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We forgot why we were doing this

We forgot why we were doing this

Nicola Hopes

28 September 2021

Last week I found myself, not for the first time, being the bad guy for my client. 

I was sitting in a (virtual) Steering Group meeting and voting no. Voting ‘no’ to a new creative opportunity on the programme. Voting ‘no’ to a valuable opportunity. 

Really Nic? Yes. Let me explain. 

The whole point of the programme was to improve the digital customer journey for a specific customer group to increase sales. Sounds simple, never is.  

Like many post-pandemic strategies, we had to get very specific on what we would spend our time, money and energy on. 

This new opportunity being presented (found through customer research) was going to improve the customer journey but for a different customer group. A group that was declining for the business.  

My view: it was just going to take us off track. 

Was it potentially valuable in the short term? Absolutely. 

Was it worth considering for a future release? Sure. 

But should it be part of this investment? No. 

Many heated minutes later and the group agreed to shelve the idea for prioritisation in future. And we’re all still friends. The Programme Sponsor actually thanked me afterwards for keeping them honest: ‘You were right. We forgot why we were doing this’. They’d had their heads turned by some attractive numbers. Haven’t we all? 

And it got me thinking about one of my well-worn quotes. In a now infamous Harvard Business Review Article, 

Michael E. Porter, Professor at Harvard University said, 

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Therefore, the essence of execution is truly not doing it.  

Layering in additional stuff just leads to distraction and overwhelm. All organisations have a finite capacity for change – regardless of how much money you choose to throw at it. 

So, I reflected on how we’d resolved the Steering discussion. 

How to keep your head while all about you are losing theirs 

What did we have that helped us make the right call? What did I use to guide the conversation? 

And the following checklist – that I have used in many other large-scale projects and programmes – came to mind: 

1.We defined where the value was before we started 

Improvements in digital services are everywhere right now but that phrase means all things to all people. What are the outcomes that really deliver the value and why? How can we ruthlessly prioritise them into our two releases? All else became an irrelevance. 

2.We kept reminding ourselves where the value was 

This desired set of business outcomes were written down in simple language in an engaging format. This 1 pager was then included at the start of all Steering Papers, in all programme communication and was sent to the programme team for them to physically put on their walls. It was relentlessly repetitive (in a good way). 

3. We made accountability, erm, count 

We made sure that named individuals were responsible for achieving each benefit – e.g. revenue targets, new customer acquisition, customer feedback. This new opportunity didn’t help them deliver what they were originally on the spike for. I reminded them of that. Simple, but it worked. 

My ongoing lesson: I’ll never stop banging the drum for ruthless clarity and focus in delivering change. 

How about you?  Easily distracted or ruthless like me?  

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