How to create a quarterly plan for your product

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4 steps to effective quarterly planning

At the time I’m writing this, the next quarter - Q3 2018 — is just around the corner. I’m guessing I’m not the only one thinking about what's next. Something about a new quarter combined with a new FY (for my Aussie peeps at least) brings out the Nir Eyal in all of us.

One way product managers stay on top of their game is to plan quarterly then consistently communicate what we’ve done, how it went - what we’re doing now & why & what’s next & why. One way product managers fall behind is by drowning in admin overhead. Your quarterly planning, strategy execution & communications should be clear, effective, easy to maintain & update.

To make it super easy for you to handle your quarterly planning & strategy execution - I've created initiative.ly - a quarterly planning & strategy execution tool. I'm offering you a free quarter to kick the tyres & see how well this tool works for you. Start your trial now & read along to see how initiative.ly can help you.

Ready?

Screenshot of the performance of a measure in Initiative.ly

Why plan quarterly?

  1. Planning quarterly helps you & your team see the bigger picture of where your product is headed without getting overwhelmed.
  2. Through updates, you can show progress over a quarter giving your team & stakeholders a sense of control, progress, connectedness, tying everyone back to the vision & mission keeps everyone onboard, hyper focused - it’s literally a recipe for happiness.
  3. THINGS CHANGE, internal & external factors certainly impact how we should be executing. Planning quarterly gives us the ability to course correct in a timely manner as opposed too investing energy into a 12, 24 or 36 month plan which is almost certainly going to change.

Why do I need an app for this?

Static documents are out of date the second you press print which is a problem. Spreadsheets can get you some of the way if you set them up well, however at a point well before real usefulness the admin overhead of maintaining the sheet will become a burden.

Ideally you need updates to be in a consistent format, timestamped as well as attributed to the person updating. You need the ability to quickly, easily check the history for a measure, or Initiative ideally without changing apps.

Initiative.ly structures, presents & visualizes your progress over time in a centralized place. Your team can log in to leave their updates & you can present directly from the app, export reports or invite stakeholders to browse at their leisure. Historical updates are presented chronologically so you're comparing apples with apples.

How far ahead should I plan my next quarter?

Your call ultimately, I suggest in the last weeks of the current quarter start to build up the fidelity of your next quarter. Ideally you really consider the work you have in progress right now & how that work might impact your future plans.

Your organization may ask for your plans to be delivered earlier, if that's the case you can always edit/delete & move goals, measures & initiatives around easily within initiative.ly

Don't create static documents weekly, fortnightly or even monthly. Don't wrangle a spreadsheet into submission. Do use purpose built software to structure quarterly goals, plans & strategy execution.

How do I get started?

Start your trial & read on below, planning is a 3 to 4 step process depending on your situation. We'll go through each step & qualify what needs to be done at each point.

These are the 4 steps we'll explore

  • 1. Goals
  • 2. Measures
  • 3. Initiatives
  • 4. Categories

1. Define qualitative, ambitious goals for this quarter

No pressure but try to nail your Goals up-front & keep them static over a quarter. If you change goals on the fly you risk losing confidence from stakeholders & engagement from your team.

Here are some example goals to get you thinking:

  • Increase recurring revenue
  • Reduce churn
  • More sellers on our platform
  • More buyers on our platform
  • Launch our v2 of our core product

Note: When your quarterly goals truly roll up to the 12 month & longer goals of your business you gain stability from internal & external factors.

Scrappy early stage startup? Use your mission, vision & north star to articulate ambitious quarterly goals.

Scaleup? in your groove, growing rapidly, know your value prop, have a maturing sales process? Work backwards from yearly goals, forecasts, outcomes to break down into quarterly goals.

If you’re growing rapdily..

Fast growth correlates with changing goal posts & new hires. Noise & energy whipping around could easily drown out the mission & vision - this is bad - original hirers could become disillusioned, new starters are often executing with no context - either can leave you dead in the water fast.

Initiative.ly provides context to new starters & reinforces “why” so they can fill in the “what”. Initiative.ly enables us to easily seek the truth regarding what we did, why & how it performed. That last point is super important, most companies don’t have this.

