Planning your startup’s objectives, the Steve Jobs way

Those of you who’ve read Steve Jobs’ biography may remember the stories about his annual “company retreats” – trips organised in a remote location where his entire (management) team could focus on product, strategy and stay away from the day-to-day operations. While reading the stories when the biography came out, it seemed an amazing way to align the whole team to one unified vision, brainstorm, and prepare the product roadmap and company strategy. So this year I decided to organise a company retreat for the entire Brainient team.

The outcome of the trip has exceeded all my expectations. After spending four days with the team deep in the Carpathian mountains, not only is everyone aware of and aligned to one big objective, but we’ve set goals for each member of the team and prepared a detailed product roadmap. In other words, we know where we’re going and how to get there. And we also had lots of fun along the way. I strongly recommend that you try it for your startup, regardless of whether you’re five people or fifty. And here are a few tips to help you get started:

Go somewhere remote. It will help the team mentally disconnect from the day-to-day stuff. We chose to rent an entire cottage up in the Carpathian mountains in Romania. All we had was an internet connection, our laptops and a whiteboard. Living and working under the same roof for a few days can create incredibly tight bonds within the team.

Set a clear outcome and keep a tight schedule. Each day, we had at least 4 hours of discussions on a predefined agenda. We had a different theme each day: strategy, BrainRolls, BrainAds and objective planning / product roadmap. Our plan was to align the whole team to the same objective and make sure everyone has defined their goals for the year and for the first quarter of 2012.

Use a planning methodology. It makes it a lot easier to plan things out and align everyone to one objective. At Brainient, we use OKRP (Objectives and Key Results Planning), a methodology used by the likes of Zynga, Facebook and Google. Here’s how Google does OKRs, for example.

Have fun. Product planning and brainstorming can be tiring, so we made sure we had lots of fun prepared. From trips to the mountains to barbecues, Texas Hold ‘em, four on the couch or pushing our cars out of the snow upon departure, it felt more like a fun camp in the mountains than an intense company planning trip.

It’s a very comforting thought for a founder / CEO to know that every single member of the team knows what they have to achieve, and I can’t thing of a better and faster way to do it than the Steve Jobs way.