Startup Lesson 9: Three ways to create your plan

There are a multitude of quotable quotations out there about planning. Two of my favorites are:

“If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” – Zig Ziglar

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail” – Winston Churchill

Honestly? I detest planning.  In my first job out of B-school, even though we were still a small company (less than 100 employees), we had a very rigorous annual planning process, by which I mean it was horrible, painful, and – worst of all – completely useless.  The executive team would end up with this 100-page document, and that’s the last we’d see of it.  All our work was quite visibly put on a shelf.

I think of the “annual planning document” now the same way I think of “the business plan”: dead and gone.  However, we must refer to the two quotations above, and take heed.  You have to have a plan.  In the startup world, what is proven quite effective is a one-pager or a very high level simple plan.  I prefer the very high level simple plan, though I have used both methods with success.  You have to use the plan type that works best for you and your team.  The plan should be a visible tool, not an exercise in futility.

The plans I’ve created in the past are 3-5 major goals for the company during the next 12 months.  This is a document that is posted on the walls of the business for all to see, so that anyone at any time can bring focus back to the team by asking, “is what we are doing now moving us towards any one of these goals?

So your high level plan serves as a navigator for every team activity, every meeting, every project.  If what you’re doing right now isn’t moving the organization towards at least one of your stated and agreed upon high level goals, you shouldn’t be doing it. Focus, focus, focus.  That same focus should be used in creating your plan: focus on it, and get it done, like a software sprint.  Here are three ways to go about it.

  1. Huddle up in a room after hours and hash it out in a short time, if everyone comes prepared, meaning everyone has to have thoroughly answered “what do we want to accomplish this year on our way to our vision?”
  2. As your prep for planning, have each exec (or co-founder or partner, depending…) come up with 3-5 high level goals. Everyone should show up to the meeting with their list of goals written down. Then huddle up and agree on the 3-5 goals for the company.  Apply everyone’s list of goals to the company vision to help narrow them down.
  3. As the leader of your startup, you create the list of possible goals, and then involve your entire team to get full input, commitment, and feedback on the final, short list of goals. Remember, bosses dictate “what”, but leaders collaborate and explain “why”.

Make sure your goals are SMART: strategic, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

In SuperBowl XLVIII, both teams spent hundreds of hours on a plan. One team’s plan worked.  Will yours?

What do you think about that?