Dec 1st, 2020


Part 3: The Definition of Success

  Written by: Jesse LaDousa, Chief Operating Officer

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As a continuation of my series on Focus, we’ve previously covered both planning and prioritization. These two elements are key for ensuring that your team is focused and driving towards the objectives you have laid out for the project. This week, I want to cover another key element that is required for every engagement: the definition of success.

As we discussed last week, it’s human nature to just want to start working. Yet we know that taking the time to plan and prioritize will produce better results. “Better results” needs a clearer definition though. We must look at our initiative and ask some vital questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Why are we trying to accomplish it?
  • How will we know if, and when, we are successful?

We have a long-standing question at Clientek that we use quite often, both internally as well as with our customers during project discussions. We continually ask, “what problem are you trying to solve?”. While this can be an annoyance to those who have charged headfirst into task work, it’s critical that we take some time to actually think about and answer this question. Without first being able to clearly articulate the problem statement, we can never answer the other two essential questions: how and when will we know we succeeded?

“What problem are you trying to solve?” typically produces a surface level answer such as: “We need to upgrade our database server”. That answer doesn’t outline the problem but instead it presents a solution. We must drive deeper to truly understand if that solution will solve the problem. Sometimes utilizing a technique like “The Five Why’s” can help drive this conversation and get to the root of the problem; giving you a path to an appropriate problem statement.

Perhaps the current database software is no longer supported, performance issues have been identified, or there are new requirements due to another system upgrade that occurred. Any of these problems may require an upgraded database server, but we should also look at other options rather than jump straight to conclusions. Only once the problem is defined, can we begin to identify solution approaches to the problem.

Regardless of our chosen solution approach, we must also spend time determining how we’ll know when we are done. What does success look like? How will we measure it? How can we do a retrospective at the end of the project and concretely say “we solved the problem we defined and here’s how we can measure that success.”

The activities defined above don’t take a lot of time or effort to complete. Spending the time up front and reviewing them as the project progresses will provide you and your organization great insight into each of your projects as they progress. This allows you to measure and track along the way and ensure you are meeting your objectives.