If you write a complex project plan, you’ll most likely never look at it later. Plans more than a few pages long, often end up being reworked so extensively that it doesn’t even resemble the original document.
Working without a plan may seem sloppy, but blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is insane.
The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you would want to use. That lets you design what you know – and you’ll figure out immediately whether or not what you’re making is any good.
What you wind up doing, is what produces results, not merely what you think or say or plan. There are no permanent decisions. Everything is flexible and changing.
Ideas are free and plentiful. Your original idea is such a small part of a business that it’s almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute; how well you improvise; how well you create something useful and usable.
Embrace the idea of small and nimble. When you’re starting out, you’re the smallest, the leanest, and the fastest you’ll ever be. From there on out, you’ll start accumulating mass. And the more massive an object, the more energy required to changes its direction. It’s as true in the business world as it is in the physical world. Mass is increased by:
- Long term contracts
- Excess personnel
- Thick process
- Inventory (physical or mental)
- Hardware, software, and technology lock-ins
- Long-term roadmaps
- Office politics
Avoid these things whenever you can. That way, you’ll be able to change direction quickly and easily. The more expensive it is to make a change, the less likely you are to make it. Huge organizations can take years to pivot. They talk instead of act. They meet instead of do. But if you keep your mass low, you can quickly change anything: your entire business model, product feature set, and/or marketing message. You can make mistakes and fix them quickly. You can change your priorities, product mix, or focus. And most important, you can change your mind.
“I don’t have enough time/money/people/experience.” Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.
So sacrifice some of your “would be nice” for the greater good. Cut your ambition in half. You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-ass whole.
When we start designing something, we sketch out ideas with a big, thick Sharpie marker instead of a ballpoint pen. Why? Pen points are too fine. They’re too high-resolution. They encourage you to worry about things that you shouldn’t worry about yet, like perfecting the shading or whether to use a dotted or dashed line. You end up focusing on things that should still be out of focus. A Sharpie makes it impossible to drill down that deep. You can only draw shapes, lines, and boxes. That’s good. The big picture is all you should be worrying about in the beginning.
When things aren’t working, the natural inclination is to throw more at the problem; more people, time, and money. All that ends up doing is making the problem bigger. The right way to go is the opposite direction: Cut back. So do less. Your project won’t suffer nearly as much as you fear. In fact, there’s a good chance it’ll end up even smaller. You’ll be forced to make tough calls and sort out what truly matters. Remember many project constraints have an inverse relationship; meaning you can’t have it all.
The core of your business should be built around things that won’t change; things that people are going to want today and ten years from now. Those are the things you should invest in.
Whenever you can, chunk challenges down into smaller and smaller pieces until you’re able to deal with them completely and quickly. Simply rearranging your tasks this way can have an amazing impact on your productivity and motivation. For example, break that list of a hundred items into ten lists of ten items. That means when you finished an item on a list, you’ve completed 10% of that list, instead of 1%.
Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first. That way, you’ll understand the nature of the work. You’ll know what a job well done looks like. You’ll know how to write a realistic job description and which questions to ask in an interview. You’ll know whether to hire someone full-time or part-time, outsource it, or keep doing it yourself (the last is preferable, if possible).
You want a specific candidate who cares specifically about your company, your products, your customers, and your job. So how do you find these candidates? First step: Check the cover letter. In a cover letter, you get actual communication instead of a list of skills, verbs, and years of irrelevance. There’s no way an applicant can churn out hundreds of personalized letters. That’s why the cover letter is a much better test than a resume. You hear someone’s actual voice and are able to recognize if it’s in tune with you and your company.
Too much time in academia can actually do you harm. Take writing for example. When you get out of school, you have to unlearn so much of the way they teach you to write there. Some of the misguided lessons you learn in academia:
- The longer a document is, the more it matters
- Stiff formal tone is better than being conversational
- Using big words makes you sound smarter
- You need to write a certain number of words or pages to make a point
- The format matters as much (or more) than the content of what you write
It’s no wonder so much business writing winds up dry, wordy, and dripping with nonsense. People are just continuing the bad habits they picked up in school. It’s not just academic writing either. There are a lot of skills that are useful in academia that worthless outside of it.
Bottom line: Take 100% responsibility for yourself and your choices. Figure out what works and do more of it. Plan for the future but remember you can only act in the present. Keep your vision in front of you but make your plans short term. Stay flexible and be willing to zig when the market zags. Information is only potential power, what you do with what you know is power. Action speaks louder than words. Ready, Fire, Aim. When you’re ready, “Fire;” see where you land in relation to your target and adjust your aim. Then fire again and keep adjusting your aim until you hit your target. That’s how success in anything is achieved. Success is never a straight line. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Too many people spend their whole life getting ready and aiming and never “Fire.” Just lean into it, take action, fail forward and adjust course as you go.
Project management today is all about flexibility, particularly in the Internet age of rapidly changing variables. When it comes to project planning, it’s really project guessing. You create a plan and then you work your plan. However, you’ll find yourself continuously adjusting the plan as you go.
We utilize Basecamp to bring together all stakeholders so that communication is transparent and what is said is visible for all concerned to see and react to it and give their input so that our next move is based on what works. We believe in making collaboration productive and enjoyable.