Incremental Achievement

November 15, 2017

Incremental Achievement

Throughout time there have been many references and phrases that teach children the importance of perseverance and patience - the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “Rome wasn’t built in one day,” “patience is a virtue.”

Pretty much everything important that we work towards requires time.

Why do we push for NEW and NOW?

So why are we always pushing for instant gratification when it comes to implementing solutions? Why do we push our teams, our budgets, and our sanity to the breaking point to implement a new and amazing solution in an impossible timeline when really all we need is a simple system upgrade? Why is incremental achievement viewed as a negative?

veruca-salt.jpgMaybe there are business drivers for your aggressive goals and timeline.  It could be that you are prepping for an acquisition and want to make sure everything is in order by a certain time and fast-paced, all-in projects are a necessary evil. Or perhaps there is a new CIO or CTO who is leading with a strategic vision to bring you into the 21st century. Maybe moving all your infrastructure to the cloud by the end of the quarter sounded like a really good idea after a couple drinks at a Microsoft social mixer with your sales rep.

Now, I’m not suggesting taking a laid-back approach to all initiatives within your organization. There are some situations where “rip and replace” is the best strategic path forward, but those large overhauls should be balanced with projects and solutions that are fit for purpose.

Fit for Purpose

Fit for purpose is my favorite phrase. For me it’s that middle ground, the porridge is just right, way to view a potential implementation. It causes you to pause and plan instead of running toward the shiny new thing that won’t fix all your problems. When assessing what fit for purpose means in each situation I usually ask myself and my team a couple questions:

What goal are we trying to accomplish? – If we don’t have basic things documented about why we are even considering doing something – be it a system implementation or upgrade, a process improvement, or even just a documentation initiative – this stops the process and gets everyone focused. A great man once told me, “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

This doesn’t have to be overly complex – it consists of working through a couple of questions before jumping into something:

  • Why are we doing this? What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • What are the success criteria, and how do we measure achievement?
  • Who is impacted?
  • What are the constraints? Time, budget, people, politics, etc.

Are there multiple options to reach the goal? – This can be broken into three different categories:

  • Hard: Here we are talking about transformational change where you will be implementing something that’s never existed within your organization. Take the time to identify the actual issues, user requirements, and ideas for how to achieve your goal. This process should be tool agnostic, especially when defining problems and requirements.  If your requirements are basically a list of features taken off a tool’s website, your solution is obviously biased towards that tool.
  • Medium: Do you have an outdated solution or process that is no longer working for the business? Are you looking to replace the process, the system, or both? How do we move the needle? How can we do this 10% better than we currently do it? Look for solutions that build on current capabilities but move you toward your goal.
  • Easy:  Is the tool or process currently working and relevant for the business? Are you just looking to do an upgrade or documentation to achieve your goal?

Can we phase this? – In my experience, most initiatives can be broken apart into phases. It’s that old saying about eating an elephant one bite at a time. Phases help:

  • ensure the project stays on strategy be giving natural pause points for alignment and planning. 
  • improve team morale by offering up quick wins.
  • show incremental achievement to stakeholders.

In Conclusion…

Answering these questions will help you identify the must haves, could haves, should haves, and the strategy for tackling this elephant. This exercise helps me to outline incremental achievement that doesn’t seem slow and arduous to stakeholders and team members. It can be tough to find a good balance, but the sweet spot for most companies is somewhere on the spectrum between “I want it now” and “weren’t we going to do a project for this?”

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