Is it prudence or procrastination? Some simple tests for determining whether you need to gather more information or act now based on what you already know.
Is it Prudence or Procrastination?
“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
One of the challenges of getting your startup off the ground–in addition to not enough time, money, or energy to challenge larger better funded competitors directly or get the attention of prospects who are either unaware of or ignoring you–is that you are constantly interrupted by events. Sometimes it’s things that don’t happen–like a prospect answering your emails after what you thought was a very effective demo–and sometimes it’s competitor announcing a new capability that you may need to match. Or worse a prospect who was once hot is now cooling off unless you do match it.
The Virtues of Procrastination
1. He who hesitates is sometimes saved.
2. Some problems solve themselves.
3. Bold action does not always equal wise action.
4. Delay permits coordination and coordination can mean greater support.
5. Procrastinators learn to resist peer pressure.
6. Many deadlines are artificial.
7. Problems become clearer with age.
Michael Wade in Seven Virtues of Procrastination
You cannot react to everything. You have to protect your teams time and energy for situations where it counts. Worse, interrupting work in progress means that some or all of the effort spent to date may be lost or wasted. It’s a great idea to delegate and let everyone take action within their area of responsibility, but there has to be a mechanism that keeps everyone in a rough consensus and aligned on both the current situation and what joint actions you are taking at a team level.
When to Take Action
“You can’t change what you don’t notice and not noticing won’t make it go away.”
Tony Schwartz in “Ten Principles For Living in Fiercely Complex Times“
Here are a couple of rules of thumb I have found helpful:
- If the new information would have changed your plans when you made them, then it’s significant, and you need to recalibrate. Where possible, make a list of critical assumptions that went into a plan and record what other options were considered and why they were rejected at the time. These two lists will make it much easier to recapture your state of mind.
- It’s a development that does not directly affect your target niche or the near term opportunities you are working on, then factor it in at the next planning cycle but don’t treat it as an interrupt.
- If there is not a working consensus on what’s happening, and it may affect more than one person’s area of responsibility, determine how you can gather more relevant information to build a shared understanding. Each team member should state what new information, events, or developments would change their mind.
- If there is agreement on the severity of the situation but disagreement on the most effective course of action, remember that it’s not a real plan until everyone is a little dissatisfied. If it’s not something that involves compromising values or ethics but a disagreement over which course of action may be more effective, a delay is rarely the right move in a deteriorating situation.
- If you disagree with the course of action, point out the risks as you see them, and get an acknowledgement of their potential severity and ways to modify the plan to mitigate them. If you are leading a team, don’t put it to a vote. Instead, make sure that all of the concerns are on the table–collected anonymously if emotions are running high–and address each one, if only by acknowledging it and including it in your record of the plan.
- Get agreement on early indicators that the proposed plan is working and early indicators that it’s not. Support the approach but revisit if any of the error indicators occur. This is critical when you are relying on a partner or a customer to collaborate with you to address a problem. If you take the next two steps that you both agreed to, but they have not moved, don’t keep moving forward without them. If a first iteration or a prototype solution makes the problem worse, reconsider your approach.
- Whenever you are blindsided by a significant development, spend some time to determine what additional information you might gather to prevent it from happening again. One key example: don’t wait until 15 or 30 days before a contract renewal date to ask a customer if they plan to renew. Build a mix of periodic satisfaction measures into your engagement: this might include regular calls or meetings to support customer progress against their value realization milestones, monitoring of bug reports and complaints, monitoring of usage and enhancement requests, and cultivating connections at multiple levels between your team and the customer.
- During a planning review, try to look back a year or two or even five to detect slower moving trends that may be at work. Some may be favorable and others unfavorable to your plans and efforts. Slow moving trends can be hard to reverse but may manifest as a sudden negative impact when they cross a key threshold level. For example: your product may be running slower as you add more features but neglect performance issues. This slowdown in turnaround time or cycle time can be exacerbated by the customer addressing larger and more complex problems over time. This is particularly troublesome when you slow down as the square or cube of the complexity: here a 40% increase in problem complexity may mean you run half as fast and what used to take a few hours now runs more than a day.
- Managing a potential threat requires a conversation. An effective meeting either builds a shared understanding, generates options, or reaches a decision. For significant decisions, you are well served to ask folks to sleep on it and revisit it before committing.
“There are really only three kinds of meetings:
- Building understanding: enable each participant to share relevant information to build a common understanding for clarity.
- Shaping choices: explore potential options, choices that are concrete discrete possibilities that we can analyze and test.
- Making decisions: only possible after we have a common understanding and clear choices framed.”
Lisa Solomon in “Designing Time: Meaning Not Management“
Related Blog Posts
- Lisa Solomon: Effective Meetings Choose One of Reaching Understanding, Generating Options, or Making Decisions
- Constructive Pessimism
- John Gardner: Leaders Detect and Act on the Weak Signals of the Future
- Paul Saffo on Forecasting Innovation in Silicon Valley
- Sketching The Likeness Of An Imaginary Business
- How to Tell When Your Team Has a Workable Plan of Action
- Risk Mitigation: If You Predict Rain, Build an Ark
- Howard Tullman on Distinguishing Mistakes From Failure
- Choosing the Right Targets and Metrics
Image Licensed from 123RF: Copyright: Anton Lebedev