If you’re a fan of popular reality TV series, you have probably seen one or two where competitors traverse the globe following a trail of clues. Have you noticed how often they dash to their cars and speed down the road without knowing where they are going or how to get there and how often that leads to arguments and resistance to asking for directions?
As armchair globe trotters, we might find it entertaining to watch these events unfold. But are we guilty of doing something very similar at the office?
Know where you are going
A supervisor visits our desk with news of a high-profile project that has what feels like a soul-crushing deadline. Adrenaline kicks in and we are off to the races! But do we know where we are going and how to get there efficiently? Imagine if we said to our favorite smart device “Hey, what’s the fastest route to…um…hang on!”
The fastest way to reach the objective might actually be to slow down. You might have seen the “slow down to speed up” quote in various forms in your Internet travels. Contexts and applications for the concept vary, but here are a few suggestions for implementing this paradox at the office.
What are the project’s goals? Do we understand what is being requested and the project’s desired impact? If not, it is time to ask for clarification. It can feel intimidating to ask questions in urgent situations. “We don’t have time to ask questions!” But do we have time to waste on tasks that aren’t related to the project’s goals?
It is important to remember that our supervisor also might not have all of the goal information that we need, depending on where the project originated in the organization’s chain of command. Perhaps our supervisor can direct us to someone who more clearly understands the project’s desired outcome. Or perhaps our supervisor can brainstorm with us to flesh out assumptions in the project’s goals.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of clearly understanding what is being requested of us. If we deliver a project that misses the expected goals, is it as bad as just ignoring the assignment in the first place? After all, the net result is the same.
Once we clearly understand our project’s goals, how can we achieve them? Our favorite AI can’t tell us how to get from “here” to “there” in this context. In the name of urgency, it can be tempting to grab the first sequence of steps that comes to mind. Taking a few minutes to brainstorm on how to achieve the project’s goals is important, though, because it can help us understand what options are available and spot any assumptions that we might be making.
I am not talking about “analysis paralysis” here—becoming so fixated on isolating details that no progress is made. Brainstorming means jotting down ideas quickly as they come to mind without passing judgment on them. It can be a lot easier to build an efficient plan when we can see a number of options laid out in front of us.
“Iterate” is a fun word from my techie lingo toolbox, but the concept is to pursue a cycle of refinement until the project’s goals are achieved. Write a document draft, sketch a storyboard, and create a prototype—the specifics depend on the project and our line of work. Then check back in with the project originator to get feedback and confirm that the state of the project is in line with their expectations.
Did we understand the project’s goals but then get distracted by a tangent? Has the originator now discovered that assumptions were made in the goals and that the goals now need to be adjusted? It happens! A critically important note here: no procrastination! Iteration is useless if we don’t circle back to the project originator in time to incorporate feedback into our project effort. Feedback for the sake of refinement, not for the sake of process or paperwork, is the goal.
Plan your route
It sounds strange, but we are more likely to win the race by hitting the brakes than by squealing tires off the starting line. Slow down to speed up. Adrenaline is not our friend when we are handed a project with an “impossible” deadline. Let’s take a little time to make sure that we understand expectations.
What are we being asked to do? Where are we going? Then pull out the “map”—brainstorm options for reaching the project’s goals. The best approach may not be the first one that comes to mind. And then we need to check back in with the project’s originator as we progress in the project, echoing the project’s current state and listening for feedback so we can adjust the project before delivery.