Is Your Project Planning Process Natural?

Jan 16, 2014
7 Min Read

In the middle of last year, I set out to change one aspect of my business as a career and workplace expert. My model has traditionally been one of one-off engagements, meaning that I engage with clients for a brief period of time on a specific project.  However, I wanted to  develop longer-term relationships with clients, working with them on a variety of projects that leveraged my expertise and third-party credibility.

But how would I do it? In the beginning, I felt stuck, but then I realized that what I was trying to do wasn’t rocket science.  I simply had to think of the planning process in a systematic, yet intuitive way.  That’s where David Allen’s Natural Planning Model came into play.

David, of Getting Things Done® fame, is a god to those of us here at The Fast Track who worship at the altar of his unique productivity strategies. The Natural Planning Model says that there are five phases our brain works through when accomplishing tasks: defining purpose and principles, outcome visioning, brainstorming, organizing, and identifying next actions.  Here’s how I put those phases to work for me.

Defining Purpose and Principles

I asked myself why I wanted to change my business model, and determined that revenue would be easier to come by if secured in larger chunks, with less time spent on business development. I also like longer-term engagements because they produce the camaraderie and deep client relationships that I’d been missing since my agency days. Building client trust is an important value for me. And finally, I feel that my work would have more of a positive and lasting impact if well integrated with other client programs.

Outcome Visioning

If I was wildly successful at my plan, what would it look like? I determined that by the end of 2014, I would have at least three clients with whom I’d signed multi-year, multi-initiative contracts.


Now that I had a clear end goal in mind, what steps could I take to get there? My head was swimming with ideas and I needed to get them on paper, so my husband and I sat down with a notepad. We brainstormed strategies including:  use my knowledge of existing clients to pitch them on projects beyond the scope of current agreements; take the time to meet people in relevant functions in my client organizations and learn about what they do; proactively develop comprehensive training programs and sell them as “off the shelf” content, fly to each client to develop more of an in person rapport, and build relationships with other consulting firms with whom I can partner on longer-term client engagements.


I had a lot of ideas that were terrific to release during the brainstorming phase, but upon reflection, I realized that not all of them were viable. For example, developing a training program that was not customized to any particular client and would take me thousands of man hours to complete was very risky. Unfortunately, with my current travel schedule, I don’t have time to visit all my cross-country clients. I will have to build the relationships as best I can virtually for now.

I determined that my two priorities were 1) to meet as many people in my client organizations as possible this year and assess their individual needs (i.e. what did they need to accomplish in order to be successful in their roles?), and to 2) engage in regular conversations with my existing client to solicit more information about their overarching marketing and training/development programs. The more I understand the big picture, the easier it will be for me to add additional value.

Identifying Next Actions

I wanted to sustain momentum and personal enthusiasm, so it was important to start right away. My initial action, I decided, would be to ask my existing client contacts if they would be comfortable introducing me to their colleagues so that I could set up some information gathering sessions. On projects that are currently active, I would schedule bi-monthly check-ins to keep my finger on the pulse of what my clients were working on.

The Natural Planning Model really worked for me, allowing me to plan the execution of a critical goal effectively with minimal effort. For some wonderful advice for how you can do the same, check out the free OnDemand webinar featuring the David Allen Company’s CEO, Mike Williams.

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