  2. Identify the main deliverables or high-level work and write each on a sticky note
  3. Place the sticky notes on a whiteboard or flipchart
  4. Order them chronologically
  5. Draw arrows to show relationships and dependencies
  6. See if you can identify key events and milestones (perhaps use a different coloured sticky note to high light those?!)

Now you have a high level, very visual, roadmap of your project.

This becomes a valuable communication tool and input into other planning processes such as risk, finance and stakeholder engagement.

Once you break this down into more detail it will give you the input to create your project schedule. Depending on the size of your project it might be appropriate to use a digital tool like Project Professional or Project Planner to ensure you can control and manage the schedule appropriately.

Build a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) or Work breakdown Structure (WBS)

Ever wondered how to go from a high level plan, or an idea of a desired solution to having a detailed scope statement? The key is in building a good Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

A WBS is a hierarchical breakdown of all tasks within the project. Sticky notes are ideal for building out a WBS together with the team!

Do this:

  1. Gather your team
  2. Ensure everyone has a shared understanding/ vision of the solution

Write the solution on a sticky note and place it on a flipchart or white board

  1. Agree major deliverables to deliver the solution. Write each on a sticky note and put them underneath the solution
  2. For each deliverable ask “what must be done to create this deliverable”?

Write each task on a sticky note and place them under the relevant deliverable

  1. Have you identified tasks that are small enough that they can be assigned to one person and estimated with confidence? If not, perhaps you want to break the tasks into sub-tasks.

Write each sub-task on a sticky note and place them on the board.

  1. Work through each deliverable and double check all work has been identified.

Write any new tasks on sticky notes and place them on the board.

What you will end up with is a hierarchical breakdown of all work needed to deliver the project, i.e the entire scope of work. If a task is not on the WBS it should not be part of the scope.

The WBS will look something like this:

How you can use sticky notes to improve your project?

The WBS identifies the tasks that form your schedule. These can be inputted into a tool such as Project Professional or Project Planner for easy control and management of the schedule.

Identify and assess risks

Want to ensure you identify as many risks as possible, and also improve team buy in and involvement in the risk management process? Host a risk identification workshop and invite the team members, your Sponsor and any key experts.

Do this:

  1. Brief everyone about what your project is about (the High Level Plan mentioned above is a brilliant tool for this).
  2. Hand out a pack of sticky notes to each participant
  3. Ask them to think about the project and identify any things that can go wrong (threat) or very well (opportunity) and to write each threat or opportunity on a separate sticky note
  4. Place all sticky notes on a wall. Do some work to reduce duplications and voila – you now have the input to your risk register!
  5. Draw up a risk assessment grid on a whiteboard or flipchart (it consists of two axes: one for Likelihood/ Probability and one for Impact/Effect)
  6. One by one take the sticky notes with the risks written on them and with the team determine if they are High or Low Likelihood/ Probability and High or Low Impact/ Effect
  7. Place each risk sticky note at the right location in the grid
  8. When you are done you have a map of all your risks that also indicates what risks should be prioritised (any High:High or “Red” risks) and which one can be put on the backburner (Low:Low or “Green” risks)

The outputs from your workshop can be entered into an excel sheet or a cloud based solution like Project Online or Project for the Web for easy storage, management and oversight for all team members.

Note: A similar approach works for identifying and assessing stakeholders as well! In that case the axes on the grid should be “Power/Influence” and “Interest”.

Track progress of individual tasks with a Kanban board

Kanban boards are a fantastic tool for maintaining an overview of tasks and for tracking their progress. If you have a shared workspace you can easily set one up on a wall or whiteboard.

Do this:

  1. Draw the Kanban board. Typically it contains 4 standard fields but it can be customized to suit your team.
  • Not started
  • In progress
  • Blocked
  • Finished or Done
  1. Write your tasks on individual sticky notes.
  2. Place all sticky notes in the “Not started” field.
  3. When a task is started move the sticky note to the “In progress” field.
  4. When the task is completed move it to the “Finished” field (this is incredibly satisfying!)
  5. If a task becomes blocked, i.e you are not able to complete it without external help or there is a problem then place it in the “Blocked” field.

Updating the Kanban board and adding/ moving tasks can be an excellent activity in regular team meetings since it helps everyone gain an overview of the workload and progress.

Whereas this article is an ode to the simple sticky note it is worth pointing out that within Office365 there is a fantastic app called Planner that mimics a Kanban board with digital sticky notes. It provides a great alternative to a physical board!

Do you want to learn more practical ways to make your project management life easier with practical tips and simple tools? Sign up for one of our courses.

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule

Published: 27 June 2023

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