We've seen a lot of articles about this and the David Allen book is of course excellent. In your career, whether you are an IC, a manager, a CEO or a President of a country or anything in between, you are hired to get things done. This post is a rubric to measure how well you are getting things done
This is foundational, you need to spend a lot of time here. Identify the issue(s), how we got here. It involves talking to a lot of people to figure out how we got here. It is surprising how many people fail at this basic step. If you get this right, you save an enormous amount of time repeating these steps again later and undoing any work from a misdiagnosis. Most problems are multi dimensional, it is your job to identify them and articulate them in a document.
It does not stop there. The world is filled with armchair diagnosers who will gleefully point out the problems in the world or in your organization. The next step is to soak in the problem space and think through solutions. The solutions need to take in the various risk factors into consideration and how they would be handled. But write down a few proposals on how to solve the issue and clearly call out the risk factors (known and unknown) for each and how you plan to de-risk them. Be transparent and be clear.
If you are here, you are already in the 95th percentile of people in the world. From here on out, things get a lot more uncomfortable. You need to take your solution to all the stakeholders and get their feedback and buy-in. Your solution might be great in your opinion, but that doesn't mean that it is great in everyone's opinion. It might not address the concerns of some folks, or it might cause issues for some others and some might be completely opposed to your solution. Your job is to listen to all of them, digest their feedback, circle back with iterations on your solutions until you have buy-in from all the stakeholders. If there are conflicts, escalate and negotiate on the points and get to an agreement on a solution that everyone can sign off on.
Now comes the difficult part. Actually getting the changes implemented. If you did a good job in the previous steps, you will find this step fairly easy if you have the support of the entire organization. If not, the challenges will all pop up here, no time allocated in other teams to help with your initiative, resistance and re-negotiation on the changes proposed when folks realize the amount of effort involved or how it impacts them. You may need to re-visit one or more of the steps above multiple times before this is done. You will need to balance persistence with flexibility here, because you need to be self aware if it is because you mis-diagnosed an issue or if some folks are not holding up to their agreement. If done well, this shuld be a win- win-win for everyone involved in the longer term, though in the short term there might be some pain that some teams might go through. Make sure that is acknowledged and the teams are compensated for the effort. This is very important if you want to maintain the culture of cooperation and a feeling of fairness in the organization.
Alright, the difficult part is done. But let's make sure that you did not just patch the problem and it will flare up in the future again, Take the time to setup guard rails to make sure that the issue stays solved. If any shortcuts were taken, make sure they are addressed. Operationalize the right way of doing things, so it's easier and faster to do things the right way. To solve big problems, it's important to break it up into smaller problems and solve them well. This is how you make progress. You can build something very complex on top of simple, robust primitives. But if the primitives are shaky, you will eventually plateau, bogged down by continuously patching things and you won't have the foundations to build solutions to harder problems.
The rubric is intentionally high level and I hope it communicates the message, while acknowledging that there is nuance on how it is applied to various problems and scenarios. You are hired to solve problems, customer problems at the end of the day, but in order to solve the big problems, you have to solve a lot of little problems along the way. While it does matter how elegantly you solve the problem, it's important to think in systems and look at how you can optimize the whole organization to solve problems and to continue solving problems for the long term. There is a continuous stream of problems in an organization and in the world to solve. We will always be in need of problem solvers as the organization grows and evolves. So, building a framework for identifying, proposing and implementing solutions will be a valuable and a worthy investment of your time.