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. That backdrop helps illustrate the Plan-Perform-Perfect theme I introduced to you. We call this trilogy P3.
So, let’s start with the first P in P3 – Plan. Before I left for the race weekend, I used the 3 steps in the Plan portion of P3: Pre-Activity; Objective; and Optimization (known as PO2—what can I say, I’m an acronym kind of guy). Pre-activity comes from the After Action Assessment discipline and involves reviewing the lessons from similar prior activity to ensure the lessons are implemented. I reviewed my track notes, video of my last time at this track and video from other drivers. With this as a basis, I moved to Objective setting and I decided my objectives were, first, faster lap times than my previous run this particular track; and second, more consistent lap times. The first objective is exciting – heck it’s downright exhilarating because it’s always better to go faster. But the second objective is more important because that’s what wins races. Any competent driver can do a hot lap – but a great driver puts many consistent good laps together for a lower aggregate race time. Just as important, my track support team was making sure the car was tuned and ready: bolts tightened and torqued; fluids checked and re-checked; fire apparatus charged and armed; suspension settings reviewed and adjusted; tire pressures confirmed – checklist complete.
Now I could move to the Optimization phase and create the specific plan for this race. The team decided roles and responsibilities in the pits and on the track. I identified my shift points, breaking points, turn in points, apex and track out points. I also created my plan for the most dangerous phase of any race – the start. It’s dangerous because you find yourself in a close two-by-two formation with similar cars in order of qualifying times. You’re rolling at relatively low speed waiting for the starter to throw the green flag and then it’s a drag race to the first corner where all those cars are trying to be in precisely the same spot at the same time. Chaos.
I could just hop in the car and drive. Maybe the car would hold together, or maybe not. Maybe I’d hook up my 5-point safety harness properly or maybe I’d forget the arm restraints. Maybe I’d remember that turn 2 is a tight declining apex turn I have to downshift from 4th to 1st, or maybe I’d remember that after going off into the hay bales. Maybe I’d run like fire and win, or maybe I’d make an avoidable error and crash. Exciting drivers just drive and might finish. Winning racers plan, leverage their teams and finish because nothing was left to chance.
To summarize, I prepared for the race using our PRT approach:
- Principle: We believe that planning is the most critical factor determining success in any endeavor.
- Rule: We use P3 for every project and we won’t start a project without completing P3 Stage 1: A Plan.
- Tools: We use the P3-Stage 1 PO2 discipline to create a plan.
Here’s P3, Stage 1, AO2 briefly:
Pre-Activity: For some time I’ve embraced the principle that “the only thing I hate more than answering the same question twice, is paying to do so.” Before starting a project, it is critical to canvass what you already know and have learned (but may not remember), and anything readily accessible from your network of resources. You should never repeat the mistakes of the past, and always leverage what went well before. Stand on the shoulders of others, and you don’t have to always be a giant. Don’t have a repository of lessons learned? Well, stay tuned for the third post in this series and others on the A3 topic.
Objective: Before starting, you need to clearly identify your objective. We call this starting with “Why” (we highly recommend reading Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”). In our world, the best objectives follow a well-known discipline from the HR world: SMART:
- Specific – “win” isn’t very specific and therefore it’s not too useful. In racing, my objective was improvement and consistency – that could well result in a podium finish but that wasn’t my objective. In legal matters, if you don’t know what your objective is, if you haven’t agreed with your customer and your entire team, then the chance of success as all have agreed to define it, is happenstance . But most important, if you can’t define your objective to you’re a service provider ethically bound to provide “zealous representation”, you might as well get your wallet out and just hand it to them.
- Measurable – As management guru Deming said, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Things are always measurable – whether or not they are quantifiable. Improvement, exceeding a benchmark, getting more support, having a contract meeting certain risk and performance criteria, closing a deal with certain defined synergies or results are all examples of a measurable success criteria.
- Achievable – Your objective must be possible. If a court in the jurisdiction can’t order an injunction in this type of dispute, don’t think about that kind of relief. If monetary damages aren’t enough for your customer, then re-calibrate their expectations. For example, you can’t eliminate all disputes and litigation, but you can create an environment based on a zero defect mentality.
- Realistic – Something might be achievable yet not particularly useful or realistic. I might be able to run a lap 5 second faster, but the stress put on the car and driver might make such a pace unsustainable. And if I don’t finish, I can’t “win.” It’s not realistic to “win” a case at far more expense than the amount in controversy – unless, of course, it’s a matter of principle. But in that case, get ready to pay a lot in interest.
- Time-based – projects must end at some point and therefore, establishing stage gates and end points is crucial. If you don’t, get that wallet out once again.
We can argue, as the podcast Manager Tools does, that achievable and realistic are both redundant and unnecessary, but at least when starting out with this approach, it’s useful to make sure that your clear objective really fulfills these criteria. An objective that cannot be achieved creates an impossible success criteria. An objective attainable at an unrealistic cost or one that creates unsustainable conditions for the future, is a waste of time and resources.
Optimization: With objectives clear and previous lessons known, you can now map out your plan. We use the W3 project management discipline in this stage: who, does what, when.
- Who – A project team can have one member or many. It’s critically important to identify the roles and responsibilities of each member of the team. This involves identification of necessary expertise and determining availability. When you think of any project as a series of linked processes, then you have a chain of supplier, operator and customer, culminating in the end customer who receives the ultimate output of the project and determines whether the agreed upon objective has been met. Along this horizontal
- What – The chain mentioned above is the “what”. Which team member will complete some process to produce an output that becomes the input for the next link in the chain. An example in the e-discovery contest might be to determine which documents have been communicated to or from an attorney. This doesn’t take an attorney to make that call, but it may take an attorney to determine whether the communication was privileged.
- When – The order in which the processes are done is the “when.” Since the chain cannot be completed until necessary previous steps provide the output to the next process, the order is important. In the context above, why have an attorney look at documents that “might” be privileged until that call actually must be made? Let the operators do their work in the chain before redundant or potentially wasteful activity occurs. Now, there can be parallel work flow chains, but they must converge since the output of each of those work flows is a necessary input for a later process.
So do the hard work up front and map out your work flows. Identify who will do what when and then you can hold the team members accountable. Or you can just wing it, start without planning, and see what happens. Let me know how that works out for you.
Up next: P3 Stage 2: Perform and P3 Stage 3: Perfect