The Power of The One Page Plan

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 08/10/2010

Planning is important, but not in the fat business plan sense, but rather in the brief, memorizable one-page-plan sense. If you can’t make sense of a topic in one page, it’s too complicated. I learned this from Guy Kawasaki who learned this from John Scully who was a Pepsi executive running Apple during Job’s hiatus.

Kawasaki calls it an evangelizing plan, but I call it clear thinking. You can make a one-page-plan for almost anything–a single project, a startup company, or a life. It then can act as a quick gauge for any task you engage in to see if it’s “in plan”. They have the following structure:

MISSION STATEMENT

OBJECTIVES

  1. Objective
  2. Objective
  3. Objective

STRATEGIES

  1. Objective
    1. Strategy
    2. Strategy
    3. Strategy
  2. Objective
    1. Strategy
    2. Strategy
    3. Strategy
  3. Objective
    1. Strategy
    2. Strategy
    3. Strategy

Notice that the Objectives are indeed repeated in 2 places in the plan–a wasteful seeming thing with the limited real estate of one page, but a truly important aspect of the format.

One page plans are easy to write, revise and throw out if you were totally off the mark. Write them, test them out, and let them evolve. If you’re ever challenged on your thinking, you can rattle off your points in a way that can leave your audience stunned with your familiarity with your subject matter, even though quantitatively it would just fit on one page. It really does work this way–a real-life Jedi mind trick. Not only is it a great exercise in mental discipline, but it’s very satisfying to drop this figurative anvil on a rival’s head at the opportune moment.

A one-page-plan merely consists of a mission statement, with 3 to 5 objectives. Under each objective is 3 to 5 strategies or tactics. Call them what you will as appropriate to the plan, but this simple hierarchy lends itself to impressive memorization. If your mission statement is clear, precise and true, you will memorize it. And then, it’s not too difficult to memorize 4 bullet points. With that, you can brush out the broad strokes in a couple of breaths.

For example, a good starting point mission statement for any company is to get and keep customers. I learned this from Peter Drucker, and its another neat trick. Throw out that platitude, and see who tries to challenge it, then tear them apart. Technology licensing businesses follow this model. Oil companies follow this model. Banks and credit cards follow this model. Google follows this model. It’s not always clear cut, but they do.

Of course, you can make the mission statement a bit longer and customized to your needs, but if it becomes one of those nonsense sentences that sound like your chewing bubblegum and spewing bullshit, you’ve gone too far. A mission statement I made for myself professionally lately goes like this:

MISSION To use all the knowledge, experience and know-how I have accumulated in my life so far to make the second half of it play out even more to my advantage.

This creates a bright blinking symbolic marker in my life, reinforcing the urgency of the first half of my professional career being essentially over. It also pats myself on the back for what I have done, acknowledging it is not all for naught. Just because I had ideas, actually DID implemented them, only to have them not amount to the empires that other identical ideas took off to become… so what!

I have accumulated the essential skills for the job that lies ahead and have a vision of achievement that eclipses accomplishments of the past. And I can tackle it with the wisdom and efficiency that comes with bearing many battle scars. Pick only the fights you know you can win, but challenge your abilities right up to their limits to keep it interesting. And then be okay losing some battles, so long as you win the war, which you can always keep sight of by re-gauging against your plan.

Objectives must balance generality with specifics is that together, they are complete, leaving no gaps–with only 3 to 5 points. So professionally for me, they might include:

OBJECTIVES

  1. Choose tools that will minimize vendor dependencies while maximizing longevity of marketable skills.
  2. Retrain yourself and master those tools in the course of your day-job in a justifiable fashion.
  3. Take measures to prevent the giant “reset button” from ever being pressed on you again. Enjoy compounding returns!
  4. Always LOVE what you do, and strive pave the way for others to do the same.
  5. Enjoy life outside work as much as you enjoy work. Reap the rewards.

With five objectives, I’m stretching the bounds of memorizabiliy to the limits. But just distill it in your mind. There’s the “tools” and the “retraining” and the “safeguarding” objectives. Then there is the inside love, and the outside love objective. As you can see, love is doubly important to me, inside the workplace and out. If you don’t love what you do, try teaching it. Maybe you’ll love teaching. If you love what you do and live teaching, you may live a very long and fulfilling life. But even then, it shouldn’t be for it’s own sake… if you started a family and invited others into your life. Up until that point, it’s okay to be work obsessed, buy after that point, it’s not fair to them.

The last point is the individual strategies under each objective, but I hardly feel I need to cover that. They are the specific things you’re going to do to achieve each objective. You’re basically repeating the easily memorized mental exercise at the objective level, but 3 to 5 more times.