A recent survey found that 70% of CEOs said that pressure is increasing to deliver more in shorter timeframes.

They’re feeling the effect of Time Compression ― what used to take months and years now happens in days and hours.

This “Move Quickly” post is about how to meet the challenge of Time Compression.

It is a Q&A from a GEO webinar about How to Accelerate Action in organizations. Here are the questions:

Q1 – You emphasize achieving “the speed to succeed.” Shouldn’t you be careful not to move too fast?

Q2 – You’ve said, “Create Good Enough Plans.” Shouldn’t you create the best plan possible?

Q3 – Your premise is that with speed you’re more likely to succeed. Why is the probability of success higher?

Q4 – One of the GEO cardinal rules for achieving speed is a “Parallel Approach.” What does that mean?

Q5 – How do you decide what parallel actions to take?

Q6 – Sometimes you’re stuck with a step-by-step approach. In this situation, what can you do accelerate action?

Q7 – Our organization is going through a transformation and some critical problems are not being addressed by our top leaders. What should I do?

Q8 – How do you ensure that all the parallel actions are aligned and that everyone is working toward the same goal, avoiding the “silo” issues?

How to Accelerate Action 

Q&A with Leland Russell

Q1You emphasize achieving “the speed to succeed.” Shouldn’t you be careful not to move too fast?

Speed must be tempered by smart situational timing. Knowing when to act and when NOT to act is important. There are certainly times when you’re not ready to move fast.

Let’s take a real world example. Think about the Bin Laden raid. There was extraordinary patience in the months before the raid because the information was incomplete and premature action could have had disastrous consequences.

However, once conditions were right, Seal Team Six moved fast. The raid was over in 38 minutes.

Q2You’ve said, “Create Good Enough Plans.” Shouldn’t you create the best plan possible?

In a high-stakes situation like the Bin Laden raid, you should create the best plan possible. However, most organizational plans don’t rise to that level of criticality. 

A contemporary of Shakespeare said, “Audacious ignorance hath done the job while timorous wisdom stands debating.” This axiom remains valid in today’s environment.

We recommend creating a ‘good enough’ plan and executing it quickly. Then, you can improve it as you move it.

Many people are not comfortable with this. They loathe acting until they are absolutely sure they haven’t overlooked anything. Like engineers, they are susceptible to the urge to get one more data point in order to know with certainty the slope of a curve.

There’s fallacy with this mentality. The world around you isn’t standing still. While you are spending time gathering more and more information to create the perfect plan, someone else is gaining first-mover advantage

Bottom line: A good enough plan rapidly executed and refined in real-time is far superior to a perfect plan long delayed.

Q3You say, “With speed, you’re more likely to succeed.” Why is your probability of success higher?

Your probability of success is higher for many reasons:

  • External competitors are outpaced
  • Internal opposition is preempted
  • Key assumptions don’t become obsolete
  • Fewer unanticipated events and unintended consequences occur
  • Shortfalls surface faster and can be corrected faster
  • Fast wins create a positive psychology
  • Desired results and benefits are accelerated

Bottom line: There’s a compelling reason to move quickly:Laggards Lose.

Q4 One of your cardinal rules for achieving speed is a“Parallel Approach.” What does that mean?

There are two basic ways to operate: a Serial Approach — one step at a time in sequence, or a Parallel Approach — multiple steps simultaneously.

There are many examples of the power of a Parallel Approach.

Market Blitz” is the term used to describe the Parallel Approach that launched the Pokemon media franchise. It focused on the youth market—specifically, young boys between the ages of 6 and 12.

Suddenly the brand was everywhere: a widely-distributed movie; a cartoon show that aired 11 times each week on the Warner Brothers network; collectible trading cards; an ad blitz that included television, radio and print ads; myriad web sites offering interactive components like “Pokedex;” promotional tie-ins with major organizations; and, last but not least, video games.

