Simple Startup Principles for Strategic Project Planning with Chris Salter

Read more by Ryan Ely
4 min read

More than two decades ago, entrepreneur Chris Salter was introduced to a simple but fresh approach to planning that changed his life. In a session with master planning facilitator Randolph Craft, he learned about a strategic project planning process that could help startups guard against Murphy’s Law: the idea that “what can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Salter used the project planning process to design and execute his first startup, Piano Wizard, a piano learning software that converts songs into video games to help people learn how to play piano.

“It changed everything for me as a startup,” Salter says. “When stuff is poorly planned we financially absorb tons of mistakes. But as a startup entrepreneur, I didn’t have money to repay programmers to redo stuff. It’s very, very costly for a startup not to have explicit end goals and action steps.”

Now Salter is passing that knowledge on to Founders Network members. On July 12, Salter will be hosting a webinar where he’ll detail the principles of strategic project planning. The approach uses parts of speech as a metaphor to help startup founders mind map a successful project. 

Here’s a sneak preview of the strategic project planning approach.

The case for strategic project planning

According to one report, for every $1 billion spent on projects in the U.S. there is a loss or waste of roughly $122 million. This means that on average, 12 percent of the budget for projects is wasted due to poor management, counterproductive behaviors, and bad decision-making. 

Another report found that 48 percent of projects don’t finish on time. That’s because oftentimes project deadlines are estimates that team members don’t feel obligated to hit. Salter says upfront strategic project planning allows startup founders to build a team prepared to meet the necessary deadlines and deliver a project on time.

“Startups do not have time or money to waste. And as much as entrepreneurs are very action oriented, it’s a death trap.  If you run out of money, you run out of time, you miss opportunities because you haven’t thought through the parameters,” Salter says. “Big companies do this and fail all the time. They don’t plan well, but they’ve got the budget (and blame game) so they survive.  But startups do not have that luxury. We’ve got to be very efficient, more efficient than the big guys.”

How it works

Many people conflate project management with project planning. The traditional Gannt chart is often where these people start. However, that kind of thinking establishes arbitrary deadlines and timelines without thinking of the actual prerequisites required in terms of time, resources, and money. According to Salter, in proper planning, the Gannt chart is the last part of the planning, the result, not the starting point.

“Planning  is very different from project management,” Salter says. “ It’s very much about exploring what actually needs to be done, what your end goals are, and the prerequisites for those end goals. What does each of those prerequisites need in terms of actions?  Who’s going to do it? How much will it cost?  How long will it take? And then you can actually see what the scope of the plan is. Often it’s much bigger than you thought.  You thought ‘we can do this in month.’ And you realize, ‘oh, I need four months to do this.’”  

The approach Salter uses starts with the end goals in mind. He says project planning, especially for a startup creating something new, requires a process that leverages different parts of the brain. This includes creative visualization of often ambitious clear end goals, and a meticulous backfilling of prerequisite end items and activities to get there. Without a thorough inclusive whole brain process, Salter says key aspects of the end goals are left out.

“Finding out you don’t have the actual time or money to fully deliver the project before you start, saves companies, saves careers, and saves embarrassment, if not humiliation,” Salter says. “The time you spend planning also allows you to pivot quickly when unexpected things do arise.”

At his webinar, Salter will also cover

  • How to mind map the end items of a successful project
  • How to identify prerequisites and the actions necessary to achieve end goals
  • Useful planning tools, including mind mapping tools, PERT software, GANTT software and spreadsheets

To learn more about strategic project planning, see if you qualify for membership to attend the webinar on July 12, 2022.

Read more by Ryan Ely