The best laid plans

Startups, by their nature, are designed to be an uncontainable, uncontrollable and unstructured mess.

The whole idea of a startup means throwing convention out the window. Everything a startup does goes against the teachings of every business book and expert and basic business advice…ever.

That doesn’t mean that planning shouldn’t happen — you always need defined guardrails and a direction — but it does meant that you reserve the right to re-define the direction and expand or contract the guardrails as the company evolves.

It also means there is a lot of ambiguity as well.

Face it, most of us are involved with startups because there is a sense of the possible. This is the allure. To define and build something that wasn’t there before. This adventure, akin to early British or French explorers fearful of sailing off the edge of the planet, is not for a structured mind.

But, there needs to be some planning, it’s just not the same as in established companies.

Startups still need to be aiming for something very specific at all times.
Startups still need to define the benefits their ideal customer will get from purchasing from them.
Startups still need to clearly articulate expectations for the team — down to the person.
Startups still need to set targets.
Startups still need to plan for what success looks like.

The only difference when planning within a startup versus any other stage of company is that all of this can — and is expected to — change in an instant and often.

Instilling structured planning too early in the life of a company can kill momentum. Those nascent moments are really about discovering where/if the company fits where it thinks it does. Exploring with customers can influence its path and founders need to be open to this feedback. Many times when products or services hit the market the plans and expectations are not met and the once-obvious direction is not as clear. The plans need to change.

The entire process of think, plan, test and release must not only be iterative but the outcome may require a complete rethink.

You will drive yourself crazy trying to do long-term structured planning in a startup. Better to be clear on the goals, clearer on the expectations for the team and iterate quickly. Once something has landed on solid ground, plan away. Until then, the only plan to bank on is change.