P3 Stage Two: Perform

I started the inaugural entry in this blog with the statement I’m not a lawyer, I’m a race car driver. Just after posting that entry, I had a race weekend and I wrote about the first facet of the P3 theme I introduced to you (Plan|Perform|Perfect).

Moving, quite literally in the case of racing, to the second facet – Perform – It’s race day! The track support team and I have gone through our checklists to ensure the car is prepared. Part of my personal checklist is the ritualistic order of putting on the fireproof racing suit, shoes, and balaclava, removing the steering wheel to get in the car, lowering into the tight cockpit, putting on the arm restraint, helmet, 6 point harness and gloves. I flip the battery and fuel switches, listen for the fuel pump, and press the starter. Ritual helps execution – but it’s no replacement for an actual checklist. So, my team double checks my execution.

I drive through the paddock to the grid to wait for the pace lap. I’m calm because I’ve got a plan. I know who is doing what and when. I leave the grid with the other cars in a tight twocar wide column, warming the tires as we run behind the pace car. As we finish the first lap, the pace car peels into the pit road and the columns stay bunched tightly together, transmissions in first gear, ready to accelerate when the starter throws the green flag. Drivers see the green and it’s off to turn one! Without the Plan, it would be utter chaos – all those cars trying to be in exactly the same place at exactly the same time. But with the Plan, I know the drivers in front, beside and behind me. I know their cars’ capabilities and their normal start behavior pattern. I know what to do to hold my position.

The Plan has turned many of the unknowns into knowns. The Plan also considers various things that could happen. For example, I know where the safest run off places are at each turn – how to mitigate against an incident or a mechanical failure. Taking these predictable possibilities into account in the Plan converts the unknown into known unknowns. While I don’t know if it will occur, I know it could and what I’ll do in that situation. As such, the Plan significantly reduces the unknown unknowns.

When something does happen, I follow the Plan. If outside the Plan, I react to the new environment and then immediately modify the Plan to that new situation. I then follow the revised Plan. This cycle continues throughout the race.

The lessons learned as a race car driver are all applicable to running a law department. Here’s P3, Stage 2, R3 in a nutshell:

Relax – The project team has a plan – follow it. All team members know the objective of the project and who is going to do what when.

Respond – During the execution phase there are three and only three possible scenarios:

  • First, the environment plays out exactly according to Plan, and the Plan operates as expected;
  • Second, something anticipated by the Plan happens and a known alternative Plan is executed to react to that situation;
  • Third, something unanticipated by the Plan happens and an alternative is developed realtime to react to that situation. Note this may encompass an unanticipated flaw in the Plan as well as an unanticipated change to the operating environment.

Re-Deploy – The modified Plan is performed and the cycle continues until the Project is completed.

This post is shorter than the previous post about the Plan because in reality, execution or performance is the least important part of our P3 approach. A good Plan makes performance easier, more predictable and more able to adapt to a change in the environment.

On the other hand, you could fail to Plan, forget the Plan or disregard the Plan. In a race car, while that might be “exciting” it’s also a recipe for disaster. As I said before, try it in LawLand and let me know how that works out for you.

  • Jeffrey Carr

    I don’t know if anyone picked this up, but in the pre-start checklist above, I removed the steering wheel before I got in the car, but I didn’t put it back on. Needless to say, a race car without a steering wheel is about as useful as a submarine with a screen door! I recited the checklist from memory — thus the first rule of checklists: use the checklist, don’t rely on memory!