All Together Now: Planning in SaaS

A wise founder once said, "If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

While we don't know the exact identity of the man who said this wild thing, we do know two things: First, the company he founded grew to $1B ARR. Second, the man to whom he said it is Patrick Lencioni, author of 'The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.' 

Lencioni included that quote in his book to make a point. There is power in a well-devised plan, but infinitely more so in having a team all working towards the same goal. 

Patrick, if you're reading this: We couldn't agree more. 

No matter the size of your company, it goes without saying that you’ve got goals, and truly effective operational planning is a critical step towards meeting them. According to a study by Anaplan, “97 percent of companies say that planning well is critical to enhancing revenues, optimizing resource allocation, and converting strategies into actions.” However, these same companies also say that there are a handful of issues—such as ineffective collaboration, misalignment across teams, insufficient tools, and error-prone processes—that make it incredibly difficult to successfully incorporate planning into their culture. 

Now, not sure if you've heard, but alignment and collaboration are kind of our thing(s). Often, what makes collaboration hard is a lack of communication. Those at the top (which, hey, might be you!) most likely have a pretty clear vision of where they want the company to be at the end of the year, but that vision can't just live in the heads of the few. In order to become a reality, work needs to be done, and those contributing to the work need to know what their target is. Setting goals, both high level and more granular, is critical--not just for the sake of transparency across teams, but to help hold everyone accountable.  

A tool like Lattice, which allows you to set departmental and individual goals, allows teams to keep the rest of the company up to date on what they're working towards, and what kind of progress they're making throughout each quarter or year. When a goal is met, it's an opportunity to celebrate a win not just as a team, but company-wide. 

Another game-changer? A deadline-driven culture. What this means will vary slightly from company to company, but let us share some solid examples. 

At Buffer, each quarter is broken down into six-week work cycles. Projects are undertaken in these specific cadences, so each one always has a deadline for teams to work against. This prevents the can from being kicked down the road, and ensures that planned projects are brought to the finish line. 

At Drift, on the other hand, they set specific execution goals for their weeks and quarters. Teams and individuals at Drift know that they have a specific window in which to finish each project, and they won't log off until that deadline is met. 

As we’ve mentioned before, SaaS companies in particular exist in a nearly constant state of change, becoming—for all intents and purposes—entirely new companies every twelve months. For this reason, some might argue that spending time and resources on hashing out such a long term plan is something of a wasted effort; that so much will change between the conception of your plan and its intended conclusion that perhaps there was no point in making it at all. 

Friends, we disagree. After all, an annual plan for a SaaS company is not something that's expected to be set in stone. Rather, it's a statement of intent. It's way of creating a shared understanding of the big picture, aligning internal stakeholders, and educating your company about where you’re going. Yes, change will happen, but if you don't even try to establish that common set of goals towards which everyone can row, you're sealing your fate of never getting there. 



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