Project management is one of those things that seems like it should be so simple but isn’t. You just, do the project. However, small projects (under $350,000) have a failure rate of 20%, and this only rises as the project budget increases (Source). Clearly, it’s more difficult than it at first appears.
Enter The 4 Disciplines of Execution, or 4DX. Having worked in industry for years and watched projects fail in hundreds of organizations across thousands of teams, authors Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling cut put forward a practical solution, something that has been proven on the job time and again.
The central thrust of 4DX is that when projects fail, they tend not to crash and burn as we would normally imagine. Rather, they slowly suffocate as other, day to day priorities take precedence. The project gets lost in all the noise and slowly fades to the background until no one is thinking about it anymore. To fix this, focus has to be restored.
The day to day craziness is what they call the whirlwind, all the stuff blowing you around and taking your attention away from what you want to be focused on. The 4 Disciplines are a set of four, well, disciplines that will get us to focus on a few critical goals and drive success there. The first step is identifying those critical goals.
Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important
They bring up a quote; “there will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.” Good companies produce good ideas. Lots of them. But it is a simple fact that a group can only focus on two or three ideas at once and produce excellent results for all of them.
These core focuses are what the authors call your Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs. The sorts of things your business needs in order to grow. The difficulty is selecting them out of all the other good ideas that will no doubt be in front of you. The other impulse companies must resist is tracking everything. Most things in the whirlwind are numeric, so they could theoretically be tracked. But most of this is a distraction from the WIGs.
Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures
There are lag measures, and there are lead measures. Lag measures are the things that tell us something after the fact. Things like profit, revenue, customer satisfaction, etc. These are indicators that, while helpful, are retrospective. Lead indicators however are predictive, they tell us about the lag indicators before they happen.
An easy example would be public relations and marketing. If a company is worried about the lag indicator of public brand awareness they could focus on lead indicators such as the numbers of articles about the company published on media sites or mentions on social media. These are things that the company can take action on and have a direct influence over.
Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
When people design games, they include points. Why? Because we like to keep score. Chris McChesney makes the point that people play different when they’re keeping score. But, the important thing to remember is that this happens when they are keeping score. Once they’re aware of the goal, your team can keep metrics of their own success. These have to be tied to the WIGs, but it is important to make sure the scoreboard is theirs.
The authors of 4DX encourage those that work together in a physical office space to design an actual scoreboard. The pictures are great, as most of these boards are quite whimsical and creative. Allowing the team ownership of it helps them stay engaged and bought into the goals. A scoreboard gives them a tangible way to track their progress towards the WIGs.
Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
Without accountability, the other three disciplines are not likely to be effective. Teams need to be held accountable to themselves and each other. 4DX suggests a very simple way of doing this – weekly accountability meetings.
At each weekly meeting, the manager should ask each part of the team one simple question. “What one thing can you do this week to move the scoreboard?” It’s their scoreboard, allow them to pick how they influence it. By limiting the selection to one thing, their job is keep simple and straightforward. Publicly declaring their goal in front of everyone adds accountability too, because team members know they’ll have the same meeting next week and will discuss what they did to accomplish their goal.
Pulling It All Together
Each of the Four Disciplines works in tandem to identify the WIG, understand how to influence it, and then motivate the team to do that. With such a hyper focus on moving the lead indicator for the WIG up, your team has a much better chance at really succeeding.
The importance of the lead measures and scoreboards cannot be overstated. The lead measure paired with the WIG is the single best way of making some sense out of the whirlwind. Without a real lead measure, your team is at the mercy of the noise. If you have the wrong lead measure selected, then your team is without a lever to influence their goals. This will end in frustration and failure.
BIG has worked with multiple clients implementing these methods. We have seen the impact something so simple and straightforward yet powerful can have on a business. Next week, we will be discussing 4DX Theory and how we applied it to a client project spanning multiple job functions and implementing change across an entire organization. While the project was a major success, it wasn’t without its hiccups. We will be going into detail about each aspect of the project and how 4DX helped the team overcome each challenge they faced next week!