Identifying opportunities, building an ideas based culture in your organisation and leveraging them for success. 

I’ve been fortunate to work on many varied projects in my career, from multinational brands to local charities, across multiple industry sectors, and most of them share similar highlights and pitfalls. Plenty of them can be smoothed over with a brilliant project team and a good project leader, but by focussing on the project we miss obvious opportunities, like the gorilla in a massive scale selective attention parody.

Sometimes a business is so focussed on what they want to be, that they don’t actually see what they are, they fail to grab opportunity when it arises and miss out on becoming something more.

Early warning, this elephant thing is going to be stretched, I apologise in advance. In compensation, I thought I would add some pictures this time ;)

A mammoth task…

Advice you’ll frequently hear to break a project down into small achievable steps so that you can complete it is to “eat the elephant one bite at time”.

If you stop for a minute you might ask yourself how this is applicable to business? Well more so than you might think, the gory logistics of actually eating an elephant are very applicable to this process. What the idiom “eat an elephant one bite at a time” does is create a simple visual of an achievable line of progression to complete a daunting process.

When you think about it, the easiest part is saying “eat the elephant”, it’s a completely different task when you get down to doing it. If you’re absolutely determined you’re going to eat the elephant(I’d just like to take this opportunity to point out you’re the weird one, I would never eat an elephant), then there are things you need to consider, why do you want to eat the elephant? Is all of the elephant edible? How do you go about preparing the elephant for consumption, common sense dictates that parts of the elephant will be easy to cook and eat, whilst others might need some errr stewing…

If the goal is to eat the elephant, then the strategy is how we go about eating it.

Elephant in the room…

Massive scale projects require complex input, multiple teams and sometimes multiple decision makers and experienced Management. They get broken down into manageable pieces, spread across the delivery teams, who in turn break the project down even further. The elephant is served up to the project team like an elephant buffet, which is advisable, acceptable and standard practice in most organisations, but it creates a new problem.

Project Managers are focussed on making sure deadlines are met and resources are available, their scope is about the project itself, rather than the purpose of the project. Resources committed to the project often lose sight of the whole elephant and when people don’t understand the ultimate result, they’ll never know how much is still to do, or whether it’s finished.

It’s pretty important for an organisation to maintain clarity in this regard, especially in this wired world, where decisions are instant and opportunity cannot be missed. The right people need the right information to identify the right opportunities, what you’re trying to do is open the window for spotting opportunity wider, so people can see more of the big picture.

Keep one eye on the goal at all times, communicate the goal and the progress. This stuff seems obvious, but it’s amazing how much gets missed, don’t get so focussed on the plate you don’t notice the elephant in the room.

Observe the herd…

What happens when that elephant is a herd of elephants? 

Projects connect and touch in ways we never predict, tag them, monitor them, observe the herd. Overseers will find it’s impossible to observe the herd all of the time in which case it’s a great idea to get the “rangers” to share information and discussions. Opportunities generally blossom from exposure, without a complete understanding of what elements created that exposure you’ll never truly turn lead to gold.

A good example is the activity that takes place on project fringes, where some resources dip in and out of various projects completing tasks, eating pieces of different elephants, an enterprise juggling act which demands strict focus. Unless you are part of this project fringe, you’ll never be exposed to the potential opportunity in this space, because it doesn’t fit into your mental context.

There is massive opportunity for these resources to identify opportunity at this point, the areas where projects link tend to be spaces that are perfect for process based Intranet Applications, where small quick fire solutions can be massively beneficial to produce key data or increase efficiencies.

In my opinion, identifying opportunity is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation, making sure that people understand this is a process of empowerment, established by culture.

  • Value
  • Validate
  • Reward

There’s a lot of information out there about establishing idea based cultures and ensuring it’s success through validation & reward processes. By rewarding people for ideas it shows you value them, self-belief is crucial to an idea based culture, but you only want to validate “good” opportunities and the first step in idea validation is to qualify it. People should make a business case for it, which in turn, gets run through a panel of peers before it gets passed along for further acceptance. The basic principle is that people will put effort into good ideas, especially if there is reward. Be careful not to make these tasks too difficult.

Be transparent…

Make sure the process is transparent and accessible, this is not a suggestion box, or an idea graveyard, people need to see that their ideas are going places, doing things and hopefully being rewarded. This process will create a chain reaction of ideas, some of which can be incredibly valuable to your business, not only financially but as a culture cornerstone for getting and keeping the right employees.