Don’t tell me why this is difficult to do, just go get this done ASAP please. The please is usually an afterthought. This is the kind of challenge that no self-respecting operations person can resist – there is a certain joy in translating an idea into flawless execution cutting through all the challenges and complexities of a large organization. And in my role of running business operations, I have been on the receiving end of this challenge many a times. The corporate/senior management realizes they have a business problem, have a good idea of what the solution could be and there comes a mandate for a directional change that may involve a lot of shake up implementing a new process or changing existing processes to meet the end goal.
In today’s scenario, we no longer have the luxury of time, complete clarity, a free rein and big budgets to get that magic solution – which will solve the big business problem – visualized, planned, experimented, and then implemented. Every solution has to be aligned to growing profits leading to one or both objectives – revenue-maximizing and cost-cutting. Operational agility and operational excellence are all the more important now to turn corporate priorities into focused actions more quickly, effectively, and consistently.
Here are five pointers that I have found useful in getting “more done with less” to achieve the desired results quickly:
Pointer #1: Understand the need behind the want – A clear understanding of the desired outcome is necessary so that you don’t end up with a flurry of misguided activity. For example the stated want maybe “reduce bench costs”. To arrive at a solution, you have to go to the source of the problem to see what the real need is – it maybe that the reported data on bench is inaccurate leading to wrong conclusions, or that there is inaccuracy in forecasting leading to an increased virtual bench size or the demand-supply balancing is inefficient. Not knowing the source here and just taking action on reducing bench by reducing headcount would be dangerously counter – productive. Understanding the outcome needed also allows the defining and implementing of a solution instead of just executing on a task blindly which may not give the expected results. And before you move to the next step, put it in writing – the problem statement, the current state and the desired state when the planned solution is in place. This is very important to not only clarify our own thought process but also help you ascertain the skills and timeline needed to execute.
Pointer #2: Get the right working team on-board – You could do it alone but almost any deliverable in a work setting will get done quicker and better if you involve others with the skills, background and experience in the area. You don’t need a committee (the death by committee danger there ) but creating a virtual team gets the work done easier. Pick the brains of subject matter experts, tap into the larger functional teams across the organization, and get volunteers from your teams. Almost everyone would be happy to get involved in learning something new or breaking the routine of their everyday assignments. Being able to work in a matrix structure is quite a useful ability here.
Pointer #3: Get key stake-holders enthusiastic about the solution - Identify the people who stand to benefit the most from the solution and socialize the plan with them. Enlist their support early by showing them the “why” behind the plan and how they stand to gain from it. Create a sense of urgency to build momentum. This will help get their buy-in and reduce any resistance that you may come across when you go ahead with execution. People don’t like being handed with a “done deal” specially if there is any impact on their business as usual activities. Regular, sincere communication is a great lubricant to work through silos and organization hierarchies and boundaries. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to please everyone – just the ones that matter (for the success of your plan in action).
Pointer #4: Go! Don’t wait for all the answers and for the perfect plan – As Seth says, the real question isn’t whether you have all the facts. The real question is, “do I know enough to make a useful decision?” (And no decision is still a decision). If you don’t, then the follow-up question is, “What would I need to know, what fact would I need to see, before I take action?” Speed of decision-making is very important in execution – there is a time for analysis and a time for action. A perfect launch time, a perfect solution or perfect acceptance is unrealistic to expect. The best way to see if your solution is workable is to put it to work. Define phases of implementation if you can’t see the full path yet but begin the moment you are reasonably sure it will work.
Pointer #5: Don’t drop the ball after execution – Give yourself and the team a pat on the back and celebrate the success. But don’t forget these three important steps. Before you move on to the next challenge, get the process documentation, tracking mechanism and measurement metrics in place. Create checklists for the activities, documentation of the changed or new process and training sessions as needed. With good processes defined and documented, everyone will always know what has been accomplished and how far have they gone ahead or fallen behind. Set up regular feedback and tracking mechanisms with the right set of metrics to have early warning systems that will help anticipate problems or the need to change the solution.
Summing it up, there is very little that is impossible to get done at work. It just needs the right mix of enthusiasm, effort, agility and persistence. And isn’t creating order from chaos, a lot of fun?
What are your secrets to getting things done in a complex organization? What have I missed in the pointers above? I would love to hear and learn from you.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31732378@N02/3129967709/ by Jon.B