When I am taking time to work on a system, I like to think in frameworks with key questions. Asking those probing questions forces issues to the surface that we would have never discussed without them. I am also a big believer in working on it with a team. I am an introvert by nature, so it would be easier for me to work it out alone, but way less effective. A team outhinks an individual every time.
So as you pull your team together to plan for the future, here are four questions that I use to help filter the conversations toward results.
1. What was?
This is where we can have a tendency to get stuck, but we have to spend some time here to get to the next stage. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What is the foundation for what you are attempting to build? If we rush into a new system without considering what it’s replacing, we will just make the same mistakes. Spend some time in your planning asking about what has been done before, but don’t stay in this stage too long.
2. What is?
This is your current reality. Take some time at this stage to do a careful analysis of your current systems and events. What is working, and what is not? What should you stop doing, and what should you start? Make sure that you have the latest facts as you spend time in this stage. It’s impossible to plan for the future when you don’t know the current state. Do some research and find out what the numbers are. It may be painful, but it’s necessary to get a 360 perspective before you can move to the next question.
3. What could be?
After you have gained perspective on where you have been and are now, it’s time to start dreaming about the future. This stage is about blue-sky thinking. Allow your team to put all of the “what ifs” on the table without worrying about the “how” yet. That will come in the next stage, but this is the time to answer the question: “What could we do if nothing was impossible?”
4. What will be?
Now that you have spent time dreaming about all of the possibilities, it’s time to decide on the initiatives that are realistic to tackle now and set goals for achieving them. Make sure to hang on to all of your ideas from the last stage and keep them somewhere to return to later.
At the end of this stage, determine the one or two goals that you have to achieve in the next six months or everything else will be a failure. In the military, this is referred to as the “Commander’s Intent”—a concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired end. How can the next six months be summed up, and what is the desired final result?