Wise man Benjamin Franklin once said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.
And while I tend to agree with many things that uncle Ben said in the past, I’d like to consider the dark side of planning in this article: overplanning
In my previous startup, we made planning our top priority early on. Our first exercise in planning was to figure out our go-to-market strategy as thoroughly as possible.
Our product was a SaaS tool for the startup ecosystem, so we started off by making a list of potential customers — customers that had both money and desire — to try out our software. We’ve mapped our existing network of connections in search for individuals who could make helpful introductions to one of the potential clients.
In fact, we’ve made several lists — one for each category of users: venture capitalists, event organizers, angel networks, corporate venture funds.
We’ve had a CRM set up and proper incentives put in place for adding contacts to the list. We learned in depth about different CRM features, created best practices for documenting ideas and feedback, and watched endless tutorial videos to get our team up to speed.
Heck, we’ve even had a funnel development meeting, where we’ve set goals for acquisition and conversion of users at any given stage.
Pinning Down The Product
Then we moved on to product. The first thing we did was identify core needs of each user category. Meticulously breaking down product vision into individual steps, crafting product roadmap, and highlighting key features — we wanted to ensure no pain-point was left unaddressed and no customer use case remained unaccounted for.
Over the course of several months, we continued to debate, analyze, iterate, and tweak our plans. We built a little, showed it to a couple of people, then rushed to incorporate inconsistent feedback into our long-term plans.
We invested in analytics, spent time setting up various means for analyzing user activity, linked tracking tools to our CRM, and scrutinized user data on a daily basis.
We invited security and GDPR compliance experts. We solicited advice from Instagram developers. We took on learning new development frameworks, adopted Agile, had educational sessions, scrum meetings, and sprint reviews — where everybody from the company, including our lawyer, had to be present.
We brought in interns, pitched them on our great vision, got them involved with our product development efforts. In our minds, we were doing so much progress.
Then everything crumbled.
After 4 months worth of work, we still had debates going on about who our potential customers were and what our product should’ve been. We’ve planned 6 months in advance. We had mockups that never became products, and product ideas that never found a way into our product portfolio. We wrote code, built apps, tossed it all away, then started over. My heart bleeds just thinking about it.
We didn’t fail to plan, as uncle Benji likes to say, but we failed to consider the importance of execution.
Execution Trumps Planning
In the startup I’m currently involved with, we wanted to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes. Figuratively speaking, blood stains were still fresh, and emotional distress still loomed heavily above my head.
What we are doing differently this time is we’re minimizing the number of planning activities before we have validated our initial assumptions. Call it “Lean Planning” — doing a minimal amount of thinking, planning, and brainstorming, required to validate a business idea.
With our first 90 days, we aim to complete a set of activities required to move to the next phase. The outcome for each phase is binary: we either accomplish what we set out to do, or we pull out. Phases and milestones are broken into 30-day increments, as such:
- First 30 days: initial customer development and setting up 100 meetings;
- 30 to 60 days: attending meetings and soliciting customer feedback;
- 60 to 90 days: confirming product-market fit by signing up 5 clients.
Each phase is incredibly transparent with its deadline and a quantitative metric. We will only move on to phase 2 after completing phase 1, and it saves us the undue headache of having to think of product features and customer pains before we attended a required number of meetings.
Ultimately what matters is finding the right balance between planning and execution. Take action, get stuff done, then come back and analyze. No amount of planning is a substitute to simply getting sh*it done.
I publish content on product development and business strategy. Stay cool 😎, and If you like what you see, check out this thoughtful piece on minimizing wasted effort in product development.