Permission to Focus

Goals – a means to focus and filter

In a recent post, Michael Hyatt gives some reasons of why he believes goals work.

One of the reasons he gives is this:

Because it will provide a filter for other opportunities.

The more successful you become, the more you will be deluged with opportunities. In fact, these new opportunities can quickly become distractions that pull you off course. The only antidote I know of is to maintain a list of written goals by which to evaluate these new opportunities.

He is writing about personal success.

However, when I read the heading, my mind immediately jumped to the concept of organisational improvement and change.  One of the biggest challenges with organisational improvement is the scale of opportunity for improving things.

When I look at my own life, I can very quickly rattle of ten or twenty things that I would like to improve about myself, my habits, my abilities, my relationships.  In fact just thinking about the AREAS of potential improvement in my life is a whole list, and within each of those areas, I can make a sub-list of specifics.

Clear goals, as Hyatt points out, allows me to focus not on all of these opportunities for change, but on the item that I’ve deliberately decided to change – and consequently set goals for.

That’s just me.  One person.

The challenge of scaling goals to Team and organisational level

Enter the team.  Suddenly there are five or ten of us working together.  Some of the items I need to improve impacts on the way we work as a team, but furthermore, just within the way we work together as a team there are a whole lot of areas in which we can improve.  Collaboration, prioritisation, communication, team culture, leadership – again there is a whole list of things we can improve.

Scale this up to the organisation, and now you have five, ten, a hundred, or a thousand teams.  The opportunities for improvements become limitless—and that can be overwhelming.  Not only are there many opportunities for improvement, but we also know that we are operating in a market where continuous improvement is no longer a competitive advantage, but a foundational requirement for success.

The opportunity – no, the apparent imperative – to NOT focus, becomes huge.

S&T Trees – Eli  Goldratt’s most important invention

This is where the Strategy and Tactic trees, and the process by which you build them for your company, become extremely powerful.  David Updegrove mentions in his book, “The Critical Chain implementation handbook,” that Eli Goldratt once said that the Strategy and Tactic Trees was the most important thing he ever invented.

Now the S&T trees do many things, and I cannot cover them all in one article, but one thing they do exceptionally well, is to give you permission to focus on an individual, team and organisational level.

Focus means that it makes clear what we should be working on, and then, as Michael Hyatt points out above – it also makes clear to us what we should NOT be working on.  At a corporate level the S&T trees provide this filter to stop us from trying to improve everything that can be improved, and focus on what must be improved now.

The break-line in many strategic plans

Many organisations lack a clear coherent strategy, which shows how the organisation will systematically work through the improvements, at a level of detail that everyone can connect to, in the most logical and effective sequence.  Most strategic plans break down somewhere between the “big picture” and the “what should we be improving today?” prioritisation of work.  This break typically also correlates with a certain level in the organisation.  Very often it occurs between senior and middle management.

The consequence is that below that break-line, the strategy can, and most often is, translated into a myriad of improvement activities based on the way different parts of the business understand the strategy, and the way they understand their contribution to the strategy.  This would not be, in principle a problem, as long as there was some kind of mechanism to bring harmony and alignment to all these approaches.  Often there is not – resulting in divisions and departments working towards the same goal by executing in ways that are in conflict with each other, or in ways that interfere with each other, rather than to help and support each other in a coherent way.

The S&T Creation process creates focus and understanding

When you create an S&T tree for your organisation, the process helps you to identify the areas in your business that are currently preventing you from achieving higher throughput – which in turn helps you identify where, and in wat sequence to focus your improvement efforts.  Typically, however, this would still leave you at a relatively high level.

From these, in the process of creating your S&T trees, you systematically work through the assumptions behind why you believe certain strategies would achieve your goals – and in that process you begin to identify the gaps and the holes of what is still missing, as well as clarify the most effective sequence in which you should implement your tactics.  You keep breaking the tree into more and more levels of detail until it is clear to you what must be done to achieve each level of your strategy.  At every level, you ask yourself whether this is really sufficient for achieving the next level, or whether something else must be done, and whether that something should be done before, or after where you are at, in the tree.

At each level, you involve the right level of the organisation in the process – thus creating coherence and alignment.  The process does not only create focus, but also understanding of why we are focusing where we are focusing, and why we are focusing on the specific item at the specific time that it comes into play.  It continually answers the questions:

  1. What do we want to do? (And what do we not want to do?)
  2. Why do we want to do that? (And not something else? Why do we  believe it’s going to work?)
  3. How are we going to do that? (And how are we not going to do it?)
  4. Why do we want to do that at the point in time where we want to do it – and in the sequence that we want to do it? (And why not not earlier, or later, or in another sequence?)

The S&T Trees connect ever step and level of the strategy coherently and logically

Throughout this process you systematically build the S&T tree – a tree structure that clearly states your ultimate goal, with all the supporting strategies and tactics defined at every level, down to a level where the actions that need to be taken are clear.  All the levels, and every step of the actions, are connected with clear statements that explain why you believe each level will achieve the level above it, and why you are doing the steps in the sequence that you propose.

This means that now, instead of trying to do many changes at once, you can begin on the one side of the tree and systematically work your way through, one step at a time.  Because all the steps are clearly connected, and all the assumptions behind the sequence of events are clear, and because the building process involves all the key stakeholders at every level, it is clear to everyone why we are doing what we are doing in the sequence that we are doing it.

This becomes the building blocks of an executable project

These steps then become the basic building blocks for a critical chain project network that will take you from where you are today, to the overall goal that you are setting out to achieve.  The critical chain approach will enable you to put these into a portfolio that enables you to plan, and then execute at maximum velocity to your goal.

In summary:  Focus at every level

This gives you the foundation to create the right level of focus at every level of the organisation, and to ensure that everyone is not multitasking, but focused on getting your organisation where you need to be, faster than the competition.

There are many other good things that the S&T trees do – but definitely one of the most significant is the ability it gives the organisation to focus on systematic execution of its strategy, in a way that makes clear to every level in the organisation what they have to do to contribute to this plan.

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