Sticky Notes Style of Project Management

About 5 years ago, we had an IBM Project Manager on site to help install the ERP (Enterprise Resouce Planning, software that keeps track of supplies, ordering, money, etc… runs the financial part of a business) that we bought from GEAC. The lady, whose name escapes me at this time, had a very interesting concept of Project Management. She used sticky notes. I would walk into her office and see exactly what was done, was in process, and had not been started. She ran a five million dollar project off of sticky notes. I have had to make changes to this method, based off of my experience, but this is how I run projects and solve issues where I have worked since.

First, and most important is the sticky notes. I personally use the Post-It Notes by 3m. There are two types that I use, the 3 x 5 yellow and the 3 x 3 yellow. Someone could use any size or color, but yellow is easier on the eyes and the sizes are perfect for my handwriting.

The 3 x 5 yellow sticky note is specifically used for major functional areas. If there is a major reporting component to the project, then I use the 3 x 5 yellow to define it. I also use to 3 x 5 to group under the major functional areas the status of the tasks under the functional area. (In Progress, Not Started, and Done) I keep a hanging folder (a folder that hangs inside a file drawer) for each of the major functional areas. The tasks for that functional area go inside the hanging folder.

The organizational layout for each functional area is one 3 x 5 sticky note with the title. Below that, there are 3 x 5 sticky notes, one for each status. I space those out to give room for the individual tasks under each functional area. With enough room, projects with thousands of tasks could be done, but I keep the tasks and functional areas really broad. Example, I would have a build task and a test task for a stored procedure, but not one for each step of the build or test process, those would go in the folder documentation. I also always have a miscellaneous functional area for those surprises that do not fit anywhere.

The 3 x 3 yellow sticky note is used to define tasks. I put two pieces of information on each of those tasks, name and estimated time. When the task goes to the in process status, I put the initials of the people working on it. I keep a folder for the task in the functional area’s hanging folder with at least a basic write-up on each task. (What needs to be done, requirements, test cases if any…).

The advantages to this system is that people can quickly see the up to the minute status of a project by looking at the sticky notes. Everyone knows what needs to be done and tends to just put their initials on a task and gets to work. It is easy to build Gantt charts off of. I admit, it is not pretty, but it got us through our year 2000 testing, numerous production down issues (a bad thing), and several migrations of systems to newer versions and servers.

Just take a standard 3x3 sticky note and draw three lines down. Try to draw them straight and equidistant. Then turn it sideways and draw four lines across. This is your day. These are twenty little squares which define what you must do before you call it done. Anyone can do twenty things in a day, can't they? You can't count eating a meal or taking a shower or anything like that. You can only count things that would qualify as work. Check them off as you finish.

People like to badmouth Cotton Mather and the whole "dead white man" work ethic, but it's very important to your life. Laziness is harmful. Sloth will lead to depression and, God knows, we have more than enough depressed folks running around already. In lands where twenty little chores would seem like just an hour's work and where folks know what it means to "starve to death," you don't see a whole lot of depression. You see desperation, but that's an entirely different animal.

Desperation is juicy. You can taste the magnificence of it. Depression is chewy and leaves a wad in your mouth like beef jerky that's overcooked. You can't quite get it down, even after you've gotten every furious calorie out of it. Desperation tastes like the last perfectly cooked chicken on a stick at the backyard party to which you weren't invited but snuck into anyway, knowing that you just might be the one who ate it all so there would be none left for those who made you miserable to begin with. The satisfaction is overwhelming, just like the abject horror when you're caught chewing and the fence is too high to climb over now that your belly's full.

Work should be a lifetime of desperation. Embrace it. Learn to despise the feeling of impending doom from prolonged inactivity. Break it down into a manageable system. How do you think anything ever got done around here?

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