This is part one of a five part series. If you haven’t already, start with the Introduction to Priority Mapping.
The idea behind Priority Mapping is to find something that works, do it more often and keep getting better at it on the way to reaching your goals.
Squares give you the puzzle pieces to break down your vision and build a strategy around. How you put them together tells your growth story.
What do you have that already works?
Imaging your boss handed you $100K to spend on marketing and asked for a plan. How would you lay out your strategy?
You’d likely first run some experiments to find tactics that work, some that kind of work and others that don’t work, yet.
Then you’d center your strategy around these tactics. How much you’re spending on each, the expected results and why you’re confident in those results. Budget approved.
How far will it take you?
As you put together your strategy and look at your tactics, you’d spend most of your time thinking how do I get the most from what already works? and will it take me to my goals?
Then you’d think about how much of my budget am I willing to sacrifice exploring things that don’t work yet, but might generate a better ROI?
Most companies don’t have a product problem, they have a prospecting problem. Generally, the product works for someone.
The strategy is to align on what already works, figure out how to get the most of out it and be clear on how much is being spent on the future.
Squares are the building blocks to your growth strategy
Like the marketing tactics, you have Squares that work, Squares that kind of work and Squares that don’t work yet.
Squares that work give you a repeatable way to win customers and repeatable way to deliver value to them with the products and processes you already have.
The strategy is to get the most out of these Squares using the least amount of resources so you have something left over to explore for the future.
How much do you want to spend exploring?
You probably have aggressive short term goals and don’t have the luxury of having a nice leftover explorating budget.
So you can think of allocating your resource as a slider that you can dial up or dial down depending on your goals and market conditions.
Like numbers on a roulette table, Squares give you more granularity letting you place different size bets on different Squares for the best results.
How often should you revisit your strategy?
Things change. You want to move your chips around the table at least yearly, ideally quarterly and anytime there’s a seismic shift in the world around you (I’m writing this during a pandemic).
Oftentimes, you’ve made progress and something that previously kind of worked is now working really well and you’ll want to change your bets.
Putting everything together for the first time is a big lift. But if you do it right, updating it quarterly doesn’t take long.
Sometimes though, the world changes around you. Customers change their behaviour, partners do something different, competitors emerge, regulations change or some other external event happens (hello Covid-19).
When this happens, you need to rebuild your entire strategy. What used to work, may not work anymore. Or if you’re lucky, what was only kind of working now works incredibly well. How and where you place your bets will often change dramatically.
What if you don’t have anything that works?
Not everyone has the luxury of having something that already works. So when you’re trying to find something that works, you want to look as wide as possible.
Looking wide means considering options that are different from one another. The last thing you want is to keep banging your head against the wall, trying basically the same thing over and over again.
In our marketing example, to look wide means considering different platforms rather than assuming one platform already works and jumping right into A/B testing messaging.
Considering doesn’t have to mean doing. Considering different options lets you throw out the good so you can focus on, what you believe can be, the great.
What and how many experiments you actually run is based on your budget.
How you explore depends on your growth stage
Every new Square starts as an assumption, even when you have a Square that works.
It was an assumption, not a fact, that expanding black cars from San Francisco to Chicago would drive similar results for Uber.
Black cars in Chicago still had to go from not working, to kind of working, to working. Along the way, Uber had to tweak their launch strategy.
But the changes were far less than creating UberX, so it didn’t take long for them to revalidate all of their assumptions in Chicago.
So for short term goals, we want to explore similar nearby Squares that will get to green quickly.
For long term goals, we want to explore far away Squares that are different from what already works, but might give us a better return on investment.
How you balance your short goals and your long term vision is based on the stage of your company and the resources you have available.
Stage 1 – You don’t have anything that works yet
At the early stages of a company you don’t have anything that works yet.
Everything is an assumption and you’ll want to look far & wide to find your first yellow Square, brainstorming different customer segments, different customer problems and different solutions.
All your resources are in exploration mode looking for something that will work, fast.
Stage 2 – You have something that kind of works
Getting here meant exploring the far corners of your vision. It was fun and exciting.
Now you have something that kind of works and your goal is to get that to green as quickly as possible.
A yellow Square means you can either deliver value or win customers in a repeatable way, but not both.
Solving the missing piece and getting ready to scale usually needs all available resources, leaving little-to-no resources for long term exploration.
You can think of this stage as the Vision Valley of Death (exploring the wider vision at the expense of setting yourself up for scale).
If you can (temporarily) resist the temptation, you can make it through, have more resources and get back to exploring the far corners of your vision.
Stage 3 – You have something that works
Getting to green means you have nothing left to build, you’ve demonstrated that you can deliver value and win customers in a repeatable way. You now have something that works.
You also have a number of yellow Squares teed up and identified more that have the best chance of turning yellow next. Your main focus here is building out your grey-yellow-green pipeline.
That means exploration is still generally limited to nearby Squares, getting yourself ready to go copy-paste-paste-paste and start scaling.
Stage 4 – Your doing what works more often and getting better
This is what you’ve been working for. You have similar green Squares, you’re refining your grey-yellow-green pipeline and you’re through the valley of death.
You’re also likely more than 50 people by now. Meaning your long term budget is now the size of a startup, giving you the resources to go back to looking far and wide.
Stage 5 – You start the process over again
By now, you’ve also likely expanded your vision with new customer segments, new customer problems or new ways to solve those problems.
With an entire startup’s worth of people as your long term exploration team, you can simply start back at the beginning of the process. Expansion and innovation strategies are just far away Squares.
And as you grow and have multiple long term teams, you get to explore multiple dimensions in parallel and take on riskier challenges.
My guess is that you already have something that works
Unless you’re just starting out, chances are you already have a green (or yellow) Square. Now your goal is to identify what’s already working and double down on it.
Let’s explore Part 2 – How to Define your Squares