Design Your Plans Like You Would Design a Product

I’ve started and abandoned many projects in my time, in work and out of it. But that’s not the worst of it. I’ve even procrastinated on things procrastinators love: planning. I have about as many plans lying dead on the roadside as you have projects.

With projects as with plans, “scope creep” – expanding requirements and expectations – is the enemy. But when I do succeed in both planning and action, it’s when I make conscious effort to fight back the desire for scope or perfection.

Since these are the same enemies of a good product, I think those of us working on planning could gain some tips from the world of software product management:

1. Create minimum viable plans, as you would create minimum viable products. Stop creating your plan before you think it’s ready, and shun the idea of completion here.

Any plan is better than no plan at all, but you’re probably overestimating how much you will rely on your plan in the field.

2. Plan for inevitable change. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” so leave plenty of gray area and flexibility in the details of your plan. Your job as a planner never stops.

3. Iterate. Always be shipping improvements to your plans and planning. Small improvements are a good way to test larger new theses before committing a great deal of time. And field evidence will help you improve a plan faster than almost anything.

Knowing all this, do have a plan, but be content with shipping smaller plans, more tentative plans, and more flexible plans. Streamline anything keeping you from action and informed, field-tested improvements. Action is the best source of planning data and wisdom, after all.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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