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Planning: Too much and too little are very bad things

August 16, 2011

A Saturday morning breakfast meeting in North Sydney saw me swapping stories with a friend who, like me has done their fair share of working for other people as well as working as a consultant. And who ambles through the creative world as well.

We both work hard, he being the far more successful (and far more likely to say “I can see you for 45 minutes at the taxi rank for a lemonade” as a catch up due to his busy timetable) and know our way around things.

And one thing that is a common topic to cross over onto is planning- and how if you don’t employ a little bit of Goldilocks’ “just right” theory, you can create yourself a slew of problems later on.

I’m just following my heart, dude!

Be careful, you could plan yourself out of the game

Ok, I will come clean on this- I was this person.

My idea of getting something done was to assume that without a plan, the novel I wanted to write or that groundbreaking gothic magazine I wanted to run would just come to me naturally.

I thought because I was good at writing, I didn’t need to plan. If the amount of half baked books, poems, screen plays and journals sitting under my bed (a whole large suitcase’s worth. Paper and digital) is anything to go by that was clearly the wrong assumption.

But it’s not just creative people who think they can create without having a plan. It scares the hell out of me to see business people who have nothing but their bum in the wind and a twinkle in their eye to go on. It doesn’t work folks. I’d say “rarely” but then some of you would still think you fit in that category of maybe .00001% and try anyway.

Don’t. Seriously. I am an optimist but there are very few modern day business successes that got where they are by a sheer fluke.

If you want your business to be sustainable, you need to put together a plan of how you wish to approach your endeavour, you need to define the product or service you are going to offer. You need to think about something beyond what happens once you start and aim for a more strategic approach of maintaining longevity. And you need to have a marketing plan because you need to know how to reach your customers.

Sound simple enough? It is- and it’s great to have a business plan to refer to and an idea of when your marketing will roll out and a view on your return on investment or a rough idea when you will begin to return profit. But you would be surprised how many businesses- from Mumpreneurs through to leading agencies and major product creators fail to get it right.

They simply think their idea is a good one and run with it, without doing any real considered thinking. I don’t advocate planning yourself to death and writing reams and reams of documentation- but there is a very simple one page overview you NEED to write before you even consider your potential business idea going live.

Background- what lead you to thinking your product or service was viable?

Objective- what solution do you wish to create or need do you want to meet in the market?

Strategy- what’s your plan for getting this idea to move from being an idea, to being real and meeting your objective at the same time?

Execution- how are you going to execute it in the market?

Milestones- what targets have you defined in terms of volume sold or profit made or profile in the market place and when are they due so you can measure your ventures success?

You can take it further if you like and check out this product management article I wrote  which gives you more beef about what you should be looking at. Or you can really get into to it and check out the great content on the brainmates website.

But as a minimum, if you can’t write a one pager with those key points in mind about your fantastic new idea, please don’t deploy your product or company. You cannot make sure people need it and you even know how to manage it if you don’t critically examine your idea!

Oh, and if this does sound like the area of overzealous mum’s who want to make all sorts of nifty, crafty, kiddie things to sell to other overzealous mums because it’s in vogue to be a cottage industry mum right now and it doesn’t really matter as most will just sell one each to each friend and “get it out of their system” (as I was recently informed this syndrome only applies to), check any manner of product fail in history.

See- everyone needs to plan. Otherwise how on earth do you know if it’s worthwhile?

Too much of a good thing…

Be careful, you could plan yourself out of the game

Planning is a necessary but messy is good too. I touched on this in my article No excuses, no, none and whilst it is geared to creative people, it is true of business as well.

You can spend too much time in planning and research and miss the boat altogether. So how do you know when you are planning too much?

Well, for starters, if you have a manual for your product as opposed to a great set of bullet points and an easily verbally communicated idea, you might be in trouble.

Or if you look at the volume of stuff you have written and are worried about whether the team you are working with (or anyone for that matter) will read all of it, you are in the danger zone.

Or if you have already started missing deadlines because you are in endless brain storming meetings or furiously scribbling down what to do chances are you are making yourself more problems than solutions. If you are doing all three, you should be raising a very big red flag by now. For goodness sake, step away from the keyboard!

Presenting people with your vision and explaining what you want, meeting to discuss ideas as you go along and having documentation to refer back to are all great things to do, but make sure they don’t become ALL you do otherwise you won’t progress.

Or if you are senior level within a company and have taken an approach to the planning which means you don’t have the knowledge on a product, don’t insist junior staff in charge of the actual development have to continuously spend their time documenting information and take themselves out of the development cycle so you are “across it”- have a bit of trust in what they are doing and just ask for a weekly status report instead.

There are so many unnecessary ways you can bog yourself down in the planning stage, but its OK not to be armed to the teeth with every single i dotted and t crossed. Learn by doing too!

Be careful, you could plan yourself out of the game

So take a leaf out of Goldilocks’ book and aim for “just right” rather than “it’s on a cocktail napkin” or “I’ll get the version 4.712ba out of the car as soon as I can- am just waiting for the circus strongman to arrive”.

Focus on creating a strong structure with which to work with and tidy up the messy stuff as you go along. Let planning help you- not be something that weighs you down or gets ignored completely. And you’ll find what your doing will also be far less stressful and more enjoyable too!

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