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Fractal Planning – How Deep?

One of the benefits of using a fractal planning tool such as the Fractal Planner is that you can keep breaking tasks down as far as you need to.

But how many levels deep do you actually break things down?

I’ve found that I rarely go more than 7 levels deep in my actual planning, and typically, I’m in the 4-5 range.

Here’s a way to make sense of this.

Suppose you break your project into 4 chunks. And you break each of those 4 chunks into 4 more chunks. And so on. After 7 levels of planning you will have:

  • 1 project
  • 4 sub tasks
  • 16 sub-sub tasks
  • 64 sub-sub-sub tasks
  • 256 sub-sub-sub-sub tasks
  • 1024 sub-sub-sub-sub-sub tasks
  • 4096 sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub tasks

If each lowest level task takes 2 minutes to do (and there’s rarely a reason to break things down further than that), a 7-level plan will accommodate 8192 minutes of planned out work (or about 137 hours).

Now not every branch will be filled out evenly. But you’ll also have atomic tasks that take more than 2 minutes, so this seems to be a fairly reasonable way to estimate how much planning 7 levels will accommodate.

137 hours is a fairly large creative project for an individual. If you work 6 hours per day for 23 days per month on the core project, that’s about a whole month’s worth of project all planned out in 7 levels. That’s about 2-4 times longer than a good SCRUM for One project should be.

(And even if you work 8 hours per day, studies have shown that on average only 3 hours are actually spent focused on your core creative project, so 7 levels might actually be enough to accommodate a 2-month project.)

This is, of course, a rough estimate. You can tweak the parameters and get different outcomes – maybe showing that you need an additional level or two. But the main point remains clear. While it’s nice to have the ability to break projects down further and further, the number of levels you actually need will probably be in the single digits.

I find this interesting.

A plan is a fractal unfolding process, and the depth is limited by the size of the project, the number of branches per level, and the size of the lowest-level chunks.

These limits mean we never actually get too far down the rabbit hole.

Nature has other fractal unfoldings, and we see mostly single digit tree depths there as well. Nature’s plan for life is structured roughly like this: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. 7 levels from “The Trunk of Life” to “Species”.

(Strictly speaking this scheme breaks down at places, and tree depths might go another level or two in some cases. But it’s definitely close to 7 levels for the whole tree of life.)

Same goes for human creations. The Internet is perhaps our most complex creation. One of the most popular schemes for understanding the various levels of activity taking place on the internet is the OSI model. And this model has 7 layers — from physical logic gates all the way up to the applications we use.

I don’t know how many branchings there are between the arteries and the arterioles (capillaries kinda sorta break the strict branching pattern, so we’ll stop at the arterioles).

I don’t know how many branchings trees make between trunk and leaf. If a tree branches once per year, then the most distant leaves on a 30-year-old tree will be 30 branchings away from the trunk. That would make trees an exception to the general pattern. Perhaps trees are true freaks of nature when it comes to structural branching.

I also don’t know how useful this particular post will prove to be for you, but it’s a fun way to look at things, and can provide some abstract context for your project planning.

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  • By Just In Time Deep Planning on September 29, 2013 at 10:23 am

    […] Produce with Flow | Blog Home | Fractal Planner « Fractal Planning – How Deep? […]

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