The initial questions a CTO must answer in the business plan include defining the product plan, estimating the initial development costs and estimating operational costs as the business expands. Most business plans will have a few pages that define the product and a few more on the marketing plan. There might be an investor presentation. There often is a list of competitive products that should be analyzed for ideas, strengths, and weaknesses. From there, the CTO has a limited amount of time to draw up a skeleton plan.
I’ve used a few tools to help develop this blue print. I start off with a simple spreadsheet and begin organizing the key functional areas of the product. I use a separate worksheet to list and categorize screens (web pages…) of the site. I then often go to a document template to help describe the screens and functionality of the site.
I don’t develop site diagrams or screen shots as part of this exercise. Not yet at least.
This exercise often takes several iterations. In the first iteration, I will concentrate on key functionality and screens. I will then put this up for review to make sure that nothing was missed and to begin collecting more specifics on the business rules. I use the second iteration to determine what I call glue screens and functionality. For example, on a consumer website this might be pages like logging in, functionality like forgot password, preference pages, etc. The final pass I do usually revolves around administrative tools and controls. A good first pass of the administrative tool’s functionality can be developed by documenting simple rules in a Must Should Could format. For example, “An administrator must be able to lookup a user’s information based on user id or email address”.
Think short and long term
It’s important to think short term and long term requirements. Itemize the full feature set including features that you have no need or desire to build in the first version of the product. Eventually, you can prioritize these into a long term development plan. It’s also important to consider the must requirements for a feature or screen as well as a fully developed version. You will eventually need to prioritize the individual elements of the feature, but the more details you fill out on scope, the easier it will be to plan for the future.
Next up: Prioritizing and estimating timeline and cost.