Effective internal and external communications are likely the most critical skills that a startup leader has to develop. To help founders manage this, at times, unwieldy tasks, our Managing Partner Carlos Espinal has decided to share how Seedcamp manages reporting and updates internally. He covers the PPP format and how to adapt it for prioritised action.
Internal (and external) communication are likely the most critical aspects that a startup leader has to develop to both get alignment and clarity on next steps from their team, as well as assistance from those around them.
To help with that communication process, the Skype team came up with a weekly reporting structure called the PPP, which stands for Plans, Problems, and Progress. In it, team leaders, using this skeleton structure, share updates with those above and below them in the organization for more clear communication. At Seedcamp, we further pioneered it as a way to help us and our founders communicate, and many startups currently use it for both internal and external purposes.
Whilst there is no hard and fast rule on how to format a PPP, or even message/transmit one (some prefer simple emails, whilst others use tools like Google Docs or Notion) to receiving parties.. over the years, I’ve seen one trend that spurred me to write this post.. the lack of prioritization in PPPs. This lack of prioritization sometimes leads to PPPs that are too long, read like train-of-consciousness writings, or read more like an activity log, rather than an actionable set of concrete thoughts. The negative impact of this is that for the reader, be it an investor or a fellow team-member, it can be distracting at best, or overwhelming and confusing at worst. Therefore, the new first ‘p’ I’d like to suggest stand for ‘Prioritized’ PPPs.
A friend of mine, Jase Miller, Product Manager at G2, wrote a post about a modified OODA loop (based on Eric Davis’ work) that can be used for product management, called IAPE. From Jase’s post (reduced), IAPE stands for:
IDENTIFY. What do we know about the situation we’re facing? What are the unknowns? Map them out.
ASSESS. Looking at each part of our “map”, begin turning open questions about the unknown into assumptions or hypotheses we can test.
PRIORITIZE. There are a lot of methods for prioritization. When it comes to ambiguity, and most other things, I agree with Eric Davis that we should “prioritize by power, not importance”. Sometimes I also call this prioritizing for impact. Looking at our “map” and the assessments we’ve made, ask which of these areas of ambiguity would provide the most power/impact when it comes to handling the situation.
EXECUTE. Test your prioritized hypothesis. Write and publish the article. Build a prototype. Talk with a customer. etc.
The key to take away from the above is that through marrying an IAPE approach with the PPP format, you’ll have a more effective use of everyone’s time (and likely feel more clear about your thinking as well). Rather than simply stating a list of actions done or to be done, you take things deeper by assessing them for impact. Let me elaborate with example questions to ask yourself for each part:
*What have you identified from last week’s plan that you had perhaps not realized might impact things in the future? Is it a problem or is it a benefit to your stated goals?
*What have you assessed that might need revamping, changing, re-prioritizing?
*What of the progress that’s happened since the last pPPP is ‘worth’ highlighting, in that it had a more material impact on KPIs/OKRs/Goals you’ve previously stated? How will this affect things going forward?
*Which of the problems you encountered this week (or interval of pPPP) are worth sharing because they impact the prioritized plan? (every day there are little problems we all encounter, but they don’t all materially impact the bigger picture).
*What is the timeliness of action required for this problem? Is it a problem that will negatively impact you if not actioned this week, this month, this year?
*Is this a problem that is worth sharing with the readers? (will it generate anxiety or lack of clarity with the readers without any tangible action they can take)?
*Is this a problem you are sharing to showcase you have problems or are good at solving them (be careful to not let your ego get involved with what you share to showcase you are ‘busy’).
*Is there clarity in purpose for the problem and its resolution?
*Is there something you can pose as an ‘ask’? Once you have a level of prioritization in the PPPs it is helpful to also ask help from those receiving the PPP. By making sure the ‘ask’ is of maximum prioritized impact, it also increases the likelihood of someone wanting to do it!
*After having assessed and reflected on your progress and problems above, what will you prioritize to execute during this interval?
*Of the prioritized problems you will now tackle, how do they alter any previous plans you might have had?
*What are the actionable plans from today’s pPPP, and until the next one, that will materially impact your stated goals (delays, advances, changes in budget)?
There are likely many more questions you could ask yourself to complete each of these sections, and of course, you can divide each section by the functional areas of your company (eg. team, product, finance, etc) but you get the idea…
The key concept is to really think more through what you share. It’s not about over-sharing, it’s not about simply journaling what’s happened in a time-interval, but rather the (p)PPP is a useful tool to help you organize what you’ve identified and assessed as important, and prioritized for maximal impact, and lastly, to keep you (and those around you) honest, on a weekly (or other time interval) basis, on how it’s really coming along.