Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not for Nothing

As someone who is often championing nimbleness and agility, people are often surprised at the level of importance I put on planning and writing things down.  In the typical situation, we are discussing some objective or goal and there is just this ambiguous laundry list of tasks, activities and milestones that spews out.  I insist on proper organization, writing down the relationships, and in general having all the elements of a formal plan laid out. The reason why is purely for selfish reasons based on historical evidence.

Most people can't hold the complex elements of a plan in their head and manipulate it effectively. For collaboration, all parties can function no faster than the slowest member. So writing down the elements of the plan means that when we start trying to optimize everyone can follow along. This is particularly necessary when you start to execute against a plan and need to recall the reasons behind your decisions.

One aspect of the plan that I typically insist on clarity about is the roles and responsibilities. Often more than just needing to understand what your outcome looks like, you need to understand why it looks a certain way,  and whom is driving those criteria. This is embodied in one of the tenets:

Learn the who and the why before the what or you will end up creating nothing for no one.

If you are going to react to tactical considerations while you are executing a strategic plan, you need an awareness of more than just what the criteria for success look like, but also who is defining and evaluating the criteria and towards what purpose.

If you are dealing with a fickle audience, an unknown solution, or a unique innovation, the definition of a successful outcome might be sufficiently ambiguous that you won't be able to effectively optimize without a rapid feedback loop. Obviously being able to bring outcomes to an audience or test rapidly is helpful but not always practical.  Being able to provide a preliminary evaluation of success without the cost of involving your constituency is crucial for agility and nimbleness. It doesn't replace the need for frequent and rapid testing, but it does mean you can often discard unusable alternatives more quickly.

More important than being able to do your own work more efficiently, by grounding your criteria with their source and rationale, you validate outcome in context. There is nothing worse than doing something difficult and amazing only to realize that the impact is only felt by a fraction of your patrons. Take the time upfront to make sure you know who you are working for and why what you are doing will matter to them. More clarity with these things will help ensure you keep asking the right questions at the right times.