In my experience…the secret to delivery is acceptance
In any organization the ability to deliver is crucial. You can deliver results, projects, profits, products, services, value, savings…the list goes on. I’ve heard words such as execution and implementation used interchangeably with delivery, which is understandable, but I view delivery as a more comprehensive concept. To deliver something successfully requires the ability to take a strategy and create a plan, then implement the plan, ensuring the intended value is actually realized, not just that the tactical steps in the plan have been executed.
I’ve been reflecting on the times I’ve been part of a delivery, to find a universal secret to success. There isn’t any one silver bullet that works every time, however in my experience, acceptance of uncertainty and competing priorities was required for any chance at success. It’s not possible to 'plan away' uncertainty or competing priorities. Those exist in nearly every environment I’ve ever been a part of.
Consider a 'project'. This could be a product rollout, system implementation, organizational restructuring, process redesign or any other project intended to have a positive impact on an organization. If the project is important enough it will receive the required executive sponsorship. It will be allocated timeframes for both planning and execution and it will be given the requisite financial and human resources.
Sometimes projects go as planned and are successfully delivered. When I’ve been a part of those there is usually recognition and praise given to “The Plan” and the ability of the team to execute that plan.
My observation is that while the ability of a team to execute a plan is important, it was equally important how that team and the leaders were able to accept and adapt to uncertainty and competing priorities. I’ve never been in an organization where there was only one project going on at a time. Even in seemingly singularly focused organizations there are many moving parts that constantly need to be addressed. Combine that with uncontrollable external and semi-controllable internal factors and it becomes impossible to proactively account for every eventuality that could impact a project.
The best leaders and teams I’ve worked with are those that thrive in environments of uncertainty and competing priorities. It’s not that they don’t try to control all elements that could influence a project, rather it’s that they acknowledge the futility of doing that. They know how to react when the unplanned or unexpected happens and keep the team and other stakeholders from panicking and causing unnecessary harm to the ability of the project to move forward.
It’s not easy to accept and adapt to uncertainty and competing priorities. And projects may still fail in spite of leaders and teams who are able to accept and adapt. However, my assertion is that the ability to do this drastically improves the chances of a successful delivery.
Special thanks to Andrea Read who delivers day-after-day in a role that impacts people around the world where competing priorities are the norm, and to Jennifer Lapka Pfeifer, who delivers opportunity and a future to those that need it most and where uncertainty is a constant barrier to be overcome.