Have you ever wondered how to get started with the planning process? This episode will help you get started with the nuts-and-bolts and the key things to consider before you start working on tasks.
- Learn why planning is essential
- How to navigate planned vs. actual
- Why mapping out timelines and budgeting is important
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WCB Podcast Projects Series:
References:One of the most important things to consider as you start planning a business initiative is focusing on the problem this project will solve. Learn more! #projects #businesspodcast #businesstips Click To Tweet
Presented by Jen McFarland
About Host Jen McFarland
Jen McFarland loves the power of projects, intentionality, and aligned action.
While living and teaching as a Peace Corps volunteer Kazakhstan she realized how much she loved projects. She became attuned to the fact that projects drive everything we do. It’s about listening and learning and creating solutions to the problems nagging us day after day.
After Peace Corps and getting a master’s degree in Leadership and Management, Jen led large-scale public sector projects affecting over 50,000 businesses, handling millions of dollars.
Today, she consults with business owners on leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. She also hosts a weekly women in business podcast called Women Conquer Business.
Transcript: How to Start Planning Your Business Projects
Jen:Hello and welcome to Women Conquer Business. I’m your host, Jen McFarland. This week’s show is raw and uncut. I’m just going to record and talk. There’s no intro, there’s no outro, because I’ve been really excited to talk about how to plan your business projects. And the irony is this is a couple of days late if you listen to the show regularly. And we’ll talk a little bit about why it’s late. But the most important meat and potatoes of this episode is all about how to plan your projects, and why planning your projects is so important for your business. In fact, the fact that this episode is a few days late is actually ironic, right? I’m talking about how to plan a project, and the project of getting the episode out every week is a few days late. But let me tell you why. One of the things that is so important about every business is how we prioritize different items within our business.Jen:I love doing the podcast. But the podcast isn’t the only thing that I do to support my business. It’s really a place where I come to get a lot of my ideas out, and then practice for presentations I might be giving. Of course, it’s about helping all of you, but it also serves a really important slot within my own life and my own business. So it’s not the centerpiece of everything that I do. Now, I also cherish having episodes come out relatively quickly to whatever it is that’s going on in my business, in my life. Why? Because I feel like if I batch things out and send it out and schedule it several months out in advance, something might happen in the interim that could be really important to your journey, because it’s just some trend that I’m seeing out there in the marketplace that might need to be talked about.Jen:That said, it does help to maybe have episodes go out a couple of weeks in advance, which is really the lesson that I learned this week. If you’ve listened to the show for even a month or so, you know that I recently lost an uncle. And I’m in Minneapolis right now, just a couple of days after the funeral, visiting a friend. In the run-up to coming to Minneapolis, my business just boomed and got super busy. And I was like, I’ll record the podcast, I’ll record the podcast. And as the days melted away I was like, it’s Saturday. I need to hang out with my husband, because I’m going to be gone for a few days. And then it was a travel day, and then it was the funeral. And honestly it just never got done. And I felt bad about it for the last few days. And I really enjoyed my time with family and with friends.Jen:So what does all of that mean? Does that mean I need to plan better? Maybe. I think it actually means that I need to rethink some of my priorities, and make sure that the podcast is a couple of weeks out in the future. Because I can always record a couple of shows and get those out and done. So it’s an important thing, because sometimes we plan things like I planned to get the show out, and everything happens a little bit differently. And that is probably what I think the most important thing is about planning for your projects. So one of the most key favorite quotes I’ve ever heard about the importance of planning comes from former president Dwight D Eisenhower. And he explained it several different ways, and over and over again. Now he was a military man and also president. And the quote is, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”Jen:But let me give you a little bit more context. Within just not hearing the phrase, that’s a phrase that maybe you’ve even seen on, I don’t know, graphics. I think even I’ve made a graphic and put it out on social media about it. So in 1957, Eisenhower gave a speech. And I’m just going to quote from it. “I tell you this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the army. Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a great distinction, because when you are planning for an emergency, you must start with this one thing. The very definition of emergency is that it is unexpected. Therefor it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”Jen:The article that this is from then goes on to say, “The details of a plan which was designed years in advance are often incorrect, but the planning process demands the thorough exploration of options and contingencies. The knowledge gained during this probing is crucial to the selection of appropriate actions as future events unfold.” Now, as business owners, you might be like, “I don’t plan years in advance.” It might be helpful to think about things years in advance, especially your three to five year goals so that you are sure that you’re working towards them. In this context, you could say the army does plan things and map things out years in advance, particularly during war time. And this excerpt from Eisenhower actually talks about how they mapped out an area in France, didn’t need it, but then years later did need it. And although some things had changed, they at least had discussions about this area of the country, and were able to address the problems that they were facing in the present time.Jen:And the key is that the planning process demands a thorough excellent exploration of options. I love that phrase. The planning process demands the thorough exploration of options and contingencies. So contingency is, what are you going to do if things don’t go the way that they’re planned? Like I planned to get the podcast out, and here we are half an hour before I have to leave for the airport, and I’m recording it now. But I brought all my recording equipment, so I at least planned enough in advance to do that. See, the most important thing about planning for your projects is the realization that whatever is planned is not equal to the actual outcomes, or how the plan is actually going to be executed. The importance of planning is to realize that you have a plan. And then you have actuality of what happens as you begin to work through the plan toward your goal.Jen:Because no matter what you plan, whether it’s a party or a huge business initiative, it’s not going to unfold the way that you expect it to. I’ll give you an example, right? One of the largest projects I worked on for the city of Portland involved deploying an application for every single person living in the city who needed to file for taxes. Now, we had tested that, we had planned for every possible contingency that we thought that we needed. And in fact, we had discussed it with our broader IT staff, the need to do some testing to make sure that when hundreds of thousands of people were going to go use this app, we had the capacity for it to actually file taxes for people. That the load that was being placed, the stress and the strain being placed on servers would be able to handle it.Jen:And the response we kept getting from the IT person was, just tell people to file earlier. And our response had been, people don’t file for taxes early. I don’t file super early, I don’t know if you file super early, but many people wait until the last minute. So predictably and yet unpredictably, everything melted down on tax day and put a lot of things to a grinding halt. And we had planned for it. But we had not really seen what would actually happen when the servers couldn’t handle it, when the capacity was too much. So our actuality was very different from our plan. But because we had planned, and because we had done our documentation and had done everything that we could in the run up, we were better positioned than if we hadn’t planned at all. So one of the things that you’re worried about when you’re planning your projects is how long things are going to take.Jen:So the first aspect I want to talk about is your timeline. So you have as a project leader, as a business owner, you have a timeline in mind, right? You have your plan timeline, and then you have your actual timeline for how long things are going to take. In earlier episodes, I’ve talked about how important it is to, sometimes when you think you know how long something’s going to take, we used to double it in large scale projects. And it couldn’t hurt you to double your project time when you’re working on a large scale project or an important project. And I’ll tell you why, because you have your planned project time. And then if you’re working on it by yourself, you know that things are going to come up for your business. In the lead up to this episode being late, I have a contract that’s rather large. And I’ve had seven new clients. And I needed to meet with all seven clients before I left for the funeral.Jen:Blew my timeline out of place, but they were excellent meetings and wonderful people. And it was more important than getting the podcast out. So it’s about priorities, right? Which is why you should always have more lead time for the projects that are maybe a lower priority than your highest priority projects. So I had a plan timeline and then actuality. The podcast is just something that I do, doesn’t really involve anybody else. On your projects, you will also have maybe people who are involved in whatever it is that you’re doing. So it’s important, then, that when you involve a contractor, or a writer, or a contractor, or a freelancer, another company. For every entity that is going to be working with you on your project, you have to realize that they have a planned timeline and an actual timeline. So each person affects your actuality for how long something will take.Jen:You can map all of it out, but you’re better served if you can talk to those people who are supporting you, and finding out what other things might get in the way of delivering on time. And you’re much better off if you have those conversations and talk it all out. You see, the number one thing about your timeline and planning is planning alleviates the stress of when timelines need adjusting, because you’ve considered the downstream impacts. If you have a timeline and you’re looking at how long everything will take to get done, and then someone is late, then you can make adjustments downstream. And it makes your life so much easier.Jen:Whereas if you haven’t planned at all and then things start running late, and you’ve already made some announcements in marketing, then you’re in a box. When you plan things out, you have a better sense of when you need to be announcing things from marketing, because you’ve actually talked about the things that might disrupt that marketing plan. And then when you clear through those tasks, then you can start executing your marketing, because you don’t want to announce and then have to keep bumping a date back.Jen:I hope that makes sense to you. The number two thing about planning versus actual is the budget. So you have your plan budget and then your actual budget. Now sometimes you can plan for how much things cost. It’s pretty simple, and you can just move forward. But the thing about timelines and budgets is they’re really intertwined, especially when you are involving freelancers and contractors in your projects. Because if something takes longer, depending on the agreement you signed, you could begin to see your budget slip. And it can be getting more and more expensive to do things than you had planned. But if you set a budget that’s reasonable and allows a 20% contingency in there, if things start to get a little bit more expensive than you had planned, then you’re better positioned for when things go a little bit high. Then you’re able to adjust.Jen:See, the number one thing about a budget is that planning alleviates the stress of budget shifts, because you have a general sense of how much your budget will cost. But again, that 20% contingency is really important. And what that means is you have a budget for how much you think everything is going to cost. And then the contingency means you take that budget and you raise it by about 20%. and that’s if things don’t go quite as you had planned it. Because oftentimes things don’t cost as much as you think they will. Hopefully they cost less. I’ve been known to come in on budget, on time, on