Planning is the combination of goals, scope, and estimates all plotted along a time line. A high level plan is this combination at its most elemental, and provides a ‘helicopter view’ of what you’ll be doing for the next year (or three, or five.)
At it’s simplest, a high level plan is a collection of milestones.
‘Milestones’ is a standard part of project management jargon. The original meaning of the term is for a series of markers along a path. Milestones in project management, appropriately, refer to major achievements along the path leading to a pre-defined goal. For example, a milestone can be the completion of a project, or ‘shipping’ a product.
The difference between creating a high level plan and creating a list of goals is that on a high level plan, you jot down the projects that will contribute to accomplishing your goals.
This is where you start putting your scope and estimates to work.
Let’s go back to our earlier example of a jewelry business wanting to increase online sales by 30%. The projects (scope) defined to accomplish this goal were:
- Open a storefront on an additional online marketplace
- Write a monthly post on your blog about jewelry care
- Optimize the content on your site for related keywords and better Google rankings
The high level plan above shows milestones associated with the projects listed above, as well as very broad ‘ball park’ estimates, plotted along time. What you don’t see are any detailed activities, additional day-to-day or fulfillment work, etc. The high level plan just has the basics.
Use whatever tool makes sense for you; spreadsheets, online calendar tools, post-its – whatever. The main thing is to review it at least four times a year, and make sure it stays current.
I make an initial high level plan on a spreadsheet and then print it out. When I review it, I refer to the paper version, where I write notes and cross things out. If it gets too messy I’ll update the digital version and print it out again, but I avoid getting hung up on the administration of perfect ‘digital artifacts.’
A high level plan is incredibly useful during those times where you are down in the weeds of your work, feeling discouraged or a little overwhelmed by what you are trying to do. You can whip out your plan and, like a map, it helps you get re-oriented on your path.