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“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” ~ Steve Jobs

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision.” ~ Helen Keller

Yes, and if you are not led, pushed and pulled by Vision, then you will be driven a thousand different directions (all at once), by circumstances.  Which, frankly, is pathetic. If your circumstances are driving you, don’t give up.  There is hope and help is on the way.

Hopefully your efforts to turn things around or implement a successful cultural change will be part of the 30% of change programs that succeed. Being able to do a successful organizational change is a rare commodity in the business world.  There are entire groups and teams that are solely dedicated to guiding organizations through the turbulence change naturally creates.

If you are involved in working with people, processes, projects, programs, products, services or results, then you are automatically working with change.  Since roughly 70% of all change efforts fail, this helps account for the dismal success rate of less than 50% success for all project management methodologies and scaled frameworks, regardless of whether they use Traditional (Waterfall), Lean (Kanban) or Agile (Scrum, etc.).

We have communicated the importance of using “Vision” as the Driver to lead change management and/or project or corporate turnarounds for over two decades.

There is an old proverb that says, “where there is no vision, the people die” and another version of the same one that states, “where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.” That conveys the same idea of letting all of the horses out of the barn and watch them run off every which direction and disappear over the horizon.

We have Distilled this idea into a simple Flow Framework for Success:

Vision + Right People (RP) + Definitions (D1) + Distilled Agreement (D2) + Deliver (D3) + Drive (D4) = Successful Organization

To be successful your organization needs to have Vision Flow:

Vision Flow

Steve Jobs also said,

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Steve Jobs (Apple) in Wired, 19.12.2012, pg 233

Yes, and simple is not easy.

We always begin with clarifying and simplifying the Vision.

– What is the vision for the team?
– What is the value-add that we are going to deliver?
– Why are we doing this?
– How does that team vision link to the vision of the product, service or result that we are trying to achieve?
– How does the team’s vision link to the program(s), process(es) and portfolio(s) to which it belongs?

In our experience, most vision statements are not clear, easy to remember, are too long and not actionable.  Although most enterprises and organizations are able, to some extent, to cascade their vision from the top-down as shown on the right side of the following picture:

Cascading Vision B and W with VSPT

However, the reality is that the farther you are from the C-suite, the less clear the vision usually is.  For that reason, very few organizations are able to create an effective feedback loop from the bottom-up.  If the vision is not simple and clear, the teams will not be able to respond in delivering the vision.  If the vision is not being delivered by the teams and individuals, then communicating back via the feedback loops doesn’t happen.

Having a successful feedback loop provides useful information and trends with which the executive leadership can make valuable, sustainable and beneficial decisions for the companies that they are leading.  VSPT (Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks), as show in the graphic above, should occur at every level in the organization and needs to be defined by the leaders, teams and individuals at each level.

The red line in-between the VS and PT is what we use to communicate the usual disconnect that we have found in every company with which we’ve worked.  Peter Drucker summed it up this way:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations:

1.friction,

2.confusion, and

3.underperformance.

Everything else requires leadership.”   Peter Drucker

The following is an example that demonstrates the power of Vision at the team level.

Take a moment to think about what you would do (using your knowledge, skill set and experience) to rescue the following project that was totally up in flames – and, you have only 90 days to successfully implement the change and turn the project around:

– 2 years into a 3 year project
– An infrastructure build-out, including Operational Support Systems (like CRM, BACC, etc), plus a marketing team that was supporting a national brand launch
– 440 Stakeholders
– 38 Steering Committee members
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – time) 3 + 2 yrs
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – budget) +300%
– Weekly, 4-hour status update meetings that were shouting matches and politics
– A demoralized team working 60 – 80 hours per week
– Team leader was a PhD in Org Behavior and there from the start (and, was using the PMBOK, cover-to-cover, to try to deliver the project)
– 40 reports issued bi-weekly, including status updates
– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks

Some of the responses we’ve heard when using this exercise in training situations have included:

– Fire everyone and start over
– Look for quick wins and use the success to gain momentum for the team
– Go back and get executive buy-in for the changes needed
– Run away, you can’t fix this
– This sounds like the project I’ve been doing for the last 6 months
– Time to update my resumé
– “www.monster.com”
– etc.

