Prioritizing With Post-It Notes and a Venn Diagram

I recently led a very productive strategy workshop with senior folks in three of our corporate departments.  Our goal was to describe how we should be doing business in their areas in 2014, thus allowing us to develop a plan to get there.  We started by identifying the business processes that our organization uses, writing each one on a Post-it Note.  We then began classifying them in various ways, by marking the Notes up with Sharpies, and placing them on a white board, first on a Venn diagram and then in a two-by-two matrix.  When we finished, we had sorted out several small stacks of processes, including:

  • Those that were functioning well
  • Those that were problematic, but not a core competency, and should be considered for outsourcing
  • Those that were problematic, and needed improvements
  • Those that were not standardized across the organization, and would benefit from standardization
  • Those that were non-standard, but wouldn’t benefit from standardization

I adapted the process from techniques described in David Straker’s book, “Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes,” which is a handbook of tools for exactly this sort of analysis by decomposition, grouping, sorting, and classifying.  Published in 1997, it is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

In Chapter 1, Straker describes chunking problems into pieces, so they are easier to address.  Chapter 2 is about making decisions – identifying what information you need, classifying data as “fact,” “opinion,” or “guess,” and using a “statement of objectives” to guide what you are trying to achieve.  In Chapter 3, he talks about how to use the six techniques in Chapters 4 through 9, including:

  • “list” tools “Post Up” and “Swap Sort”
  • “tree” tools “Top down” and “Bottom Up”
  • “map” tools “Information” and “Action”

In Chapter 10, Straker discusses solving problems using the six tools, and in Chapter 11 he provides specific examples.  Chapter 12 offers some tips for advanced usage.  The book is not a tough read, maybe two or three hours.  It has a lot of drawings, diagrams, and other graphics, but they seem to display well on the Kindle version.  Highly recommended.

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About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty five years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including SaaS solutions like Workday and premises-based ERP solutions like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. He also holds the project management professional (PMP) designation, as well as professional designations in human resources and in benefits administration. In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management.