Your 21-Day Project Plan

Many small projects should be completed in 21 days. If you can’t complete a project in 3 weeks, you risk project failure. Not every project will be delivered in 21 days. Tomorrow we will examine the 90-day project. But your first instinct should be to plan to complete your project in 21 days. Completing a small project in 21 days helps you: 

  • Ensure that all parties remain engaged in making the change you desire
  • You don’t have to re-learn or rethink the problem and the proposed solution. (If you leave significant gaps in your small project, you’ll be forced to rethink why you are making the change, and what the planned steps will be.)
  • Deliver a change that people can use right away. The stakeholders will benefit from the change immediately, and for a longer period of time. Even if you successfully deliver the same change in 60 days instead of 21 days, you have deprived your stakeholders of 39 days of benefit. Besides the immediate benefit, you could almost fit almost two more 21 days projects in that timeframe. 

The 21-Day Project Structure

Week One (Day 1 – 7)

The definition and research (exploration) phase. In this phase, you will: 

  1. Define your project charter. (2 hours) The project charter for a 21-day project is a short (one- or two-page document) that tells the project’s story. .The charter records the following information:
    1. It identifies the person who has authorized this project, and who is paying for it. This person is called the sponsor.
    2. A statement of the change that is being made. 
    3. An overview of the current state, the pictured future state, and the steps that you will take to get from the former to the latter. This could include a project schedule, budget, and scope statement. 
    4. Lists of stakeholders, risks, communication actions, and adoption or transition actions. 
  2. Research and ‘fire bullets before cannonballs. (10 hours.) Once your project charter is defined (and approved by the sponsor), you should start to do research and create some prototypes of the solution. This work is important because it will give you a path for the rest of your short project. In the same way that cutting a groove in a board will help your saw stay on course when you cut the rest of the way, doing some early research will ensure that you make the most of your efforts. Be aware that this part of the work you will likely discard. (Build one to throw away-see the Pilot System.)
  3. Get feedback on the prototype(s) you have built (1 hour.) Once you have a working prototype, put it in front of your stakeholders and get their feedback and thoughts. This will shape the success of the rest of your project. 

Week Two (Day 8 – 14) 

The development phase. In this phase, you will complete 90% of the project work. In this phase, you will: 

  1. Spend time planning and time-blocking each piece of work. (2 hours.) You need to complete to deliver a working product at the end of the week. Since you have already gathered initial feedback on your prototypes, you should know precisely what needs to be built for success.  
  2. Build the solution. (15 hours.) No excuses – just do the work that you have time blocked in step one.
  3. Polish and test. (2 hours.) Make sure that what you have produced that the end of the week could be used in a real-life situation. Sometimes this requires instructions, a user interface, or some other polish that takes it out of your hands and prepares it for the hands of a first-time user.

Week Three (Day 15 – 21)

  1. Have users to use the solution. Get feedback. Make tweaks, updates and improvements. (5 hours.) 
  2. Repeat step 1 until the user is satisfied. 
  3. Produce final instructions or documentation. (2 hours)
  4. Formally hand-off operation of the solution to the user. (1 hour.) The project sponsor should be part of this meeting. You can schedule this meeting before the project starts. This ensures that the sponsor is available and motivates you to stay on track with your 21-day project plan. This meeting includes three important components: 
    1. Project hand-off. This is the moment that the change becomes part of operations. 
    2. A monitoring and reporting discussion. Who will report to the project sponsor the benefit of the change that has been made? What will this look like? How often? What format? Who is sent a copy? 
    3. A lessons learned discussion. What could we have done better? What went well? What needs to be done yet? 
  5. Close the project. Celebrate, and move on to the next project. (1 hour.)

Using this structure for your 21-day projects will help you complete projects on time and provide value as quickly as possible. A repeatable structure helps your team tweak the aspects of the project process to best fit your organization and stakeholders. A 21-day project structure keeps you intensely focused and ready to deliver results.