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The art of ‘ish’ – tricks for high-level DEI project scoping



Have you ever played the game ’21 questions’ or ‘guess the animal’ or similar? In these games, one person selects a thing or animal (or whatever the theme) and the other players ask yes/no questions until they can guess what the person selected.

The key to winning these games is not luck (though that never hurts) or telepathy (though that would be super cool), it’s starting broad and continuously narrowing options.


For example, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” narrows the pool of animals or objects to big or small depending on the response.


Scoping DEI initiatives (or any initiative) works exactly the same way – start broad in order to narrow the field.


These broad scope estimates are very useful for narrowing the possibilities for a DEI initiative by calculating and comparing rough ROIs, prioritizing efforts, and building rough roadmaps.

So how do you generate fast, ‘directionally accurate’ broad scopes to feed strategic planning?


Great question.


Here are three tricks.


First: the ground rules.


Like with any game, before jumping in there are a few ground rules.

  1. ‘Ish’ over accurate: The purpose of broad scoping is to get an idea of size so you can compare options, not to be accurate or right. Knowing one project is roughly twice the size or twice the cost of another is far more valuable in early stages of planning than knowing the actual size of either.

  2. Speed over certainty: for early planning, there is no bonus points for being right. In fact, in many cases, it’s a bad thing. Spending too much time scoping a project that may never happen or not happen for years (in which case, everything could be different) could end up earning you nothing but a big waste of time.

  3. Simple and clear: Use simple three to five scale ratings that are well defined and meaningful for your organization.

  4. Include start to finish: when doing estimates, include the full project – planning/design, approvals, execution, testing, rollout, adoption, training.

  5. Be prepared to justify: While the name of the game is to be ‘ish’ over accurate, that doesn’t mean wild guessing. Be prepared to justify your ratings with a few bullet points explaining the why.

Define the time – weeks, months, or years


Define three to five time ranges to organize projects by how long they will likely take.

Use time ranges that are meaningful for your organization. For examples, organizations that tend to move fast, collaborate rapidly, and never plan more than six-months out, may require scales that are shorter. Organizations that seem to decorate with red tape with multiple levels of approvals, long queues to get attention from other departments, and a history of never doing anything in under six months may require scales that are longer.


For organizations that fall somewhere in the middle, here’s an example scale:

  • Extra small: up to one week

  • Small: up to 4 weeks

  • Medium: 1 month to 3 months

  • Large: 1 quarter to 1 year

  • Extra large: more than 1 year

Note: remember, these times are for the full project including design, approval, execution, testing, rollout and adoption and training.


Define the resources/costs – Is it bigger than a breadbox?


Like with time, bucket resource and/or financial costs into three to five ranges that make sense for your organization. For example, larger organizations with bigger teams and larger budgets may skew the buckets larger, where small organizations with tightly limited resources (such as those with HR/TA teams of 1) and budget may skew the buckets smaller.


For organizations that fall somewhere in the middle, here’s an example scale:

  • Extra small: Up to one FTE week (full time equivalent) and/or $0 budget.

  • Small: up to six FTE weeks and/or $1,000 budget.

  • Medium: up to six FTE months and/or $10,000 budget.

  • Large: up to two FTE years and/or $50,000 budget.

  • Extra large: More than two FTE years and/or $50,000 budget.

Note: remember, these cost estimates are for the full project including design, approval, execution, testing, rollout and adoption and training.


Note: an FTE unit such as FTE week or FTE month refers to the resource hours, not a single resource. Therefore 1 FTE week could be two people working 2.5 days or five people working for one day. You can also translate FTE time into cost and use a single number (where 1 FTE hour = average hourly salary of the resources on the project). However, use with caution as most organizations budget non-monetary and monetary resources completely differently.


Blend results and sort


For the simplest results, average the rating for time and resources to create a single ‘scope’ value. For example, if the time is a 4-star (large) and the resources is a 3-star (medium) then the scope is a 3.5-star rating. Sort the project from smallest scope to largest, and that’s it – the broad scoping is done.


With scoping defined, you can now optimize your time to flesh out the projects that make the most sense. For example, if you are populating the first steps of an ROI initiative, stick to the smaller scope items. If you are balancing a roadmap with larger and smaller items, prioritize the similarly-scoped projects and select the most important. If you are doing a comparative analysis, then use the scoping to remove the high scope (i.e. expensive)/low value items.


As a bonus, the time and cost estimates are also useful for initial strategic planning. For example, using the time score to develop a rough draft of the roadmap or the cost score to do ‘back of the napkin’ ROI calculations.


Bringing it all together – the ROI of ‘ish’


Using a fast broad-scope exercise can save you a ton of time in DEI planning and strategy. Before diving into the details to evaluate, compare, and plan your DEI actions and projects, broad scopes show you which are viable options that are worthy of attention, and within the realm of possibility for your team. It only takes a few minutes and can save you days and days of planning – now that’s a fantastic ROI.

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