Monday, June 18, 2007

Planning a Mission

In the book Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America's Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphy shares a six-step process for mission planning.

The Six Steps to Mission Planning

  • Step 1. Determine the Mission Objective. A mission objective has to be clear, measurable, and believable.
  • Step 2. Identify the Threats. In this step, you identify your internal and external threats.
  • Step 3. Identify Your Available Resources. This includes people, money, systems, technologies, products, clients, time, known strengths, services or skills of the team that negate your threats or help you accomplish your objective.
  • Step 4. Evaluate the Lessons Learned. This step is where you use the experiences of someone who's been there before.
  • Step 5. Determine Courses of Action/Tactics. This step is where you develop menus of possible courses of action. This is where you develop a timeline, including who does what when. This is where you develop a decision matrix. This is also where you take your plan apart and attempt to defeat it.
  • Step 6. Plan for Contingencies. This is where you create detailed scripted responses for possible events.

Key Take Aways
Personally, I find this approach very consistent with how I perform my missions at work. I always start by clarifying what we want to accomplish in terms of objectives and outcomes. Knowing what can go wrong and having fallback positions is a key to success. Leveraging past experience helps avoid or repeast past mistakes. I play out a few possible courses and look for the best fit within the criteria. Probably the biggest distinction with the approach above is that I tend to use a constraint-driven model, particularly using time, and then figuring out how to deliver value within that time.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Sharing Lessons Learned

In the book, Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America's Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphy shares a particularly colorful story to illustrate the importance of sharing lessons learned:

"Let's go back in history. In Vietnam, if a fighter pilot could survive his first ten missions, there was a good chance he would survive 100 missions and go home to his family. But the first ten missions were tough -- most of the pilots lost were lost inside of ten missions. To survive long enough to go home, a pilot first had to get through those initial ten missions."
What I think this example highlights is that you put a premium on transferring knowledge when the stakes are high and you see the immediate impact. Unfortunately, I think in many business scenarios, the feedback loops are too long and the impact isn't so obvious.

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In, Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America's Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World,James D. Murphy shares a 7 step process for continuous learning and improvement:

The Stealth Debrief
  • S. Set time / location / preparation. Let everyone know what they need to bring to the debrief. Start and end on time. Don't let the debrief degrade into an endless postmortem. Another key is identifying objectives, such as what future actions are desired. Will you do things better? Will you pass along the good stuff to othes? Are you changing future plans and/or strategy
  • T. Tone (Nameless, rankless, open communication; lead by example) In this step, you do an inside outside criticism. You criticize yourself first (inside) and then to tyour team for criticism (outside). You start by listing your mistakes. When you talk about the team mistakes you observed, you keep it nameless by using third person (you substitute roles orp ositions, for example, the wingman, the architect, the developer ... etc.)
  • E. Execution versus objectives. In this step, you ask the question, how well did you execute based on what you said you were doing to do? That's it. How well did you do. Focus on results rather than objectives. What did you get done, what did you not get done? ... If you did not get it done, why?
  • A. Analyze execution. Here you determine the underlying causes of problems or issues. Look for the root cause.
  • L. Lessons learned. In this step, find the prominent or recurring root cause that bridges together several errors or successes. A lesson learned comes out of a pattern of recurring root causes. Lessons learned are systemtic issues.
  • T. Transfer lessons learned throughout your organization. In this step, you tell people what you've learned. The specific fix you recommend needs to be clearly written so that others within your organization can understand the issue and benefit from the solution even if they were not there.
  • H. High note - positive summation. End the debrief on a high note. After dissecting a mission, admitting errors, and underscoring successes, you have to end the debrief with something positive.

James summarizes the benefits of using STEALTH debriefs:

"The goal of an effective debrief is to generate valuable lessons learned, then to institutionalize those lessons learned into a core of best business practices. Once that is done, the lessons learned are transferred throughout the company. What does this accomplish? 1. Learning is accelerated, which is a process. 2. Experience is increased, which is an asset. These two combine to improve future execution, which, as we know, affects the bottom line. ... That's the power of the debrief. It identifies problems (or opportunities) and accelerates the spread of the resulting solutions."

Key Take Aways

  • I'm very much a fan of sharing lessons learned, finding root causes, and focusing on my mistakes first (since I own them, I can fix myself first), so this approach resonates with me.
  • I like the crispness of the inward outward criticism. Starting with yourself keeps accountability and encourages reflection.
  • I like the nameless perspective by using third person. I find this helps stay focused on improving the role, technique or process versus pointing fingers at individuals. It's also easier to carry the lessons forward, since it's abstracted from the particular individual.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How To Avoid Task Saturation

How do you avoid task saturation in today's world of too much to do and too little time? In Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America's Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphy writes about how fighter pilots deal with task saturation and how you can leverage the technique.

Why Worry About Task Saturation
James writes:

Task Saturation is too much to do with not enough time, not enough tools, and not enough resources. It can be real or imagined, but in the end it can do the same thing. It can kill you.

What fighter pilots know about task saturation should worry every CEO. As task saturation increases, performance decreases; as task saturation increases, executional errors increase. ... The correct action to take is to acknowledge that it exists, acknowledge that it creates problems, identify the symptoms and then work to eliminate it.

Shutting Down, Compartmentalizing, or Channelizing
There are 3 symptoms of task saturation:

  1. Shutting down.
  2. Compartmentalizing.
  3. Channelizing.

James writes the following on shutting down:

The first coping mechanism is to shut down. You quit. You stop performing. ... Shutting down is the most harmless of the coping mechanisms. When you leave your desk or amble around the office, people at least know you're not executing your mission, you're not on task. You may get a bad reputation for "leaving early" or not pulling your weight, but at least you're not masking your mental collapse.
James writes the following on compartmentalizing and channelizing:
Compartmentalizers and channelizers, on the other hand, are risky people because they act busy but do little, and kill you while they're at it. ... compartmentalizers start making lists, organizing their projects, and shuffling things around as if the list making and the shuffling are akin to doing the work, which they are not. Then they start going top to bottom, ticking off one item after another. They become obsessively linear, first-things-first, one project at a time.

3 Processes to Reduce Task Saturation
There are 3 processes that fighter pilots use to reduce task saturation:

  1. Checkklists.
  2. Cross-checks.
  3. Mutual support.

James writes the following on checklists:

The first tool fighter pilots have to eliminate task saturation is their checklist. ... For them, a checklist is a condensed portion of the flight manual -- the standard operating procedures. It's a memory jogger. It's based on training, people's experience, and the standard operating procedures of our company. It's designed to get pilots pointed in the right direction very quickly by taking an action that pulls them through task saturation.

There are two types of checklists: a normal procedures section and the black-striped pages, or the emergency procedures section. The normal procedures checklist is how to do everyday things - how to start the engine, how to configure the aircraft for takeoff, the air-refueling checklist, the landing. ... The black-stripe pages are known as the emergency procedures section. This is the checklist that comes into play when the problems are life threatening. These are one-liners that can be read in an instant. Pilots go right to a page that fits the problem and they see memory joggers and actions to take to solve the problem quickly.

... Find your choke points and build in a stress reducing checklist that the everyday employee can revert to.

James writes the following on cross-checks:

The pilot's second tool is cross-checks. ... Cross-checks are so important that pilots call them their "Cross-checks to Success." Among those 350 instruments in the cockpit are four or five instruments that they really pay attention to. ... Back and forth to the key instruments, always including a regular scan of the attitude indicator in between. Eyes moving quickly from one instrument back to the attitude indicator, never channelizing, always scanning.

How does this translate to business? For most companies, your attitude indicator is customer satisfaction. You read this every day, every hour. Are your customers happy? Do they rate your service highly? Then on to the rest of your nstruments. These are determined by your business. ... maybe it's click-through on a webite ....

Have you defined your instrument panel, do you get data inputs from your instruments with regularity, and then, do you have a smooth disciplined cross-check, just like figher pilots do in the cockpit?
James writes the following on mutual support:

The last tool that we use to eliminate task saturation is called mutual support. We never go anywhere -- anywhere -- without a wingman. We fly as a team, usually in two-ship or four-ship formations. My wingman is my partner.

Mutual support required that we learn each other's roles and rely on each other. The more I know about your job, the better I can provide mutual support for you.

But far more importantly, you can eliminate task saturation and improve your fighting odds if you literally go into major meetings as teams. Words are the swords in the combat of business, and two people do a better job than one of "hearing" what's said and fielding questions. Operating as a team allows for lattitude in negotiations and role playing in the meeting, and gives you someone who's backing you up and hearing what you miss.
Key Take Aways
  • This is the most precise distillation of task saturation I've seen (3 symptoms and 3 solutions.)
  • I think it makes a lot of sense that checklists can help reduce stress.
  • I really like the point on cross-checking the figher pilot's instrument panel and applying it to your business

Saturday, June 9, 2007

How To Paint a Future Picture

How do you paint a clear, high-resolution, and easily communicated big picture of how you want the future to be? Use 12 key descriptors to create a detailed picture. In Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America's Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World, James D. Murphey writes about how to paint a clear picture that you can communicate up and down the stack.

12-Point Future Picture
Murphey outlines the 12 points that clarify a future picture:

  • Financial Position. Describe your company's financial position as you would like to be in a reasonable amount of time, say three to five years. Will you measure internal rate of return (IRR), earnings, revenue, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization0, or what?
  • Market Position. Describe your market position. Will you be a leader or a follower? Are you a fringe segment? Elaborate.
  • Business Areas. What business(es) do you intend to be in?
  • Innovation. Will you innovate or use off-the-shelf technology? Is R&D part of your future?
  • Insider Perception. What is the insider view of the company? How do the various stakeholders view the company? Is it a good place to work, a good investment? Elaborate.
  • Outsider Perception. What should the outsider perception be? A growing company, profitable, customer-oriented? Professional, competent?
  • Workforce Characteristics. What are the features of your workforce? What are their skills, special talents?
  • Brand: Yes or No. Are you going to have a branded product or a commodity product? Will you be an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to another company?
  • Corporate Culture. What is your vision of your corporate culture? Are you entrepreneurial with a minimum of bureaucratic layers? Are you productivity driven like Dell Computer?
  • Corporate citizenship. What is your vision of corporate citizenship? Will you make a contribution to the quality of life in your communities? Why?
  • Ownership. Will your company be public, private, or have an employee stock plan?
  • Incentive Philosophy. What will your incentive plans be based on? Straight pay, shared risk, rewards based on results?

Key Take Aways
Well, that's certainly high-resolution! When I need to share a vision with others, I do a quick self-check against this list. While I usually don't have all the answers, it does give me a map of where I need to get more clarity.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Motivation or Action First?

What comes first, motivation or action? In the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, David Burns writes:

If you said motivation, you made an excellent, logical choice. Unfortunately, you're wrong. Motivation does not come first, action does! You have to prime the pump. then you will begin to get motivated, and the fluids will flow spontaneously.INdividuals who procrastiate frequently confuse motivation and action. You foolishly wait until you feel in the mood to do something. Since you don't feel like doing it, you automatically put it off.Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to activation and success. But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the moviation comes later on.

I think this is a powerful bit of insight. It tells me a couple of things:

  • Don't wait for inspiration to take action; take action and inspiration follows.
  • Build momentum. In other words, starting with smaller hurdles first can build motivation.
  • Schedule time for key activities versus wait until you're in the mood.