Project pipeline

How to create a project plan

How to create a project plan

Getting buried in too many projects and suffering from a lack of time and direction is a common challenge in startups. The dilemma is that you would like to experiment in many directions, but the resources are really scarce. Time in essence is the most valuable asset of a startup. But this fact is often neglected, because developping and testing many product alternatives may sound intriguing. But how do you really know in which projects you need to invest your time now and which can wait? Project plans are helping you out in this dilemma. Defining priorities for your projects really is key for success.  

Project plans help you keep the overview of what needs to be worked on and define a timeline in which it needs to be done. Especially as you are building your startup, time will always be a scarce resource so you need to use it as effectively as possible. Planning and coordinating your projects systematically will help you to do that. Further, project plans will make your team more focused. By sharing them with the whole team everybody knows what needs to be done and what they need to focus on during their working time.
At the same time, a project plan has the task to prioritise projects. Especially as a startup you want to make fast progress with your work and work on as many projects as possible.
Often all proposed projects are good, but you cannot realise them all at the same time since you will not be able to finish them all. If you are working on too many projects parallel, complexity is increased and communication within the whole team decreases. The less projects the more team members can work on one project making it easier to plan and coordinate your work.

The Tomatosheet ‘Project Pipeline’ supports you in discovering your prioritised projects.

The Project Pipeline is an Excel Spreadsheet with a prepated structure of how to prioritise your projects and plan their timeline. Only if complemented with the right approach you will use it the most beneficially for your startup.

The project pipeline
helps you to

how to approach project planning

The fewer parallel projects, the better.

There’s one important thing that you need to realize. Many projects only develop any value when they are finalized. An app that’s not in the app store has “zero value” to a startup. This means that if you work on a large number of projects and they are all near finished, you might have created less value than completing just one project! That’s one of the many reasons why you should avoid parallelism. Here are some more:

- Having multiple people on one project usually delivers a better result. If the working environment is good, fewer projects are better because you have more people working together. More perspectives and opinions are included and uncover more weaknesses of the projects. You have more people communicating with each other so coordination within the team is easier.

- Fewer projects are also more time and resource efficient. If team members have to work on several projects it takes at least 15-30 min to be able to switch your mind from one project to the other. Plus you end up running after some actually unimportant but time consuming stuff. This is why pursuing ‘small’ projects on the side is more difficult than you think.

- You will create some redundancy in the team, which helps reduce risk of being reliant on just one employee. Most people enjoy working in teams more than being solely responsible for a project.

There are exceptions to all these rules, of course. After all, the project pipeline is also a debating and communication tool.

The progress of the project depends on the interaction of the people working together.

The fewer projects you have, the more people are working on one project. While the fact that many people advance a project brings a lot of advantages it can at the same time increase the likelihood that people who differ in their opinions work together. If you have people in the team who disagree all the time and are opposite poles, it can really slow down the progress of the project. So at least make those people who are getting along well and are compatible with their approach to the project, work closely together. And the opposite poles meet in the team meetings but do not harm each other’s work otherwise.

Manage your time well.

Not only is the management of people on projects decisive but also how you plan your time. Estimate the time for your tasks realistically based on your own and your colleagues’ experiences. Adjust it in the timeline if you see your initial estimation is not true anymore.

Supporting these 3 basics with the Tomatosheet Project Pipeline will pave the way for successful project planning. Setting the right framework to use the Project Pipeline is as important as to know how to use it.

before using this tomatosheet

Here are 5 advices to reach optimal outcomes by using the Project Pipeline:

  1. It should be edited by the management team and by about 3-4 people. In the first phase of your start-up this means most likely your whole team.
  2. When your team grows, it should additionally be used by subdivisions, not only the management team. So they can do the same – not for the whole company but for the subteams.
  3. It should be reviewed and updated once a month. Projects which are good suggestions and may be implemented should stay on the Tomatosheet. However, if they are over and over again postponed and you realise that they will never be implemented, they can be deleted.
  4. The listed projects should not be too fragmented and detailed, otherwise you lose the purpose of the Project Pipeline of being clear. You lose the overview – once again.
    The degree of detail of the listed projects depends on the time horizon the project pipeline is aiming at. 1 week means much more detailed projects than a 1 year plan; and a 1 year plan means more detailed projects than a 5 years plan.
  5. Most importantly: you have to fill out the Project Pipeline TOGETHER with your team discussing which possible projects you all have in mind and defining together the estimations of the different scores. So everybody in the team can understand the ideas behind the prioritisation. This will increase the quality of your project plan since more perspectives are included and more uncertainties are removed.

the basics

The Project Pipeline reveals which projects are conducted when.
Oftentimes you will have a long list of projects you would like to work on, but realistically you do not have the resources for all of them. This is why you need to prioritise them. In this Tomatosheet the priority of a project is defined based on the calculated score and manual rank.

