Success – Are we there yet?

April 17, 2014

Even Homer can usually say where he’s going. Without a destination it is impossible to measure progress along the way or proximity to the end of the journey.

I don’t take a lot of editorial ideas from the Simpsons, but Bart and Lisa’s perennial chorus of “Are we there yet?” did hit home recently when I saw some managers trying to create a marketing strategy. They muddled through discussions of offshoring, rebranding, subcontracting, repackaging and advertising that only had two things in common: First, the discussions were about all their various product lines. Second, no specific objectives were cited for any products or markets. Bart and Lisa’s query would have forced the response, “Are we where yet?” from my manager friends. I’m not looking for exciting results from their session.

Even Homer can usually say where he’s going. Without a destination it is impossible to measure progress along the way or proximity to the end of the journey. If no objective is stated for a project, or for a meeting or a day, it is impossible to say whether the project, meeting or day was a success.  This happens a lot, even though it’s not hard to prevent.

An early part of any project design should be the creation of two measures of success: First, there must be a list of tasks to be accomplished, along with a calendar and a budget. This task list is not the objective of the project, but it is the list of tangible things that must be done to accomplish the project objective, along with the time, cost and people that will be needed. The second definition of success is the actual deliverable from the project. It needs to be clear and quantitative. “We will double next year’s annual sales of a particular product line,” makes a nice objective. “We will cut the hours of unplanned maintenance work in half this year,” might be another. Note that “hours” is declared to be the measure. Number of work orders might also be used, if the situation calls for it. Times are also specific, providing a designated date for measurement of success.

Anyone creating a meeting should have a similar schedule, task list, and objective identified to answer the question, “How will I tell if the meeting has been a success?” The answer must include what we will do, how long it will take, and what benefits will be achieved. It is also true that each participant in a meeting should be aware of the overall definition of success, but he or she should also have a personal definition of success. This might be meeting someone, raising a point of personal significance or obtaining a concession in exchange for helping the overall meeting succeed. This may sound Machiavellian at first, but a win/win outcome is difficult to achieve unless a personal win has been defined. Everyone should get something from a meeting, even if it’s just information. Setting a personal objective on the way in is a step in the right direction.

Even a day will go best if it starts with objectives. A task list is a minimum, bearing in mind that “Catch up on 3 hours of lost sleep and paint my nails,” can be a task list, at least on Saturday. Personally, sharpening the lawnmower blade is a more likely task than nail painting, but you get my drift.

One of my grandsons favors a tee shirt saying “You are not the boss of me.” My Saturday list includes a discussion with him that begins, “How do you know when you are your own boss? Have you made a list of things you’ve told yourself to do?”

As the boss of yourself, how will you succeed today?

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column Strategic Maintenance.

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