Monday, January 27, 2014

Kill good ideas. How I set priorities.

This post was originally published to Daniel Jefferies' Medium blog feed.
“Killing bad ideas isn’t that hard — lots of companies, even bad companies, are good at that. What is really hard — and a hallmark of great companies — is killing good ideas.” — Steve Jobs

I first read this quote in a great article in Harvard Business Review back in 2010 and it really stuck with me. The author went on to explain that “for any single good idea to succeed, it needs a lot of resources, time, and attention, and so only a few ideas can be developed fully. The challenge is to be tough enough to do the pruning so that the survivors have a chance of being implemented properly and reaching their full potential.”

As we discussed in my previous post, good priorities are the first step to choosing what data we want to measure, finding your team’s rhythm and developing a focused workplan.

I have essentially adopted the quote above as my guiding principal when I approach Priorities. If I sense that our team is beginning to lose focus, I start hunting for some good ideas to kill.

There are additional guidelines that I use for choosing good goals and priorities to guide the team. Here they are:

Priorities should be big

Save the minute detail for you workplan. Priorities should be broad strokes. They are what point your little ship in the right direction. Focus on the big picture at this stage. If you haven't already, it might be good to think about the entire life of your company, what is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal for the entire life of the company? Now pull back from that and make a priority for the coming year or quarter that supports that goal but is achievable in the shorter term.

Priorities should be few

Dieter Rams, the great industrial designer, has 10 principles of good design. The 10th, and my personal favorite, is “as little design as possible”. Michelangelo was quoted as saying that he “set his sculptures free” by removing all the stone that did not belong. Priorities are best created in a similar reductive process. If you can work with a single priority that is excellent. I try to limit my teams to never more than three but always as few as possible.

Priorities should be qualitative as well as quantitative

Often, particularly in sales driven teams, there is a temptation to always make priorities and goals that are some quantitative target. ”10% increase in revenue” or “30 new customers signed” are quantitative goals. The trouble with this approach comes when you are doing bad work. 10% more bad work won't help you very much. In fact it will probably hurt you. If you mix in some qualitative priorities you can ensure that you are doing great work which tends to make it far easier to meet your quantitative goals.

So we've talked about big hairy audacious goals and killing good ideas. As usual, I would love to learn from you as well. How do you set your priorities? What is wrong or left out of my approach? Please leave a comment, recommendation, or reply on twitter.

Daniel Jefferies
Daniel Jefferies is the founder of Newmind Group. Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Newmind Group began as a small, regional IT company in 2003.