Startup Best Practices

Why Startups Need Minimum Viable Planning, by Leslie Eveland

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The Lean Startup method teaches entrepreneurs and startups to get to market fast with a “Minimum Viable Product” in order to generate the “Maximum Validated Learning.” Instead of focusing on the question, “Can this product be built?”, entrepreneurs are urged to ask, “Should this product be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?” The Lean Startup method teaches startups to use an iterative process: Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat. The goal is to avoid the pitfall of spending too much time planning before getting to market and getting feedback from customers.

Startup teams sometimes interpret this advice to mean that planning is a waste of time. Because they are so overwhelmed with all of the tasks they must accomplish, and the extreme uncertainty they are facing, they often feel that time for planning is a luxury they cannot afford. However, in my experience, “Just do it” is not the best operating principle for startups to follow. Building a minimum viable product, and generating maximum validated learning in the least amount of time, requires coordinated effort that can only be achieved by planning. The challenge is how to achieve the right level of planning. Too much time spent on planning is a waste, and too little time spent leads to confused priorities, unclear and conflicting roles, and ultimately, to poor performance.

Minimum Viable Planning is a solution to this problem. As with the Minimum Viable Product, the Minimum Viable Plan is not designed to be perfect. It is designed to provide the minimum amount of information needed to guide and coordinate team activities. Through use, over time, the plan should be refined and improved to meet the specific needs of the team. The goal is to generate Maximum Validated Learning through an iterative process: Assess, Plan, Implement, Learn and Repeat.

Your team might benefit from a discussion of your planning approach:

• Have you specified the key results you must achieve? Have you clarified who is accountable for achieving them?

• Do team members agree that your plan has the right level of specificity to focus and align team efforts?

• Is the tam prepared to track progress against your plan, and modify it based on experience, so that it becomes more useful over time?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” your team may want to work on developing a Minimum Viable Plan. The idea is to keep it simple, but, as Steve Jobs pointed out, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But its worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”