This article is part of our series on Lean Planning, where we go into more detail on the process. Start with How to Build a Lean Business Plan Step 1: Build Your Strategy, and for a comprehensive overview of Lean Planning, check out An Introduction to Lean Planning.
Once you’ve finished this article, check out How to Build a Lean Business Plan Step 3: Set Milestones, and How to Build a Lean Business Plan Step 4: Define Your Business Model.
The goal with Lean Planning is to minimize the amount of time that you spend planning, and maximize your chances of success. So, move quickly through building your strategy and documenting your tactics so you can get out into the real world and figure out if your ideas are going to work.
No matter how great your overarching business strategy is, it’s nothing without tactics. Tactics are the things that you actually do to make your business work. They make up the implementation plan that will turn your strategy into a reality. Just make sure that your tactics are actually guided by your business goals (and strategy), so you’re not just throwing darts at the wall, hoping something sticks.
One of the greatest military strategists recognized that strategy and tactics by themselves are essentially useless; but, when paired together correctly, they work hand-in-hand, supporting each other:
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
— Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”
Your tactics are your roadmap. More specifically, they’re your marketing and sales plan, your product plan, the people you choose to be on your team, and the partners you choose to work with. Tactics are all the specific choices you make and tasks you do to implement your strategy.
You’ll figure out the right tactics to support your strategy as you go out and talk to your potential customers and validate your strategy. As I discussed in Step 1 of the Lean Planning process, once you’ve developed your strategy, you need to go out into the market and figure out if your idea is any good.
Interviewing potential customers, building a basic version of your product, or even doing a Kickstarter campaign are all great ways to figure out if your idea is going to work. And, as you talk face-to-face with potential customers, you’ll figure out the best ways to market and sell your product. This knowledge will be the foundation you’ll need to figure out the tactics to support your strategy.
Alignment is critical
The most important thing is that your tactics support your strategy. Because your tactics are how you’re going to execute your strategy, the two have to be in alignment.
For example, a high-end restaurant has to support its strategy of providing a quality experience by investing in a great guest experience, from what the host station looks like, to the quality of the flowers on the tables. This restaurant will differentiate itself with great food and a fantastic experience in exchange for asking customers to pay a higher price. If it does this, its strategy and tactics will be in alignment.
A company that sells handcrafted leather wallets, handbags, and other fashion accessories to customers that care about things that are handmade has its strategy aligned with its tactics when the marketing campaigns communicate the origin of the leather and the story of the craftsmanship.
“Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.”
— George S. Patton
When tactics don’t align with your strategy, you’ll send a mixed message to your customers and confuse them. You might even attract the wrong customers—ones who will never buy from you—instead of connecting directly to your ideal target market.
Tactics as part of Lean Planning
You developed your strategy as the first step in building a Lean Business Plan. You figured out what problem you are solving and who you’re solving it for. You also thought about how to differentiate yourself from the competition.
As you add tactics to that strategy, start simple and focus on your sales, marketing, team, and key resources that you’re going to need to make your business work.
Here’s what you need to cover as you think about your tactics:
Sales channels: How are you selling your products and services? Are you selling directly to your customers online? Are you opening a physical storefront? Or, maybe you’re building a product that will get sold in other companies’ stores. In that case, you might be working with distributors. Outline how you plan on selling in this section.
Marketing activities: How are prospective customers going to learn about your company and your products? Are you going to use traditional advertising? Perhaps you plan on investing in a content marketing strategy. Or, maybe you need to attend a lot of trade shows to get in front of potential customers in your industry.
Team: When you’re planning your business, you have to not only think about what you’re going to do, but who’s going to do it. Even if you don’t have a full team yet, think about the positions that you’re going to need as you get up and running. Create a list of the key roles that you’re going to need to hire for as you grow. Don’t forget to think about your own strengths and weaknesses when you think about building a team. You’ll want to hire people that can fill in the gaps in your own skill set.
Partners and resources: Some businesses need to work with other businesses in order to be successful. If your business has critical partners, list them here. This is also a great place to list key resources your business needs, such as a license for intellectual property.
With a Lean Business Plan, you want to keep your list of tactics short and simple, especially in the early days of building your company. It’s easy to get bogged down thinking of every last thing that you need or want to do to get your business off the ground.
Instead, focus on the main things that you need to do. With Lean Planning, you’re going to be constantly talking to your prospective customers to refine your strategy, and you’ll refine your tactics at the same time as you learn more about your customers and determine what tactics will work.
Just keep things simple
Next, I’ll take you through the process of developing your milestones—that’s the next step in building a lean business plan and the one thing that’s going to keep your entire planning process on track.
If you have any questions about the Lean Planning process, let me know on Twitter.