I often get involved with business ideas that my leaders or my peers want to implement. I am sometimes asked to join an existing project team while they try to execute a program or a project. More often than not that I always ask a simple question for my benefit to understand the background or the intention behind the project. In a blunt way, I simply ask why we are doing this (project)? It is a genuine question, but I rarely get good answers.        

I believe the fundamental issue for many business leaders or project leads is many are not clear on business problems or challenges they want to solve. They try to develop a so-called strategy with minimum work on a foundation. This practice tends to waste everyone’s time and exhaust company’s resources unnecessarily. To avoid falling into this business trap, I develop a simple, step by step set of questions that you may be able to improve your chance of success in your business and your career. 

Question 1: What is going on? 

I can’t stress enough of how important it is to truly understand business problems. What are the challenges you are trying to overcome? You normally spend the majority of your efforts to figure this out. Coming up with ideas without figuring out about business challenges is no different from daydreaming.  

I used to work with a company that uses a face-to-face sales approach to sell its product. When Covid-19 pandemic hit, the company introduced a video conference solution to overcome the face-to-face restriction. It was a quick reaction and seemed to be the right move. The sales team didn’t believe in it because the approach prevented them from having total control of a sales session. It’s no surprise that this move didn’t work. However, the reason was not that the sales team couldn’t manage the session (e.g. no eye contact, no human touch, etc.) as everyone thought. The company later worked on another video call technology that could give more control to the sales team. I knew it wouldn’t work since inception regardless of the technologies they use but with different reason. 

My reason is if customers don’t care or don’t know anything about your company or your product, it doesn’t matter what sales channels you use. If you see a challenge this way, you will look for different solutions. The questions you have would have nothing to do with how the sales team could control the sales session. Instead, you would ask how you could nurture your leads or customers in a sales funnel. In this example, the right solution for me is to add a hint of interest in lead generation efforts. When customers are curious, they would want to find out more. That’s how you get their attention.        

Question 2: What options do I have? 

My simple rule of life is always creating options. The worst situation is you have to make a decision because you don’t have a choice. A key factor that differentiates a good strategist from a mediocre one is that a good strategist can design the desired outcome. He can do that because he has options. Here is where you ask the following questions:

  • What can I leverage? What you want to achieve here is strategic leverage. A good strategy draws power from placing a focus on a pivotal objective. Finding such crucial pivot points and concentrating force on them is the key to the success of every strategic execution. 
  • What advantage can I use? Every company has something that keeps the business going. I call that ‘something’ an advantage. It could be employees, culture, customer base or an overall system. The idea is to draw what a company is good at to be a part of a solution.    
  • What are the pros and cons of each option? Once you create all potential options, it is necessary to list all pros and cons of each option. If you don’t do this, an indecisive situation is likely to happen.    

Question 3: What is the best option I should choose? 

You should now have a clear understanding of what is going on and the potential options of how to overcome the challenges. You also have a list of the pros and cons of each option. You are almost ready to make a decision. If it is a close call, I have another tip for you. In many cases, the decision not to do certain things is as important if not more as the decision to do something. When looking at your options, you may eliminate the decisions that you wouldn’t do in any case. Do not ignore your gut feelings. No one would have 100% information to make every decision. 

Another tip is you shouldn’t expect to have perfect, 100% information to make decisions. It is safe to say that a perfect situation would never happen. As suggested by Jeff Bezos, if you wait to have even 90%, you would probably be too slow. Besides, if you can put your ego in check, most decisions can be reverted if they don’t turn out the way you expect. 

When you have a clear understanding of the situation that you are in, you would exactly know what you need to make a decision. That’s why I said in question 1 that you should spend as time as you could to be clear on what is going on. It will dictate everything you do.   

Question 4: How can I make it happen? 

One of the issues that prevent businesses to achieve what they want to achieve is poor execution. Let be clear – execution is a key part of a strategy. It is not independent of a strategy. You often hear people say something like “We have a good strategy, but our execution is poor”. This statement is wrong. If you cannot execute well, you don’t have a good strategy. 

Success in execution ultimately depends on two things: whether the planned objectives for each project remain relevant and feasible, and whether each of the strategic projects is managed well enough to achieve the objectives that justified it at the time it was selected for investment. As you can see, these two conditions rely heavily on having a clear understanding of the challenges. 

If you are a leader, once you reach question three, you will need to bring a project team to drive execution in question four. One of the mistakes many leaders do is they just give the task to the project team and shift their focus on something else. The right way to do is leaders should be a part of the project team. They don’t have to play an active role, but they need to know how the project goes actively.  

Final thoughts…

What I am offering in this article is a simple, four-question framework that should help you achieve your desired outcome. The two takeaways I want to stress one more time are that: you have to spend as much time as you need to understand the challenges you are facing, and do not start a project without such understanding. 

Image credit: Lifestyle Asia

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