Making Entrepreneurship Fun – Write a Product Plan!

I was reading an awesome book “Humanocracy” by.G. Hamel and M. Zanini. A key idea in the book is that most of the organizations we build are brittle, bureaucratic places that do not inspire their employees.

This is true not only for ordinary employees but also for startup founders. We often start a business with excitement and hope, but it becomes a stressful roller coaster instead of a “Blue Ocean” journey.

We all know many entrepreneurs who experience stress and disillusionment. How can we make this 5 to 10-year long journey enjoyable and reduce negative impacts on work-life balance for a founder?

There is no single solution to the above challenge, and each founder has its own journey of discovery. On the business side of things there is a one activity that can make your life as an entrepreneur much easier and fun!

This activity is producing a strategic Product Plan!

Most founders put together elements of a product plan but in a reactive fashion.

  • I need a new competitor analysis for my pitch deck on Monday
  • This investor mentioned this market
  • The web site needs updating etc.

Most startups never integrate these assets sufficiently. In the ideal case scenario, a good Product Plan is compiled early in your business’s journey and captures all key assumptions in one place. Regular updates, 2-3 times a year should be done as more information becomes available and your organization matures.

I can hear already the objections:

  • takes too long to build
  • it’s difficult to maintain
  • What about my Business Plan, isn’t that supposed to do the same thing?

Before we comment on the difficulties let’s look at the benefits. A well-researched, strategic Product Plan (PP) is the most important asset you can create for your organization. Link it with the 3 Design Prinicples and it will be:

  • Fuel for your customer acquisition engine (Desirability i.e. marketing, website, sales)
  • A Blueprint for your development and technology roadmap (Feasibility i.e. what to build) and
  • An Accountability ledger for your culture, people, and overall performance (Viability and growth potential of your business)

Finally, the market, investors, and key early customers will constantly create tensions and competing requirements. A strategic product plan is the proven method to capture all this information and translate it to stories that can be shared and change “hearts and minds”.

Back to the objections. If you and your team apply the 90-day sprint concept you can get a great Product Plan in pace within 3 months with only 2-hours effort per week. Follow 3 steps:

  1. Go through all the areas depicted in the Product Plan mind map, do not skip any!
  2. Use industry leading tools and maintain pace; do not spend too much time in one area of the mind map.
  3. Get external support if you have not done this before. Reach out to an experienced product manager who can provide external validation of the output you are generating.
product plan mind map

Maintenance of the Product Plan should be the responsibility of the CEO but other members of your team can be coached to perform the task. As a side effect you will be grooming your future Head of Product or CPO.

Your CFO can use elements of your Product Plan to build a Business Plan in a few hours. The opposite is NOT true. The Product Plan needs effort over time, engagement with customers and employees, wordsmithing, explanation and careful articulation of the hypotheses driving your business.

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So, if you do not have a Product Plan in place start building one now.

It requires discipline and there is a steep learning curve waiting for you but the reward is running a much better business that does not keep you awake at night. 🙂