Tech Manager—Start - Stop - Continue
As you read the articles I write, you hopefully have gotten the idea that I think planning is paramount. “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail”—a catchy quote I heard a very long time ago, attributed to Ben Franklin or Churchill and reused by many. I also think that planning should be a structured process. (Actually, I think most everything should be a structured process—be it high-level strategic planning or just planning the next upgrade to the software.) Sometimes it is quick and easy planning and other times it is rigorous. There are simple stages you can go through to begin and mature the planning process, but each needs to be stepped through in specific order to gain the full impact. I want to present one of the steps I include when I am trying to review where we are and where to go next.
When I am doing strategic planning or just want to review the current environment for tech expansion, I pull together key individuals, maybe 5 to 7 or even up to 10. We gather in a room for about an hour and I do what I call Start-Stop-Continue. I got this from something I read. Trouble with reading so much, you seldom can remember exactly where you got an idea, but I have been doing this for maybe 10 years or so.
At the meeting, we discuss ground rules before we start. It is a facilitated meeting and I take the lead. Participants must follow my lead and be cordial. We respect everyone. No idea is too outlandish and nothing is sacred. Things we have been doing for years get the same review. Do not assume that an item is agreed upon until everyone really agrees. Don’t let people pull rank. We are all just thinking out loud. No talking until it is time. When people start talking, the conversation will wander from one topic to the next without structure if you let the team just talk. People will dwell on a topic too long. They will start problem solving on a single idea. So when it is time to talk, I lead the discussion. We move on when I suggest it and stop chasing down rabbit trails. The meeting needs to be controlled.
Begin the meeting by reviewing the categories for the ideas. Write the column headings on the white board with enough room to stick multiple notes under each.
|What are we not doing now that we should Start doing?|
|What are we still doing that should Stop?|
|What should be Continued and improved?|
Next, pass out sticky note pads and markers—same color for everyone. Remind everyone to not talk or discuss. Each person is to write down tech items, processes, procedures, standards, hardware, and software that they want to Start using, Stop using, or Continue using. Quick items are put in abbreviated form to fit on a 3x3” sticky. By having these categories, you tap into the general slant of each person. Some may be creative thinkers or want to push forward and they can spit out several “Start” topics off the top of their heads. Others may be critical thinkers and know exactly what to Stop doing that is unproductive or losing money. Still others might know the core value of certain things that should be Continued. They may want to make some adjustments, but keep that item going at full speed because it is core to the value the firm brings to clients.
As meeting participants write down items, they get out of their chairs and stick them on the white board under the appropriate heading. Start has the posted noted under it for things they think we should start doing. Stop has posts under it for things that we should stop doing. Continue holds those items to continue with some possible adjustments. It may also hold those items to continue and not change at all. The Continue column will usually have the least number of items. It is a way for someone to say, “Don’t touch this.”
As the people come up to the board, they are not to ponder other people’s postings—just write down what they think. No names on the notes yet. Some may figure out who wrote what, but that is not a big deal. At this point, they are just writing the item they want to address. There are no bad ideas or unacceptable comments (other than personal attacks).
When the rate of people postings their notes slows down… maybe 10 minutes or less, then announce that you will stop posting soon… any last items? They can read what is posted, but not critique. Done? Good. Now stop posting and start reviewing. First gather similar items under each heading. You would be surprised how many people have the same idea. Just stick the similar notes on top of each other. This shows that the item got multiple backers who want to see something happen related to the topic. If you are confused over what someone wrote, then ask who wrote it and what they meant. Do not discuss the value of the idea, just clarify the meaning. Everyone should be willing to clarify what they wrote, even the negative things. Again—no critique or in-depth discussions yet. Just get the items grouped and clarified.
Now rank them as to priority. Some discussion can be done here. You can tally by most votes (duplicate stickies), or peel off the notes and arrange them by priority, or just pick the most obvious. Remember, there are no unacceptable ideas at this point. If they are unpopular, then move them down the list, but do not remove or discard them.
Now go through items one by one and see how much traction each one will get. Begin with the Start column. This is always a good point to begin discussions because these are new ideas, or at least they are things that you are not doing now. Do not plan on how they will be put into effect—this is not a tactical planning session. This is just to make a list of where to focus your efforts.
Move to Stop and continue the talk. Be gentle with these. Some of the longer term employees may love an old program, tool, or process and they may even have created it. Keep in mind that stopping is much harder than starting. Old habits die hard. Transitions take a long time to sink in.
Now do the Continue column. I sometimes call this Continue/Adjust. Don’t just assume that you keep everything as it is for issues on this list. Think about how they might be refined to get more horsepower out of the tools or process. Some tweaking might be in order. Many firms continue a value-added process for too long without making minor adjustments that can capitalize on the good that they want to continue.
Now begin the planning process. There is bound to be something on your three lists that everyone can get behind. Make a plan to move forward on this and other ideas that are at the top of the lists. Before leaving the meeting, set a time/date for another meeting. Review/define action items and assign tasks—who does what by when? Then when you gather again, you can move to the tactical part of planning—getting things done.