Imagine you are the King of Sweden! Imagine you really got your act together and ruled supremely. Imagine you just expanded your realm quite significantly. You might have gathered foreign and national dignitaries to put on a show of power as you expect one of the biggest and most powerful warship of your time to sail out into the open sea, right in front of your balcony with you and your entourage watching elated to build up an appetite for even more success. And then - it is gone, but not over the horizon, to heroically plough the waves of the Baltic, but right to the bottom.
This ship is called the Vasa and it is a true story.
One can only imagine the embarrassed silence and the cry for the shipwright, who (if it wasn´t for him being dead already) would, at his arrival, have explained quite convincingly what the problem was - YOU! And therefore of course no punishment for anyone.
And indeed, you did not do anything wrong, or did you? Objectives never changed and you definitely did not tell this guy to build a submarine! So what happened?
In this case: all the do not´s. Objectives modified on the way, unclear chain of command, changes in management, but what really mattered was the lack of alignment regarding the „Why?“ you (The King) wanted the ship to sail on this very day. Or to put it in more modern perspective: We often forget what problem we wanted solved as we are putting pressure on our managers to deliver. So managers have a tendency neglect our true mission as a sponsor, to make sure people in charge understand the objective and the context of the challenge they are solving for you. If they don´t, the only chance they in fact have to do their job is to execute quite literally what you ordered. Thus limiting all creativity or effectiveness.
This issue might cause projects to fail even if all other factors are taken care of. Milestones might get delivered, but nothing is really achieved. That might be, because there is simply not enough alignment regarding what challenge needs conquering. So the problems behind the objectives are not solved. This „working on challenges instead of objectives“ enables organisations to deliver effectiveness and creativity. Let’s just say you try to build a new software and you got the right people on board. What might still hinder your success? Right, issues that get in your way. So if we assume the solution is already existing all we need to do is get those issues out of the way and success will come.
So next time you delegate your most cherished project to your team, make sure they don´t just execute your orders to the letter, but truly understand how the solution they are working on is going to solve your challenge. In short:
- Specify your objective as S.M.A.R.T as necessary
- Specify the challenges you face
- Get an appropriate solution specified by management
- Make sure all know how #3 will get you via #2 to #1
- Start project and make sure everybody is on the same page regarding challenges
So if need be they can adapt and still succeed. Or as the Vasa guys would have said: „Gee, you only want to show off! So we leave the cannons out and just sail as pompously as possible!“ (claiming artistic license for that one).
Saving your ship in the process!
by Robert J. Schiermeier