Critical path analysis for solopreneurs


This observation is a clarification for myself, of something I have noticed—and must remind myself. As is often the case, I have not seen it mentioned elsewhere.

The point of this is: survival. The continual analysis and refocusing to increase chances of entrepreneurial survival. Although you will tend to think there is something else you need to deal with first, this is more likely something you should think about often. Here goes.

The concept of critical path

First, I will give you the concept of critical path.

If you want to see a decent illustration of this, go here.

It is thus:

  • In the actualization of anything, there are many steps and stages.
  • Some tasks create dependencies on other tasks (X must happen before Y can happen); other things don’t have that, and can be done now
  • For the above reason, things can end up taking a lot longer than they would take if you just added up all the time they would take (there are lots of other reasons for that too, but this is one of them)

The image with this post gives you an idea of what dependencies are. (It also illustrates critical path, but I did not like how it does that so much; it would be a lot better if it would show you a series of other tasks that are not part of the crticial path chain (as the other one does).

In this vein, if you mapped out all the things you needed to do to accomplish the goal, you’d have this list of tasks—some chained together in a dependency chain, and some on their own. And, if you mapped it all out, you find a single critical path chain of tasks needed to make X become a reality.

Please note that you do not actually need to do this analysis in such a formal way, to make use of this idea. The point is to get the concept, and then you can get the idea. (A related concept that sounds super wonky, but is actually kind of amazing when you get it, is the theory of constraints.)

There are tons of applications of critical planning analysis (and other aspects of task planning) that don’t require you to use planning software:

  • If you don’t account for the phasing and dependencies of things, you usually end up wasting time on the tail end, because you never accounted for dependencies that are almost always going to slow things down
  • Or, it would be nice if my barrista would recognize that he could get me my apple tart while the milk was foaming on the latte, which is taking forever.

What it boils down to, in this analysis, is much simpler:

  • There is an optimal path from where you are, to achieving a first result; you want to optimize that path as much as you can, because it will help assure your survival.

Trace out the timeline of you here, to your end goal?

Startup runway

Startup runway depends on your burn rate, or how much cash you are burning, before you can launch the thing you want to launch.

If you are a solopreneur, and self-financing or more or less self-financing, then you had better take this into account a lot. Obviously, you can reduce your burn rate (live cheaply, etc.), but otherwise, you are thinking about the amount of reserves you have.

This also means the amount of emotional and social capital you have, because doing new stuff to try to make money in a new way can be challenging.

The goal of every step

The goal of every step is: To get to the next step.

I.e., every step along your journey should give you enough runway to get you to the next step. Eventually, we hope that runway becomes sustained earning, and so it’s not really runway anymore. (But we don’t know that yet.)

Everything above zero is different than everything below zero

Map out several trajectories along your path to success. Draw them along a time line from left to right, with the amount of cash you have available to keep going being the vertical line.

Now, notice that all the lines that go below zero crash into impossibility. But any of the lines that did not go below zero, do not crash into impossibility.

Therefore, there is something magical about all of the time lines, or scenario lines, where you do not crash into impossibility.

  • Your goal is: To create a series of steps, each one leading you to greater earning potential, where none of them crash into impossibility.

The shortest possible path

Since your goal is to avoid crashing into impossiblity, your goal for that should be to optimize your critical path to be the shortest possible one, for now.

What does that mean? (Here, we will start to sound very practical, and I think you will understand what I mean, if you have not by now.)

  • This means that you should figure out the shortest way to start earning, right now.
  • This means that if you are a service business, you should probably be devoting 1-2 days if you are working for clients now, or 4-5 days if you are not, hustling (giving talks, networking, and following up on every possible lead), because one-on-one networking and talking is very very likely the fastest way to get new clients right now.
  • This means that when getting new clients as above (in our example), you should be asking yourself, “how can I reduce the time-to-aquisition even more? What steps can be eliminated?
  • This means that you should stop worrying about grand ideas of vast blog audiences, or grandiose marketing schemes (for now), and see how much hustle you can get going.

The exception to this is: If you hustle up work that is too far off of the trajectory of the thing you want to build, you may be shooting yourself in the foot. (You’ll have to weigh this against the need for survival, but remember that work that’s far off of your core business is not building your business, it is slowing that down; it’s just that, you don’t want to run out of money, because that causes its own set of headaches and slowdowns.)

This is actually what I figured out on Friday. So here it is.