Avoid Over-Planning with #Now, #Next, and #Later Deadlines

Getting ideas off the ground requires careful planning; having a plan in the first place improves your chances for success. But there’s always a risk of falling into a trap that paralyzes ideas: over-planning.

Over-planners focus too much on specific details, sticking to a timeline even when it no longer makes sense. This is especially problematic in team settings, when scoping out projects and aligning on deadlines can result in delays. And according to Noah Weiss (VP Product at Foursquare), the bigger the company, the longer the delays:

When your company is 1,000+ people, you probably need complicated processes and committees for any company-wide initiatives. Aggregating OKRs from teams across Google required numerous PMs working practically full-time for weeks per quarter. There are stakeholders across sales, marketing, support, and more to coordinate with. Between 20 people and 1,000 people is the sweet spot for a light-weight approach to product roadmaps. We have tried many at Foursquare, but none have stuck — including a few attempts at OKRs. The alignment from OKRs is great, but the measurement overhead is overkill for companies changing quickly and the quarterly cycle is too inflexible.

For Weiss, it’s about taking steps forwards as quickly as possible without losing sight of long-term projects and goals. Weiss created a prioritized roadmap that was common across teams. He came up with a streamlined process that follows only three, very simple, timelines: #now, #next, and #later.

#now
Is the next 2–4 weeks. For many teams that use bi-weekly sprints, this fits perfectly into their planning cadence.

#next
Is 1–3 months out. Effectively, it’s the rest of the quarter after #now. This bucket has the most debate, because #now projects are usually already underway so this is the area where the next few months of work get set.

#later
Is 3+ months out. It’s a useful place to park ideas the team is passionate about. This is the most useful bucket, because it saves the team unending debates so they can focus on building #now and then #next projects.

While there are certain projects and endeavors that do take extensive periods of time to put together and coordinate before they can be launched, they are rare, few and far between. These ideas are also incredibly difficult to get off the ground. Is your idea one of these? It’s unlikely. There’s a good chance that you’ll be just fine with #now, #next, and #later deadlines.

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This post was originally published on 99U.