Wednesday, November 21, 2007

K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple...Soldier)

Is it just me...or does it seem that we make things way too complicated? We communicate through powerpoint - slide after slide of data and details. We become overwhelmed with history and excuses and schedule modifications...and miss the mark on mission accomplishment. We make things so complex that we talk past each other. We get so bogged down in the how we will accomplish our mission that we blur the what...and, perhaps more importantly, the why?

Yesterday my team briefed me on a very complicated project that we have been working for probably 8 years. They had a dozen boxes of data, multiple spread sheets, metrics and milestones, maps, computers, briefings, etc. We have been getting beat up by our higher headquarters for milestones that neither they nor us understood, and for which the customer could care less. Years of history, lessons learned, and project / schedule modifications. There was no shortage of information, the sum of which was probably understood by the project delivery team (all way smarter than me on the details), but which may have been "muddying the waters" on what we were really asked to do.

So we simplified: What was the mission and why was this important? Where are we now, what is our deadline, are we on track to meet it and, if not, what are our priority tasks to do so? Are we on budget and, if not, what are our options? Does the customer agree with where we are and where we are going? Do we have enough resources, in the right places, to accomplish the mission? Peeling back the onion...we reached consensus on these issues pretty quickly.

Simplification really takes hold when we consider communication (how do I share this information with internal and external customers?) and accountability (how do I ensure we stay on glidepath and what are the expectations for each other that will enable successful project delivery?). This project lent itself to a 1-page status sheet: a map of the project, shading for completed elements of the project, milestones along the side. Done. Shared with our customer we all had something that would give us a common operational picture and mutual accountability.

I'm a simple soldier. I like to think that by focusing on the what and the why...that my empowered team can determine the how. I align the resources and make decisions between competing demands...and get out of the way. But if I don't get it...if I can't see it...I doubt our customers can either. Dozens of boxes of data ----- 1 slide. K.I.S.S.

Tell me what you think. Or, better yet...leave me your K.I.S.S. success story! That's Leader Business! Hooah!


Dan Naden said...


I really like your approach here. I've been working in the online industry for 12 years now and we always move way too fast towards the 'how are we going to do this' phase.

I truly believe that we all need to slow down and take the time to concretely determine:
--What we are doing?
--Why are we doing it?

Great job.

Dan Naden

Tom Magness said...

Thanks Dan. I agree. We can certainly simplify things by focusing on the what and why. Things get too complicated when leaders focus on how to do things. This sort of micromanagement usually just mucks things up! I like to believe that the people who work for me know better "how" to do things better than I. Hooah!