Disclaimer: If you’re looking for an article about public displays of affection for initial public offerings you’ve come to the wrong place!
This article is about one of the great irritants of the business world: issues, problems, and opportunities (IPOs) that go unresolved for weeks, months, and years.
We’ve all experienced it. Talking about the same issue, problem, or opportunity meeting after meeting after meeting and never deciding what to do about it. We sit around the table (or at least, we used to) and talk about, around, and up and down all the IPOs in our business but rarely come to a decision about what to do about them. We LOVE to kick the can down the road.
And on the rare occasions that we actually make a plan to deal with an IPO, we rarely execute on the plan. At the next meeting, we talk about why the plan didn’t work, or why we didn’t have time to get to it, or some other way of further kicking the can down the road.
If not, then you’re the exception to the rule and no need to read on. But in my experience, there are very few exceptions to this rule.
So how DO you deal with the IPOs in your business?
Simple…you give them some PDA.
First you Prioritize them. Then you Discuss them. Then you Address them.
At your weekly leadership team meeting, the majority (at least two-thirds) of the agenda should be allocated to giving some PDA to your IPOs.
Let’s look at each element of the PDA concept:
Right now your business has a laundry list of IPOs that need to be dealt with. You can’t deal with them all at once. You need to tackle them in order of priority (not in the order that they surfaced in your business).
How do you do this? First, you need to keep a central running list of IPOs in your business. A parking lot of sorts, so that you don’t lose track of them. Any time an issue, problem, or opportunity comes up in your business that can’t or shouldn’t be addressed same-day, it gets added to the running IPO list.
At your weekly leadership team meeting, you take a scan through your IPO list and decide as a group which are the top three priorities. Ask yourself, which of the IPOs on the list, if addressed, are most likely to move your business forward or, conversely, most likely to remove a bottleneck in your business? Those are your top priority IPOs.
Once you’ve prioritized your IPOs, the next step is to discuss them. This involves making sure you have clearly identified the IPO at hand. What are its essential components? If it’s an issue or a problem you are discussing, what is its root cause? You don’t want to spend time dealing with a symptom of a problem that will be sure to resurface. The goal is to solve the problem once and for all, and to do that you need to deal with it at the root cause level.
A good technique to do this is “The Five Whys” which, according to Eric Ries in The Lean Startup, was first developed at Toyota several decades ago. As the title of the technique suggests, you get to the root of the problem by asking Why? five times. By doing so, you might discover that the actual problem is not what you first thought. Maybe what you thought was a people problem is really a process problem. Maybe what you thought was a process problem is really a planning problem. The Five Whys will help you find out.
For a deep dive on The Five Whys process, you can check out Ries’ article on the topic.
Once you’ve discussed your highest priority IPO from all angles, and have figured out the root cause if it’s a problem or issue, the next step is to address it. By addressing it, I mean that you MAKE A DECISION on what to do about it. Something big. Something small. Maybe even nothing at all. Whatever the decision is, someone is tasked with carrying out the decision, and it becomes either an action item to be reported on at the next weekly meeting or, if a bigger solution is required, it becomes a quarterly building block for the assigned person. The IPO then comes off your IPO list, and you can move on to the next highest priority IPO.
The process of giving some PDA to your IPOs will take some getting used to, and may feel a little clunky at first. It will take practice for your team to hone its PDA skills, but the effort will be more than worth it in the end. Imagine only talking about an issue, problem, or opportunity once, and dealing with it efficiently, so that it doesn’t keep cropping up and derailing every one of your team meetings. And imagine systematically knocking IPOs off your list every single week. How much further ahead will your business be as a result?