To Maximize Execution, Manage Workflow

My first challenge for 2023 is guiding a fast-growth scaleup to plan and manage an ambitious two-year, $4M+ tech development project. We are on the right track in segmenting our approach as 90-day sprints. Then this article appeared on my LI timeline and provoked me to think deeper:

1. The plan should not detail the tasks but instead the workflow. Workflow focuses on the repeatable activities to complete a task, not the task itself. Each workflow has an input, a transformation, and an output. By managing workflows, you create a rhythm easier to control than a schedule.

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Does it Scale?

I’m looking through financial projections provided by a startup. Year 1 revenue is projected at $300K, while Year 4 is $30M – a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 360%.

The leadership team is mature. The product is tested, being a SaaS platform used internally at a university, now transformed into a commercial product. There is demonstrated interest from the target customers.

However, the story told by the projections raises a lot of questions:

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Resolutions – the futile hope of willpower over reality

Resolutions are the futile hope of the triumph of willpower over reality. If you want to change things, you need to instead use a Project framework based on the power of action.

I’ll say it directly: if you’ve made resolutions in this New Year’s season, stop it. You’re setting yourself up for failure right from the start. Google tells me that studies show that over 88% of Americans fail to follow through with their resolutions. I think this number is rather optimistic…

Why don’t resolutions work? Because the act of making a resolution requires resolve – betting that willpower will triumph over reality. Unfortunately, our brains are not wired up to make it happen that way.

If you want to change things, you need to stop drawing on your finite reserve of willpower and instead create a framework based on the power of action.

In my initial career as an aerospace engineer, one of the first things I learned is that everything is a project. Any time we received a request to fix or change something, that request was assigned to a project that was actioned, tracked and managed until the desired result was achieved.

So if you want to really make changes in your results, whether professional or personal, it pays to think in terms of projects with measurable deliverables. By executing your project, you fall naturally into action mode.

A project is an organized system with a mission, a deliverable, and the resources (time, people, actions) to carry it out.

The key elements of a project are:

WHY – Mission: A concise description of the problem or opportunity you want to address, and the motivation or need that justifies the change. The mission statement should address the importance and urgency of taking action now.

WHAT – Deliverable: The tangible, measurable and demonstratable result to be achieved. The deliverable should be a change that is evident to the outside observer.

HOW – Strategy and Resources: The actions needed to acheive the deliverable, and what you need to execute your project (time, team, tools, money)

WHO – Accountability and Communications: Who is responsible for what, and reports to whom?

WHEN – Timeline: The delivery date and the milestones that demonstrate progress, plotted on a calendar (or GANTT chart)

For example, if your resolution is to “lose some weight”, the questions to ask yourself are:

– Why? What is your motivation? Why is this important to you? Why now? This becomes into your “Mission”

– What? How much do you want to lose? By when? What is a tangible measure that you have reached your objective, something that you do? This leads to your Deliverable

– How? What actions do you need to take? What resources are needed to make it happen? What is the strategy you can take to achieve this result (the elements of your Strategy and Resources)

– When? What is the timeline, the end goal and intermediate milestones

– Who? Who is your team (accountability and communications)

I organize my projects, whether they are personal or professional. Each project gets a number, and all communications, plans, logs, and every other record goes directly into the project folder in my Dropbox, with corresponding actions planned and logged in Omnifocus. In 2014 I had over 160 projects defined and tracked. Some were carried through to deliverables, some others were closed or suspended, but each gave me a point of focus to create change.

So as you plan a New Year, try the project strategy. Take a “resolution” that is important to you, and build a project around it, with a mission, a deliverable, resources, timeline, and an accountability structure. Experience how adopting a project mindset can produce results with less stress and more productivity than simply wishing for the triumph of willpower over reality.

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Photo credit: Bekah (beXoutloud) via Flickr
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Updated from the original published on LinkedIn (26 Dec 2014):