Milestone planning in a startup

You’re in the thick of your startup at this time and trying to figure out what needs to be done.

Every time you get a pen and paper out to get an overview of the things you need to accomplish, you realise that something urgent needs to get done. In the process, your grandiose plans of having milestones and a timeframe attached to them takes a back seat (again).

So what is the point of doing milestones, when you can either not keep up with them or they simply take second priority to the urgent stuff.

As US president Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.  The reason for doing milestones for your startup is that this forces you to take a step back from the operational chaos and see the big picture.  As the founder, it is not only your job to have an overview of the day-t0-day stuff, but to ensure that this stuff is going somewhere.  The operational people in your startup don’t have the overview, that’s why they’re operational.

An important thing that milestone planning does is it ensures that you are starting with the end in mind.  This is because milestones, while not being as esoteric as a vision, are the steps that take you towards your deliverable, whether this is a revenue objective, prototype, or go-to-market deliverable.  Activities within startups slip into subjectivities (read ‘excuses why stuff can’t be done on time or done at all), since the point of your startup is to do something that hasn’t been done before or deliver customer value that hasn’t been delivered before.  Otherwise you’d be a department of a big corporate replicating what’s already been done before.

By starting with the end in mind, you begin to try to understand what users really want.  This is the crux of a successful startup, since the larger corporate solutions are often built incrementally, and fail to deliver the evolving value that users want, and ultimately are willing to pay a premium for.

As the founder, the various things that you need to balance include customer acquisition, current customer requirements, suppliers, investors, your own people, resource planning, cash flow and operational objectives and hiring great new people, to name a few.  Having milestones ensures that you don’t miss out on any of the critical ones.

It also does not hurt that investors care only about the deliverables or milestones, rather than the operational steps that get you there.  We’ll get to this in a subsequent blog.