Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prioritising the work to do in a startup

There is always so much work to do in a startup. I could write an almost never ending to do list of things we could do to improve our business, but there are only 6 of us working on Shoes of Prey full time, so we need to prioritise.

A couple of weeks ago Carmen, Mike, Jodie and I sat down for 3 hours to plan our goals and what we will each work on over the coming quarter. It was a fantastically useful exercise, particularly for prioritising what we should each be working on.

We've set ourselves the goal of doubling our sales for Q3 over Q2, and a stretch goal of quadrupling them. To do this we plan to:
1. Double traffic to our website.
2. Double our conversion rate.

Setting this basic goal then made it quite easy to prioritise the massive number of tasks we each had on our to do list. For every item we simply asked the question, 'Is this task going to help us double traffic or double our conversion rate?' If the answer was yes, this task was in, and could then be prioritised based on the likely impact it would have on our goals. If the task wasn't going to help us achieve one of these two things, it was out.

Something I'd had on my to do list for a while was to scope out shoe suppliers in other countries. Chinese New Year was a difficult time for us this year because basically we had a 4 week period where the workshops weren't making our shoes. Having a factory in another country would help alleviate this problem over Chinese New Year. Given the time it would take to travel to other countries to find a new, high quality supplier, then set the processes in place to be able to work with them, the impact this activity is likely to have on our goals makes it not worthwhile doing just yet, so that activity was cut.

There are so many new shoe styles we could be adding to our site, but given our problem of having too much choice available on our website, is adding new shoe styles going to help us achieve our goals? We don't think it will at the moment, so that's out for this quarter.

Of course some things still made the list that might not have a big immediate impact. We want to continue to improve our packaging and while this will help encourage repeat purchases boosting our conversion rate, it's not going to come close to doubling conversions, but it will have a big impact on our business over the long term, so it stayed on the to do list.

We've now got ourselves a nice list of prioritised tasks, and if we manage to execute all of them well they should have us well on the path to at least doubling our sales for next quarter, and ideally quadrupling them.

Setting a goal then using that goal to prioritise our tasks has worked very well for us. How do your prioritise your work?

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  1. Mike, You seem to be doing MBA by intuition. One of the things hammered into us in the strategy year is to have a "fundamental objective" which is a measurable, achievable goal. This helps you decide on which capabilities you need, which resources you need, and allows you to measure your progress. Seems simple, but it is amazing how many businesses do not think that way. Try asking a few people what their objective is and watch them get uncomfortable!

  2. We had the same problem as you early on....because there are only a few people you need to do a whole lot of tasks, each with different priorities. Now i work from a master document which i spent about 4 weeks writing last year. It firstly identified who we are, what we do and what we want to do as a company. Then i listed the 20 (or so) most important things I needed to do to achieve our goals. I then presented it to the management team, ensured the vision was shared, and started working through the list. Every month after I wrote the document I reviewed the tasks and amended/updated them based on what I had achieved/learned.The trick was:

    *Dont be too specific with the overall goals
    * Make sure you have buy-in from the rest of your team
    *Work on achievable outcomes
    *Delegate where possible
    *Always refer back to the list on a regular basis - it almost becomes a living document where you can track your progress, determine what you have left to do and see what you have learned

    My previous attempts were all static lists and Ifound that was a bit of a problem as they didnt change or reflect the dynamic goals and priorities of a young company...

  3. Joel - good to hear that I didn't completely lose the plot after only getting 2/3 of the way through my MBA! Doing this is something Mike picked up from his software engineering days at Google, makes a lot of sense to do.

    Farhad - great thoughts and those are 5 excellent points for helping to ensure you get your priorities done, I'll make sure to do those, thanks for the tip!