Implementation Lesson Learned #1: Pre-Negotiate What Success Looks Like

All too often, success is actually a subjective affair, not an objective affair. It’s not always possible to have a perfectly clear objective standard. The more fuzzy the project, the greater the need to hit the <pause> button and get clarity.

20 or so years ago, I was lucky to learn how to fly formation my friend’s Cessna 140. My friend, the late great Gary Martin, was a Marine F-4 pilot. As he was coaching me, he said something very important, “Chris, a good ending starts with a good beginning.” To be sure, the context was energy management, but I’m struck how that statement applies to so many things in business and life.

As I’ve implemented processes, products, and software over the years, it’s amazing how often the failure to get crisp around the desired outcome ended up causing heartache.

So here’s my short list of hacks that have helped me pre-negotiate what success looks like.

  • Ask around and get a list written in writing. Who is the executive sponsor? Who is ultimately responsible? Who is accountable? Who must be consulted? Ultimately, you’re figuring out who makes the decisions.
  • Ask “Who has veto power?”
  • Ask “Who decides if this project was successful?”
  • It’s perfectly okay to ask the question, “What does good look like?” And here’s the hack: Shut up. Let that uncomfortable silence draw out what’s really going on.
  • Spend the time up front to put a number or date on anything vague.
  • Use a Likert Scale on the gap of satisfaction vs. importance, particularly if the group is stuck.
  • For processes, I’ve had great luck with a Spaghetti Diagram to map out all the crazy interactions in play with either people or data.
  • For software, I’ve had good luck with a longer/more granular list of actions the software needs to accomplish.
  • For both software and processes, I’ve had great luck insisting that the group agrees to the inputs and outputs desired.
  • Bottom line: Interact. Talk. Discuss. Requirements gathering, as these things go, is a relatively inexpensive step. Writing code, opening up CAD, and implementing? That time gets pricey in a hurry, particularly if chasing shadows.
“A good ending starts with a good beginning.” —Gary Martin, USMCR (ret.)