Last week we talked about the importance of planning the projects and assignments we take on. Today we’re going to dive into what a good plan looks like.
This is fairly broad as there are an infinite number of things for which you may have to plan. You could be planning out a new website design for your business or you could be asked to come up with copy for a marketing email campaign.
Although there is a wide array of what we could potentially have to do, planning for any project can follow similar steps.
The 4 Steps to Killer Project Planning
Step 1: Get Clear on the Objective
Your objective for anything you have to plan out is usually related to a problem you are trying to solve. Taking the website design example from above, the problem may be that you’re not getting as many leads as you think you could because your site looks out of date and/or doesn’t have enough avenues for leads to be captured.
Your objective should be real-world and executable. So if your website exists to generate leads for your business, your objective in the re-design could be to “Capture more leads” or “Capture more qualified leads”, if you really want to be specific.
If you are the owner of a tutoring center, for instance, you goal for this objective isn’t necessarily that your website be an avenue to turn visitors into paying students on the first time visiting your site. That sort of objective-based goal may not be real-world.
What would be an executable goal for this objective is to say you want your website to help drive people to free consultations or to your listserv (on which you send out math problems every day :-)). This way you capture a lead and put them into a process you control through which you are building a relationship. This is a tangible goal toward the bigger objective of allowing your website to capture leads.
Step 2: Think from multiple angles about reaching your objective
The tutoring center owner came to the objective for his web-design that he wanted to “Capture more qualified leads” with the goal of “Getting more people scheduled for free consultations & growing our email list”. With this clearly defined, we now know that we need to lower thresholds for people to schedule those free consultations and to join the listserv.
It is not difficult to think about how to lower thresholds, but it is time consuming. With lowering thresholds it is helpful to peel the onion, as they say, and look at the barrier to reaching your goal from many different angles.
If the owner of the tutoring center wants to get more people scheduled for the consultations he offers, he better have something on his website that makes scheduling easy. Having an online scheduler, however, is just the first layer of the onion.
He also needs to think about the barriers for people thinking about scheduling. What are the questions they might have that would make them hesitate? What can he clarify to increase his level of trust?
If it is the parents that typically sign up for the consultation, they may be wondering if their child is at the right level in whatever subject area to come to the tutoring center. Or, they may be asking how much this would end up costing them over the course of a year. Or, they may be wondering how in the heck they can convince their kid to go to tutoring.
Likely they are wondering all those things, and beneath any of those questions, there are undoubtedly more questions.
Thinking about the objective from these angles, where you’re asking the questions that your clients ask, will help you identify the other information you need to have on your site in order to reach your goal. If these are questions they have, how can you answer these questions to lower the threshold toward scheduling a consultation?
Step 3: Synthesize commonalities in how you’re thinking about your objective-based goal
After thinking about your objective from multiple angles, you’ve really fleshed out your forest. You have avoided the trap many of us fall into where we get too consumed by the details early on that we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Now you get to take a step in toward the forest and start seeing the definition of the trees a bit better.
One group of trees may be about describing how awesome the experience is at your tutoring center to give parents who are thinking about signing up for the consultation some arsenal to convince their child to go to tutoring in the first place.
This may be a section that becomes known as your “Culture” section and you provide descriptions about the environment, pictures detailing the interactivity, and downloads for some activities that you do in group sessions as proof for how fun it is.
Another group of trees may be about “Cost”. Sure, maybe it is a large budget item to join a tutoring center. People would be naturally hesitant to pay thousands of dollars toward anything, but cost is all about perception. Since you know cost is a barrier, you can break the cost of tutoring down in comparison to some of the more frivolous spending we have or you can describe scholarships you offer that give parents some hope of it not being a total financial burden.
Yet another group could be describing the “Collaboration” your tutoring center embodies. To overcome the hesitation of whether or not a child is at the right level for tutoring, you need to have a section describing how your tutoring center meets kids where they are. You’re open to kids no matter where they fall on the spectrum.
Deriving these groups from the angle of barriers toward meeting your objective will keep you from (a) wasting your time solving for a problem that doesn’t existing and (b) falling into potholes for barriers you didn’t take the time to think about.
Step 4: Make super-specific lists for each group
Once you have your groups, think through what needs to be done within each. Don’t aim to do everything for every group all at once, but you can aim to make a quick, specific list for each group that you’ll revisit before beginning work on it.
We've done a post in the past about making sure your lists are actionable, so read that to make sure you’re not just making a brain dump of the things you got to do.
Once you have your super-specific lists made for each group of elements that make up your project, you’ll get to decide which item to tackle first. The benefits of following these steps for project planning are that you get a better understanding of the big picture which helps you foresee what may trip you up down the road.
If the tutoring center owner did not consider implementing online scheduling from multiple angles, he may have quickly gotten an embedded scheduler on his website but continued to wonder why in the heck people weren't signing up for consultations.
Fleshing out the big picture makes it easy to get into the details without being lost among them.
Have you ever executed on a project and not fleshed out the big picture before hand? How did it go? What advice would you give to people trying to get their heads around the big picture? Tell us about it in the comments below!