Yes, but what about the reality of now?
I played that card recently in a conversation with a colleague while we were discussing his vision and objectives for a more efficient work flow. I hated to do it. But it’s something that can’t be ignored to sustain a healthy business. Business does need a vision. Business does need to look for continuous improvements. But business also needs to take care of the here-and-now. The customers see and feel the here-and-now. Customers make decisions about who they’ll partner with here-and-now. That’s the cash that funds the vision and future.
Steven Brown writes about focusing on problems over objectives in his book 13 Fatal Errors that Managers Make. His point is that we can get pulled into spending most of our time on problems that influence a small amount of our overall productivity as a business.
Brown offers an illustration to show how successful managers use the environment and business conditions to work through problems while focusing on larger objectives. If someone finds themselves thrown off a boat that is some distance from the shoreline then they will not succeed if they fight the water by thrashing or trying to swim too fast. In this manner they’ll surely lose all their energy and drown. They are fighting against their current environment and conditions. To successfully get to shore, the person will first float or tread water. This person is using the environment to sustain themselves while they determine a proper shoreline destination to swim to. At that point, they will move with measured pace towards the shoreline goal. In this, the successful swimmer uses the environment and conditions to achieve success. They work with their environment and not against it.
Can we use a problem filled environment to sustain our efforts?
I asked myself this question and thought through my experiences for a few examples. The answer is definitely yes:
Problem: During a production system outage customers are unable to use systems to communicate and transact business.
Use the environment: Communicate clearly and frequently with customers about the situation rather than making excuses and placing blame. I have found that in times of service outages that customers appreciate knowing what has happened, when it started, the expected time to fix and what is happening to resolve it. No one is happy about a system outage, but customers tend to have a reasonable response if they are informed.
Overall Goal: Provide uninterrupted service to customers for system availability.
This is often expressed in terms of a service level agreement (SLA) or system uptime goal as a percentage of time. Get to the goal by focusing on what can be done and how the team is progressing to fix the situation rather than focusing on all the reasons for failure. There will be a time to examine the failures after service is restored.
Problem: The programming and business teams are missing project delivery dates because they are stuck with a high number of “bugs” discovered during testing.
Use the environment: I have found that it is best to use the scope of the project as the decision matrix to determine how to treat software bugs. Use the original scope to communicate clearly with the business owner and classify bugs as “must haves” or “can be deferred”. Use the value of the current scope as an influencing factor to deliver a solution sooner to the business.
Overall Goal: Deliver the defined scope of the project to the business/customers to provide the stated value of the goal. This is often expressed in financial terms, efficiency gains, or additional features. Get to the goal by focusing on the scope to attain it and moving other benefits to future iterations of the project.
Is this the reality of now?
So what about the reality of now? It’s important. We can’t just completely punt and fight it. We have to use it, to help move towards our goals. When I first gave the answer to my colleague a few weeks ago I didn’t think about it in these terms. But the reality of now requires using the good, the bad, and the ugly of our current environment to get to our intended target. Think about that.
Onward and upward!
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