What separates high impact teams from those that only see marginal results? Talent? Compensation? Tools? None of the above. The secret is focus!
Put a skilled team in a room with 3 projects to complete simultaneously and an equally talented team in a room 3 times to accomplish one thing at a time. No contest, team two will win every time.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, at CollegePlus, we have a renewed focus on just that, focus! We haven’t yet mastered this new discipline, but I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things we’re learning along the way.
We have a very talented team that can achieve nearly anything they set their mind to. What we’ve struggled with is that we always seem to have more projects than we have people or resources. I’m not talking about just random projects, but absolute critical projects that have definite ROI.
In the past, Operations would be working on their projects to operate more smoothly, Sales and Marketing would be working on new ways to increase lead or enrollment counts, R&D would be testing out the next big thing, etc. It sounds good in theory, but there were serious challenges with this approach.
While at first glance it may seem that something like a new product feature may only involve Development, a successful roll out requires much more. In addition to the Development department’s involvement in actually building the new feature, Sales has to be trained in what it does to sell it, Marketing to market it, and Operations to deliver it. Even more important, the input of these departments are critical to the development of the new feature as they are in direct contact with the customer. With everyone focused on departmental projects, it was not uncommon for support departments like Marketing or IT to be inundated with several projects from other departments at the same time which made for many starts and stops along the way, slowing down all projects.
Alignment and Communication
When there are too many projects occurring simultaneously, interdepartmental feedback loops are strained or cut off completely because everyone has a different priority. I am not going to take time to provide feedback, insight, or implementation on your project if it means falling behind on mine.
One of the tools we’ve just implemented is the idea of a VIP – Very Important Project (thanks to Cole Criddle for coining the phrase). The goal of the VIP is to align the priorities of the entire company around a single focus. We’ve established a few ground rules:
1. While there are always multiple departmental projects going on, the VIP takes priority. If the VIP Project Owner requires something from you related to the VIP, you drop all your other development projects and jump to the VIP. Once your contribution is complete, you go back to your other projects. This keeps the VIP moving.
2. There is only one VIP at a time.
3. VIP may change frequently – For example a large IT project will probably not be VIP for the duration of the project. More often, it will obtain VIP status during the planning stage, when interdepartmental input is needed to set the course of the project. However, when the actual coding is taking place, the work is primarily focused in IT and the full weight of the organization is not necessary, therefore the project forfeits VIP status. However, when the coding is done and implementation starts, VIP status will be reassigned to ensure the organizational support necessary for a successful launch.
4. While the VIP is Very Important by name and by nature, it doesn’t supercede current commitments in the running of the business. We cannot quit answering customer emails, picking up the phone, or delivering products and services. It only takes priority over other development projects.
Our first VIP is only a few days old, so most of this is theory right now, but I look forward to updating you in the days ahead as we move forward and make adjustments to the system.
This is the second in a two part series on Focus, read the first part here.