What’s Next? – The Most Important Question You Can Answer

Across an organisation, many projects are typically undertaken at any one time. But the projects are not all of equal importance, although the stakeholders in each project may consider their task the priority. In leadership, a shared agreement must exist not only on priorities but also sequencing and how all the various parts come together as a single whole. Without such consensus, their will only be conflict, self-interest and poor performance.

 

Active Knowledge Question:

What is the one project/task that must be completed above all others?

 

Capability First

Coming out of a strategic planning workshop, there will always be a long list of actions that must be undertaken. Often every business section is required to consider the strategic goals and respond to how their area will contribute to their achievement. The outcome can be an excessive ‘to-do’ list, which will do little to drive the performance of a business nor deliver on strategic goals. And the fog that this ‘must-do’ list creates can seed a lack of unity and focus.

But possibly even more important can be the failure to consider the most basic catalyst of achievement, the ability to deliver. So before you start creating the action list, you should consider an organisation’s ability to deliver

Typically, there can be a lack of resources and understanding of what it will take to deliver on various tasks. But, the DNA of an achiever is more fundamental and is often never considered, that is, the process and approach to getting things done. And in business, you really want a proprietary method to ‘delivery’ that permeates your entire business at every level. Everyone knows how you as a business deliver on projects and goals. It is a trait you are known for.

We tend to leave ‘delivery’ in the hands of individual managers and allow them to work their way through the processes and policies of the organisation to get their individual projects approved and delivered. As a result, we rarely see an organisation that has trained its people in its way of delivery – an approach that underpins efficient delivery and performance and has streamlined its bureaucracy to enable, rather than hinder, delivery.

As a strategic goal, an organisation-wide capability to deliver should be at the top of the list.

The Jigsaw Puzzle

At a recent executive workshop, the participants were asked to list the projects that they were tasked to deliver in the remaining two years of their current strategic plan. As you may guess, the lists were long, and you could almost wonder, is there a competition to see who has the most projects to complete. Furthermore, looking at the various lists, it was impossible to imagine how all these projects would be delivered nor how they all fitted together.

On the next day of this workshop, each team was asked to identify what was the most critical project from their list. Again, as the team members identified and spoke about their most critical project, the linkages between them were unclear, and some projects were still being scoped pending Board approval.

As you step away from a list of projects, you must be able to see how all the pieces fit together to deliver on the strategic goals of a business – think of it as a jigsaw where every component fits an obvious part of the whole.

The starting point to developing consensus around the importance of individual projects is an understanding of how each piece contributes to the whole. And by the whole, I mean the competitive posture the business has chosen to adopt to succeed.

There is an approach to organisational design, Organigraphics, that crafts a single image of how that organisation functions in achieving its purpose and winning in its marketplace. This design will provide the template upon which all projects can be mapped to reflect their unique contribution to the business.

Everything At Once

Typically, once a project list is struck, everyone goes off to attend to their section of the list, and infrequently they report up the line on progress. These projects are often in addition to their normal workload and responsibilities, and they try to fit them in with everything else.

Resources are scarce, and it is not unusual for teams to be competing against each other for the same resources, often being key people who are known achievers.

And whilst this distributed approach to getting things done may seem to allocate activity across the entire organisation, I wonder whether it achieves any real efficiency; there is lots of noise and not much progress.

At a strategic level, there is a better approach to the delivery of projects. Understanding how each project contributes to the whole, how they fit together and support each other, and deciding in advance the efficient allocation of resources allows focus to be brought to bear.

Most Important Thing

The question of ‘what’s next’ must be asked and answered by leadership as they progress through the project list. There will be a correct sequence and priority that should be constantly reviewed, not just set and forgotten. 

Markets are constantly evolving; therefore, projects and their relevance will also be constantly evolving. And their design, relevance and importance to the competitiveness of an organisation should be constantly assessed.

Here are eight basic principles that reflect the way an organisation that is focused on being an achiever and delivering, thinks and acts:  

  1. Extraordinary results do not come about by accident or luck; they are directly proportional to your degree of focus. The narrower your focus, the more extraordinary your results will be. Focus must be built and refined. It starts simply with one focus. Then stepping forward, one focus at a time, sequentially, compounding each step of the way. Then, and only then, does it begin to take a geometric form from the cornerstone that has been built.
  2. It starts with one thing. What is the one thing that must be done now before all else can proceed, which will enable all else to follow? Then, once that one thing is done, what is the next step? Absolute focus, sequentially.
  3. Focus, strength, endurance, discipline and courage are all limited resources, which will wear thin as the day, week or month drains this reserve. Apply this reserve where it needs to be, where it is most important, to your ‘one thing’, first. Then and only then, apply it to what else may be necessary. Consider the 80/20 rule in applying your reserves to your one thing, and don’t become distracted.
  4. Create space to replenish reserves. Create patterns and habits to sustain those reserves. One habit at a time. Create it. Lock it away. 
  5. Surround and immerse yourself/ your organisation with people who build and lift each other up, enabling everyone to be the best they can be. A tribe that fuels itself with the right energy.
  6. Think big. Think the impossible. Create a massive space to grow into with limits no one ever thought possible. You won’t know what’s possible if you create limits.
  7. Create motives that are righteous to achieve the extraordinary. Greed, profit and self-interest won’t get you there. Only humility and gratitude can seed exceptional performance. Your motive must be to compete to the greatest potential that resides, often unrecognised, in your organisation.

 

Strategic planning will always create a list of things to be done. But what is more important is actually getting them done. And this is best achieved by the organisation focusing on the most important thing one at a time. Knowing ‘what’s next’ allows scarce resources to be applied with laser focus to complete a task and then moving on to the next task. This approach builds momentum and compounds an organisation’s ability to deliver. And in this way, the impossible becomes readily possible.


An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel