In this video, I talk about the concept of quarterly planning for portfolios and how you can apply the principles to your work.

Links mentioned in the video:

Download the slides (pdf)

Download the spreadsheet (Excel)


Hello, it’s Elizabeth here and I wanted to go into a bit more detail today in one of the topics that has come up as one of the questions asked by the group and that’s is around quarterly planning and planning on a 12 week cycle. So in today’s mini masterclass, let’s dive into that. So what I wanted to talk a little bit about is the idea of a 12 week year and how you can plan out your years, your year in 12 week chunks and then some ideas around what that actually looks like from a project management perspective for planning in quarters, how we can make that work. So the idea of a 12 week year comes from Brian Moran’s book and he has since put together a course, there’s a whole range of materials to support you in implementing the 12 week year.

And that’s the website address So it’s been around a long time as a planning philosophy as a way of trying to take a big goal and break it down into something that’s achievable. So it’s just a different way of chunking up work. Really, it works by identifying three big things, so to start off by setting your vision, which is your longer term vision, your long term expectation, and if you’re doing it for your life, your expectation or your vision might be to go and live in a different country. For us in a work environment, it might be to launch a PMO and to implement those PMO standards across the whole of the business. You then do the next step down which is setting your goals and that is setting goals for the next week, 12 weeks, and each of those goals needs to take you closer to your vision.

So it’s basically you can see already the parallels with iterative planning, with agile approaches. I’m trying to get you closer in smaller chunks to where you want to be to make you feel like you’re making progress. If you have your personal goal was to work abroad, then your goals for the next 12 weeks might include researching countries that might be suitable to go and live in or starting language courses, something like that. If your vision is to implement your PMO standards then your goals for the next 12 weeks, the immediate next period could be to pick one process and start with that rollout project initiation, for example, just to do something that will help you get closer to that. Once you’ve set your goals that you then break those down even further and you define your actions. Brian Moran talks about making an action list to deliver those goals within the timeframe.

So if you’re wanting to work abroad and you’re going to do language lessons, that’s your goal for the next 12 weeks. Your actions would be find a language teacher and go to language class once a week for the next 12 weeks. Do your homework on time, things like that, steps that would help you make sure that your goal of starting language lessons has been achieved and same with workplace things. So the PMO standards, we’re going to implement the project initiation process and that might mean, okay, we have to write the user guide, we have to get that information out there published to people and we’ll do that through the intranet page. We’re going to set up initiation checklist in our project management tool and the idea is that you say which of the which of the weeks in the 12 weeks you’re going to start to finish the work, so it’s not very detailed planning in that he doesn’t talk about, well, at least in the information I’ve read, he doesn’t talk about dependencies and tasks already, any kind of project management type jargon that we would perhaps understand, but the broad concept of making the week, making the work split down into the weeks and saying, in week three I’m going to be doing this. In Week five I’m going to be doing this. Just takes one big goal and tries to break it down into something that is far more achievable and that you can take little steps moving forward. So that is the idea behind the 12 week year and using periods of 12 weeks in order to better plan out activities. Obviously take longer than 12 weeks, but that helps you get their quarterly planning. Going back to a more work place environment, a quarter and 12 weeks is pretty much the same because the quarter is three months and 12 weeks is almost three months, so quarterly planning that we do at work is more around planning out the work when you don’t have from timescales, so when the work it needs to be spread out across the year.

You don’t have particular days or months where it has to be delivered, but you’re trying to look at your year as a whole and look at when things might drop into the big buckets of those four quarters, so it’s almost in the 12 week year model is almost the first step of setting your vision. You’re trying to set your longer term vision for perhaps the whole year, maybe even longer and you could break them down, but Moran’s approach makes you look at only the first 12 weeks. He doesn’t really take you through so what does it mean for my third set of 12 weeks? What will I be doing? Then you have to work that out as you go, which is good and Agile and works quarterly. Planning at least the way we implement it takes the whole year and drop things into buckets so there’s not really any detail in the planning, but it does show you how the work is going to be spread across the year and it helps you see where teams are going to be too busy, where there’s too much going on, especially helpful for change management where you’re looking at the impact on different departments and seeing actually in quarter two we’re expecting our marketing team to be involved in 15 different projects. That seems unreasonable. Let’s spread the work out and maybe move three of those projects into quarter four, two into quarter one and just spread leveling, resource leveling, but on a much higher level and less detailed, less detail basis. I think planning like that on a yearly basis, and I’ll show an example in a minute, is more helpful for teams and departments and for businesses. Usual planning or portfolio level roadmaps than it is for working out the exact detail of your work on a project. If you’re doing a project that’s agile in its nature anyway and that you’re doing over a long period of time, you might find that that kind of group hang up buckets and looking at what use a cane user stories might fall into area. I don’t know if it helps do it, but um, I think what you end up with really is a version of sticky note planning it on, on projects.

You’re getting a high level roadmap for your project. You’re not really getting any in depth insights beyond what you would perhaps do normally. So let me show you an example and hopefully some of these ideas that I’ve talked about will suddenly starts to make sense.

Here’s an example and I’ll flick over to the excel spreadsheet in a second. So let’s take an example for a particular project. This is one project and it is a relocation project for an animal shelter. So there’s six different work streams within this project. You can see we are relocating our head office then we are relocating, the IT department, we’re relocating the small animals, large animals, and then we’ve got some warehouse and stock that needs to go and then we’ve got a decommissioning work stream of closing down the old buildings and we know it’s going to take a year.

