Tom Schmitz // Jan 30 2012
I have two styles of work. One is intuitive. When I have invested my 10,000 hours into I work quickly. I can because I have the knowledge and experience needed to be accurate and effective. I am not, unfortunately, an expert on all things. In fact, when it comes to most topics I know just enough to be dangerous. This is when I take a different approach: LCPD.
Listen… Consider… Plan… Do…
The first step is to listen. Becoming a good listener is exceedingly difficult because the human mind hates unresolved conflict. When you are given a problem, goal or objective your natural tendency will be to create solutions immediately, off the top of your head. Unfortunately real-time problem solving rarely works well. It limits you to what is in your head. With limited information you cannot help but miss things. You will also become prejudiced, closed to alternative solutions.
Instead, train yourself to hear. Listen attentively. If you take notes, write the facts you are given, your reactions to those facts and questions they prompt. Refrain from offering solutions. This can be difficult so if you feel you have to say something, substitute any ideas, solutions or opinions with more questions.
Here is the big secret: when the other person is answering a question, keep quiet. Silence is uncomfortable. During a conversation everyone’s instinct is to keep the conversation going. The longer the other person is silent the more we feel compelled to speak. When you make your client to fill-in that silence you often learn the most interesting and helpful stuff.
Consideration comes in two parts, study and mulling. First, brush-up. Read articles, blogs, white papers, book chapters. Watch videos and webinars. This is not about learning; it’s about inspiration. Your brain will connect what’s in front of you with your project or problem. You will see connections and get ideas. Put them in writing. At this point I like to have coffee or lunch with a colleague and engage in a topical conversation. Often human interaction leads to my best thinking.
Give yourself time to mull things over. Take a walk. Visit the driving range. Take batting practice. Now is the time to let your mind go to work. Each of us has our own time of day when we think best. Mine is the time between when I wake-up before I open my eyes. Now is the time to start making decisions and forming a plan.
Once you pretty much know what you want to do, it is time to craft your plan. It should be actionable, have a completion date and measurable goals. Most plans do not require a Gantt chart, they must be detailed enough that, should you get hit by a bus, your colleagues can pick-up the pieces and complete your work.
Planning can take a few cycles, especially when working with clients. Present your plan. Make sure everyone understands and agrees.
If necessary go back, revise the plan then re-present it until you have buy-in. Agree with your client on deliverables and goals. Establish metrics, how you will measure results, and put analytics into place.
Of course we do not write plans to sit on shelves. You have to execute them.
Treat your plan as a living document. As you approach each step ask yourself how things have gone so far and whether or not you continue to have confidence in the plan. If not, why? Situations always change. Your job is to respond appropriately. Avoid distractions, the loud things that change nothing, but do not be afraid to tweak or re-strategize when it becomes necessary.