  • The score is calculated by adding up the differently weighted revenue score, competition score, time to market score and effort score. Projects with high priority have a high calculated score and projects with low priority have a low calculated score.
  • Additionally to the calculated score the manual rank is estimated by yourself subjectively to adjust the calculated score.The latter most likely doesn’t cover all aspects of a project so the more comprehensive manual ranking needs to include these. Sometimes projects have the same calculated scores so the manual rank helps in differentiating these.

While the calculated score only includes market-based variables, the manual score includes more variables based on your context and subjective estimation. For example, the calculated score does not consider if one of your employees leaves the startup within one month so a project can probably not be executed without her. Therefore, in praxis the manual ranking is used to assign projects their final priorities.

How to use this tomatosheet

Use for the same time horizon the same template of the Project Pipeline which you will edit and adapt again and again. To create a plan for another time horizon, copy the empty version of the Tomatosheet and start the plan for the other time horizon in the copied version.

The Project Pipeline consists of 2 tabs:

  • prioritization and
  • timeline.

The purpose of the first tab is to figure out the priority of the projects based on the calculated score and the manual rank. On the second tab you set a timeline for them.

On the first tab, row 5 displays the weights of the revenue, competition, time to market and effort scores (in yellow). There are 12 columns of which 11 need to be filled out. Projects which have internal relevance and are not relevant for the markets are not assessed in columns G – K.

Column B: you list the projects your team is conducting and add a description if necessary in column C.

Column D: Categorise the projects according to their types.

Column E: You state if the project is optional or mandatory. If it is mandatory, the project receives a calculated score of 100% because it needs to be implemented anyway.

Column F: You estimate the demand of your project/product. By demand, we mean “market demand”. Obviously you’ll have to research or guess that in the beginning of your startup. Projects with internal relevance are assessed with “n/a”.

Columns G and H: You estimate the revenue the project will generate. Then you categorise the revenue according to its amount on a scale from 1-3. 1 signals a low revenue, i.e. revenue <= 20’000 EUR. 2 signals a medium revenue, i.e. 20’000 > revenue <= 100’000 EUR. 3 signals a high revenue, i.e. revenue > 100’000 EUR. If you use another currency try to adapt your local standards to this scale.

Column I: You estimate the competition score for projects with external relevance on a scale from 1-3. 1 means competitive, 2 means some competition and 3 means no competition. The logic of the meaning of the scale is the same like the revenue score. The higher the better for your company.

Column J: You estimate the time to market. Again the same logic applies to the scale like for the two columns before. 1 means slow, 2 means medium and 3 means fast.

Column K: You estimate how much effort your projects are. Again the same logic applies to the scale like for the two columns before. 1 means high effort, 2 means medium effort and 3 means low effort.

Column L: The calculated score is displayed based on your values in the previous columns. If the project is mandatory it scores a 100% because it has to be realised.

Column M: Define the manual rank including more aspects than the calculated score which is a product of market-based scores. The scale of the rank can be defined individually. The mandatory projects are ranked first since they have to be pursued.

On the second tab you plan the timeline of your projects based on their prioritisation. Projects ranked first will be planned for the nearest time intervals while projects with a low priority will be planned for later time intervals.

  1. Fill cell C5 with the time horizon you are planning for. It can range from 1 week to 5 years.
  2. Adapt the time intervals in row 5. The time interval is always one unit smaller than your time horizon. If your time horizon is one week, then you use days as time intervals. If your time horizon is years, then you use months as time intervals.
  3. Fill the cells of the time intervals in which you are planning to conduct your projects with colour.

Knowing how to use this Tomatosheet makes your project planning already a lot easier. Follow the 5 principles below and it will become successful.

What's next?

Use the Project Pipeline to coordinate your projects and plan your time effectively. Start by

Introducing the Project Pipeline in the next management meeting.

Agreeing on a first date to set up the first Project Pipeline.

Creating monthly recurring calendar invites to adapt the Project Pipeline.

Using this Tomatosheet and applying it the right way will make you successful in project planning.

Complementary to the Poject Pipeline serves the Goals & Actions Tomatosheet. It helps you to break down your projects into goals and actions, and to track their progress. Read here more about why this Tomatosheet is important as a complement to the Project Pipeline and how to use it.

THE 5 PROJECT PIPELINE PRCINCIPLES

  • Create the Project Pipeline within the team and discuss the suggested projects thoroughly.
  • Prioritise projects.
  • Do not work on too many parallel projects.
  • Plan your time wisely based on the timeline.
  • Review and adapt the Project Pipeline once a month.

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