This is so obvious that I was a bit hesitant to write about it. But I keep seeing it around. Many founders and managers fall into this trap. You’re busy all the time, but make little progress every month. The daily routine and meetings keep driving you in random directions. It’s getting more difficult to make decisions and you start procrastinating. Do you experience any of this?
One of my key beliefs is that everyone could be happy at work. It might take some time to find the right place and work for you, but it is certainly possible. This requires building your own life outside the work and keeping a balance.
On the other hand, the work is work sometimes. But there is one small thing, which could make you enjoy your work more — the sense of achievement.
Why do we naturally feel better when we complete something?
- We learned something new,
- We got recognized by our coworkers,
- We helped someone achieve their goal, or
- We created something valuable for people.
Regardless, you would always enjoy your results. So how do we achieve great results?
Why to plan
A plan helps get things done, align and coordinate teams, and provides a transparent overview of the most important moments. This is a well-known fact, that our brain spends a lot of energy on decision-making. So batching decision-making (=planning) itself improves your productivity. Planning is especially critical to startups, where being efficient often defines survival.
If you’re a founder leading your startup, you must have a plan. That is required not only to stay focused on things that you’ve planned to do, but also to align your team on the company priorities and make sure everyone is doing work that’s aligned with company objectives.
If you’re the manager of a bigger company or startup founder in later stages, you might be using OKRs to track goals. OKRs help align your team on the key goals and key results help you to measure your progress. Goals are great, but they’re not answering the question of when certain things going to happen. They just tell what the expected outcome is.
If you work with a team or even alone you still need a plan. A plan encourages founders and teams to learn and understand what needs to be done upfront — therefore increasing the chance of resolving blockers early.
How to plan
You could use any tools to plan your project. I’ve been successfully using simple spreadsheets which lists the name of the feature, the responsible person, the planned release date, and the actual release date. I plan my project once a month and update the plan once a week to keep everyone updated.
Generally, you should not plan more than 1 month in advance. The reason is that you can not accurately plan on a long time horizon. Accuracy is the key difference between the roadmap / OKR goals and a plan. Plans are about when things will be completed, while goals and roadmaps are about when things should be/estimated to be completed.
You can use any tools. The key is to plan & update the plan periodically. My planning framework includes:
- Simple spreadsheet outlining:
- Name or codename of a feature.
- Who owns a feature or project. Or, in other words, the person or team responsible for completing the project
- A date when the feature will be available to the end users.
- A date when the feature was available in fact
- Monthly planning. The time of the plan could be different, but having at least a monthly plan is essential. Bigger companies might plan every quarter.
- Updates. Someone should be responsible for keeping the plan document up to date, so it becomes the source of truth for the status of the work you do.
- Retrospectives. If some things you work on got delayed (yellow) or canceled (red), you should hold a retrospective to understand the root cause.
Follow the plan
Once you created a plan, your next goal is to stick to it. You need to follow the plan, so your team knows the plan is important and also follows it. If you don't follow the plan — no one will. Highlight plan importance — this includes not requesting sudden tasks outside the plan to be prioritized.
Focus on completing the plan every month. If for whatever reason you can not do this, do a retrospective and adjust your planning strategy. The main reason for having a plan is to get done everything you’ve written there.
Highlight your plan to the team after every planning session. It’s also a good idea to highlight completed items and recognize product and engineering owners for completing items from your plan.
You need to publish plan changes and updates to make it work. Normally, I would publish updates once a week. But the key is periodic publishing. Updates are important for two reasons:
- They align everyone on the team and help others to do their work
- Updates show the importance of the plan to the team
As a founder, manager or team leader you should always have clear answers to the following question: “What do you plan to release this week/month?”. The plan can help.
- You should plan to
- get more done (= be happier)
- align and coordinate teams
- make your product plans visible to everyone
- save energy on decision-making
- Your plan should include
- name of the feature
- owner of the feature
- planned release date
- actual release date
- In order for the plan to work, you should
- implement a monthly planning process
- follow the plan and highlight its importance
- publish updates as you progress
- do retrospective if things go off the plan
Do you have a plan?
Written by Andrew Orsich. Thanks to John McTavish for reading drafts of this.