#GrowthSnacks: From “Crazy Mode” to “Ready Mode” — Improving Your Go-To-Market Agility
In this post, I focus on the importance of effective and constant GTM triage, designing for the unexpected, and “trusting the process” — to promote agility and ensure that you are staying strategic vs. becoming helplessly reactive as the quarter progresses.
Let’s dive in! :D
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The first part of this post’s title is borrowed from Dr. Darria Long’s TED talk: “An ER doctor on triaging your crazy busy life.” I highly recommend you watch this talk and also listen/read her book Mom Hacks — relevant for moms AND dads.
She starts her talk with:
“Raise your hand, and be honest, if you’ve used the phrase “crazy busy” to describe your day, your week, your month. I’m an emergency-room doctor, and “crazy busy” is a phrase you will never hear me use. And after today, I hope you’ll stop using it, too.
Here’s why you cannot afford to use “crazy” to describe your busy. Because when we are in what I refer to as Crazy Busy Mode, we are simply less capable of handling the busy. Here’s what happens. Your stress hormones rise and stay there, your executive function in the prefrontal cortex declines. That means your memory, your judgment, your impulse control deteriorate, and the brain areas for anger and anxiety are activated. Do you feel that?
Here’s the thing. You can be as busy as an emergency department without feeling like you’re crazy busy. How? By using the same tactics that we use.
Our brains all process stress in similar fundamental ways. But how we react to it has been shown by research to be modifiable, whether it’s emergencies or just daily, day-in, day-out stress.
Now contrast Crazy Busy Mode with how I think of us in the ER — Ready Mode.
Ready Mode means whatever comes in through those doors, whether it’s a multiple-car pileup, or a patient having chest pain while stuck in an elevator, or another patient with an item stuck where it shouldn’t be. When you know you’re dying to ask.
Even on those days when you would swear you were being punked, we’re not afraid of it. Because we know that whatever comes in through those ER double doors, that we can handle it. That we’re ready. That’s Ready Mode. We’ve trained for it, and you can, too. Here’s how.“
While I can’t compare the impact of an effective triage on ER doctors’ work with the outcomes of GTM professionals, per Dr. Long — it is true, that our minds and bodies are dealing with similar challenges and levels of stress throughout our daily lives and jobs.
Over the last few years, I have trained myself to relentlessly triage my work and personal tasks and responsibilities, several times a day, and at the beginning of every week.
Occasionally friends and colleagues would ask me about how I can find time to do everything I’m doing and I think it has a lot to do with how I manage my energy — physically and mentally, as well as how I prioritize my investments.
1. Relentless Data-Driven Triage: Identify and Focus on your “Reds”
“Work by Dr. Robert Sapolsky shows that individuals who cannot differentiate threat from non-threat and react to everything with the same response have double the level of stress hormones.” — Dr. Darria Long
Ask 10 GTM professionals about their daily and quarterly bandwidth and 9 of them will answer that they’ve added your question to their backlog and get back to you as soon as the next campaign or feature is shipped.
Most conventional GTM functions are not accustomed to having a dynamic strategic focal point, at scale. Every team pulls in a different direction, asking for different deliverables, looking to improve different KPIs, and driving towards different goals. In many cases Product Marketing Managers (PMMs) are stuck in the middle, providing support to their partners in development, marketing, and sales.
This is why as a cross-functional professional, you have to learn to relentlessly triage, so that:
A) You arrive at the next QBR in one piece :)
B) Make an actual impact — short and long-term
According to Dr. Long, this is indeed the first skill to learn — because you can’t take care of all of your patients at once — nor your neverending stream of GTM tasks and asks.
“Red: Immediately life-threatening.
Yellow: Serious, but not immediately life-threatening.
And we focus our efforts first on the reds.“ — Dr. Darria Ling
Part of the problem in Crazy Mode is that we are reacting to everything as if it is red. So start by triaging correctly. Know your reds. They’re what is most important and where you can most move the needle, this quarter.
The earlier version of my triage daily ritual looked like this:
Every day I’d review the previous list and reprioritize per any new information I got and the progress I made since the last time I triaged my list.
The list would include all of my Reds (main bullets), and some of my Yellows at the top. Everything else is green (at the bottom of the list).
I would use different color markers to signify progress, completion, and blockers.
Remote work has accelerated the evolution of this daily ritual and its digital transformation. It required me to find ways to constantly communicate my daily and weekly priority and progress, in a way that is effectively consumable for others, and still convenient for me to keep track of. In September 2020, the weekly recap and triage board document was born.
