May 5, 2015

From big idea to action in 5 days: A step-by-step guide - TechRepublic

I'm often called into companies to help organize and move them forward with an idea. Most of the time, the company has a sense of what it wants to do, but for some reason, it's stuck. There's a lot of activity, and a lot of meetings, but no real accomplishments. Does this sound familiar?
There are several reasons why this happens, but it all comes back to execution excellence, which is not intuitive or intentionally developed as a capability in most organizations. Even with great thinkers and doers, if you don't have a good frame for moving an idea into action, you'll probably spin. However, if you're focused and organized, the data science team can begin work on your next big idea in five days.

Day one: Resolve to make the idea a priority

The first day starts with you -- the leader. If your organization is spinning, my guess is that you're trying to do too many things at once. If your next big idea is really important, your first task is to decide that it takes priority over everything else; you must resolve this for yourself before engaging with the rest of the team.
Once you've resolved that this is where your organization will focus its attention, develop logical and emotional reasons why everyone should make the development of this product their priority. I had a leader tell me if they don't differentiate somehow, they're going to die -- that's compelling and emotional! This is the type of message that gets a team to move forward.

Day two: Start with the end in mind

On day two, in the spirit of the advice given to us by the late Dr. Stephen Covey, start with the end in mind. Define what success looks like with your leadership team. This might take an hour or all day, but it shouldn't take more than a day. The outcome of this exercise is more than a vision statement -- it's a vivid depiction of how the future will look. I recommend doing this in three cycles in this order: macro-environment, competitive environment, and internal environment.
In the first cycle, paint an outline of your future macro-environment, including political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal, and other factors that affect your company. Fill in this outline on the second cycle with your competitive environment, including: customer, suppliers, new entrants, and alternative offerings. Complete the vision on the third cycle with how your organization will look, including size, composition, and culture.

Day three: You've got the brains, now start storming

On day three, involve your data science team in a brainstorm with a goal to understand how the team will achieve the vision. Open the meeting with the logical and emotional reasons why this effort is more important than anything else they're working on and clearly articulate your vision. (You can see why the pre-work on days one and two are important.)
During your brainstorm, encourage free flow of thought, and capture ideas in an organic fashion (e.g., in a mind-mapping tool) rather than in a linear fashion. Most brainstorms like this will last a few hours, so make sure to incorporate breaks.
When I work with organizations, most of them started at this stage, and they're stuck because nobody defined a cutoff period. Your cutoff period is the end of the workday -- that is, after day three, there will be no more brainstorming.

Day four: Switch into organization mode

Bring the team back together on day four to organize everything. It's important to reinforce the sequence -- we're done with guidance, we're done with visioning, and we're done with brainstorming. Don't let the team regress at this point -- that's how everything goes circular. The team must mentally switch modes from brainstorm to organize.
Organizing is about grouping and removing duplicates. This can be time-consuming for some, though it's easy for data scientists because they are naturally adept at separating ideas into affinity groups. You should reduce the ideas in your brainstorm into tangible deliverables; these deliverables will be the basis for your action plan.

Day five: Build an action plan

Bring everybody back together on day five to build an action plan. Set the expectation that by the end of the day, work will begin.
Divide the day into two parts. The first part of the day is spent identifying the top priority deliverables from the action plan and when they will be done. The second half of the day is a working session to get started on the top priority deliverable.
While the data scientists are moving forward, the analytic manager completes the action plan and the change leader starts on the stakeholder map. If you want to move forward within five days, schedule it into the agenda for day five.

Summary

I've given you a simple, five-day agenda for moving forward with a big idea. It starts with a resolution you make with the person in the mirror, so take that first step.
Remember that if everything's a priority, nothing's a priority. Make this the priority, and in five days you'll be well on your way to the next level.

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