Friday, April 09, 2010

We're All in the "Done" Business

In prior posts I've talked about the idea I got from Allistair Cockburn which I now call Three Column Planning. I proposed that the "Done" column is the one that really matters. I've received some push back on this notion from some--citing having multiple irons in the fire shows how busy we are and that we're productive.

Suppose you were the new sales manager for a paper company in say...Scranton, PA. You could send your sales team to every parking lot of every grocery store in town making sure a flyer about your paper made it on every windshield. Heck, by doing this you've even given all those prospects a product sample, right? You could even coordinate an intranet-based staff calendar where you send your staff back at different times of day in order to try to maximize the number of people you're likely to reach. You could bring your staff members who have some desktop publishing experience together to create two or three versions of the flyer so you could do multivariate testing analysis on what works best. You could create a war room covered with printed Google maps showing aerial views of local strip malls and place neatly prepared color-coded push pins to show which sales associate is assigned to which area. And you could hold training sessions in the company parking lot on the proper way to lift wiper blades so as not to set off car alarms and at what angle you should place the paper to get maximum notice from the driver. All of this could keep you and your staff super busy. Just think of the meetings you could create around this.

As your turn comes in the Monday morning staff meeting you could pull up a PowerPoint showing both cumulatively and by week how many reams of paper you've been through (where the bars in the bar chart are actual stacks of paper [clever, I know!]), show pie charts of parking lot penetration, and even submit expense reports for all the shoe soles that now need repair.

But quite obviously, that's not what the CEO wants to hear. She wants to know if the sales team sold anything.

This goes back to the old adage of not confusing being busy with being productive. When you focus on the "Done" column you get focused. You notice what's working or not and modify your approach. You invite the other father who showed up at the cub scout meeting last week to play golf remembering he's at a decent-sized law firm in town (that goes through lots and lots of paper). You adapt. You evolve. Quickly.

When you focus on the "WIP" or "Work in Process" column, you wind up doing what Dewey Tobias used to call "majoring in minor things" and creating ribbons for who posted the most flyers this week. In sales, it's easy to see the scoreboard. But I submit we're all in the "Done" business--regardless of what we do. We're paid to get things to the finish line. And the smart one's watch carefully what got them there and make sure they start spending increasing amounts of time on those things; they let the other things fall by the wayside for those who see the world through the "WIP" lens to do.

This is one of the central themes of Brian Tracy's Eat That Frog and the popular Tim Ferriss book The 4-Hour Work week. It's what Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan talked about in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. And it's the theme of the Covey seminar called Focus.

There are two mindsets. I'm convinced the "Done" paradigm is the perspective of true leaders. The "WIP" mindset makes for a great sitcom.

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