We’ve allowed 12 months to do this. There are owners in here. Quarter one, quarter two, quarter three, quarter four. That will be January to March and onwards throughout the year. So once you’re doing a really high level roadmap for your projects, you’re thinking, okay, this workstream starts first. We’ll move the head office people first. We’ll do that beginning of quarter one. There’s a chunk of planning to do. Then we’re going to move to the new sites and same with IT. We’ll do some planning and then we’ll move them to the new site and I’m going onwards, but you might not want to relocate your small animals, large animals at the same time. So let’s get the cats and dogs and amphibians settled into their new location first before we move the larger animals, the goats and the whatever else we might have in the shelter.

And the same with close down. We don’t have to wait to the end. We’re not doing all our close out activity in quarter four because at this point we’ve already got head office moved; they’re in their new office. So let’s spread the work out. Yes we could leave it to here, but why not take advantage of the fact that the head office is already empty. We’ll cancel the lease, get people out, close that down. And then, you know, we’ve moved it out in quarter two. So quarter three can be all about closing down the old IT office and it gives the closing down. People less to do in quarter four. This is not really around dependencies, it is more around capability of the people to do the work.

And we might well say actually there’s, you know, these might be different departments. So you might say, well we’ve got marketing, we’ve got it. We’ve got the vets or whoever and what are we expecting them to do in each quarter? How do the tasks map against the people? Are we expecting too much of any particular, any particular team? So let me flick to Excel and I’ll just make that a bit smaller so you can see it all. So in an example for projects, let’s look at a portfolio roadmap instead. So this is an example of a project to digitize an office and go paperless in an office, not a project. This is a whole program of work. So this is the vision. Our vision is to be a digital organization and we’ve got various different strands, various different goals, corporate themes, strategies, things like that. And our first corporate corporate goal is really to understand our environment, understand the paper.

There’s a massive piece of work to do around IT transformation. There’s a whole program around people, there’s a program around making sure we’re compliant with everything. And then we also have a corporate goal of saving money without digitization projects. So we’ve put that in there as well. And then as a portfolio manager, you’re dropping in different chunks of activity that will happen in these points. So we need to transform our it estate and go digital, so we’re going to have a project to put wifi everywhere because that’s kind of important. If we want to make sure we can access everything online, then we need to have some infrastructure in place. So that’s a, you know, this could be a program, this is our corporate vision, this is a program that’s a project infrastructure setup. That’s another project. And then there’s a couple of other little project, perhaps big, I don’t know, projects happening through the year.

This is all made up. But just to give you an example. So there’ll be a project manager leading on single sign on and a project manager lead on the intranet. And then maybe a couple of other things happening later in the year to the same with cost savings. So this is the goal. So there’s a program of activity designed to deliver the vision of a cost saving of 1 million pounds and there’s going to be a phase one of standardizing processes.

There’s another project here that will deliver online payments. Then there’ll be some more standardization of processes. We guys do digital archiving, so these are projects that fit within a program that fit within a goal and if you are a program manager, you can see how you could organize your strand, organize the strand that you are responsible for to make sure that your work is being split adequately across the different across the different months in the year.

So you’re not ending up with too much, what these leaders are then doing so these different program owners can come together and say, okay, this is how I think my understanding the paper work fits in. This is what I think we need to do for IT transformation and the projects that I want to organize. You can then look down and go, goodness, quarter two is going to be busy. We’re going to be launching a new collaboration tool. We’re designing and recruiting. We are launching this regulation thing. We’re standardizing processes and these two here. That is a lot for our staff to take on board and and there could be change overload. Perhaps let’s think about what we can move because frankly not much is happening in quarter four, so some of these things could be moved around. But by putting your projects into a really simple, especially like this, you get to see the work in aggregate.

And that’s why I think something like this is a quarterly planning template, like this is more useful for people who are managing programs with multiple projects, portfolios with multiple programs and seeing the bulk of the work across an organization. Because then you can just say, you know, wow, this is April loads and loads of stuff happening. Maybe it’s too much and you’re starting to foresee change management issues and the capacity of your organization to deliver on all this stuff before you get too close. Um, so there’s a blank version template there.

It’s fine to have the template like that and to do your planning across a quarterly or a 12 week basis. I totally think that is worthwhile, but it’s still quite important to be able to track against that. So to be able to see that you’re making progress because you don’t want to get to the end of your 12 weeks and go, what did we do? Who knows? Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t. So to stay on top of that planning, if you’re going to take that approach and plan on a bigger scale, I was a program manager. Do that. Creating some kind of simple project report to track each work stream will be helpful. You probably have something that you can repurpose for that already. It’s worth looking at how you’re going to collate and gather status updates because these, the people who are responsible for these activities are likely to be, if you’re looking at portfolio version, they’re likely to be very senior managers in the organization, not good at necessarily status tracking and reporting, so you need to find out how you’re going to get the updates on that and bring them all together to consolidate so you’ve got some kind of regular tracking and reporting for your executive team or your executive leadership.

You need to know who needs to see those because perhaps it’s not relevant or appropriate for everybody to see that. So this is just basic stuff around setting up accountability for the program of work. You’ve spent time planning out. If it’s your project, that’s pretty much just you. You can make those decisions yourself with your team or your project sponsor, but if you’re doing it on a portfolio basis and you’re looking for a really simple spreadsheet that will just make visible all the things that your department is doing. How are you going to hold people accountable for delivering that? If they say that’s when that project’s going to take place, what’s the measure to make sure actually does happen? Who’s approving the business cases? Are they just ideas? These are the kinds of things that PMO managers would be thinking about and it’s questions you can ask in meetings where you’re looking at the roadmap or doing quarterly planning and how you could perhaps use templates like that to plan out the work on your projects, create a roadmap or a program or portfolio to see multiple strands of activity happening over a period of time and perhaps you can see a use for that in your organization.

I hope you found that helpful and I will see you in my next video. Thanks very much. Bye.