How vs. What: Don’t stop your planning too early

A problem I’ve observed is that we often need to differentiate more clearly between what we need to do and how we will do it. This confusion makes us think that a problem’s been solved when, in fact, all we’ve done is identify the effect we want to achieve, not how we’re going to get there. 

The roadmap for how to make that happen is missing.

Imagine a business that’s trying to cut its costs because its cash flow is out of balance. Discussions might end with decisions to trim expenses or reduce headcount, which are reasonable ways to cut costs significantly. Everyone leaves the meeting thinking the problem’s been solved.

However, they still need to determine what costs can be cut without compromising operations. How to manage layoffs and the effect these will have on the business? They will have identified the ‘what’, but not the ‘how’.

So when you find yourself in these situations, make sure the discussions don’t stop too early. After you identify the effect you want to achieve – the what – you need to decide how you will get there. You can do this in a different meeting: you may even need to stand up a whole project team and dedicate significant resources to solving big problems, even when your goal is clear.

Just make sure you don’t walk away thinking that the job’s done just because you’ve identified what you need to do.

Instead, work through the details of how you’ll make the changes you’ve decided upon. That way, you won’t find yourselves adrift, thinking that a problem’s been solved when you’re only halfway done.

Image Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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