Build a Strong Foundation - The Importance of the Discovery Phase

In the same way that building a house starts by building a strong foundation, tactical initiatives as well as projects are built upon what is uncovered and decided during the discovery phase.

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Unfortunately, too many initiatives and projects fail to do enough discovery work. As the initiative or project unfolds, the team painfully learns the details of what should have been found at a high level during discovery - such things as incorrect assumptions, omission of major pieces of work or dependencies that need to be in place.

What is the Discovery Phase?

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The dictionary tells us discovery is:

the act of finding something that had not been known before:
Many scientific discoveries have been made by accident.
The discovery of gold in California opened up the west.

A discovery is also something that you did not know about before:
 It was quite a discovery when I came upon this beautiful mountain stream.

Whe an initiative or a project starts, there has been a discussion about what is wanted at the end, but there is a lot that is not known. In the discovery phase, all the questions can’t be answered, but the team should start to understand what it will take to get the initiative or project done, what it will cost and what other areas of the organization may be impacted.

What Does Success Look Like?

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The first and most important work in the discovery phase is to figure out “what success looks like”. Each person involved may have a very different view of what the end is— even though everyone is saying exactly the same words! If it is not 100% clear about “what success looks like”, there may be a variety of ideas about the end result will look like. So it is very important to make sure all those involved are on the same page about what the future state will look like. In some cases, such as launching a major computer system, it may not be easy to know exactly what detailed pieces the project may implement, but everyone should agree that success would be launching the system with at least the core functionality that can be obtained within the limits of the schedule and resources available.

Use of SMART goals can put some specifics to “what success looks like. These goals are
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound. By spending the time to work out SMART goals, everyone will more clearly understand “what success looks like” to them - it may actually start to change the initial ideas of the initiative, as various stakeholders weigh in on their reality today and what it will take to get to that vision of the future state.

Who’s Affected and/or Involved?

Make sure you’ve included the voices of everyone affected or involved in the initiative. If the stakeholder group is larger, be sure the person who represents a specific group is really speaking for that group. If a key stakeholder group is not part of discovery, their viewpoints and concerns about the initiative could cause issues down the road.

Assumptions

Even when everyone agrees what the completion of the initiative or project looks like, it is very likely that a variety of assumptions have been made.. and not everyone may make the same assumptions! One person may think that outside consultants will be brought into help, another may assume that existing staff will take on all that extra work. It is the unstated assumptions that cause conflict later in the project, when the reality of the assumption is known. The impact of an incorrect assumption may have a small or huge impact on the project.

Dependencies

Much like assumptions, too many dependencies are not understood early in the project. When the dependency is uncovered later, the project stalls until it is cleared away. The goal may be to plan out a new manufacturing line, but the current staff may not be capable of envisioning exactly what that will involve, so a major dependency is to find the right person and bring them into the organization to drive that change.

Start with a Sketch

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Think of the discovery phase as sketching out the initiative. As details are gathered, lines are made thicker, more lines and shading is added. In requirements, the full color and details are added to the initiative. In web design, discovery will involve wire frames, which are just line drawings of the page layout and call outs for functionality. The wire frames are much more useful for uncovering omissions than a full color layout. When the page has all its color, users focus on is the design pretty?, are the color right? When that is left to determine later, those viewing the wire frame spend more time making sure the web page has the functionality needed.

Dive Deep if needed

When there is not enough information to make assumptions or estimate work, the team may need to dive deep into the some of the details. Once the outline of the work is known and it is clear what it will involve, the team can move back up to a higher view of the planning.

Once the team is in alignment about “what success looks like”, have a bunch of SMART goals, understand the outline of all the work to be accomplished, have identified the assumptions made and dependencies involved, it’s time to get budget approval and move to execute the plan!

Make Your Plan then Work Your Plan!

With January 1 looming, many companies are budgeting for 2019. What does the future bring?
For some companies, it’s pretty simple, look at what was done this year, decide the small ways it will change, and then you’re set! If you are growing or you’re changing your strategy, this process is not so simple. You may know that the future will bring growth or that you’ve got a new target - but how do you get from there to a budget?

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Tactical Planning

If you’ve done your strategy work for the coming year, you have a clear idea of the markets you are targeting and some ideas about how you will connect with them. But that’s not enough. You need to operationalize your strategy by creating a road map of how you will get from where you are today to where to aspire to go.

Some major things to consider:

  • What does success look like? If you execute well on your strategy, what will your operation look like?

  • How will each department be affected? Sometimes it’s just hiring additional staff, but it could mean you need to bring someone into your organization who has a specialized skill set

  • How much will it cost? (the budgeting part) How will you fund the needed improvements? Will the timing work for your cash flow or busy season?

  • Does the plan seem reasonable to all the key personnel? Everyone who is a “driver” (Making change happen) in your organization should understand where the company is going and what their role is in getting there.

  • Who will be accountable for what? You need to assign initiatives to specific people who own the execution of those initiatives.

  • What could go wrong? Better to think of this now and prepare some alternative actions. The future is not always as we planned - what are the major things that could de-rail your plan and how will you respond to them?

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Goals!

Once your plan is set, be sure it has clear goals set for each department. Each department should work those goals down to the individual level, so everyone in the organization understands how they will contribute to the coming year’s plan.

Goals should be:

  • ”SMART” - Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound

  • Clearly define the specifics of any deliverable so everyone understand exactly what is meant by the words being used - example “Create a Web Site” is far too vague.

  • Assigned to specific individuals who are responsible for their completion. If needed, specify who will collaborate with that individual to work through to the goal’s completion

Create key performance indicators (KPIs) where ever possible to track your progress against goals.

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Work your plan!

Your plan should be a living and changing document reflecting the new ideas that come in as well as the tasks that didn’t get executed quite as you planned.

  • Followup: Make sure tasks happen as you planned or reschedule as needed. If specifics need to change, be sure to document them.

  • Focus on the top priorities: Consider what is key for success and focus on those items. Things you thought were important may not really need to be first.

  • Keep the plan visible to everyone so everyone know what has been accomplished and what is left to go.

  • If you choose to stray from your plan, be certain is it still taking you to the place you want to go. It could be that you’ve found a better way to get to the end, or you may have re-evaluated your entire strategy, but in either case, revisit your entire plan to make sure you are really making a change that will be an improvement.

  • Celebrate success: As you complete goals or hit major milestones, celebrate! Nothing is more motivating that to know that the team is heading in the right direction and is making progress toward the larger longer term objective.

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Who's on First?

In this famous Abbott & Costello skit,  you can see how confusing it can get to figure out "who" is doing "what" in a baseball game -- (Video Credit: Koch Entertainment)

Who's on First?

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In an organization or on a project, confusion or misunderstanding about "who" is doing "what" can lead to inefficiency at best, and major work disruptions and  interpersonal conflict at worst.  A good technique to make sure everyone is on the same page about what contributions are expected from each team member is to create a RASCI Roles & Responsibility map.

R-A-S-C-I Mapping

The creation of the RASCI map and the discussions that happen during the course of its creation is what makes this tool so powerful - it forces everyone involved to objectively talk about the details of the process or project, who needs to be involved and agree upon the roles each person plays in each task. Ideally, a collaborative spreadsheet such as Google Sheets or Office 365 Excel is used so everyone involved can participate in its creation and ultimately agree on the details of the RASCI map.

The first step is to make a complete list of all the work to be completed. 
Tasks generally all done by the same person could be grouped together.  Any work that involves multiple steps with different people taking a different role in the work, should be broken down in more detail. All this should be put down in the rows of the spreadsheet. 

Next, identify all the people who are part of the process or project, including outside contractors. Add each person as a column in the spreadsheet.

Then, share the sheet with everyone involved and have them update their role in the process or project as follows:

R = Responsible for getting this task done. Only ONE person should be responsible for any one task. If two people put R for the same task, their roles need to be discussed or the task may have more than one component and needs to be broken down further.

