Learn this Skill: How to Manage a Pipeline
Overtime, as we have worked on CodeHS, I have been involved in working in all the different functional areas, from marketing to sales, to hiring to whatever random project it is.
Something basic that comes up over and over and over again as a key tool is the pipeline, and being able to manage a pipeline to me is a foundational basic business skill.
Here’s a few ways where managing a pipeline could be useful:
Sales Pipeline: An easy example is a sales pipeline. You are tracking what stage the customer or lead is in in terms of closing the deal, from just learning about your product, to exploring it, to deciding to go with it. I feel like this is the “classic” pipeline, and the CRM is the key sales tool, but what a salesperson needs to do is very similar to what you need to in many jobs.
Recruiting Pipeline: Another example is a recruiting pipeline. Say you work in HR or hiring and you need to hire a new employee. You put up a job posting and then each candidate is in a stage, from a new resume to a first round interview to a reference check to a final job offer.
Applying to Jobs Yourself!: I think many people who apply to jobs really do not have any process around it. I’d highly recommend people adopt the same process that the companies you are applying to are using: create a pipeline. You need a pipeline when not every opportunity will work out. So you could start with stage 1 of companies you are looking at, then companies you applied to, and ones you got an interview at, and then ones in the final round. For starters you could put it into a spreadsheet, but there are also nice simple CRMs you could use here too (I like streak for stuff like this).
Content Pipeline: We’re not at this level yet, but if you are publishing content you may have content that is written in draft mode, then being edited, then being published.
Project Management Pipeline: On the programming or product side project management can be seen as a pipeline. If you look at different project management software tools, they have these features. Trello, an example of a kanban board, even looks like a pipeline. You have something that is just starting, being build, in review, and then going live.
Fundraising Pipeline: If you need to raise money for your organization (of any kind), you should have a fundraising pipeline. You have leads, groups you have talked to or pitched, and then investors with interest or investors farther along until they are ready to fund.
What makes a pipeline?
Really many many things can be seen as a pipeline — it’s essentially a useful framework or abstraction.
What makes a pipeline is just a list and a field that is a stage, where the stage represents the progress in the pipeline. That, in the general form, sounds like a lot of tasks. Even a todo list is like a pipeline.
You can have something as simple as a spreadsheet to something as complex as Salesforce or JIRA but they really are just pipelines. Much software can be looked at as a pipeline tool specialized for an industry (CRMs, ATS, project management software…etc).
How to manage a pipeline well
I’m sure there are many ideas on how to manage pipelines — here are a few ideas that have worked for me. First, make sure you have a tool to manage it. That could be some sort of CRM, or spreadsheet or whatever. But you need a spot to manage the pipeline. Then — try to keep it up to date. Next, try to update it as soon after the relevant info happens. That means if you finish a call or get an email back, or get a proposal — enter the notes in the pipeline. Then, figure out how this pipeline works for the group using it, whether that is you individually or as a team, which may have norms.
Overall, I see managing a pipeline as a key skill and one that shows up in all aspects of business. So if you don’t know how, learn how to manage a pipeline!