Q: I get the basic purpose of a 30 60 90 day plan but I’m not exactly sure when I should be using it. Can you give me some pointers?
A: Of all the topics I blog about, the 30 60 90 day plan seems to get the most attention. That actually came as a bit of a surprise to me – it’s not exactly the sexiest of subjects. Everyone knows they should probably be building these plans but many of us aren’t exactly sure when and how to use one. So this blog is going to be all about the different ways you can use a 30 60 90 day plan.
If you’re just getting started and want to learn about the basics of the 30 60 90 day plan, check out my first blog on the topic. You can also get the PowerPoint version of my 30 60 90 day plan template.
The 30 60 90 day plan is a much more versatile tool than most people realize. The average bear might use this type of plan when starting a new job. In and of itself, that is not a mistake. However, most people use the 30 60 90 day plan as a way of documenting his or her thoughts to help keep them on track. In my first post I talked about how the 30 60 90 day plan is actually a tool to help align other people to a common framework for your success – a way of setting you up to win. It’s not a tool designed to help you prioritize or stay on track. Check out the first post for more on that.
What I didn’t discuss in the first blog is how flexible these plans are. There are many opportunities to build them into your routine. What is a 30 60 90 day plan really? It’s a concise way of taking one or more objectives and communicating a 3 phase plan to achieve them, with a dashboard to measure performance. As a model, it has almost endless applications. If you’re only using it in your first two weeks at a new job, you’re missing out.
Here are some of the ways I use the 30 60 90 day plan:
This one might seem obvious but I don’t really see people doing it in practice. What I see are project plans … task lists. There’s nothing wrong with a project plan, but it only addresses one component of the 30 60 90 day plan purpose. Listing out a bunch of tasks with owners and statuses is fine for executing a project, but it does very little to guarantee your own success. The reason I like the 30 60 90 day plan is that it’s designed to establish clear alignment between you and your boss (and other influencers) on a common definition of success. In my opinion it’s reckless to embark on a big project that is going to consume so much of your time and energy without first agreeing on the criteria that will guarantee you a win when it’s done. When you jump straight into the project plan phase without first aligning on a definition of success, you’re leaving too much to chance.
I love phases. I’ll probably do a blog on the subject in the weeks to come. When you first look at a big project or initiative, it can often seem daunting just in the pure scope of it. This is especially the case for multi-month and multi-year initiatives. It’s hard to get your arms around an undertaking that big. The result is that most of us just write down a massive list of tasks with a milestone here or there and dive right in. The problem with that approach, especially for longer initiatives, is that you have to wait too long to declare any measure of success. When I’m managing a project I don’t want to let it go more than a month or so before I can announce some sort of win.
When we don’t apply the 30 60 90 day plan approach we inadvertently load all the success measures at the end of the project. When success is only evaluated at the end you’re unnecessarily delaying recognition for your work. It creates unwanted risk because you’re obfuscating all the little successes along the way and combining them into one. Which means if you don’t knock the entire project out of the park, you won’t have any of the wins along the way to fall back on. But when you segment a big initiative into phases, and define individual success criteria for each phase, you get credit for your performance much more frequently. This means you can build up a track record of success throughout the lifetime of the project instead of having it so heavily leveraged on the final deliverable.
I spoke about how to use a 30 60 90 day plan for job interviews in a recent keynote speech. Check it out.
I like to start every quarter with a 30 60 90 day plan to align with my boss on what success will look like. On the surface it might seem like a bit of overkill but I really don’t think it is. If I can get my manager to agree on exactly how the quarter should go and exactly how we’re going to measure my success and failure, I’ve set myself up for a big win. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is that by proactively doing a 30 60 90 day plan at the beginning of a quarter, you’re the one setting the criteria for success vs. allowing your boss’s feelings or subjective appraisal of your work determine your performance. I want to be the one defining my own success – I don’t wait and hope for the best.
Check out my recent blog on performance reviews for a detailed discussion around this scenario. What normally happens, whether a performance review goes well or poorly, is that the employee and manager both leave the review meeting feeling optimistic about the future. Feedback is shared, a discussion about what it’s going to take to be successful ensues, and then …. Nothing. I strongly recommend following up your performance review meeting with a 30 60 90 day plan that shows exactly how you’re going to execute on what was aligned to in the meeting itself. A clear plan of attack with a scorecard to measure your performance. Delivering a follow-up plan like this will make a big impact. It will show you’re serious about success and set you up well for a great performance rating next time around.
These are notoriously messy projects and more than a few of us have taken damage to our careers by being a part of a failed systems implementation or migration. It’s critical to break these types of projects down into clear objectives and phases and get your boss to agree on what success looks like at each stage along the way. Otherwise you’re leaving too much to chance in what are typically runaway, over time, over budget projects. I recommend segmenting the project into phases and modifying the 30 60 90 day plan template to suit your needs. In the case of a systems project, there may be more than 3 phases and it may take longer than 90 days. That’s fine. You can use the same template and just add more phases e.g. research phase, design phase, testing phase, implementation phase and optimization phase. Then for each phase you identify objectives, tasks and a performance scorecard.
I really like this use case because someone else has to do the actual work. Whenever I bring on a new vendor, like a PR agency or an engineering firm, I make them complete a version of the 30 60 90 day plan. We’ve all had vendor relationships that get off to a slow start or just never seem to go how we imagined they would. The 30 60 90 day plan can help. By having the new vendor complete the plan, all parties get aligned with a common definition of success and you don’t wait until 6 or 12 months into the relationship to see that it’s failing. The only difference between this use case and the standard one, is that you’re on the other side of the equation. If you start using the plan with vendors I think you’ll see an immediate positive impact.
I hope these ideas are helpful. Let me know about your own use cases for the 30 60 90 day plan in the comments section.