A = Accountable for making sure the task gets done. In a small organization, the person who is responsible may also be accountable.  In larger organization, a manager or executive may be accountable for many tasks. 

S = Supports the responsible person. This could be administrative or backup help. It is more about helping the responsible person and less about giving the responsible person any input or insight to get the task done. Multiple people could be supporting the one responsible person.

C = Collaborates with the responsible person to get the work done. Without collaboration, the responsible person may not be able to get the task done, and in most cases, the collaboration improves the quality of the task's output. Multiple people could be collaborating with the one responsible person.

I = Informed people need the information or deliverable created as part of the task to get their work done.  Even if the task is complete, it is critical that its output is given to others in the organization who need to know the task is complete or use some piece of it in their work. Multiple people might need the information from the one responsible person.

Once the map is done, make sure everyone involved agrees with the result.  If there is some disagreement about who is "R" for a task, or some folks didn't realize they were "C" for a task and should be collaborating on it or there are other places where the team is not aligned, discuss the work, how it is best done and update the map.

The result - Role alignment! ... everyone knows what they should done doing (They now know that "Who" is on first base!)

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

When you create a RASCI map, let me know how it went - did it solve your organizational issue?

Jean

 

 

 

 

 

Exponential Sales, Stair-step Expenses

Growth = Success - that’s the message from investors. Once  the very important hurdles of having a product or service that others want to purchase and having the funding to actually make or provide that product have been met, a company needs to have the organizational capabilities to manage and execute on that growth profitably.  Major operational expenses, such as a new computer system, can be very expensive.  If such decisions are well planned to match the needs of growth, an organization can grow more smoothly without too much disruption.

Sales growth over the years can be steady

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Or exponential..

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Operational Growth usually comes in steps, as major investments are made.

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When the organization makes a big investment, it solves current issues and lays a foundation for growth. For a time, the investment allows the organization to scale as unused features and capabilities are implemented. But if the company is growing significantly, at some point, the investment will no longer be able to keep up with the increased demand. Too much pressure can be put on the existing system of people, processes and tools. So to grow smoothly, new investments, ranging from small to huge, will be needed to  keep the foundation of the organization shored up for future growth.

Foundational investments such as a new ERP computer system can be large and disruptive.  Organizations can delay big operational improvements, but might end up relying upon their people and processes to fill the gaps because of less than adequate tools.  If an organization is able to look out into the future and is able stay even one small step ahead of its needs, operational spending increases can be better planned and implemented to more smoothly navigate through growth.

Have some good stories where an organization did this well (or badly?) - let me know!

Jean

Jean@excellenceinops.com

The Face of Change

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Is change positive or negative?  If the change is growth, the answer really depends upon how the person impacted by the change feels about it.

I recently attended a workshop which started off by having everyone in the room pick a card off a table that portrayed the way they felt their contribution was viewed by others in the organization.

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I picked the card with a QUESTION MARK, because I view my role as supporting the organization when they have questions. 

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Another person picked a card showing A HOUSE BEING BUILT. He's working to implement many new programs and processes.

 

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The third picked a card showing THE DEVIL.  He's implementing a lot of change, which is not going very smoothly.

Since I generally view changes coming from growth as POSITIVE, I was a little surprised by his choice. What I discovered was that the changes he's been implementing have been viewed very negatively by his employees.  So while he thought that the changes he was implementing were necessary for building a foundation for future growth, he felt he was playing the bad guy role in that process.

I'm not sure he needs to take on that burden.  If changes had been communicated in way that his employees understood, he wouldn't necessarily needed to be viewed at the devil.

TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING CHANGE:

  • Clearly communicate why a change is needed, ideally explaining the "good" that will come with the change
  • Clearly communicate how it affects an individual, ideally WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)
  • Listen to feedback, use it as an opportunity to confirm the specifics on your change or use it as an opportunity to help an individual understand the change.
  • As change is implemented, communicate the results of the change.

Do you see yourself as a positive or negative face of change?

Jean
Jean@excellenceinops.com

 

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