In today’s rapidly changing business world, an agile business is a successful business. But how do you know when the best thing for the project is to change the plan, and how can you execute and communicate changes without destroying team motivation and momentum? The following three strategies may prove helpful.
Agility Strategy #1: Create and Challenge Assumptions
Any major strategic initiative should involve the upfront establishment of goals, milestones, and success metrics. But, as Tim Berry pointed out in his article for the Small Business Administration website, assumptions should also be considered in your initial planning. “Tracking your results, you want to be able to compare them to what you had planned or expected to see,” he said.
“Get your team members together once a month to review your plan and its results. “Take a hard look at your underlying assumptions and assess whether or not they’ve changed. If they have, there’s no virtue whatsoever in sticking to the plan you built on top of them.”
Berry suggests you look at the difference between what you planned and what actually happened. Some results will be better than planned, and some will be worse. “For each key difference you discover, and all of them combined, use your best judgment to determine whether the differences were caused by false expectations or unexpected good or bad execution.”
“Also, consider external and internal factors that may have influenced the results. Maybe your expectations were too conservative, or too optimistic. In that case, you revise your plan,” he said.
Common sense, remarked Berry, is critical. Although the project may be close to your heart, you want to remain pragmatic: for example, asking yourself if you were wrong about the whole thing, or just about the timing? You also want to consider if something else has occurred in the market to change your assumptions.
Agility Strategy #2: Let Go of Attachment
There are times in every project’s lifecycle when things just don’t feel right. You’ve done everything you can to ensure good results, but nothing is happening. Every task feels insurmountable and you start to lose faith.
According to Lisa Marie Jenkins at the Huffington Post, in this situation, one effective approach is to let go of your desire to make it happen. “When we become attached to having something in order to be okay or at peace, then we actually create an energetic block that keeps it at bay. Attachment is a block to creating what you desire. It’s the universal law of attraction,” she said.
Letting go of attachment means that you stop obsessing over your results and simply watch to see what unfolds. When you back off and allow some space, said Jenkins, one of two things will happen. “Either the opportunity will magically start flowing again, or something else will transpire to show you a new direction.” You may even realize, at some point, that getting the exact outcome you thought you wanted wouldn’t have been for the best.
So if a project isn’t proceeding the way you hoped, try loosening your reins. You can still do your job in managing it, but you can stop reacting emotionally and trust that the universe will eventually provide the right answers.
Agility Strategy #3: Time and Execute Your Communication Properly
Changing course can be difficult not only for company leaders but also for the employees who have dedicated themselves to the original vision. “It can be very emotional for the team members involved,” said Raj De Datta, who is working on BloomReach, his third startup, and spent four years at Cisco. As he told Mike Cassidy, one thing he learned from Cisco CEO John Chambers was to clearly articulate the big picture, the overriding mission, and then at every opportunity explain how the new direction serves that mission.
Timing and executing your pivot properly can reinforce the veracity of a risky decision. Even if you’re still not sure you are doing the right thing, getting people behind you can make you feel better during this period of uncertainty.
First, although there are times when a pivot itself must be rushed, try not to rush your communication about it. Don’t spring upsetting news on your people when your group is under tremendous stress. Be thoughtful in outlining why the pivot is a good development and carefully compile data that shows how and why everyone (including individual team members) will be better off. This will likely involve the production of supplementary materials like snazzy slide decks, infographics, and revamped, easy-to-digest, project plans.
If you are the decision-maker, make sure that all of your team members, even those who report to other managers, hear about any intended pivot directly from you. You can, however, enlist the help of popular employees who vocally support your direction and can work on your behalf to energize the rest of the team.
Remember that pervasive change takes time. Don’t expect your entire organization to be as nimble as you are. After a few months, enthusiasm may wane and people will try to revert to the original strategy. Putting increased pressure on employees to move faster and more independently is likely to backfire. Instead, be constantly available to shepherd the pivot through its first year. Make sure to sustain your communication efforts and reward those who are adjusting well to the new direction.
Last, while you certainly don’t want to be wishy-washy or the kind of leader who changes strategy all the time, you should remain open to tweaking your pivot. Listen to feedback from team members who are on the ground, in the market, seeing the effects of the change firsthand. And most of all, be willing to re-adjust and re-evaluate!