Justifying and Prioritizing Projects

To provide context, let’s define a “project” as it relates to this post: A project is a complex issue, with a defined set of goals, that requires a leader to influence/motivate many others, implement strategy, inspect, and ensure execution.

The vision for an organization is one big project that cascades into other projects and supporting goals, which also have cascading projects that are nested all the way down. The importance of justification and prioritization is critical at every level.

All projects (starting with the highest level vision) must be justified; Similar to culture, they should not just “happen” and there should be some guiding principles/values in place.

Here are some tips on justifying projects:

  1. Challenge, challenge, challenge; The leader should vigorously challenge their own projects/vision during the planning process. The higher level the leader is, the less likely they are to be challenged by others, therefore know that it is appropriate to be hard on yourself when planning. Then ask your peer group to beat you up a bit more; which is all about crisp justification for something that is about to be your obsession for a period of time, and that will impact many (if not all) others in the organization.
  2. When assisting others in justifying their projects: Ensure they have gone through the exercise above by having them answer the following questions:
    1. Why in the heck should we do this?
    2. Is it supported by our overall vision?
    3. What will our measurable(s) be?
    4. If successful, will the results be material?
    5. What happens if the project fails? This should be the last question because the answer(s) will validate importance/justification

In regards to prioritizing projects:

  1. Stack/rank by measurable and the impact of outcomes
  2. No one should have more than 3-5 direct projects at any given time; any excess should be kicked down the list or deleted (if they are important they will resurface)
  3. If there are too many projects for the leaders who are available to manage them, change an input. Either the team/investment needs to grow, or the priorities need to shrink to a manageable level. The key is in justifying the projects first; if there really are more than the team can handle and they have all been justified, grow the team and invest in people and resources at a higher rate.

We are the ones who…….

  1. Make time to take care of ourselves and our families
  2. Prospect and look for new opportunities, even when business/life is good
  3. Make corrections (and be the one to point them out) rather than excuses
  4. Look for issues when none are apparent
  5. Do not allow 8-5 to be a factor in achieving our goals
  6. Celebrate and recognize the success of others
  7. Write down our goals and consistently inspect performance against them
  8. Stomp out complacency; we look for it throughout the organization, especially after big wins
  9. Understand and accept leadership risk (relying on others for success)
  10. Strive for those who lead us to not have to worry about anything under our control

Early this morning while exercising in a small hotel gym, I reflected on how fast things are moving in life.   My kids are growing up too fast; I am getting older; MCCi is growing faster than ever and our team is phenomenal.  I was reminded that balance, growth, and leadership are tough, and that a certain level of stress (each person has their own tolerance) will be present when we are trying to do it all perfectly;  The reality is that perfection is impossible and that is the reason for reflection.  Consistent adjustments are what is key.

This week I am in three different states and will be part of some very important meetings.  We are prepared, and they will go as well as they can because our team is awesome.   But what am I most excited about this week?  The daddy daughter pool day with my 4 and 6 year old daughters on Saturday.   Just as much preparation is going into that:  Early morning grocery store run, hot dogs, popsicles, all-day pool day, bubbles, games, umbrellas……..

Progress is stressful, but much less so when it is your desire / your plan rather than someone else’s

Leaders are entrepreneurial in that they create growth through ambition, research, collaboration, validation and go to market strategy.  They go to their leaders with “Here is the plan and I would like your feedback”, rather than their leader coming to them with “What is the plan?” or building out the plan for them to follow, mandating that there be a plan, etc.   You ask any leader out there if they would rather impose pressure on others to grow or have their team approach them with growth plans for collaboration and feedback, and I am confident that the vast majority will choose the latter, and that those that do the latter will rise at a much faster rate.

It is very easy to spot the plans that are built with thought leadership/passion vs. the plans that are put together as part of a requirement imposed by others.   It is not about the structure of the documents, or the fact that there is required data to include – it is more about the ownership that can be felt in the document.  It can be felt based on creativity, humility in admitting what needs improvement, strong goals, and a strong plan for executing.   Those plans are motivating to all and they can only start with the leader being passionate, putting the time in, and holding themselves accountable to producing a plan that will motivate all stakeholders and ultimately lead to growth.

Continuous incremental progress (not money) is the path to happiness.  This is why even the most successful people continue to have the the highest level drive and passion.  It gives them purpose and fulfillment to know they are better today than they were yesterday.   Once we have this fundamental belief, it is a crazy thought to let others impose the pressure for us to progress (be happy).

 

 

Just my annual rant on Goal Setting

This morning I sent out the following message to my MCCi family (all team members)…….

My wife recently asked what our family traditions are and what we want them to be going forward.  It was fun to think back about what each of our family traditions have been, and it was a great discussion that resulted in us making some changes based on what we want to do going forward as our lives have evolved with each other, children, family, and our friends.  We also discussed how important it was to have our own personal traditions that focus on self-improvement and being the best we can be as individuals.

As we go into the new year, I wanted to share with you some of the things that are a personal tradition in regards to ending the year and starting a new one.  It all revolves around reflection on goal achievement and setting new goals.   It is also why I am up at 5AM on a day that we have off as a paid holiday – it is that important, given it is the one tradition that I credit with every significant improvement (and failure) I have made in my life.    My overall feeling about the importance around this annual goal setting tradition is best reflected by one of my favorite quotes:   “Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin.   What follows is just a list of things I do around goal setting and self-accountability.

