The final quarter of the year is often jam-packed with product launches, performance reviews, and the ongoing task of wrapping up big projects. In my case at Skylum, we’re launching Luminar 4, the newest iteration of our flagship product. Needless to say, it’s consuming a lot of my mental energy.
You’re likely in a similar boat at your company. Nevertheless, it’s important even amidst the chaos of the fourth quarter to focus as best you can on the year ahead: reevaluating processes, identifying key areas of focus, and establishing the foundation of potentially beneficial relationships. The fourth quarter, after all, is a crucial time for future planning. At Skylum, we’re setting aside some time over the course of this quarter to rethink our place in our industry and identify where we want to take our product, along with how we can get there.
This kind of reflection is an important part both of how companies form strategic plans as well as how they endeavor to put those plans into action.
Here is what that should look like as you proceed into 2020.
1) Stay on top of operational tasks so that you can save time for long-term planning.
To be clear, it’s crucial during the fourth quarter that you wrap up all smaller action items––along with big tasks––that need wrapping up. It’s why my team is spending so much time finalizing the the Luminar 4 release; it’s important we get it right.
At the same time, though, things like an end-of-quarter product launch can quickly turn into operational blackholes, consuming all your time and energy so that you can’t work on anything else. It’s essential, then, to accomplish smaller tasks efficiently so you can strategically protect time on your calendar for big picture long-term planning. Get done what you need to get done so that your teams can continue functioning seamlessly, yet do so while staying mindful of the future. Don’t let the cascade of smaller tasks cram your entire calendar and keep you from being able to engage in any goal-setting, health evaluation, or relationship building at all. Stay on top of those small things instead, and get them done efficiently.
2) Build relationships that can benefit your company in the next year.
I’m doing this right now with a company called SmugMug, a photography cloud service that allows users to create shareable portfolios. I’ve been spending time with the founders over there, thinking through how we might be able to work together in the future. I’m doing the same thing with Google, with an eye on launching Luminar in their Play Store.
The end of the year is a great time to do this kind of work––building the foundations for relationships which might propel your company in the coming year. Such short-term actions like taking new contacts out to lunch can have big-picture implications.
3) Organize your data.
The end of the year is also a great time to get all your data in order. You should know your UX costs, for example, along with the relative performance of your software, how well you’re budgeting, your financial forecasting, and so on. Forging a solid understanding of all this disparate info will help you paint an accurate picture of where your company and its products stand in the present, along with what you should most strategically focus on moving forward.
4) Look for additional customer insights and opportunities.
The end of the year is a fantastic time to get customer feedback: what your customers like about your current offering, along with what they still desire. At Skylum, we’ve been interviewing customers by the hundreds over the last few months, collecting their thoughts on what they love about Skylum and what they still want to see. The end of the year is a season of reflection for consumers, too, so they’re mostly happy to help.
All told, their feedback will help you in your ongoing effort to design a cogent company roadmap.
5) Mitigate your company’s risks.
Don’t spend all your mental energy thinking about what rewards you might try and reap in the new year; it also pays to think carefully about your company’s potential risks so that you can plan proactively.
At Skylum, we’re preparing for GDPR in Europe, for example, looking at what our competitors are doing in preparation for that so as to put ourselves in the best responsive position. The end of the year is not only a time for reflection and goal-setting, in this sense; it’s also a time for smart preparation.
6) Make sure your team is aligned.
Finally, the end of the year is a great time to ensure your team is aligned both in terms of culture and process. To be the most effective company possible, you’ll need everyone in the company to be on the same page. You’ll need to ensure that everyone advocates the same imperatives, and proves enthusiastic about the overall direction.
If your people don’t love your product or believe in your company, how can you expect customers to?
To this end, talk with folks on your teams: the heads of departments, managers, salespeople, etc. Find out how everyone is feeling and evaluate whether there are any disconnects. Collect feedback. Then think about how you’ll be able to use that to operate more cohesively next year.
The most important thing you can do in this final quarter, however, is ask, “Why?”
Why are you building this? Why are you completing this function in this way? Fortifying that understanding will enable you to better assess the scope of your overall vision, whether you’re still on track to hitting your big company goals, and what opportunities for improvement you should realistically embrace heading into the new year.
You need a plan around how you want to invent your future; your vision can’t materialize by chance or by accident. And the first step in a proper future-planning process is always understanding the “why” underlying your company’s reason for existing and for building the products you’re building. That’s what we did at Skylum before setting out to build Luminar 4, and it’s what we’re doing right now as we think about what we’ll build next.
In other words, constructive action can only ever follow purposeful vision. The end of the year––in spite of the busyness––is a perfect time to ensure your vision is clear.