2. Understand which metrics matter

Rubber, meet road. Measuring progress is crucial in business, in life - if you can't measure it or won't - it isn't going to grow. Ideally each of your goals has 2-3 measures. Why? we want to ensure we’re not making “fake growth”. Fake growth is growth in one metric at the expense of another equally important metric. At best fake growth means your growth goes sideways, at worst fake growth kills your business silently.

Example measures:

  • Increase recurring revenue
    • MRR of 250k by Sep
    • Increase ACV from 60 to 90
    • Conversion to trial of 30%
    • 50% of new buyers purchase in their first month
  • Reduce churn
    • 80% of new users login 10 times a month
    • 50% of basic plans users try PRO plan
  • More sellers on our platform
    • 100k sellers on platform by Sep
    • Average items per seller from 3.4 to 5
  • More buyers on our platform
    • 50k buyers on platform by Sep
    • 25% of buyers purchase twice a month
    • 50% of new buyers purchase in their first month

Measures could change over the course of a quarter & a single measure can contribute to different Goals, initiative.ly allows measures to be assigned to multiple goals. Measures should roll up to revenue (assuming your companies aims to make money) be easy to understand, straightforward to track.

3. Create Initiatives - strategy meets execution

This is the work - the research, the projects, the programs, the assumptions we’re testing.

  • Increase recurring revenue
    • MRR of 250k by Sep
      • Optimize plan pricing for overall revenue growth
      • Develop paid acquisition channels
      • Increase organic traffic
    • Increase ACV from 60 to 90
      • Convert free users to paid
      • Convert social traffic to trial or paid users
    • Conversion to trial of 30%
      • Priority customer support for trial users
      • Educational/onboarding emails optimized

Are you following along? If yes, note that initiatives can be assigned to users. Invite colleages who'll be working on this initiative to join as you create them an initiative.

4. Categories - sometimes required

Boil it down to 3-5 goals is a pretty common mantra, simple is better. However, in some situations you may need 3-5 goals per team, per area of focus or business unit. In this case use categories to organise your Goals, Measures & Initiatives.

Many teams? Name categories after each team’s function e.g:

  • Core experience
  • Growth
    • Increase recurring revenue (Goal)
      • MRR of 250k by Sep (Measure)
        • Optimize plan pricing for overall revenue growth (Initiative)
        • Develop paid acquisition channels (Initiative)
        • Increase organic traffic (Initiative)
      • Increase ACV from 60 to 90 (Measure)
        • Convert free users to paid (Initiative)
        • Convert social traffic to trial or paid users (Initiative)
      • Conversion to trial of 30% (Measure)
        • Priority customer support for trial users (Initiative)
        • Educational/onboarding emails optimized (Initiative)
  • Partnerships

Many areas of focus? Create a category for each e.g:

  • Revenue Growth
  • Employee Satisfaction

Various business units? Name categories accordingly e.g:

  • Compliance
  • Sales
  • Product

5. Bonus step - what's next?

Time to go forth and execute. If you've created an Initiative.ly trial & inputted your goals, measures & initiatives already - you've increased your chances of success this quarter. I suggest you add progress notes & updates daily, weekly or as works best for you. This will remind you and your team of what was said, done, promised - keeping everyone on the same page & accountable.

More about Initiative.ly

For a long time I planned, updated stakeholders, motivated my team & demonstrated alignment through solutions cobbled together using Trello, Jira, Spreadsheets & PowerPoint. I accepted the admin overhead as price of admission.

To make it easy for me & you, I built initiative.ly - a quarterly planning, strategy execution tool. Initiative.ly will help you:

  • Increase transparency
  • Accountability
  • Buy-in
  • Confidence from stakeholders & team members.

Initiative.ly becomes a system of recording meaning you can easily understand past quarter plans & performance - you can also provide a wealth of context to new people on your team.

Sign up for a free trial now, we'd love to hear your feedback.

This, is a quick overview of how Initiative.ly looks once you're up & running.

Screenshot of the performance of a measure in Initiative.ly

This, is your view of how the metrics which matter have or are performing over a quarter.

Screenshot showing target live dates for your team, teams or company's initiatives

This is your view of the key dates in this quarter.

Screenshot of an Initiatives overview screen showing current activity in progress

This, how you understand the level of activity from different teams or behind different Goals. You can see if there is enough work planned, completed or in progress for a certain Goal.

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How initiative.ly can help you
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