Lying on a table, in a room of a secret government installation, is an envelope (yes, it is 1000 feet underground). Inside that envelope, written by a steady hand, are three words. These three words when used together are the foundation for effective execution; in fact, without them you are more or less destined to struggle to get things done. For the sake of moving this along, let us say I commissioned the help of an Archer type espionage agent to break in and secure the envelope for us.
Before we get to those three words I should say sorry* as I bet you were hoping for a nice, neat, reproducible process to optimize your execution. Not yet unfortunately, as we have to start with a foundation to build from. And now for those three words you have been waiting for - "Ownership, Leadership, and The Straw-man" (Ok, technically five words). Worth the wait and hiring a secret agent for don't you think? Given their importance we should look at them:
OWNERSHIP (very important) - Defined as the act, state, or right of possessing something. With regard to optimizing execution, identifying an owner is imperative, and I have to stress this, there can only be one. The committee, is the death of effective execution. A single owner, this is key! A single owner:
- Clarifies who is responsible for the expected result(s). Use an actual name. There may not be an "i" in Team but there sure is an "i" in Optimized Execution.
- Optimizes communications with regards to a single voice involving progress, issues and the "go to person" for answers.
- Establishes a champion for teams and resources to rally behind.
- Reduces agendas to one.
- Establishes the owner of the "czar card".**
LEADERSHIP (table stakes important) - There are a litany of leadership definitions and volumes on the subject, so let's work with this definition for the sake of argument. Leadership has been described as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". A couple of comments with regard to effective execution:
- It is imperative that a leader picks the appropriate "Owner"; aligning the task with the needed skill sets and maturity. If you don't have trust*** in the person, don't give them ownership.
- The Leader should clarify the most effective way to manage up to them when issues and roadblocks need to be addressed.
- If the leader has a propensity to micromanage please just stop it; it is annoying and a big waster of time. See trust above.
- The owner needs to be very good at leading without a title, as more often than not they will be moving up, down and laterally through the organization. The book The leader who had no title by Robin Sharma is a must read.
THE STRAW-MAN or Straw-man proposal (Most important) - A straw-man proposal is a "brain stormed" simple draft proposal intended to generate discussion and leadership approval . Here is why this is so important, particularly early on in the process:
- Best developed by the Owner with a small group (i.e. one other person), used as a sounding board to pressure test the proposal. Experience has shown me PowerPoint is a good communication vehicle where you should use strong action statements and high level process maps, as well as foreseeable challenges, resource requirements and timeframes. **** (work to present this within the first week... the sleepless nights are worth it down the road)
- Review the straw-man with the Leader, key stakeholders and anyone you feel may be a resource down the road (in the same room). The objective of this meeting is to review your thinking, so everyone in the room will "sorta remember the meeting" three weeks later. Have any red flags called out for discussion and most importantly have the leader confirm that "directionally" he or she is comfortable with it, and by extension support the detail of the execution.
- It defines the scope and latitude in which the "owner" can operate and where he or she can have to go within the organization to get it done - Gives the owner the answer when someone asks "why are you at this meeting?"
- It becomes the primary communication tool to inform, identify resources needed, re-enforce directional frame work and prevent scope creep (which is another execution killer).
This triad of Ownership, Leadership and The Straw-Man is imperative for effective execution, particularly if the organization is large, where even the simplest act of communication can be a challenge - Let alone working through multiple agendas and business perspectives. I would never suggest this as a silver bullet but I will say it has allowed me to be effective more often than not.
And if it's just you, the discussions are very easy between the Leader and the Owner but I still suggest you use THE STRAW-MAN as you will get your plan down on paper... and we know how important that is.
PS: next time we will talk about the fun that can be had with process maps.
* I'm Canadian so we always say sorry; more often than not though, it is analogous to the word "um" and not an actual apology.
** A leader I very much admired introduced me to the czar trump card a long time ago . There was a long ongoing discussion where he stepped in and finally said "I rarely exercise the czar card but I am going to throw it and we are going to do it this way...". He was the owner after all and was responsible in the end. For those who don't play cards, a trump card wins over all other cards.
*** The definition of trust is belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.
**** I will admit I am partial to PowerPoint and have made thousands of presentations; I recommend it for a number of reasons 1) lends itself very well to presenting, which you will have to do anyway 2) forces you to be crisp and concise whereas with Word you end up with a white paper and 3) as the project continues the presentations can build upon themselves saving you time.