It’s the question I asked myself when I started my career and it’s the question I asked myself everyday as we grew the company:
How do we know we’re working on the right things?
And then like most, I’d go down the rabbit hole of questions. How does this align with our strategy? How do we communicate our strategy? How do we execute on our strategy? How do we keep it up to date?
I’ve been looking for something to help me set priorities ever since.
After testing out a number of frameworks this is my best take at stringing them together into a single mental model.
An Introduction to Priority Mapping
Taking some time off after our acquisition, I had some space to reflect and came across the advice of do less, do it more often and keep getting better at it.
Looking back, there’s a ton of times I seemed to do the opposite. Trying to do more, doing them less often and not really getting better. Sigh.
I loved the simplicity, but struggled with how to apply it with all the complexities of running a company. Fortunately, I had some time on my hands to think.
Priority Mapping is my answer for how to put doing less, doing it more often and keep getting better at it into practice.
Thinking in terms of Squares
How do you solve a complex problem? Simple, you break it down into its component parts.
Today, Uber is a multi-billion dollar company with multiple product lines operating in multiple countries worldwide.
But they didn’t start there. They started with black cars in San Francisco.
You can think of any billion dollar market as a simple grid. Down the left you have different customer problems and across the top you have different customer segments.
Each Square represents a solution for a well defined segment of the market.
Uber has since filled in most of their Squares, but in early 2011 it was only San Francisco and black cars.
I find it’s easy for people to visualize the Uber example because of geography but the principles apply to any market.
Copy. Paste Paste Paste.
By 2011, Uber black was a success. Demand was pouring in from the other 99% in San Francisco and from cities around the world.
So did they stay in SF and launch UberX? Or did they take their black cars and expand to other cities?
They expanded to other cities. New York City, Chicago, Paris, Toronto and London. They took what already worked, changed as little as possible and scaled it as fast as possible.
Do you always expand left or right for growth? No. SpaceX will likely have a hard time finding more customers like NASA so they’re better going deeper.
The goal is to find the shortest path.
Tighten your wheels before taking the highway
Companies tend to miss one critical step before scaling.
After the initial success of Uber black in San Francisco, how long did they wait before expanding? Were they making hundreds of thousands of dollars? millions? tens of millions?
Low millions is probably right. The demand was incredible around the world so what were they doing between 2009 and 2011? My guess is they were hardening their business model. They were tightening the bolts on their wheels.
If you tighten the bolts by hand, everything will look right and you’ll be able to drive around the parking lot no problem. Take your car up to speed on the highway and well, everything hits the fan.
Transitioning your Squares into execution mode gives you a repeatable business model to go copy, paste paste paste.
The Five Parts of Priority Mapping
My goal with Priority Mapping is to help you build, communicate and execute your strategy in a way that’s easy to keep up to date.
A lot of plans try to go straight from goals to actions, with the team trying to figure out the why in between and leaving everyone struggling to prioritize.
Segments and habits are the missing link in the middle. The five parts of Priority Mapping breaks them down so you can execute on your strategy and answer the question how do we know we’re working on the right things?
Part 1 – Building your Strategy with Squares
Most companies don’t have a product problem, they have a prospecting problem. As you build your strategy, the fastest way to reach your goals is to start with what’s already working and then look at taking bets on the future.
Here are three questions to get you started building your strategy:
- What do you have that already works?
- How far will it take you?
- How much do you want to bet on the future?
Squares give you the building blocks to string together a strategy that’s easy to understand. They help everyone get aligned to what’s important today, tomorrow and in the future. And they help you place different sized bets on different initiatives for better results.
Part 2 – Defining your Squares
If you want to get your team on the same page, you need to be specific. When defining segments, most companies think along a single dimension like industry or demographics. That’s too vague to align your team.
Here are three questions to get started defining better segments:
- Who are your customers?
- What do you help them do?
- How do they do that today?
Defining Squares around the Who, What and How links your strategy back to your bigger vision. Being specific around the context aligns your team on the segments of the market where you have an unfair advantage.
Part 3 – Breaking down your Goals with Squares
It’s easy to define high level goals and there’s no shortage of things to do. Connecting the two together is the hard part. But it can be easier if you just think in terms of your basic Habits.
Here are three questions to get you started with breaking down your goals:
- How do you deliver value to customers?
- How do you acquire customers?
- Where do your Habits work better?
When looking at your revenue, you’re looking at the average of your Habits across your Squares. Some will be above average, some will be below average and others will just be average. To hit your goal, you want to do more of the above average Squares and less of the below average ones.
Part 4 – Finding your Squares that work
To build your strategy, you need to be specific on how you define what’s working, what’s kind of working and what’s not working, yet.
Here are three questions to get you started to find what’s working:
- What do you have that’s repeatable?
- Where are you seeing success?
- Does the market agree with you?
First you’ll want to look at what Squares are working from your point of view. Then you’ll want to see if the market agrees with you. If they don’t, it’s always cheaper to find a smaller segment that works than build something new.
Part 5 – Turning your Strategy into Execution with Squares
The goal of Priority Mapping is to align your team on what to do more often, where to get better and when to build something new. That’s your execution plan.
Here are three questions to get you started building your execution plan:
- How do you break your Squares down by Habits?
- How do you do them more often?
- How do you keep getting better?
Knowing how your work links back to your goals is the answer to how do you know you’re working on the right things? As you break down your goals, you can look at them in two ways. Where the money’s going to come from and what you’re going to do to get there.
Said another way, your goals are the sum of all of your Squares and Habits. How you prioritize them is how you turn your strategy into execution.
Ready to dig deeper?
We’ve just scratched the surface of Priority Mapping here. In the next few posts we’ll run through each part in more detail.
Let’s get started with Part 1 – How to Build your Strategy with Squares.