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Picking a Project? — Look at the Calendar

How to lay out your marketing, product & agile strategy across the year to get to the best results.

In agile there is a belief that you can steadily pick out good ideas from your backlog throughout a year and start working on them as you go. That’s all you need, guys, no need to plan. To hell with any kind of annual strategy.

I believe that one has to be smarter and plan ahead for the entire year. Not necessarily pick what projects you will work on in advance. But sit down and decide which criteria each of the projects throughout the year will have to meet. What to do first, what to do next. This is what I’m going to talk about.

First quarter — the “maintenance” project

First quarter has to be boring & all about money. Pick the tasks which meet the following criteria:

— Least investment per maximum returns.

— Will start generating revenue at once. So definitely all about money. And about money ASAP.

— Will bring in revenue for a long time after launch, with no additional effort.

For example, you get rid of the mandatory registration on your website, and thus bring the conversion up. Just a little bit up, but up once and for all.

Let those tasks be bland, primitive, boring. It can be a scaling of something simple and easily understandable. With none of those experiments which you love so much. For now just endure and save up all those grand project ideas until the second quarter.

The secret here is that these tasks will “feed” you — little by little — for the next three quarters. If you would execute them in the third quarter, they’d bring you x3 time less revenue.

Second quarter — the “boom” project and the “rocket” project

First quarter’s projects are already bringing in a bit of revenue. But it’s not a lot, and you all have been getting your payments throughout the first quarter — your expenses can’t wait. Your budget is not too happy.

So now you have to quickly pick a one-timer project which will give you a singular “boom” in revenue.

A really cool promotion or something like that, which will help you reach new audiences. Or it could be a large event which will bring you a ton of new leads. You get it. Your revenue graph should get a huge peak.

This project is still not something you’ve been dreaming of, but you need to wait a little bit more. It’s a preventive measure against a sudden cash gap (an unlucky occurrence when you don’t have enough funds to pay off your employees, even if the business is doing fine overall). The output from this project will allow you to easen up a bit by creating a financial safety cushion, while you can finally start thinking about all the beautiful things.

If you do everything right, in the middle of the second quarter you will be able to start with the “rocket” project.

This one is all about love, with risks, experiments and butterflies. Something you’ve been dreaming of for a long time, something that makes you feel a bit like Elon Musk.

What else do you see?— My favourite street art project.

It’s your sowing time. The seeds of what you plant in this quarter can grow into a new flourishing branch of your business and in several years top what you’re earning at the moment in numbers. But right now you have no idea how and when it might happen, and that’s okay.

Have a good time, but remember, it will not last forever. Once the clock strikes midnight…

Third Quarter — Uncertainty

You can plan the first, second and fourth quarters, but, believe it or not — you can’t plan the third one. It wholly depends on the results of the first and second quarters. If they were successful, you can keep experimenting. If not, take on a couple of low budget projects and try to save up as much as possible.

Fourth Quarter — Holidays are coming

Surprise surprise! For eCommerce projects fourth quarter starts a month earlier — in September. Time to get ready for the upcoming holidays madness.

In high season in marketing there is a golden rule: whatever you kick, it will fly. People go crazy on Black Friday and for the entire December before the Christmas holidays. You can’t just sit still and watch, you have to add some fuel to the flames. That’s what you’ll be doing from September to December.

No vacations at the marketing department during that season — that is a law. Coffee, cookies, hugs and rays of love from the manager so that the stress doesn’t break up the team. Everyone should stay sharp.

Fourth quarter not only begins earlier, it ends earlier as well. By mid December you’ve already done all you possibly could. You can count the money, decorate the office and plan for the upcoming year.

Recap

I suggest the following:

— First you take on a humble and menial task which will bring you low but steady income — the “maintenance” project;

— Next you take on a “boom” project, something that will bring you short lived but significant increase in revenue;

— Then you can start thinking long-term and launch a couple of “rocket” projects;

— Finally, to not ruin the high season, when each of your actions brings a doubled outcome, you take on the “fuel” projects.

Usually things are done backwards:

— In the beginning of the year everyone’s in a mood for some changes, and they start by building “rockets”. By the end of the first quarter they’ve only been spending and can go on like this no longer. All the “rockets” are put on hold indefinitely. The year has just begun, but all the best bits are already over.

— In the second quarter they are starting to feel the hunger, so they go for a “maintenance” project. It will kick off by the beginning of the third quarter at best. An opportunity to get revenue from it in the second quarter is lost.

— In the third quarter the team starts running around like crazy trying to fix things. Only “boom” projects make it to the planning board, so that they can start bringing in revenue as soon as possible. While trying to fix things, everyone forgets to prepare for high season. September is over.

— In the fourth quarter everyone tries to catch up, but without proper preparations a significant amount of opportunities is lost. There is not enough “fuel” and the season does not end too well. Everyone works till December 25th, but it’s mostly useless. They celebrate the New Year feeling like a bunch of losers.

In both scenarios the team has been doing good work. But in the second case they’ve earned less, and had been more stressed along the way. That’s what I call a bad quarterly planning.

Disclaimer: Each business has its own seasons. Some do not experience cash gaps at all, some just barely make it and can’t afford to launch any “rockets” just yet. It’s understandable. You should work out the version of this quarterly planning which works best for you.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 371,336 people.

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Natalia Babaeva

Natalia Babaeva

Founder at School of Changers, Change Consultant, Medium blogger (Russian+English), former Development Director in the most innovative Publisher in Russia (MIF)