Clarity is King

Transparent ClarityIt all starts and ends with clarity.  There’s not much to it, really.  You strip away all the talk and get right to the work you’re actually doing.  Not the work you should do, want to do, or could do.  The only thing that matters is the work you are doing right now.  And when you get down to it, it’s a short list.

There’s a strong desire to claim there’s a ton of projects happening all at once, but projects aren’t like that.  Projects happen serially.  Start one, finish one is the best way.  Sure it’s sexy to talk about doing projects in parallel, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s “one at time” until you’re done.

The thing to remember about projects is there’s no partial credit.  If a project is half done, the realized value is zero, and if a project is 95% done, the realized value is still zero (but a bit more frustrating).  But to rationalize that we’ve been working hard and that should count for something, we allocate partial credit where credit isn’t due.  This binary thinking may be cold, but it’s on-the-mark.  If your new product is 90% done, you can’t sell it – there is no realized value.  Right up until it’s launched it’s work in process inventory that has a short shelf like – kind of like ripe tomatoes you can’t sell.  If your competitor launches a winner, your yet-to-see-day light product over-ripens.

Get a pencil and paper and make the list of the active projects that are fully staffed, the ones that, come hell or high water, you’re going to deliver.  Short list, isn’t it?  Those are the projects you track and report on regularly.  That’s clarity. And don’t talk about the project you’re not yet working on because that’s clarity, too.

Are those the right projects?  You can slice them, categorize them, and estimate the profits, but with such a short list, you don’t need to.  Because there are only a few active projects, all you have to do is look at the list and decide if they fit with company expectations.  If you have the right projects, it will be clear.  If you don’t, that will be clear as well.  Nothing fancy – a list of projects and a decision if the list is good enough.  Clarity.

How will you know when the projects are done?  That’s easy – when the resources start work on the next project.  Usually we think the project ends when the product launches, but that’s not how projects are.  After the launch there’s a huge amount of work to finish the stuff that wasn’t done and to fix the stuff that was done wrong.  For some reason, we don’t want to admit that, so we hide it.  For clarity’s sake, the project doesn’t end until the resources start full-time work on the next project.

How will you know if the project was successful?  Before the project starts, define the launch date and using that launch data, set a monthly profit target.  Don’t use units sold, units shipped, or some other anti-clarity metric, use profit.  And profit is defined by the amount of money received from the customer minus the cost to make the product.  If the project launches late, the profit targets don’t move with it.  And if the customer doesn’t pay, there’s no profit.  The money is in the bank, or it isn’t.  Clarity.

Clarity is good for everyone, but we don’t behave that way.  For some reason, we want to claim we’re doing more work than we actually are which results in mis-set expectations.  We all know it’s matter of time before the truth comes out, so why not be clear?  With clarity from the start, company leaders will be upset sooner rather than later and will have enough time to remedy the situation.

Be clear with yourself that you’re highly capable and that you know your work better than anyone.  And be clear with others about what you’re working on and what you’re not.  Be clear about your test results and the problems you know about (and acknowledge there are likely some you don’t know about).

I think it all comes down to confidence and self-worth.  Have the courage wear clarity like a badge of honor.  You and your work are worth it.

Image credit – Greg Foster

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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