Priority-Based Startup Management

Deciding what to work on next is the most challenging aspect of a startup.<...>

There's always so many good things you could be doing. But how do you prioritise all of these?

We all know that startups have to make do with scarce resources (time / money / both) initially, which means focusing on the highest value or highest impact tasks is the only way to move from A to B.

The challenge is one of chaos and finding some kind of framework within you can make sense of that chaos.

The framework that has tended to work for us at Receiptful has been to be as strict and rigid as possible in focusing on our priorities (something I try do in my personal life too). Whilst it's not without it's challenges, I wanted to share some thoughts on how we're handling this...

1. The One Metric That Matters

Since our launch in November last year, we've been fanatical about pursuing our One Metric That Matters: the number of receipts we're sending.

What this means is that we consider every decision or task with one set of questions: Does this help us to send more receipts? How significant is that impact?

Decisions, tasks, features or partnerships that have less favourable answers to those questions are automatically de-prioritized.

Where this would be most clear is looking at our 12 - 18 month strategy and also our 3 - 6 month roadmap (where we have confirmed tasks to complete for us to reach our strategic goals 12 or 18 months down the line).

We're not perfect at applying this framework, but it is a very strong guide in our decisions, which means I'd like to think that the majority of our decisions have been better than average (judged by our traction graph below).

2. Accept when things aren't linear

Okay, so we have a roadmap based on our one metric that matters and we have a very clear vision with longer-term strategic goals. But then reality strikes and the inevitable shit hits the fan.

What happens when you start adding product bugs (of varying severity) to the mix?

What about customer feedback (because we're supposed to be constantly talking to customers and learning how to make the product more valuable to them)? What if those learnings don't align with your roadmap?

What about partnerships or new opportunities? Sometimes things happen unexpectedly and you have the choice of whether you will augment your short- or medium-term roadmap accordingly.

Or what if your team just had some new ideas that strongly contradicts past ideas and potentialy tweaks your startup's hypothesis?

Add to the mix the absolute requirement to move as quickly as possible and you have chaos theory on your hands.

In my mind there's only one action to take here: accept it. There's no framework that can conclusively mix, match & prioritise all of those considerations. That's why you have a gut-feel and you'll need to fly by that intuition.

Acceptance comes before understanding.

3. Transparently communicate priorities

As founder, I'm the one that deals with the bigger picture the most often and it's naturally my responsibility to continue shaping our course and steering the ship accordingly.

So whilst the team are doing the real work of propelling the ship forward, I'm supposed to manage or prioritise their actions. Yet I'm no micro-manager (and don't believe that any startup founder should ever be).

The key is to engage one's team in decisions and always consolidate the discussion with The One Metric That Matters and ultimately the consideration of priorities.

What I've found is that openly considering and debating priorities in this regard develops a kind of internal, mental muscle. I've only been working with my team for a short while (and we're still getting to know each other), but I've already seen that when I'm not available for a day, that they've made great decisions about what to work on and how to tackle those challenges.

I have no doubt that the clarity, regularity and transparency of our communications around our dreams, goals and priorities has influenced that greatly.

4. Trust the process

My last point is a nice segue into the old cliche of trusting the process.

Ultimately you have to stick to your guns, which means trusting your (big) decisions, trusting the framework within which you evaluate those & trusting your whole team to execute on that.

Startups don't require perfection to succeed; they just require diligence. Diligently stick with your process until you reach that point where you've learnt how to augment that process or tweak the direction. And don't let a bit of (inevitable) noise throw you off course in the short-term.

Startups are not an exact science. If they were, there'd be many more millionaires. :)

It's a journey and most things that happen within a startup don't have a binary best or worst decision or action.

Figure out what your priorities are and use that as the middle of your universe: something to stabilise some of the guidance and guide you through the consequent challenges.