It’s always good to have a plan!

This is the time of year for reviewing what we have  done and thinking about what we are going to do. It is the time for making plans. The month of January is supposed to be named after the Roman god “Janus” (although there is some dispute about this)

Janus is depicted as having two faces and was the god of doorways and gates. He looked both inwards and outwards, forwards and back. In my opinion Janus is a good character to bear in mind when writing plans and reviews.

In the middle of 2014 I decided that it was high time that I wrote a “Business Plan” for my little business. I’ve done this sort of thing before for other people, but it feels a bit different when it is for yourself.

As it says at the bottom of the front page: 

“Duhallow Grey Geek started without a clear business plan. This document rectifies that. It summarizes the current situation and identifies options. It identifies how tactical plans will be created and provides an outline for the next one to two years.”

Before you start writing (or even researching) any document, it is a good idea to decide who you are writing it for. In this case the answer was: for ME! That’s right – for myself! Of course, I may want to present it to potential investors or business partners but I am the person making the largest investments in terms of effort, time and life. If I think I am going to be wasting my time and effort, I want to find out now, so I can do something more rewarding.

There are plenty of templates for what a business plan should contain, so I won’t share the detailed table of contents. In fact I found myself adding things to the standard contents. Some of the things I included (which you may, or may not, think are “standard”) are:

  • Motivation – Why was I doing this? Why was I excited about it?
  • The current position of the business – In terms of product and sales.
  • Product – What is the product? 
  • Market – Who buys the product?
  • Industry – What is happening in the industry I’m involved in? Where is the growth?
  • What resources and capabilities do I have access to?
  • Constraints – What are the restrictions that I want to apply to the business?

While I was mapping out the contents, I made a list of the questions I wanted to answer and used them as the basis for research. In the end I produced appendix material on:

  • The economics of the industry I am working in (on-line training material)
  • Sales – past performance and future projections
  • Marketing options
  • Alternative sales channels
  • Successful competitors

Predicting future sales is always difficult. In the end, I didn’t try and make predictions. Instead I projected the past performance into the future and then identified the ways I could improve it. I also identified high and low levels which I could use to plan potential investments. 

The “Strategic” document I’ve produced, documents the facts and identifies the options. On the basis of the information available, I’ve picked some things I am going to do (in fact, I’ve started doing them already) and created what I term a “Tactical Plan” for a fixed term. I’ve going to “do the actions” in the Tactical Plan and monitor the results. Towards the end to the period of the plan I will review the results and decide what to do next. 

Wash, rinse, repeat….
Is it all going to work? I don’t know. What am I going to do? That would be telling! Keep watching and you’ll find out.

Mind maps and SQL

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, I mentioned that I use Mind-mapping. I generally prefer pen and paper or pen and white-board, because I don’t like to be constrained by what the tool wants to do. I do use Freemind sometimes, and I said in the discussion that I what I sometimes do is:

  1. Create the mindmap freehand
  2. Transfer that into Freemind – which consolidates the thinking and gives me something with is tidy and easier to maintain, and then
  3. “Print” the map to pdf – which is easy to distribute and can form the basis of discussion at a distance.

I thought I would illustrate this with an example:

A recent project of mine has been creating an introductory course titled “SQL and Relational Databases for analysts”.

The objective of the course was to give a basic understanding of SQL to Business and Technical Analysts.
It was intended to use MS SQL Server, but not be a course on SQL Server. The reason for this was to make the skills learned as portable as reasonably possible.

As it was intended to be an introduction, certain things I would like to have included (like UNION, HAVING and the database catalogue) didn’t make the cut on grounds of keeping the size of the course down.

Anyway, the content of the course was documented in a mind-map which was then discussed with people in different places over a short period. I’ve attached the final version of the mind-map.
Everything in the mind-map (with the exception of the “title block” in the middle) was produced in Freemind.

The mind-map proved to be useful for agreeing what the content and structure of the course was going to be and then as a reminder of scope during the development of the course.

Here’s mind-map (it was intended to be printed, if that ever happened, on A3 paper).