Goal Achievement Reflection

  • This is constant throughout the year, but having my list of goals in front of me throughout the year is what keeps me focused.
  • I do this one final time at the end of the year, which helps me set new and more powerful goals the following year.
  • If I hit all my goals – I did a poor job in setting them. This is my personal take, because goal setting is about real improvement, which is tough unless you are tough on you.

Goal Setting

  • Write them down! I have mine for each year dating back to 2005.
  • Focus on a mixture of professional and personal. Just like life, growth needs to be balanced
  • Make them as quantifiable as possible for clear tracking.
  • Think through the timing and general steps that must occur in order to achieve goals
    • Throughout the year, have a system (calendar, tasks, etc.) that prompts you to focus on the nuggets to get you there.
  • Have mentors agree to hold you accountable throughout the year and provide them with a list of your goals. Remember it is on you to schedule the recurring meetings with your mentors, and it is on them to hold you accountable
  • Have family/spouse hold you accountable – give them a list too

If you have never done it – the best place to start is to just write your goals down, and make a monthly calendar item to review your goals.   Just the act of writing them down and reflecting on them will make you a better person, and the process will get better and better with time.  This morning I looked back at my goals from 2005, 2006, etc., and they were a bit humorous in regards to what my goals look like today vs. then.   My biggest takeaway was that I failed quite a bit, but the failure came from trying, and each failure was a pivot to a new goal that was actually the right path.

Many of you know how serious I am about this and many of my friends poke fun at me (my best buddy at my rehearsal dinner made a joke that I did not propose to Kristen until I had reviewed her business plan).  However, if my sharing this helps just one person – I have done my duty in sharing something that truly works and that can better one’s life tremendously.   I will leave you with one fact.    I did not come up with this tradition of goal setting on my own.   When I was 22, my mentor, friend, and the chairman of our board, Lawton Langford is the one that questioned me about if I have written goals.  He asked “do you write your goals down”.   I said “I have goals, but I do not really write them down”.   He replied – “start writing them down – it will make all the difference in the world”.

I listened and he was right, and therefore I felt compelled to share.

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Leaders must be trusted; you cannot be a “Man of your word” if expectations are not clearly defined at the start.

When people do not fully understand the plan, goals, and the path to get somewhere, the result is failure.   However, they do not see it as their failure if their leader failed to clearly set expectations, validate goals, and inspect to verify understanding and progress.  Without clarity the failure will always be placed on leadership.   The best leaders lead in a way that puts people at ease.  They are thorough, supporting, and tough but fair, which is the environment where people understand their surroundings, and are at ease knowing that if they do x it will lead to y.

If we have the right people in the right roles, yet they are failing, it is either due to lack of leadership/setting expectations, or the person’s inability to execute.   Never failure be due to a lack of leadership.

“Be optimistic enough to invest and plan for growth, but paranoid enough to inspect, validate, and execute”

I heard someone say that the best leaders have a constant mild case of paranoia.   To me this means the following for those organizations that have leadership teams who fit the description:

  • They look for every opportunity to grow, but only pursue the opportunities that will benefit their customers, team members, and all other stakeholders
  • They put systems in place to ensure they are providing exponential customer service
  • They set quantifiable goals, and then consistently inspect performance
  • They hold everyone in their organization accountable for setting goals, achieving goals, and for delivering exponential service to all customers (external and internal)
  • They invite feedback and have good self-awareness regarding internal improvements needed
  • They are the best in their industry, yet remain humble.  They don’t forget to celebrate, but never celebrate too long.
  • They consistently investigate the competition and position themselves to win
  • They always do something about their gut feelings

Being too optimistic or paranoid will lead to bad results.   Leaders really need a good dose of optimism, and then in order to plan (ask all the right questions to formulate a sound and actionable plan) and execute (working with the best people, and inspecting what we expect), they have to be comfortable living with a mild case of paranoia.

Our biggest misses come from “Snap Shooting”

It is important that when the unexpected happens, for us to avoid “Snapshooting”.  Snapshooting (not a word) is a term used by a good friend who taught me how to shoot moving targets with a shotgun many years ago.  Every time I would miss he would tell me to stop Snapshooting!  He was referring to me making a quick shot and not following the process he had taught.   Every time he would correct me, I would successfully make the next shot.  If you look at most failures in business and in our personal lives, they come from making snap decisions.

Remember that “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”. This is not an original quote.  I have had a hard time finding the source, however is seems to be a derivative of original quotes from Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill.  Nonetheless, it is extremely powerful and hit home for me on so many levels.  At this time of year, our organization starts planning for the coming year which involves goal setting and the creation of operational plans, which together make up our overall strategy.   It requires leadership, discipline, and the right framework and participation from every level.   Equally important is to not forget the process when mid-term issues/opportunities present themselves;  just because we did not plan for them at the beginning of the year does not mean that coming up with the right solution should not follow a similar process.

If you are leading your organization or a part of it, never except ideas/requests for significant changes unless they are accompanied by a well thought out and vetted plan.  Also be approachable and willing to contribute to the plan, but help the other leaders in your organization grow by empowering/requiring them to be the ones who draft the plan (think through the idea, the risk, the expected results).   The outcomes will be much better and the risk of “missing the shot” will be greatly reduced.