This is a perfect example of where all of the elements listed in the Flow Framework image above were broken, fractured or absent and where the organization was getting the wrong results.  A breakdown of the “as is” situation for the project listed above using the Flow Framework is as follows:

Unclear Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + D3 + D4 = Anarchy

– An infrastructure build-out, including Operational Support Systems (like CRM, BACC, etc), plus a marketing team that was supporting a national brand launch

Vision + Wrong People + D1 + D2 + D3 + D4 = Anxiety

– A demoralized team working 60 – 80 hours per week
– Team leader was a PhD in Org Behavior and there from the start (and, was using the PMBOK, cover-to-cover, to try to deliver the project)

Vision + RP + Wrong Definitions + D2 + D3 + D4 = Confusion

– 440 Stakeholders
– 38 Steering Committee members

Vision + RP + D1 + Assumed Distilled Agreement + D3 + D4 = Politics

– Weekly, 4-hour status update meetings that were shouting matches and politics

Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + Delivery Executed Poorly + D4 = Chaos

– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks
– 40 reports issued bi-weekly, including status updates

Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + D3 + No Way to Drive Success = Division

– ETC (Estimate To Completion – time) 3 + 2 yrs
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – budget) +300%

What were we dealing with when we walked in the door?  Anarchy, anxiety, confusion, politics, chaos and division.  It might have been wise at that point to take the advice that one of our students shared above and “run away!”

We didn’t.  Our faith rests in a powerful framework that has succeeded hundreds of times before in turning bad situations around and that gave us the confidence that this one could be saved, too.

So, instead of turning tail and running, we started with the Project’s Vision.

You will want to work from the level you are at.  Vision is always the key Driver for what you are trying to achieve for your product, service or result (increase revenues, decrease costs and/or get rid of or mitigate risk).  If there is no project vision, your job as a leader is to Define and Distill Agreement on what the Vision is, with the appropriate stakeholders.

Sometimes it’s possible to get senior executive support, sometimes it’s not.  In this case it was vital to the eventual success of the project, but we didn’t start out with the full support of the Senior VP in charge.

However, even if we had never obtained his full support, we still would have started with the project’s vision because that’s how you bring a team’s focus on doing the right actions which leads to high performance, regardless of executive buy-in.

The project’s “wrong results” were a pretty good indication that the Project’s Vision was fractured.  And, upon closer inspection this project was a poster-child of everything that could possibly go wrong.

Before heading to Singapore, Andrew made sure that he had the buy-in from the executive leadership at Ericsson and Deloitte, including that the project could even be cancelled, if necessary.  Part of the Stakeholder management in this case was to also get buy-in from the Senior VP at SingTel, the sponsor for the project, to make the following change:

– The total number of project stakeholders was reduced from 440 to 38.  If you use the communications formula of n * (n-1) / 2 for 440 stakeholders, that resulted in a total of 96,580 potential communication channels (i.e. 440 * (439) / 2 = 96,580).

– By reducing the stakeholders to 38, that reduced the potential channels down to 703.  A 91% reduction in the number of stakeholders resulted in a 99% reduction in the potential number of communication channels.

– With 96,580 original channels, it is no surprise that the noise and politics had completely crippled the productivity of the project team.

The Senior VP was reluctant, at first, to give Andrew the free hand needed to deal with the other stakeholders.  Eliminating over 400 stakeholders from the project created quite a stir and the noise level went up dramatically in the short-run.

And, if Andrew had been able to do the Vision exercise (that we now usually do with the organizations with which we work) where everyone (all 440 stakeholders) is given a blank post-it note and asked to write the “vision” for the project, word-for-word, he knows from experience that he would have gotten over 500 versions of the project’s “vision” back from the participants to put up on the wall – and, we know for certain that the majority of the post-it notes would not have matched each other.  There would not have been a Unified Vision.

