The GIST planning system is initially described in the Itamar Gilad’s article, who started to use with it while working at Google.

When is it useful?

Product managers know that plans can quickly go out of sync with reality — the longer they are the more they are wrong. Traditional product roadmaps and Gantt charts help but there is no room for agility — changes at the top cause huge ripple effects of replanning and project cancellations at the bottom. 

As roadmaps allow only for a few big projects to be funded you have to prioritize and kill many potentially good ideas upfront. In top-down companies, the winner ideas come from management. In bottom-up teams getting your idea to win became a very big deal, hence pitching, salesmanship and hype are now mandatory product management skills. 

GIST planning is aimed to help

GIST planning will help to solve this problem: you get lightweight plans that are built for change. They lower management overhead, improve team velocity and autonomy, better cross-company alignment and ultimately better products and solutions.

GIST is the acronym that consists of the following blocks: 

  • Goals
  • Ideas
  • Step-projects
  • Tasks

Each block has a different planning horizon and frequency of change. Together the blocks constitute all the core planning any company and team needs to do.

Goals

Goals describe the company strategy in terms of desired outcomes: where we want to be, by when, and how will we know that we got there. Whenever anyone in the company is wondering “Why are we doing this project?” a goal should give the answer.

Ideas

Ideas describe hypothetical ways to achieve the goals. They are hypothetical because there can be many ideas on how to achieve a given objective, but at most 1 in 3 ideas will deliver a positive result. 

According to GIST, product managers:

  • Collect all ideas in an Idea Bank. All ideas are welcome and the bank can hold hundreds of ideas indefinitely.
  • Prioritize them using appropriate prioritization methods and frameworks.
  • Put as many ideas as possible to the test in order of priority.

Step-projects

Step-projects occur when the bigger project behind the idea should be broken into small parts, each no more than 10 weeks long (according to GIST). For example: 

Mockup → Prototype → MVP → Dogfood → Beta → Launch

Each step-project is like an experiment that tests the idea

Product managers avoid all the nasty side effects of long projects because step-projects are small. Ideas that don’t work get dropped early, ideas that work get more investment. No need for pitching or politics. The ability come up with an idea and see it come to life and tested in a matter of weeks is incredibly liberating and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Tasks

Tasks are the parts of every step-project. This part of the system is well covered by agile planning tools, Kanban boards, and other modern development project management techniques.

There is nothing to change at this level. The only difference is that the layers above are now agile as well and ready for the change.

The process of GIST planning may seem too complicated, that's why we offers the simplified version of the system.

How does it work?

  • Goals are typically set for one or more years. They are defined at the beginning of the year and evaluated and adjusted every quarter.
  • Ideas are constantly collected and prioritized. 
  • Step-projects are defined at the beginning of the quarter.The quarterly step-project list is evaluated and reprioritized every 1–2 weeks.
  • Tasks are planned in 1–2 week iterations in per the teams’ preferred development method.

GIST is seems to be an amalgamation of ideas and methods that have been around for years but often live in separation. 

The system attempts to address all layers of the planning stack and creates a living plan that is built for change.

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