Here’s how my weekly and daily triage board looks like (you don’t have to use these colors if you don’t want to, I’m a synesthetic and I see numbers and letters in different colors, and so - colors help me understand faster and remember better).
I reorganize it at the beginning of every week (usually Sunday nights or Monday mornings — before my deep work session). This process begins with reviewing the latest Slack/email messages received since I dropped my pen last week. It takes about 15–20 minutes to sift through everything, update and reprioritize the list and write down any questions or blockers I have. I would edit it a few times a day based on my progress/new info.
What I liked about this shared doc, is that I can easily tag colleagues or managers to ask/update/inform about anything’s that is stuck or pending their actions/input. It’s also a great way for me to quickly aggregate items I want to discuss in my next meeting with them.
The list reflects and matches my OKRs for the quarter, month and week. If anything else comes in, I ask to reassess the scope or timeline of the other things on my plate. This document helps everyone see what else needs to be considered and adjusted.
I then diagnose the problems/blockers and identify the gaps. I assess their level of severity and their potential impact on slowing down or blocking growth.
Lastly, I rank the different “prognosis” options by tasks that will be most cost-effective and move the needle or align with business needs and stakeholders’ asks the most — in the short and long term.
Important note: this doesn’t mean our OKRs change throughout the quarter so much and that everything is fluid. It means that all of the projects/research tasks and list of deliverables are subject to constant optimization and reprioritization as needed.
Ok. I get triage. What about the “data-driven” part?
When I see the need to adjust something, I discuss my findings and my suggestions with my team and relevant stakeholders. I communicate that based on, for example — the latest QBR deck — it seems that working on collateral X for team Y — actually taps into 3 different needs of BOFU asks that can help several teams and can make an impact as early as Q4. That’s a good reason to reconsider the scope and timeline of adjacent projects and realign the bill of materials we want to produce in the coming weeks.
If you want to be more agile, you need to be willing to change priorities or course of action when new information suggests that the plan you embarked on 2–3 weeks ago, does no longer seem to be the right/effective way to move the needle. This happens naturally as you get more and new information and as you make progress with your projects.
What if we don’t have all the data?
Usually, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for a complete, detailed, and retroactive research or dataset. We probably rarely get to a point in time where we’re absolutely sure about what will make the most impact, and do not have the bandwidth to perfect every little thing.
Luckily, there are a few tools and methodologies we can use and put in place, in order to help us with this.
Taxonomy, KPIs and how they feed our Growth Mental Models, Technology
A. Growth models
One of the first things I learned at Reforge, is to stop asking how can I bring in more traffic? How can I increase activation? How can I increase retention? How can I reduce my CAC? How can I maximize LTV? — in separate meetings, in different ways, and with different teams.
Unlocking rapid product and business growth can not be done in silos — with different goals and KPIs for success across different teams. There’s a need to align everyone around a very basic view and a shared understanding, of how the business grows. I like to use @Reforge’s qualitative and quantitative growth models for that.
They help everyone understand how the funnels (or loops) rely on the tight collaboration of the development, product, marketing, support, and sales teams, where the friction is, as well as growth opportunities.
Reforge’s models help me organize and measure the performance of our growth flows or loops:
B. Data organization and KPIs
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) — are the shortcuts we take for monitoring digital experience trends and the impact of our efforts. This way, we do not need to review and search through our entire and enormous dataset and look for meaningful correlations - each time we want to answer a question or check on our progress.
Organizing your data and defining your KPIs — I like this data org chart by @Elena Verna:
C. Technology and Data Sources
Here are the sources of data I’m constantly synthesizing and analyzing in order to reprioritize and strategize quickly and often:
OKRs and quarterly goals — Team, Individual — progress? Gaps identified? New info lights some things differently?
Collect, synthesize and analyze qualitative and quantitative data points:
- Heap for digital experience analytics — site and product
- SFDC for customer and prospects info and interaction history + reports (including compete, churn and win/loss)
- Gong for qualitative and quantitative data points
- Tableau for Marketing and Sales performance over time
- 1on1 Interviews — customers, product, development, and sales teams
- Secondary research — analysts’ reports, VC reports, industry reports, professional blogs, competition content, and more.
- New internal decks by leadership, product, marketing, customer success, and sales orgs
* The tradeoff of GTM agility is the increasing marginal cost of context-switching
There’s only so much context-switching people can do and still remain focused and effective. Talk with your team and stakeholders about assessing what’s worth a quick update to the priorities and what can be introduced more naturally in the next sprint/quarter/week or planning session. Doing this all day and too often wears everyone out — and degrades their well-being as well as their deliverables.