projects that I’ve led. And then within my own business for projects that I’ve led, I’ll come in sometimes under budget and ahead of schedule.Jen:The number one thing about that is bearing in mind that the longer things take in general, they can cost more. So the timelines and the budget are really intertwined. And those are the dressing around the meat and potatoes of project planning, which would be what’s the problem I’m going to solve? Is it going to elicit the outcomes that I am looking for? And what tasks is it going to require in order for me to get there?Jen:In the big business world where I came from, a lot of people… It’s really funny. This whole time I’ve been in Minneapolis, I’ve been talking to my friend who’s working for an international corporation doing project management and data management. And I’ve been struck throughout the time about how similar big business and small business really are. When I left my big business environment and started my own business, a lot of it was, hey, big business is doing some things right. Let’s make sure that everybody in small business has the same tools. And I often found that the problems in big business were really well aligned with small business. And I felt like everybody could help each other if we really faced these problems together. So that was a couple of years ago, about three years ago, that I left my large corporate job, my big job that I had been at for 10 years.Jen:And my friend who I graduated from graduate school is still at her large corporate job. And the same thing is true. We were talking about different aspects of the projects we’re working on. And we’re realizing that many of the problems are so well aligned. People get an idea, and they start doing things without considering the broader implications of whatever it is that they’re working on. And that happens in large companies, and it happens in small businesses as well. And it happens among solopreneurs and freelancers, probably even more so, because we’re drawn to the things that we enjoy doing the most. If you’re like me and you like making graphics and social media stuff, you might be inclined to work on that stuff before it’s actually time to start marketing something. So it’s important to start with the big picture before you start drilling in and doing the small things that you really enjoy doing, or that maybe you do all the time.Jen:Simon Sinek talks a lot about, start with why. That’s true of your biggest initiatives. Start with why. And it can’t just be because I want to make money, Jen. Duh. It has to be more like, why are you doing this project? What problem are you addressing? See, projects are built to address problems. There’s a gap somewhere. There’s something that you want to do. So you need to really work on that and think about the outcomes of if the project is successful. So these are some of the bigger picture initiatives and things that you need to look at before you even drill into filling out a Trello board or some of these smaller tasks that tend to take up all of our time, but may or may not be related to the bigger goal, or the bigger project goal.Jen:So in a lot of projects, you’re to want to think about where things line up. When are you going to have to get people involved? And I usually say, get everyone involved at the beginning, because your timeline as a business owner is not the same as the timeline for somebody that you are involving in your project. It sounds funny, but your emergency is not somebody else’s emergency. So one of the best things you can do to help yourself is involve people early and often, and get updates from them. The other thing that you can do is map out your timeline in a reasonable way. So plan as early as possible. And then when you realize all of the tasks that need to be done, it’s a little less stressful because you have more time. Look at your timeline and your tasks and your budget, and figure out and map out when all of these things need to roll out.Jen:The marketing and that part may not be as early as you think it is, because you may have some problems that you need to work through before you start pushing out your messaging. And when you really start thinking about the problems that you’re solving and why you’re doing it, when you’re really drilling into some of those things, that is going to really change some of your marketing as well. Because you’re going to start getting a little bit deeper into how what you’re doing will either affect your internal business process, which would be your internal marketing about why you’re changing something, or something that affects your customers or potential customers. And how you message that will change based on these conversations that you’re having.Jen:Now, when you map out your tasks, sometimes it’s best, again, to to have a big brainstorming session and write down as many things as possible. And also consider what happens if things don’t go as planned. What’s your contingency? What’s going to happen for that? How do you help yourself not paint yourself into a corner? And one of the ways that you do that is through careful planning. If things don’t go right, what’s going to happen? And then how are you going to fix that thing? And again, you do this not because you know exactly what’s going to go wrong, but it’s the process of planning for an emergency, which is something that’s unexpected, just like Eisenhower said.Jen:But it’s also acknowledging that things aren’t going to go the way that you have it planned. And if you need help with any of these types of concepts as you go through and start planning your projects for your business, always know that I’m here for you. I’m here to help you. And people hire me to help them map out the projects for their business. So I hope that this has all been really helpful for you. I think it’s really important that you’re able to plan your projects and initiatives. Really think about them before you start doing, because the more you can think about it and consider your timeline, your budget, and what it’s actually going to take for you to get this done, the more time that you can spend on those things, the better off you are in the long run. Thank you so much for listening, and I’ll talk to you next week.
In addition to solving hairy marketing operations problems, I host one of the best business podcasts for women, the Women Conquer Business podcast, which provides actionable strategies, business how-to’s, and real-world advice from subject matter experts and entrepreneurs to help you grow, nurture, and sustain your business. But if you want the REAL story, I am an uber-nerd who loves dad jokes, building seamless systems, and helping leaders find more joy in their work.