The implementation of my business development project plan for Your Digital Ally is coming along nicely, and the end of July marked the end of Phase 1 of my plan.
I'll tell you more about what was in the plan and what I've so far put in place for my business in the next few blog posts, but for this post I think it worthwhile making a diversion into the topic of development plans.
The first thing to say is that, by "plan" I don't mean some vague intention of achieving something by some unspecified time in the future.
I mean a detailed schedule of tasks, with time estimates for each. Here's a snapshot showing a 2-week period for my own plan.
I expect for many people that that level of planning may be overkill - but I've learned enough about myself over the years to know that that's the best approach for me. I would also recommend that whatever your attitude to planning or your level of experience, that you DO create a plan - at whatever level of detail you feel comfortable with or are competent to create.
The more experience you gain with planning, the better you'll get at it, and the more valuable it will be for you.
Why Create A Business Development Project Plan?
There are three fairly obvious reasons
- It defines exactly WHAT it is you are trying to achieve
- It provides you with an estimate of WHEN you plan to achieve it
- It tells you HOW you will get there
The high-level, very important reasons are:
- It helps you create realistic time-frames so that you don't get demoralized by things taking longer than you hoped
- It keeps you focused: you will always know whether what you are doing at any given time is moving your forwards or is just a treadmill or a distraction
In summary, if you don't have a plan, you WILL spend months and months doing un-directed stuff, being very busy, but not getting anything completed. I know. I've work with and without a plan: and I know which works best!
What exactly IS a Business Development Project Plan?
If you've studied project management, you'll know that a project plan can take many forms, and can include many different types of artefact. The bigger the project and the more people involved, the more complexity needs to go into the plan - obviously.
To put things into context, what I'm talking about here is a plan for the work to be done by ONE person (perhaps with some outsourcing) for a relatively short period of time (see next section).
It consists of
- A defined "end state" which you are aiming to achieve at the end of the project or phase. Typically, that will be defined by what "things" need to be in place at that time. (The technical term for a "thing" is "deliverable" - which is a bit more meaningful.)
Examples of high-level deliverables would be
A website with basic functionality or
A funnel with a lead magnet and tripwire or
All core social media sites set up or
An email management system selected and fully configured.
- A collection of all the specific tasks that need to be performed in order to create those deliverables
Where tasks need to be completed in a particular order, you should obviously put the earlier task ahead of the later tasks.
Also, it's critically important to include a TIME ESTIMATE for each task.
Whether you estimate in hours, days or weeks depends on how granular your tasks are. You should make them as granular as possible - based on your experience and understanding of what's needed.
For example, if you are completely new to building an online business, have no real idea how long things take and don't understand what needs to be done, your plan could include tasks like this:
- Find and go on a basic course on building a WordPress-based site: 1 Week
- Build basic WordPress site: 3 weeks
You may want to adjust the 3 week estimate and possibly break it down into sub-tasks, after going on the course.
On the other hand, if you are very experienced and don't like detailed planning, you may just have the task
- Build WordPress site: 2 days
Or, you may have a predefined detailed template website-building checklist / documented procedure so that the website-building section of your plan could include 20-30 very granular activities with time estimates in hours for each task.
To summarise the key idea here:
A Business Development Project Plan consists of a defined collection of deliverables and a sequence of tasks with time estimates for creating them.
The Never Ending Plan
I've never been involved in an online business where the development work is ever complete.
What happens is that there is a setup period, where all your time is spent on creating the minimum collection of deliverables needed to launch your business. At that point you can launch it - meaning it's open to the public to some degree or other.
Then your life splits into two:
You continue with more development - and this usually goes on forever to improve your performance, grow your business, adjust to changing technologies and opportunities and changes in strategy.
You start operating your business - generating traffic, delivering your goods and services, providing support... and doing the monitoring and measurement that will help define what the ongoing development work should be.
SO - development goes on forever
Timeframes, milestones and progress monitoring
What I've found works well for me is to have a detailed business development project plan or phase that lasts for 4-6 weeks. For the level of granularity at which I like to plan, I find that that is a sensible and manageable time-frame to plan for. Of course, you need to have a meaningful - and hopefully significant - collection of deliverables at the end of that period that make a real difference to your business.
I also like to include 3-4 meaningful intermediate milestones linked to particular deliverables.
Although I'm constantly monitoring progress as I tick off each task, I formally review and adjust the plan each week, trying very hard to ensure I'm on track at the end of each week. If I'm not, I move the incomplete tasks into the following week and check the implications on the overall plan. I adjust the plan accordingly, doing my damnedest to NOT change the end-date!
Hitting deadlines: Secret #1
When I divide the plan up into weekly chunks, the number of hours I have in my plan for each week is 50-70% of the numbers of hours for which I COULD be working on the project. I nearly always need those extra hours - either because my task estimates were too low, or because I decide to adjust the deliverables. It's very important to have the scope to be able to do that.
The best plans are NOT fixed and unchangable. You MUST be able to adjust and enhance as new ideas come along which often can only arise once you start DOING rather than PLANNING. It has to be an iterative process, so you must leave enough slack to allow it to happen.
The other element of contingency is to add to 1 - 2 weeks onto the end of what your original time estimate tells you.
For example, when I first put the plan together for the most recent phase, adding up all the estimates for the tasks told me it would be complete soon after mid-July. At the time, that seemed very reasonable.
But I was persuaded to set my end-date deadline to be the END of July: and I ended up hitting it to the day!
Hitting deadlines: Secret #2
When I said I was "persuaded" to adjust my end-date deadline - it was my Accountability Monitor (Ray) who did that.
I'm lucky enough to have a very experienced project manager meet with me once a week for around 20 minutes over Skype to review my plan. This has proved invaluable.
Ray has a lot more project management experience that I do - but with teams of people who are accountable to their bosses. So his role with me as a single person, creating his own plan and officially accountable to no-one is very different.
Although his project management experience has been useful (e.g. persuading me to add in even more contingency) - the most valueable role is just being there for the meetings and listening to my account of my progress. He has no power over me; has no financial interest in my business and can take no sanctions. But that fact that I know that, at 2.00pm on Monday I will be meeting with Ray to explain my progress, significantly changes my behaviour.
First of all, it means I ALWAYS have an adjusted plan in place by that time - otherwise we would have nothing to talk about. It is properly updated each week.
And secondly, just knowing that if a task doesn't get done, or significantly overruns, that I have to tell Ray about it - changes my behaviour. I know I'll feel much better being able to say - "Yep - everything got done" as opposed to "Three tasks had to move into next week, and that's now looking very tight".
Also - Ray regularly reminds me to create longer-term milestones. These are my current best-guess at what the high-level deliverable should be for longer time-frames - 3, 6 or 12 months, for example. As it happens, my plan for this week includes doing exactly that. (I have to say that because Ray might end up reading this!)
Here are the three key points from this post
- Create a continuous PLAN for the setup and ongoing development of your business: include tasks and time estimates at whatever level of granularity is appropriate for you and your experience; use 4-6 week phases of detailed planning
- Include plenty of CONTINGENCY so that your plan can be adjusted and can evolve as you iterate through doing and (re)planning: include contingency both within each week's plan and add time to the end of the planning period.
- Find someone to be an ACCOUNTABILITY Monitor - preferably with weekly meetings.
I hope you find this helpful. Do you have a business development project plan? If not, do you think you should - or do prefer to wing it? Despite my approach and opinions, I do know very successful people who never plan - so I can't be too dogmatic. (Although I know even more people who struggle dreadfully through a lack of planning.)
What are YOUR experiences?
Let me know in the comments area.