Building Blocks Planning
This is an outline of a simple tool for planning innovative technology businesses which helps consider sequences and consequences.
Powered by: Mick Liubinskas
Product Focus for tech companies in San Francisco
This method uses the metaphor of building blocks to plan the major steps from now to your big goal. The principle is that each block builds on the block under it and must be a logical extension forward. It stops ‘hope’ as a strategy or ‘dreams’ without structure. It gets you to ask the question, what foundation am I building and, when it is finished and strong, what can I build on that base to grow towards my vision.
It’s useful for the management of tech businesses who are trying to plan when there are complex interactions between parts and many paths to take.
Planning is significantly harder with innovations because there are a number of large unknowns or, at best, hypotheses, including;
Who are we building this for?
What problem are we solving?
What is it we are building?
How should we build it?
What resources will it take to build?
How long will it take to build?
How much will it cost?
Will the customers want/like/use it?
Will the customers pay for it and how much?
Triangulating all these points is hard as they all influence each other. Your resources impacts what you can produce which impacts what revenue you can make or capital you can raise, which then impacts what resources you can deploy. Rinse, repeat….
No amount of research can give you the right answer let alone all of them. Only implementation to real customers. This is why I advocate many small test laps rather than long, big, ‘perfect’ laps. You may run out of resources before you do enough laps.
It’s tempting with all these unknowns to do no planning at all. That can work, but you can also paint yourself into a corner by taking a path which will have consequences that blocks your progress. One of the benefits of second time entrepreneurs is their ability to anticipate these consequences and plan for or avoid them.
The building blocks approach can help you at least understand the possible paths and do some scenario work on possible outcomes. If this is your first tech business, I suggest doing this exercise with someone with experience in your area or your possible paths, just be aware of the biases they will have to ‘paths’ they have taken.
The basic setup looks like this:
- Take a whiteboard or a piece of paper. (Here is a spreadsheet version with examples)
- Draw a big rectangle, taking up most of the page.
- Draw about nine lines to create ten rows in the rectangle. Each path will need a different amount of blocks and you can experiment with big steps or smaller steps.
Multiple Block Stacks
Mick Liubinskas suggests that you at least try 5 different stacks to challenge your thinking. Going with the first plan is typically either going to miss a big opportunity or ignore a significant issue. Each block stack has it’s own pros and cons which should be obvious to you.
Different stacks can be generated by thinking about major different options.
- What if we went after a different market?
- What if we don’t raise money and aimed for break even?
- What if we gave away the product for free to build data?
- What if we acquired another company?
- What would we do if we had to go really slow?
- What would we do if we had to go really fast?
- Work up or work down?
Block Stack Review
Mick Liubinskas would suggest doing this exercise whenever you get a fundamental shift in your business. A major learning, a major inflection point or anything significant which would change the way you think about your stack. This will probably be at least every 3–6 months.
Here is a spreadsheet version with examples
Here is the presentation Mick Liubinskas did at Launch Scale Conference
Link to Medium Article