A few years ago I facilitated a focus group of high potential leaders at a very successful and innovative enterprise. This small lean organization had run uphill fast to reach its current peak of achievement. People were stressed to near breaking point, but still determined to become even better. I asked the group, “What is the chief barrier to your organization getting to the next level of success?” The room was silent. Eyes darted. Truth telling can be terrifying. Then one guy spoke-up, “We do a good job planning most of our projects, but we have too many going on and we rarely really complete many of them. I’d say we have a lot of commas and very few periods on our projects.”
The group collectively sighed and nodded. Someone chimed in, “When we get close to wrapping up a project, a new idea pops up and we take off on it. We don’t stop and see if the last project was finished, much less finished well.”
Listen to Everything
I shared their observation with the executive team, who acknowledged the wisdom of these future leaders. Then the team examined the 30 plus strategic projects that were on their plate for the past 2 years. They determined that over half were comma projects – projects that were still only 60% to 75% complete or 25% to 40% away from putting a period on it. Slumped shoulders and weary eyes told it all. Their comma projects were like leeches; clinging, lingering, draining energy and wasting limited resources.
Set a New Habit
After some difficult discussion, the senior team declared a new corporate habit they would establish to help move the organization to the next level. “We will concentrate on a few high leverage projects and schedule a formal debrief for each one. At the debriefing we will mark it as either done well or done away with, note our lessons learned and share this with all key stakeholders both verbally and in writing.” What will be the benefit? “We believe that if we do this consistently most of the new ideas, that keep us busy, will be preemptively addressed due to our thoroughness and discipline.”
Have Courage to Slow Down
At their annual planning retreat, the CEO told the Board there would be no new projects initiated for the next 6 months while they put periods on a few projects that really mattered. The Board is pleased with the record-breaking results this year.
Journal Entry: When would be a good time for you to look at your project list and decide if you need a new strategy to move to the next level in your leadership and life? Period.
‘My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that.” – The Queen of Hearts tells Alice in Alice in Wonderland
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John the Baptist, an apostle. John 8:32 NIV Bible
What went well? What did we learn? What is still unclear? How can we improve? – 4 Project Debriefing Questions
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer