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I’m a serial starter. It is not a terrible lot in life, but it can be the death of your start-up or product company. Not to mention it is murdering time and money–the two things everyone in the history of man could benefit from having in their life. Frequent starter syndrome is a real thing. We simply call it by a different name and give even the unsuccessful ones more credence than they might be due–start-up.

I’d like to wear the start-up badge of honor, but I don’t have a successful exit. The reason: because I’m a poor finisher if I’m honest with myself. Maybe you should be honest with yourself too if you have never turned a profit and you murder money–thank you Mr. Wonderful.

I have created profitable periods of start-up success where more money was coming in than going out–which is better than many start-ups that have higher promise and funding than many of my fledgling product-based software companies. I would venture to say (pun intended) that they also carry with them more clout than my bootstrapping failures that ultimately ended with the same outcome–an inability to finish what we started because we ran out of time and money.

Starter syndrome is not just for the entrepreneur either. This time of year I’m going to caution you that there is a landslide of starters that don’t finish well. In fact, the research says that 92% of us will make a resolution that will be toast by almost the time their champagne glasses stop ringing following the ball drop. This failure to follow through suggests that the vast majority of us are going about starting the wrong way. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?  For those about to ring in the New Year with high hopes for a new business venture or product, this can be the beginning of the end. I call them resolutionists.

Resolutions Fail, Goals Get Finished

I’ve been part of the starter crowd that has not completed what I planned to begin at the start of New Year. I’m not alone. The data says 8% of people stick with their resolutions. Make a goal instead.

I have a knit hat that I received from running the Monumental Marathon here in Indianapolis several years ago. I model this awesome hat in this post as a reminder. Everyone that participated in the event received the “Finisher” hat.

There is a wide variance between the individuals that trained and finished at the top and bottom of the November event. To some, just finishing is a win for the event. You have to start somewhere. Others like myself are trying to beat a prior waterline of performance and PR. The best of the best have their sights a little higher competing for a win.

We see this as well within the start-up ecosystem for products. The lower development costs and barriers to entry have created a plethora of starters, but not many true finishers. What kind of finisher are you–moral victory, besting yourself, or beating the market?

Earn that hat in 2017. If you are a good product leader, you already have the tool in your toolbox for failing fast and being a finisher. It’s Agile.

Getting All “A’s”

Scrum style Sprints in Marketing, Product Management, or Design keep the focus short and finish line within sights. String a lot of Sprints together, and you can accomplish anything. Unfortunately, too many of us are going about Agile the wrong way. Especially in Marketing.

I’d like to think I’m an Agile Marketing Pro. I have a long way to get there, though–but I have a plan for my team and me. But, I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way. It is not about efficiency.

Agile Marketing solves three problems for Marketing.

  1. We are not good at prioritizing
  2. Not good at communicating what we are doing–yes, I see the irony with marketing communication
  3. Can be terrible at estimating what we can accomplish in a given time period

I would love to take all the credit for these three, but I heard Agile Marketing author Jascha Kaykas-Wolff on the Marketing Agility Podcast a few months ago talking about this with the hosts.

It’s true. Agile brings better prioritization to what’s important now–WIN. I have a sticky note with W.I.N. at eye level in the office to remind me. Asking yourself and your team what is important and why will help you finish the right things first. Agile has a system for doing this as a team, but I have had a Scum-of-One as well.

I’ve also had to tell myself and team members that we need to over-communicate what we are working on. Agile helps with a framework and tools for doing just that–if we use them.

Finally, time is the greatest resource for stripping away what is truly important now. Do you remember your last presentation to a group? There is a defined stopping point and what gets done before the presentation makes it in, right? Practical use and understanding of time developed through experience and practice separates the moral victories from those winning in the market getting all “A’s” for yourself and your team of “A-players.” Sprints define a period of a few weeks to ensure that we get down what we estimate during that period. Over time, trends develop and we can see where we need to be better at estimating our productivity.

Starters Fail Fast

I’m not heaping praise on the lot of us that “fail fast” which has made its way up and down the beltway for decades as an axiom of success. Speed for speed sake is not the recipe for starters to finish. In fact, failure upon failure upon failure is demotivating, so goals should be SMART. The achievable (A) and/or realistic (R) aspects of these goals are very important to anything we start. While I may want to be get to my ideal weight 30lbs. less than today, a goal of next week is not realistic.

Failing fast for starters with your product can also stymie your career and product growth in the wrong organization. In fact, In Tim Brown’s book on Design Thinking (“Change by Design“) that he talks about the concept of “Fail early, fail often.” Unfortunately, businesses talk a good game but don’t necessarily embrace failing fast and often if it does not align with your current culture.

Instead, we need to look at all failure as learning. It is a mindset shift. If we learn nothing from failure, then yes we have failed. If we build on these setbacks, that forms a foundation from which we will rise from starter to finisher.

Stop Starting

We have to be better at starting what we finish. I’m a Guy Kawasaki fanboy for the “Art of the Start,” but there has to be more than good intentions. I’ve written several times before on other blogs about the difference between being convinced and being committed.

There are a lot of people that are convinced that they need to be healthier in 2017 as an example. Less than 8% of us will achieve those goals this year. How committed are you to what you are starting?

If this New Year you are going to resolve to do something with yourself, work, product, behaviors, or anything else, make sure you set short-term, focused goals, with lines you can cross. Tools like Agile, Scrum, and Kanban are great for Product leaders if there are used in the spirit that they were intended.

If employing Agile is an effort to get more output from yourself or team–I wish you well! You might find yourself with fewer “A’s” and part of the 92%. Plan from the start for your finish and use milestones along the way to track your progress to go from Start-up to Finish-up.

Transition from Serial Starter to Serial Finisher

There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” How will you plant the seeds of a serial finisher today and win in 2017?

I would love you here in the comments below the steps you are taking to move from serial starter (frequent starter syndrome) to serial finisher.

Product Mastery takes a community. I learn from others daily. Sometimes through one-on-one, books, podcasts, webinars, and blogs. It is how we take action on that information that will define who we ultimately become in life. Have a partner or someone to keep you accountable is a great way to make sure you finish, don’t kill time, money, or product growth. I want to be a better version of myself every day–better than today. You can too if we just start and finish with the right mindset and use the tools available to pour kerosene on the fire.

Have a wonderful New Year! Join our community and start the year off with us.

Brian Stout