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I find too often the need for a document becomes pivotal to moving forward on plans, executing and even making decisions. You hear it in various iterations: “When we have the strategic plan.”; “When we have the 30-60-90 day plan.”; “When we have the sales plan.”; etc.

Documenting is important. But by placing focus on the document to move forward, the onus is on the document versus on the individuals to act. Waiting for a document to be created stalls decision-making and moving forward on execution. You lose time, and a start-up’s success is especially sensitive to time lags.

Removing the need for a formal document doesn’t remove the need for documenting what you’ve decided and how you’ll measure success. Removing the need for a formal document just eliminates a lot of the mental bandwidth and time consumption that I find document creation takes.

What’s fundamental to a startup’s success is the thinking, discussing and deciding what actions to implement together with the tracking of the respective progress. And, when you approach getting to action in this manner: thinking -> discussing -> deciding -> tracking; it becomes an easy four-step process versus a huge document. It becomes a routine that you can feed into your corporate ‘habits’ to foster rigor & expediency in moving towards action.

So, how do you avoid being kept in a holding pattern in wait for “the document”? Here’s a hack for circumventing the document crutch:

CAVEAT: Documents for external distribution need to be pristine, free of all errors (eg typographical, grammatical, informational, etc.), have a clear, compelling message and be written in the correct tone for the intended audience.

  1. Schedule time for team members to have the discussion in question:

    • Discussions can be strategic, operational or tactical;
    • Factor in the necessary time for discussion. Decisions of more import (eg strategic) will take more time than those of less import (eg tactical). Prioritize and manage your & your team’s time accordingly.

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  2. Provide team members with a clear directive for the required preparation. Communicate to team members:

    • the objective of the discussion;

    • who will be in attendance for the discussion;
    • what will be covered in the discussion;
    • questions they should think about and/or answer in advance of the discussion;
    • preparation required for the discussion.

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  3. Have a set structure for your discussion:

    • The structure should align with the type of discussion you’re having, eg brainstorming/freeform ideation has a different structure than a sales cycle audit.

    • Involve the right people (not EVERYONE) in your discussion. Involve those whose buy-in is required, those who will be carry out some of the actions and those who have the intel/expertise required for a rich discussion.

    • Have an agenda with items & allotted time. Stick to your agenda.

    • Assign a secretary to keep track of what’s been discussed.

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  4. End each discussion confirming next steps & action items.

    • Action items should be time-quantified & owned by individuals.
    • When relevant include budget requirements & dependencies to completing actions.
    • When relevant include metrics for success.

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  5. Provide the minutes to the team immediately post the discussion (via an email will suffice).

    • This provides the ‘e-trail’ of what was discussed and decided.
    • The minutes can also be used to reference future related discussions & meetings.
    • Include the action items in your minutes.
    • Where necessary include digital snapshots (eg whiteboarding, flipchart sessions) as an addendum/additional content.
    • Offer everyone the opportunity to make note of glaring omissions and/or errors.
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  6. Use a template to document what was decided. The template becomes a non-glamorous but effective actionable plan. I find Excel works great for this or even a simple Word table. Have columns that include content for:

    • Who: includes the individual’s name, role &, if necessary, contact information (important when working with dispersed &/or larger teams);

    • What: includes the Expected Deliverable/Action Item/Responsibility. Include room to add additional details to the task as required;

    • Due Date: final date when the action needs to be completed.

      • *I also like to include Start Date & Duration columns. These columns help you track not only progress against expected time requirements but also identify lags in starting a project or task.

    • How: I make this a three-pronged section which includes:

      • Capital (budget) requirements;
      • Dependencies on other actions or individuals to carry out the action;
      • Outstanding information required/questions to be answered;
    • Why: how you came to the decision of carrying out this action.
    • Progress Tracking:
      • By a unit of measurement (eg 20% completed) or;
      • By colour coding (eg green complete, yellow overdue, red not started) or;
      • Related to the task (eg Action: Close 3 new accounts; Status: 2).

The critical factor is you start to measure progress. As you move forward you’ll find you can identify metrics &/or KPIs (eg inbound leads, revenue, customer support calls).

So don’t feel you need a perfect document before you can move forward. Start one step at a time, with a four-step process (thinking -> discussing -> deciding -> tracking) and a pressing need to execute.

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