Another example is Boeing.It delivered the 777, one of the largest planes ever built, in half the time the process normally takes. Boeing’s Parallel Approach was called“concurrent engineering” — hundreds of engineers working together sharing designs in real-time using computer-aided three-dimensional interactive software.

The very first 777 flew on schedule. The following year it went into commercial service. This cycle time breakthrough was enabled by a Parallel Approach. 

What is the downside of a Serial Approach?

There is a powerful argument against the step-by-step, serial approach. You strive to get each step right before you move to the next step. This not only slows you down because of the inevitable obstacles, but it also lowers your probability of success.

For example, in a ten-step process, if you project a 90% probability of success for each of the ten steps, your overall probability of success is only 35%.

  (.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 = .35)

Why are the benefits of a Parallel Approach?

The benefits of a Parallel Approach are clear to anyone who has experienced the frustration of a string of Christmas tree lights wired in a serial circuit, which means electricity must pass through each bulb before moving to the next. If just one burns out, none of the rest light up.

However, when a string of Christmas tree lights is wired in parallel, electricity flows directly to each bulb. Even if one or more bulbs fail, you still have an overall positive result — most of the bulbs light up. The same benefit applies to parallel strategy execution. Single-point failures are not show-stoppers.

Bottom Line: Whether you’re building and launching a new product, implementing a new strategy, or driving organizational change, use a Parallel approach. It will accelerate action and increase your probability of success.

Q5 How do you decide what parallel actions to take?

To have optimal impact, your parallel actions should focus sharply on impacting Leverage Points―the people, processes or infrastructure in your organization or market where you can have the greatest impact on the entire system with the least amount of resources.

The speed and overall system impact from a Parallel Approach is directly proportional to the:

  • Number of leverage points that are affected
  • Precision with which the Leverage Points are affected
  • Alignment and concurrency of the parallel actions

Q6 Sometimes you’re stuck with a step-by-step approach. In this situation, what can you do accelerate action?  

Remember that what you want is accelerated action. Here are three ways to accomplish that within a Serial Approach:

  • Eliminate bureaucratic bottlenecks
  • Identify hidden opportunities for process improvements
  • Simplify and/or eliminate steps using the 20/80 rule (20% of the action will produce 80% of the results).  

Q7 – Our organization is going through a transformation and some critical problems are not being addressed by our top leaders. What should I do?

If something is truly critical to the overall success of the transformation, I suspect your top leaders are may not be aware of the problems. 

What you can do is engage everyone you can to articulate the problems, and, equally important, shape some solution options. Then, ensure that those insights are communicated quickly and clearly to as many relevant leaders as possible.

What your leaders can do is organize for success. We’ve found that best way to ensure that all the important things are moving forward in parallel is to form an “Orchestration Team” (O-Team).

The O-Team’s role is not directive. It is to monitor the overall effort in real-time and take rapid address anything that’s stalled. It must ensure that everyone’s efforts are coordinated, and that necessary approvals are obtained promptly when needed.

 Q8 – How do you ensure that all the parallel actions are aligned and that everyone is working toward the same goal, avoiding the “silo” issues?

There are three keys to alignment: understanding, commitment, and calibration. 

Everyone involved in the execution of a strategy must:

  • Have a clear understanding of the big picture—the overall objectives and strategy—as well as their own tasks in achieving it
  • Make a conscious commitment to helping the group achieve the overall objectives, as well as accomplishing their own individual tasks
  • Be continuously calibrating what they are doing with others because things change. Reality is dynamic and no plan survives its contact with reality.

Final Thoughts: Alignment is essential whenever there are multiple goal-advancing activities occurring at the same time. Everyone needs to be on the same page, collaborating across boundaries in real-time. Practically speaking you can’t rely on the ‘top’ alone to maintain group alignment. It is everyone’s job.

Thanks for exploring this GEO Leadership Action.

What are your key Takeaways?

I’ll look forward to your comments.

Leland Russell
Founder / CEO
GEO Group Strategic Services