During time of crisis, uncertainty and constant change linear approach to strategic planning may fail. What should you do with it as a leader? Some companies use agile project and team management and can adjust quickly. If it’s not your case then the best option could be to use an iterative approach. You’ll be able to effectively adjust your plans on a step-by-step, look-listen-and-learn basis. Read this practical well structured manual to understand how companies should learn from experience, test and iterate. These techniques will help managers increase team productivity and organizational effectiveness and progress logically, based on the best available data.
This article is based on the book “Iterate” by Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics.
Iterative system for managing amid constant change
During uncertain times company leaders need efficiently process the latest information and make decisions accordingly. These decisions enable an organization to know that each sequential step is reasonable and derives from experience. The second step of an iterative process stems from the first step, as the third step evolves from the second, and so on. This process has nothing to do with forecasting.
“In management, nobody has a map. All you can do is gather as much information as reasonably possible and then make and implement a decision in a timely manner.”
“Get used to the idea that you’re going to be wrong – a lot. Whatever seemed like the next most logical step yesterday will seem like it was a mistake in light of the new information you have today.”
Agile core practice: Iteration
Agile organizations use iteration to move reliable information forward as the basis for making decision. This leads to flexible planning with defined outcomes. In iterative organizations, everything revolves around the question:
“What’s the next most logical step to be taken?”
The organization takes this step, learns from it and repeats the process. In an iterative system, each move provides useful information, moment by moment, for managers to refer to in determining a firm’s next step. Systems rely on iteration to discover the logical answers to problems that are too complex to define accurately in advance. When organizations don’t repeat, test and learn from experience, executives tend to micromanage. Their planning and budgets are inadequate for dealing with complexity. Essential resources don’t get to the people who need them and decision-making stalls due to a lack of reliable information.
“The iterative organization can only make the best decision possible every step of the way by benefiting from group intelligence; group decision-making helps the management team do just that.”
To direct employees and help them accomplish their goals, managers need a high-quality, up-to-date information system. However, most managers get little or no instruction on how to do their jobs and have to figure everything out for themselves. They often lack the needed resources and their superiors blame them for problems no one could have anticipated. Like most people, managers don’t like change, feel territorial and can become defensive when under pressure, which is almost all the time. Iterative management enables managers to direct their work effectively.
5 practices for team management to progress one step at a time
Watch the video “The Five Key Practices for Running an Iterative Management Team”:
1. Output and status broadcasting
- summary conversations
Reliable information flow is crucial. In iterative organizations, managers communicate (broadcast) the most vital information, including the current status of their areas. They share in every direction. Managers use “verbalized summary outputs” (VSOs) – elevator pitches that focus on outputs. They display their VSO information graphically using the second competency, “pragmatic dashboards,” showing only one customized graph for each VSO. These tools prepare managers to ask iterative management’s pivotal question, “What should we do today in response to what we’ve just learned regarding tomorrow?”
2. Work PreView meetings
- holding consistent meetings
- looking ahead
- allocating resources
- using structured reporting
Work PreView meetings give managers the latest information about what may take place in the near and long-term future, so they can allocate resources accordingly. Maintain consistent meetings by gathering at a set time, having team members stand in for anyone absent and using an agenda. Consider what the team will do next, not what it just did. Budget decisions are ongoing. Make a report on each concern in four steps: “Objective, Status, Issue and Recommendation” (OSIR) – outline a goal, a prognosis, the cause of concern and the proposed action.
3. Group decision-making in team management
- sharing decisions
- implementing tasks
- managing meetings
Teams make decisions as a group using essential, intelligent trade-offs. Group decision-making relies on four core competencies: internal team consultations, unified decision-making, full implementation and well-managed meetings. Groups consult to formulate what to do and by what process. They make decisions based on why they are taking action. Everyone discusses the pros and cons, but all must abide by the decision. In decision-making meetings, teams should follow an agenda, encourage participation, use an established fact-based process and keep effective records.
Watch the video “Group Decison Making That Works”:
4. Linked teams
- shared success
- managers as conduits
- team interdependency
- lateral personnel training
Organizations are made up of teams, not individuals. Firms need connected, cross-functional teams that share the pursuit of their goals. Managers link teams to the organization and to each other, as teams grow into mutual dependence. Over time, managers help team members learn to stand in for them and for each other. This iterative strategy works well in matrix settings using cross-functional management.
5. Front line self-sufficiency
- clear goals
- resource control
- fair workload predictions
Front-line employees and teams should manage themselves. They should set defined goals, track their progress with “self-managed feedback” – such as a task check-off system, and manage their own resources. Front-line employees should create predictive “Fair Day’s-Work Forecasts,” based on knowledge of their workload.
Watch the video “Setting SMART Goals”:
“Each iteration may seem better or worse at the time, but the aggregate of all of them ultimately gets you where you’re going.”
Beware of three difficult-to-face team management truths:
- Sometimes managers are wrong – Each step brings new information, which determines the next step. This leads to new decisions, which can easily be wrong. When things don’t work out, executives sometimes criticize the managers, but often managers can’t see what’s coming. All they can do is deal wisely with each new set of circumstances.
- Spend resources wisely – Managers can’t control clients, manufacturing, service providers, the market, corporate chieftains or the future. What they can control is resource allocation – personnel, funding and materials. That’s it.
- Success means doing well with limited resources – Managers must intelligently balance their resources against the opportunities they identify. Companies can’t invest in everything. Some projects get only limited resources, which are challenging, but still better than limiting your opportunities.
Watch the video “6 Hidden Factors of Motivation”: