ROIs on Documents and Tools

Bernhard Schroeder's premise in his book Fail Fast or Win Big: The Startup Plan for Starting Now is spending all that time on a business plan instead of on the business will actually help you fail, not succeed.

Apparently business plans were needed at one point in history and then became expected and part of business school curriculum. But while you spend hours on the document only needed for investors and no one else, your competitors are out there actually doing the work and getting to market faster. Bernhard presents all options for funding, including going the equity route, but recommends you start lean with this as with everything else. And even some VCs now, like Sequoia Capital, no longer want that long document.

Although the business plan itself is obsolete, as per Bernhard, some of the information within it is still necessary; e.g., market research and the business model. Sequoia Capital requires these and other relevant information in 15-20 slides instead of in a 40 page document.

Personally, I hate long papers/documentation of any kind. My biggest worry about going back for my MBA is having to write academic papers again. I'm all about short, to the point, and get it done.

This is also one of the reasons I've not gone the official Project or Product Manager route: too much of their job is gathering information into long and standardized documents. And although I understand the need for some of them, I am just not the right person to do this well.

But this brings up a larger topic: ROI on documentation.

I've written before on meetings and offered questions to help determine which have value and which do not. Similarly, below are question to help evaluate which documents have enough of an ROI:
  1. Who is this document intended for and what is its purpose?
  2. Is there any other method or format to achieve this same purpose?
  3. How much time will be spent on this document? And by how many people?
  4. Does the potential benefit of this document warrant the time/resources spent?
  5. How many times will it be used, for how long, and by how many people?
  6. And if the ROI on the resources spent is not there, can a condensed version or another method/format get the same or close enough benefit with a better ROI?
I may be prejudiced, but I don't think most of the long business documents will stand up to this test. 

And similar questions can and should be used for all "tools" being considered that require much time and/or people for setup. We shouldn't just be doing something because it's the way it's been done, but instead, if we know that it will take hours of precious time, we should question its ROI. Managers should encourage this too since, as everyone is pointing out these days (and I've blogged about), time is our most precious asset and every moment spent doing one thing is a no to another thing and a potential opportunity lost.

Are there time-consuming things you've been doing just because it's expected of you? Is the ROI there?

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