I've been switching in and out of quarterly planning mode for the past few weeks. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the matter:
SWAGs are fine at first. Our Q1 2011 plan was our first ever official "quarterly plan". I put it together an hour before I presented it to the team.
I pulled most of the quantitative goals out of thin air and spent 30 minutes running through the product plan by Adam. It really wouldn't have made sense to do much more at the time. We were still in survival mode at the time, so the plan really boiled down to "ship product, get customers, as fast as possible".
We moved around some of the product priorities, but we otherwise did just about everything that we said that we were going to do - including hit the number. Execution against a plan builds credibilty with the team and the board, so this was a big win for us.
SWAG planning falls apart fast. I did the Q2 plan in the same fashion and it burned me a little bit.
My board called me out on one of the numbers that I lazily forecasted. (We were very fortunate to have numbers that actually started to matter!) And our Director of Operations called me out for not including him in the process, rightfully so I might add.
At this point, we had enough moving parts to warrant a more thoughtful plan around top priorities. In retrospect, I think this transition snuck up on me a little bit. When you're slogging it out every day, it becomes difficult to look up and recognize that you're actually starting to make progress.
Survival mode becomes habit if you're not careful. And a potentially a dangerous habit if you don't poke out of the weeds from time to time. It is imperative to make sure that the team is marching towards the same objective, even when you're in the process of figuring out the direction.
Minimum Viable Planning. The Q3 planning process has been much more collaborative and much broader. That said, the process remains fairly lean. We're using the same planning template as the past, just with a clearer story and more supplementary content.
Instead of dictating the goals and plans, I've tried to set a direction and the top priorities - in conjunction with Adam - so that the team and I can collaborate on the plan. Every functional area has provided P1s (short, memorable phrases like "Build Machinery" that represent the "priority one" for the quarter) and a few quantitative goals that align with the strategic theme for the quarter.
We have a plan and it is a smart one. And we're going to execute the sh!t out of it.
That said, there are definitely some things that I'll do differently when we start planning for Q4. I suppose I'll write about it then.