When to plan vs When to execute?

Posted 2020-01-14 by Alex Lennon

Many of the founders we support come to a common cross-road in startup life. When to plan vs when to execute. Every business in the world will face this challenge, but it’s noticeably more important in early stage startups. Once you hit a certain size and traction, focus generally shifts more to “doing” and “growing” as opposed to planning direction.

When a startup is in its infancy, there’s so many priorities and directions a founder can focus their energy on. Some common questions I see are; “Should I be building my product?”, “Should I be selling?” or “Should I be defining my plan to the nth degree before I do anything else?”

Paralysis by Analysis

I’ll admit upfront that earlier in my career, I was guilty of massively over-complicating ideas and plans, until it ultimately hindered my ability to deliver work. If any of you have seen the episode of Friends where Monica is cooking for a wedding and says: “See I planned everything really well. I planned and I planned and I planned. It just turns out, I don't think I planned enough time to actually do it.” That about sums up how some of my early planning worked out.

Analysis and planning is a vital skill to develop. Setting out blindly with no forethought for what you’re doing with your startup or it’s direction is very risky. Having confidence and drive is one thing, but if you feel you’re entering into a market you know nothing about, or trying to solve a problem you’ve never experienced, then tread with caution. And how can you measure any form of success, growth or challenges if you don’t have goals you’re aiming for?

Conversely, if you get the feeling you’re not making progress or are going down the rabbit hole with your plans, then it’s time to come up for air and get to work.

Early stage planning

Goal setting is crucial. For an early stage startup, there’s a wealth of frameworks and systems you can use to set and measure goals. It’s important to find one that fits your way of thinking.

If you’re more spontaneous and hate getting bogged down in detail, then focus on planning that is Outcomes based. You’re probably not scared of doing the hard yards and just want to get to work. But concentrate on hard yards that lead to results, or you’ll end up in the “busy fool” cycle.

If you’re more detail oriented, find a system that quenches your thirst for data and analysis, but also holds you accountable for Inputs. This prevents you sitting back too long, and makes sure you’re chipping away at your activities to reach your goal. These systems can be invaluable if you struggle with big picture thinking, and allow you to break down a big goal into small, manageable chunks of activity.

What holds us back from executing?

One cause is fear. Fear is something that’s hard-wired into all of us, and for good reason. Thousands of years ago, fear would be the difference between survival and a gruesome death. But these days it creeps into lots of aspects of our life, and often rears its head in the working world as fear of failure. One of the best mentors I had said something that’s always stuck with me: “Lose the fear”. The reality of doing something is rarely as scary as the thought of doing it, and “the fear” is those doubts and second-guesses a lot of us constantly have.

Creating a startup from nothing, pouring hundreds of hours of time and energy into it and releasing it to the world can be scary. And no-one likes to hear that their baby is ugly. But being able to set out on your journey, learn from mistakes, take relevant criticism on board and disregard unhelpful criticism makes a massive difference to how you build your business.

Plenty of people will disagree with your idea, will think it won’t work, will say: “you should of done it this way”. Accept that this is going to happen, don’t lose heart and use the feedback from people and sources you’ve built a relationship with that’s based on trust and expertise.

“Stop sitting on the fence”

Like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And whilst you might be thinking; “C’mon Alex, say which one I should do”, I’m not going to. The reason being that a plan must always adapt and fit your current situation, or it’s a bad plan. Never be afraid to change what you’re doing. If all your incoming data and feedback is pointing you in a different direction to where you thought you were going, then embrace that and have the courage and clarity to adapt.

Done is better than perfect. Always. Customer/User feedback is your best friend so when it’s time to execute and deliver, get to a point that’s acceptable and usable, and release it. It will never be perfect. Not a year from now, not 10 years from now. But the feedback you miss by not releasing, not executing or getting out in the field could be the difference between your success and failure.

Now. Did I plan enough time to review this before publishing?...

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