GIST Planning concentrates on the ‘why’ of the issue first. In determining that factor at the outset, the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘when’ naturally fall into place. It makes the corporate strategy the bedrock of the process. By doing this, it prevents product lines from becoming obese and unmoving: products and features cannot become redundant or superfluous as the essence of the process allows for consistent surveillance and effective governance.
GIST is an acronym. It stands for Goals, Ideas, Step-Projects, and Tasks. Effectively, these represent stages in a process, and adherents to the GIST technique will typically work through these steps in the order they are given. The concept guides the user to begin from a goal and to close with a particular task that is designed to aid in achieving the goal. This is in contrast to generating a task first and then retrospectively classifying it into a denomination that suits an aspect of the strategy. In essence, GIST can be considered as forward-thinking and intelligence-led rather than delayed consideration.
These are strategic objectives of a business. Without them, no actions can be initiated because there would be no leading principles to motivate and inspire. Certainly, the goals of an organization do, and perhaps even should shift over time, but they are relatively fixed and provide the concrete from which the business can operate. Goals need to be measurable and normally require a significant passage of time to achieve. They tend to be complex with parallel and overlapping schedules and multiple deadlines. Priorities will evolve as pressures and requirements rise and fall. Typically goals are set annually and can take years to come to fruition: it is for this reason they should be reviewed regularly.
With the organization having determined their goals, teams then need to create ways and means to achieve them. Brainstorming and lateral thinking conferences should be encouraged at this stage of the process. An organization may even make use of an Idea Management System in order to collect and assess ideas from all over the company. All ideas will then be scrutinized and prioritized (using any number of established techniques). Despite GIST being a discreetly ordered process, Idea Management is a dynamic process of Product Management and the workforce should be encouraged to generate ideas at all times and record them within a dedicated system.
In concept, Step-Projects have been devised so that before there is a substantial commitment to a big idea, the idea itself can be evaluated for things like viability and demand. Similar to the Minimum Viable Product method, Step-Projects reduce big ideas down into manageable chunks. A company can test the theory with small experimentation, normally with a maximum time span of 10 weeks. The project should get evaluated regularly and different versions of the product given limited releases for assessing. Incremental objectives can be measured and tweaked so as to keep the organization moving in the right direction. Of course, should the project lose momentum or go off-track for whatever reason, the company will be able to cut their losses and revert to the drawing board. Step-Projects keep the business versatile and adaptable.
Tasks are the most identifiable part of GIST Planning, especially to people who are familiar with Agile Product Development. They are the end result of the process and are the tactical operations of the development team. Detailed specifications and other fine detail are laid out at this level. Compared to the overarching original goal at the beginning of the process, tasks are finite, time-critical, and involve specialized roles. A variety of task-based roadmapping methodologies can exist at this stage and these are used to channel activity so that it will remain parallel to the strategic objectives of the business. Initiatives that may have started their lives on target can creep and lose relevance. GIST Planning used effectively will prevent these kinds of issues and keep product development faithful and relevant.
GIST Planning attempts to take the lofty strategic goals of a business, and by processing them through a step-by-step methodology, churn out discrete actionable operational tasks at the other end. Ultimately, GIST Planning is designed to keep a business flexible throughout the product development process as well as avoid risky long-term commitments.
There are a number of recognized advantages of using GIST Planning. Firstly, it makes provision for not just the initial generation of ideas but the ongoing collection and evaluation of them. A constant flow of ideas without constraints such as discretionary cut-offs will keep a business competitive and vital. Added to this is GIST’s ability to foster ongoing experimentation and review. An organization can remain dynamic and lean if it can keep adapting its product lines as development continues, which also means it will be able to avoid large commitments of capital and resources. By converting goals at one end of the planning process into tasks at the other, a business can stay true to its strategic agenda without things like mission creep filtering into any of its projects.
While using the GIST method has a lot of advantages, there are some points to note. For some businesses, long-term strategies and resource commitments might be favored and the GIST Planning method does not necessarily fit this strategy well. The GIST method then is not so amenable to large-scale initiatives or huge projects that require expansive resources and last for long tracts of time.