Recently we came across a very interesting book:
The one thing that is powerful about this book is that it validates what we’ve been teaching for years on how to transform any organization from Traditional / Waterfall (i.e. Command-and-control) thinking to becoming truly Agile (see our previous blog posts for more on that).
What we want to revisit in this blog post is the exponential impact of a properly Defined and accurately communicated Vision.
Many Executives that attend our Flow training remark that Cascading Vision is one of the most powerful features of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework (V = Vision and VSPT = Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks):
The 4D Model and VSPT need to be Cascaded throughout the organization
Most organizations assume that they are successfully Cascading their Vision from top to bottom. Research across the board shows that this is a fallacy and that the upper level Vision is rarely clear at the task level. And, even fewer organizations are able to link-back the Vision (via intentional actions) from the team level back up through the organization to accomplish the Vision.
In the following examples, the Organization is six levels deep (to reach the team member level) and the percentages are the percent remaining after dilution.
The grim reality is that even if you lose only 10% of the clarity at each organizational level (as the Vision cascades through it), by the time you get to the individual team member you have already potentially lost almost half (47%) of the original Vision:
Dilution Example 1
At the Program level in Example 1 above, 27% of the original Vision is at risk of having been Diluted. This is probably one of the better arguments for flattening an organization, since the fewer levels you have, the less Dilution of the Vision can occur.
At an 80% level of clarity (a 20% loss in clarity per level; an 80/20 Pareto), by the time you get to the individual level you may have lost up to three-fourths (74%) of the original Vision:
Dilution Example 2
At the Program level in Example 2 above, around half (49%) of the original Vision is at risk of having been Diluted.
At a 50% level of clarity, you have gridlock; and, perhaps only a 2% chance that the original Vision makes it through to the Individual team member:
Dilution Example 3
At the Program level, in this Example 3, almost all of the original Vision (87%) is at risk of having been lost.
These examples of Dilution are stunning.
It is also what we find, routinely, to be the case in most organizations when we begin to work with them. It is also no surprise that many executives end up frustrated with such dismal results for their Program, Project and Team-level results. But, we believe the graphs above explain why up to:
86% of all Traditional/Waterfall projects “fail” (14% success rate)
70% of all Change programs “fail” (30% success rate)
58 % of all Agile / Scrum projects “fail” (42% success rate)
The ability of an organization to effectively and accurately communicate its Vision to all levels is not a “nice-to-have.” It is a matter of life or death.
For many years now we have advocated the use of what we call the “Cutting Room Floor” / Forced Prioritization exercise (i.e. prioritizing the work at the Board, Cxx, Executive and Director levels).
This involves taking the entire backlog of work (i.e. Programs / Projects) that needs to be done and going through a few rounds of editing (i.e. cutting). If you start with 25 items in your Executive backlog, then the first round of cutting should eliminate 80% of the items. That is only 20% make it through the first round of cutting. So, you go from 25 backlog items down to 5 items.
The second round of cutting follows the same idea that 80% of the surviving 5 items are eliminated and your are left with one item in your backlog. This is your “one thing.” This is the item on which you focus the organization:
25 –> 5 –> 1 Example
With 25 items, to focus on all 25 would require that you split your attention between them, resulting in less that 4% of your attention on each one. Already cutting it to five items increases your productivity 5-fold and you could devote 20% of your attention to each one. Bringing it down to one gives you a chance to give your full attention to your “one thing.”
Easy to do? No.
In this updated version of Cascading Vision, we have Distilled Vision and VSPT (Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks) down to the idea of “one.”
The “dominos” in this picture are adapted from the images for Gary Keller’s book
In the example above, we depict a series of dominoes on the left side, where each successive domino grows in size by 50%. If you start with a 2 inch domino, the second domino would be 3 inches tall. The third domino would be 4.5 inches tall, and so on. Gary Keller captures this geometric progression in his book, and we have just the first part of the curve from that image here:
The original picture can be seen in the images for Gary Keller’s book
At the 19th domino, the size of the domino is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At 25 dominos, it’s as tall as the Eiffel Tower. At 31 it’s taller than Mount Everest. And, at 57 you’ve almost made it to the moon!
Keller’s metaphor demonstrates the powerful impact of small, intentional actions that are continuously focused on the right Vision, the clear “one” thing.
However, one of the biggest blockers for the Vision (“one thing”) to freely flow, domino-to-domino throughout the organization, is language. The language spoken at the Executive, Senior Management (i.e. Portfolio level) and Program Levels seldom has anything to do with the language spoken by the Project, Team or Individual levels: