As a startup iterates itself past the short-term uncertainty – where there is no clarity about what you might even be working on that afternoon – systems need to come into place. These systems serve multiple purposes:
- Introduce medium/long term planning and goals
- Distribute work amongst a growing team
- Communicate and get everyone on the same page.
- Provide a reporting and accountability mechanism.
As we’ve grown, the presence of such a system has become incredibly important. While the practice of advance work planning is well established when it comes to software development (product roadmaps, scrum, Jira, pivotal tracker, etc – if interested in this specific topic, read my article on that), it’s less defined when it comes to general company goals.
More recently Christoph, investor in and supporter of Contactually, wrote up about the growing practice of OKR’s.
For the past two years, back to when it was just the three founders, here is the practice that we implemented and still, for the most part, stick to.
A simple document, updated monthly, with three columns.
|30 days out||60 days out||90 days out|
We’ll line up, for each team, what we want to achieve. As the month goes on, we are able to see how we’re tracking this month, and ensure that nothing is slipping through cracks (unless we just have no time). This used to be where we would track metrics that we want to hit (number of users, MRR, etc) – but now we’ve moved that to a separate spreadsheet.
Just the act of figuring out what you’re going to do over the next 90 days can benefit a startups strategic thinking, and break out of the potentially circuiotous “what are we going to do this week” activity.
Achievements and Objectives
This is something our team practices religiously. Prior to our team meeting, everyone emails to the team alias on the same thread (usually initiated by me) a bulleted list of what their Achievements from last week are, and what their Objectives for the upcoming week are. Achievements are usually gathered by copying and pasting the previous week’s Objectives, which gives you continuity to mark what you did do, and re-prioritize what was not completed. Being a simple email, this gives people the freedom to express their past accomplishments and immediate priorities in different ways – sometimes to be replicated by others. Tony may paste in a screenshot of an excel spreadsheet he uses for his own planning, with color coding to reflect progress. Alexandra may throw key milestones hit or major news for the rest of the team. Brian may throw in what he needs other people to do.
Email is as simple as it gets, but we’re investigating systems that lest us streamline this for a growing team, this is where tools like 15Five or idonethis come in.
This is primarily me, but I see other people on the team starting to do this as well. I never was able to fully adopt Getting Things Done, but having a paper notepad with me at every moment of the day works perfectly for me. My work day doesn’t start until I’ve lined up exactly what I need to do that day, from the minute (respond to XYZ, delegate ABC) to the major (plan XYZ feature). If a meeting or 1-1 conversation yields additional tasks for me, they get added to the notepad. My day doesn’t end until I’ve completed what’s on the paper, or marked what I can move to the next day or delegate out. There are no shortage of to-do list apps and task managers out there, and I’ve tried a fair share of them. YMMV, but the physical presence of a notepad and the tactile reward of crossing something off a list still reigns supreme for a neanderthal like me.
Like any advice I dole out, take this as just a data point, but this process has so far been working for myself and the Contactually team.