Four Steps to Creating a Personal Product Pipeline

Companies have product pipelines, which are a steady stream of new ideas, some of which become actual products. The idea is that businesses always need to think about, and develop, their next big idea. But really, it’s no different for individuals. People also need a product pipeline to drive personal projects and passions so that ideas are always moving forward, like water (or oil, if you have really great ideas; or queso, if they’re not that great) rushing through a pipe. If you wait until a project is finished to start a new one, you’re always going to have lags. That’s where the product pipeline comes in. But how exactly does one create an efficient, effective personal product pipeline?

To move an idea down the pipeline, from idea to execution, you need to figure out the scope of what you’re considering. If a project is simple, like starting an exercise program, just break it down into steps (find a gym; join a gym; quit a gym; etc.) and put those steps on your to-do list or calendar. However, if your project is complicated, you might need to think it through more, considering timing and what the final product might look like.

Here are what the four product pipeline steps look like broken down. You can use whatever tools you want to develop your pipeline. The important thing is to use the steps to keep the pipeline flowing:

  1. Identify an idea you wish to develop into a project.
  2. Flesh out everything that needs to happen for the idea to become a reality.
  3. Break these actions down into concrete steps.
  4. Schedule the steps.

I used to begin this kind of planning in a spreadsheet, so I could see everything in front of me. Now I use Trello, so I have all of my planning documents on my phone. Trello is a kanban-style planning tool, where ideas are placed on virtual cards and virtual cards are placed in lists. For me, it works like a spreadsheet, where I have rows of information sorted into columns. What works better than a spreadsheet is that I can embed information within cards, so that they have things like links, notes, and even checklists. It keeps everything in one place, preventing me from feeling like a squirrel who forgot where he buried his nuts.

Now, my planning always begins with a card and the card is placed in a broadly-categorized list. This is the waiting area for ideas that need to be fleshed out.

From the waiting area, ideas move down the pipeline into lists, where they’re broken down into more discrete steps, often requiring more cards. This process is designed to let me visualize what needs to happen for a project to be successful. For instance, if I have a broad concept for an article I want to write, I’ll use the list to help me focus what the article will be about. It’s a space to brainstorm ideas and see what they look like on the screen. Once the idea is set, I can break it down into parts, with links to research and points I want to make in the various list cards. This again prevents me from feeling like a squirrel.

Once I have all of the necessary steps down on my list, I can schedule everything on my to-do list. I use Remember the Milk, which lets me include a link in an action item. I often use this space to link directly to the project Trello list, so I can easily grab anything related to it, like notes, additional links, or files. Trello allows you to create due-dates for cards, but I prefer to have all of my to-do items in one tool.

This workflow, which you can think of as intellectual fracking, allows you to always have ideas in various stages of completion. Instead of waiting to wrap-up something before starting another project, you can now launch new projects right before others finish, so that you always have interesting projects in varying stages of completion. Instead of sitting around and waiting to figure out what you’re going to try next, the pipeline shows you your next project. And the one after that one. And the one after that one. It’s like the Giving Tree but without all the chopping.

One bonus tip: Review your pipeline regularly. One reason to do this is to prune ideas that are no longer viable. The other is to grab ideas you might have forgotten about. Having all of your ideas in one place makes sure nothing falls through the cracks. You know. So you don’t feel like that squirrel. Or this guy:

Not horribly safe for work…
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