Planning a mission in special operations can take anywhere from five minutes to five days depending on the target’s complexity. Decision-making criteria span a broad scope of considerations, ranging from the weather and terrain, enemy situation, the personnel used and the timeline set.
Similar to mission planning in special operations, there are myriad unknown factors that entrepreneurs must consider before they unleash a new product or service. Here is a 10-step approach to consider when entering enemy terrain, or a new market:
1. Set the intent.
This is the purpose for which your company exists -- the difference you envision that your product or service will make for the customer and the value it will yield. Intent is different from mission or vision as it connotes an openness to change. Adaptability is the sole reason your endeavor will fail or succeed.
2. Assess the target.
Whether you’re entering a new market, improving an existing product or crashing a White House party, building a complete understanding of the environment helps you comprehend the boundaries that constrict maneuverability such as taxes, federal regulations, ego and informal (i.e. good ol’ boy) networks.
3. Identify the objectives.
Objectives are the milestones you want to achieve that will help you pursue (and ideally, realize) your intent. While intent is more abstract, objectives offer direct feedback about your progress.
4. Size up the competition.
Once you enter into the enemy’s (competition’s) backyard, you need to be ready for anything. Sizing up the competition means identifying the likely and unlikely courses of action (COA) they may take once they’re alerted of your presence. Building the mental picture of what such COAs look like helps to reduce your team’s response time -- and win.
5. Evaluate the terrain.
Due diligence pays dividends. Navigating the landscape of distribution, suppliers and vendors can be tricky -- and costly -- if you don’t strategically identify not only the most efficient way to get there, but also the most effective for your customers, brand and employees.
6. Determine your team.
With the objective, competition and delivery means identified, it’s time to find the right talent that will help you achieve your mission. While soliciting like-minded teammates is a natural instinct, integrating people with diverse backgrounds can offer diverse discoveries and thus generate greater idea flow.
Related: The Flawless Way to Open a Business
7. Maximize your resources.
While more resources certainly offers greater support, capital and supplies are rarely options for startups simply due to cost. Instead, you must work with what’s at your disposal and aim to acquire more. Resources come in all shapes and sizes ranging from people, tech tools, money, knowledge, time and products. Identify the resources unique to you and leverage them towards your value proposition.
8. Plan and rehearse.
It has been said that the plan is nothing, but planning is everything. However, as nice as an intricately laid-out plan is, there also comes a time for decisions. Give yourself a timeline for when a decision must be made on topic XYZ to avoid sinking into the blackhole of analysis paralysis.
9. Execute, execute, execute.
The only way to learn and improve is to apply theory to practice. Start small, iterate and be sure to:
10. Share lessons learned.
After-action reports (or post mortems) are an effective means towards improving team learning. Comparing the intended outcome with the actual results achieved shines new light on the known factors such as roles, responsibilities, expectations and the unknown factors such as environment, market dynamics and competitor responses not previously considered.
Critical to successful AAR’s is to look at them with a proactive and not retrospective lens. By that, I mean there’s no point dwelling on learning lessons discussed. Instead, use those lessons learned as a springboard for improvement.
Don’t let yesterday’s misgivings determine your mindset today. As Eric Ries writes in The Lean Startup, “the ability to learn faster from customers is the essential competitive advantage that startups must possess.”