Eight steps to achieve your targets faster by John Brooker

 

How can you plan to achieve them faster in a less conventional way?

Do you have tough targets to achieve? How can you plan to achieve them faster in a less conventional way? This article by John Brooker provides you with an eight-step approach to use as an individual and it will take you about 90 minutes. Whilst developing an individual plan is a good thinking tool and starting point, he urges you to involve your peers or your team to develop the final plan. Involving others will broaden your perspective and enrich your planning.

To illustrate the article, he uses an adapted case study of a leader responsible for software testing in four countries, with teams brought together through mergers and takeovers. There were different tools and methods at each site and the leader had a target to integrate the country teams. The leader arranged for a set of workshops to follow these steps.

Step 1: Identify Stakeholders
First, identify who has an interest in your success, both internal and external. This may be customers, end users, regulators etc. In his case study the stakeholders were internal product managers and the end users of products. Let’s call them customers. Create a short profile for an example customer, e.g their job role, what they do  and the key issues they have.

Step 2: Sense the Future
Detail a preferred future by asking, “What will we be doing in future that will most benefit customers?” Instead of writing your description draw a picture. Drawing taps into different parts of the brain and broadens your perspective. In his case study, the leader described a view of what the customers would see when testing was successful, e.g. tested products delivered on time, to budget, with nil defects found by end users and good communication throughout testing. You can discuss your picture with your customers, to verify if your thinking is correct. 

Step 3: Identify Key Enablers
Now, from your picture, identify five to eight Key Enablers that you must focus on to achieve this preferred future. E.g., a high level enabler might be “Develop skill base.”
A potential issue here is that you may identify too many enablers. An analysis of the enablers will usually reveal that some are not that key or some are sub enablers. Too many enablers reduce focus.
If you lean to the more scientific side, be aware that to identify the enablers is more an art than a science. As in the case study above, items like “on time”, “on budget”, “nil defects”, and “good communication” are high-level enablers. The art is to translate them in to enablers that drive action. Doing this, the case study output was:
•   Develop a shared vision with customers (improve communication)
•   Automate test scripts and frameworks (reduce defects)
•   Use consistent tools and methods across all teams (reduce costs and defects)
•   Create an effective test cycle (on time)
•   Create and execute a testing improvement plan (various)
(In the case study the leader focused on enablers to satisfy the product managers and had an eye on what the end user needed.)
Record this step and the following steps on a sheet of paper, or use an Excel spreadsheet.

Step 4: Describe “10”
On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is best, for each enabler, describe how customers would know you are at “10”. E.g. customers have participated in a workshop to develop the vision together.

Step 5: Consider progress
Draw a chart with each enabler on the horizontal axis and 10 down to 1 on the vertical axis. (E.g. you would have five vertical lines for five enablers.) Plot the scale for each enabler, from the customers perspective. Where would they rate your progress to date against the description of "10"?

Step 6: Identify strengths
Identify what has enabled your customer to reach this score for each enabler. E.g. In the case study, “we have rich test experience across four countries” was a key strength. Record these under each enabler.
The natural tendency is to focus on what is stopping the customer’s rating move to “10”. 
In this strength based approach, it is much more effective to look for what works and the strengths you have.  A focus on weaknesses is likely to demotivate you, which is not useful. 

Step 7: Consider next steps
Consider what needs to happen to move your customer one step up the scale for each enabler. Record each enabler. He focuses on one step in this model, because planning to achieve "10" when your customer rates your progress to date as "3" is daunting and rather pointless. Your context will no doubt change in the next twelve months, so it is best to focus on short term changes. In the case study, one example was: “Hold workshop between all test leads on automation frameworks”. With this approach, you set a realistic set of actions to take.

Step 8: Verify your thinking
Discuss your work with your customers to check your thinking and adapt your plan based on their input.

So
The above steps are based on a Solution Focus approach to change. With it, you set a strategy focused on delivering value to the customer. It builds a realistic picture of what you want to achieve and your progress towards it. It concentrates on strengths and creates realistic actions, providing the impetus to take action.  
As mentioned,John uses an Excel spreadsheet to record the thinking; this provides you with something you can easily monitor.

To Close
The case study team took their strategy forward, involved the test teams in further planning and demonstrated their new approach to customers in workshops, eliciting a very positive response. Try it!

About the author
John Brooker (www.yesand.eu)  has been using Solution Focus with multicultural teams since 2004, working throughout the Middle East, Africa and Western and Eastern Europe, as well as China and the USA. As an international meeting facilitator he specializes in coaching teams to transform themselves and the organization. John has developed the Team Impetus Model, based on Solution Focus, to help teams develop strategy and the impetus to implement it. This article is based around this model. From 1998 to 2013 he was a tutor for the Open University Business School’s Master’s level module tutoring MBA students on creativity and change. John  Brooker is a Board member of the International Association for Quality Development of SF Consulting and Training (SFCT).