The word “division” in English literally means “two visions.”  Most often, when you have two visions, they don’t necessarily line up with each other.  Imagine having over 500 “visions” that were out of alignment with each other.  This gives a whole new meaning to “division.”

Andrew worked with the team to align their Project Vision into a short, easy-to-communicate vision statement along the lines of “enabling the successful launch of Brand X.”

With the team’s vision in place for the project, Andrew then started issuing a newsletter to update the original 440 stakeholders to keep them in the loop, status-wise, on the progress of the project team towards the Vision.  This mitigated the noise levels from the 400+ external stakeholders significantly.

Andrew used Vision to kill off the anarchy.

 

Getting the Right People on the team.

Did they have the right people on the project team?  Apparently not.  They were one or two people short.  Initially Andrew was added to the team to assess whether or not the project could even be saved.  He later added one or two additional team members, short-term to the team to support the project during the 90-day turnaround period.

After meeting with the original project team, Andrew decided that everyone on the team was competent to be able to deliver the project.  The team members themselves, however, weren’t as confident.  In fact, most of them weren’t worried that they would be removed from the project and they were probably hoping that was the case after two years of exhausting work.  They were actually afraid that they were going to be fired from their respective companies.  The team’s anxiety level was through the roof, and based on their performance to that point, they should have been worried.

Rebuilding the team included some of the following:

– Team forced to reduce their hours worked to only 45 hours per week, per team member
– Team leader stayed to the end – as did all team members

Quantity of time worked does NOT equal quality.  In fact, the quality goes down if the team has been working at an unsustainable pace for too long, which was the case with this team.  The team was in shock when they were told that they would no longer be allowed to work 60 to 80 hours per week.  Andrew capped their time at 45 hours per week.

They didn’t believe Andrew, at first.  But, he started turning out the lights and locking the project room’s door at 6 pm in the evening.  And, he also monitored if they were using any of the online tools in the evening to try to by-pass the new rule.  If he caught them in the system(s), he logged them out and gave them a call and had a chat.  Within a week or two, the team adapted to the new pace. They actually started to get more done by working less.  This demonstrated the wisdom of the old Japanese proverb: “slow down to go fast.”

The team was mostly correct in its structure.  But, one of the main things the team was lacking was a battled scarred veteran with enough experience and skill who could effectively manage the noise and politics by using a framework like Flow / the Unified Vision Framework (called the VSPT model at that time).

One of the core tools of Flow is the 4D Model (Define – D1, Distill – D2, Deliver – D3 and Drive – D4).

4D simplified

Having put the Vision in Place and identifying that we had the Right People on the team, the next steps were to use the 4D Model to turn the team around, get them focused and deliver the project.  This included training, coaching and mentoring the team:

– The UVF training and coaching lasted 90 days

Initially, not everyone on the team was on-board with the change.  The team leader even laughed when Andrew walked her through the Flow Framework.  She simply could not grasp how Vision could be used to turn the situation around.  While she was a PhD in Organizational Behavior, she simply did not have the hands-on experience and/ or battle scars to understand the power of Vision and simplification.

“Business schools reward complexity.  Simple is more effective”
~ Warren Buffett

But, after observing the results Andrew achieved during the first four weeks, she realized that she should not have been laughing, but rather listening and learning. Doing things “by the book,” simply doesn’t work when the flames are all around you.  “Theory” alone is not going to put out the fire.  She, her team and their respective organizations had learned this the hard way.

 

Putting the Right Definitions (D1) into the plan.

The 440 stakeholders had succeeded in creating a very high level of confusion by putting over 2,000 lines of work and tasks in the project plan.  That created a level of noise that a team of eight or nine people simply could not manage.

– 40 reports trimmed down to 2
– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines – Reduced to top 200 that could be delivered in next 90 days

With 440 Stakeholders and 38 Steering Committee members there was no way the team could manage the flow of definitions, requirements, specifications, etc, that was pouring in from 96,580 communication channels.  It’s no surprise that the team was confused. Along with eliminating over 400 stakeholders, Andrew also:

– Reduced the number of Steering Committee members by negotiating the total number down to 12, not 38.

– Using the communications formula shared in the Vision section above, that reduced the 703 potential communication channels down to only 66.

– So, once again, a reduction in the number of Steering Committee members by 69% resulted in a 91% reduction in the total number of potential communication channels for the team.

Reducing the number of communication channels is always a great place to start when the situation is confusing because aligning 440 stakeholders and 38 steering committee members is a virtually impossible task.

Worse, getting a mob that size to agree on the Definitions was also unmanageable and unwieldy.

 

Distilling Agreement (D2) between the warring tribes

When a “crowd” has taken over and is running the show, not only do you have an incredible level of politics, but the assumptions that everyone brings to the table leads to a continuous flood of problems.

The inability to understand and grasp how quickly politics can kill your project, product, service or result is one of the major causes of project failure in both Agile and Traditional situations.  The “purists” in the Agile movement have done themselves no favors by declaring that “management” is the source of all evil in the world (we have actually witnessed an Agile Coach stating that to both customers and a room full of management consultants and agile coaches on multiple occasions).

Politics were overwhelming this project.  But, by reducing the number of Steering Committee members from 38 to 12, the politics were removed.  Also, since items that did not align with the Vision were eliminated from the weekly agenda and updates, the following happened:

– The weekly 4-hour status update meetings were reduced to 1 hour in length

And, the Steering Committee and Project Team distilled agreement on the items that were included in the update and which items were excluded.  Simple, effective and the noise abated.

 

Delivering (D3) the Project began to Flow

Simplifying the project plan was not easy.  Simplifying, particularly in a situation that’s on fire, is seldom easy.  For example, it was not easy to gain agreement from all of the stakeholders that we would also do the following as part of Delivering the project:

– the MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks was Distilled down to 200 lines, and those were identified and agreed to as the most valuable items that could be delivered in the next 90 days
– The 40 reports that had been issued bi-weekly, including status updates, were cut down to four or five and then eventually down to two

Andrew maximized the amount of work not done (now item 10 of the 12 Agile Principles included in the Agile Manifesto).  Also, one of the key principles of lean is to find “Muda,” or waste, and eliminate it.

Tracking, managing, and updating a project plan with over 2000 lines was adding confusion (not clarity) and was burning up way too much time for the team.  The same was true for reporting.  Especially, since we discovered that almost none of the reports were being read.  This was a complete waste of everyone’s time to even produce the unnecessary reports.

Every business, project, etc, has pivot points.  The trick is to identify and then manage them without disturbing the the culture.  A seasoned Agile Leader should be able to quickly recognize the pivot points (patterns and anti-patterns) and act accordingly to deliver the corrective action(s) needed to turn the situation around.

 

Driving to success.

By eliminating the division that had taken root in the project, team, stakeholders and sponsors, we were able to quickly turn the situation from out-of-control to a high-performing, exceptional Delivery.  The results speak for themselves:

– Project completed 7 months early instead of 2 years late
– An actual savings of $4 million, instead of the potential increased costs of $48 million

Every group that we have used this example with has had the same reaction to the results.  Wow!  Can you come help us do the same thing?  The answer is yes.  However, you don’t need us to accomplish Flow.  Utilize the Flow Framework, the Power of Vision and Simplicity, and you will find that you achieve better results.  The formula really is simple:

Vision + Right People (RP) + Definitions (D1) + Distilled Agreement (D2) + Deliver (D3) + Drive (D4) = Successful Organization

We are acutely aware that simple is not easy.  So, obviously, we are always available to assist in any way that we can.

________________________

Andrew Kallman and Ted Kallman are the co-authors of the Unified Vision Framework and their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com (in as many as 3 categories:  Business, Consulting and Project Management) for 4 of the last 14 months:

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

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