“Now there’s one last triage level that we use in the worst scenarios. And that is black. Those patients for whom there is nothing we can do. Where we must move on. And although it is gut-wrenching, I mention it, because you each have your own equivalent black tasks in your life. These are items that you must take off your list.”
“This is what we call — know when to say NO. Use it wisely. “ — Dr. Long
I have shared my personal triage board with you. On a team level — we use different tools and formats.
From collaborative and transparent shared docs to project management tools and documents or frequent meetings (meh) — there are many ways to manage the cross-functional work and its dynamic priorities.
I really liked the Asana implementation I helped lead at Duke University and Solarwinds, but I know there’s more than one way to do things, and you should pick the platform and tools that would be the easiest and fastest to adopt by all stakeholders in your org.
If Google docs and spreadsheets work, you can start with that. If you already need project management automation — you can move on to adapting project templates to your needs.
This makes sure that everyone has visibility into what everyone’s working on any given day/week. If a new ask comes in, it needs to be reviewed in the context of the existing workload and possible context-switching. If there’s data that supports making a swift change, use it to assess and plan your moves.
I will write more on different aspects of this prioritization process in a future post — where I discuss the benefits and burdens of cross-functional work.
2. “Design for Crazy”: Built-In Buffer Through Efficient Scheduling and Deep Work Planning
- Design for agility: Ongoing and expected vs. Unexpected/Urgent — Prepare things in advance, so you get to a mature draft way before your deadline, and can spend the last 20–25% of your time iterating and fine-tuning with the other stakeholders. Bake in some scheduling buffer for ongoing urgent asks, or pivots due to new findings throughout the project.
- Frequent Sync Ups (online/async) — Schedule frequent project updates every x days/weeks — so that all stakeholders can catch up on the latest data and fine-tune and align as needed. Design the work to be iterative and built upon drafts and quick feedback and review cycles. Define DACI/RACI tables and give “Drivers”/”Responsible Owners” the mandate to move forward quickly. If you can afford Marketing and Product Ops folks — hire them yesterday!!
- Allocate your brainpower and energy effectively — Find the best time for you to do deep work, and schedule your work in a manner that will allow you to get through 85–90% of your project/task during the allocated time this week. Schedule tasks for the time of day that fits them best. In my case— I schedule content and strategy work for mornings, content review — after lunch, meetings — afternoons/evening. Yes, things will move and shift throughout the day/week — but try to follow these guidelines as much as you can to stay as effective as possible.
3. Trust the process — Get Out of Your Head so That You Can Execute Quickly and Effectively
“If you want your Reds to live — you need to focus on what your Reds need right now. Leave the rest behind.” — Dr. Long
This is one of the most difficult things to do in the fast and agile environment we work in. When we think about the reason for which we are collecting data and triaging — it is ultimately for getting feedback and learning as fast as we can.
When I start a new project, I start by reading existing available content, reviewing existing reports/data, and writing down my thoughts and questions. I’ll pause after a while (half a day/a day) — review all that I have, and look for patterns, possible structures, and ways forward.
This will inform the next phase of the project, which will now focus on filling the gaps I have in the picture I have laid out in step 1. I will no longer just absorb content and information, but rather will look for ways to prove/disproof my hypothesis, strengthen my arguments and my narratives.
When I begin the project, no matter how big or urgent it is, it can seem overwhelming to me at times (“Where to begin?”). Over time, I learned to trust my experience with research processes and analysis methods — to lead me to the truth, to viable strategic and tactic options of moving forward, and ultimately to the desired deliverables.
When I start a project, I have a sense of where things will go, but I can never know for sure what it will end up being, and ultimately how long it will take to complete. I know that I have my tools, frameworks, experience, and strategic thinking — and I just trust and follow the process to make fast progress every day. I know that I can constantly scope and shift focus as needed to make the desired impact, and keep deadlines — even if it means reprioritizing things.
Constantly rescoping and realigning is an important part of staying connected to what needs to be done, and where to focus. Use the methods described above, or find other ones that help you get to a “Flow” mode, and stay focused on the outcome. Yes, different stakeholders would like to see different slides/ features or content yesterday — but which of those (if any) will make the largest impact on what you set out to do? Adhere to the data, the numbers, and the intel. Write down all of the asks and other possible courses of action for later, you do not have to act on all of those right away and at the same time.
There are a million fires to put out around you, and as a cross-functional GTM professional, you’re probably aware of them more than others. Prioritize your Reds, so you can save your reds — and then — just practice trusting yourself and process :D
I hope you found one or two useful practices, tools, frameworks, or methods in this post, that will help you advance towards “Ready Mode” - so that…
“No matter what comes in… — you’re ready”. — Dr. Long