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Have you ever heard (or said) the following:
“I don’t understand the big picture!” “I don’t understand how my work fits into the big picture!” “We are working in opposition to each other. We need better alignment”We know the standard solutions. How about a better roadmap? Or a list of major goals? Or another company all-hands? Or a new mousetrap?
- rarely explain rationale
- differentiate assumptions and facts, or degrees of certainty
- fail to explain causality, and linkages
- fail to link tactics and strategy They tend to read like a list of to-dos.
Things slip. Despite our best efforts it is difficult to understand the “big picture”. The strategy lacks coherence. We slip into the weeds of horse-trading pet solutions and the “why” is quickly forgotten. This in turn saps creativity and focus, as teams clash and generate noise. Most insidiously, it becomes nearly impossible to understand the root assumptions behind high level goals and individual interpretations. Shared understanding is never captured adequately. Laying it all against a calendar doesn’t help. Reviewing it doesn’t help.
The (Proposed) Solution
In this post I’ll present a mind-mapping method to create that shared understanding. While technically it is pretty simple, this level of transparency can be challenging. It isn’t for everyone. But if you push through, you’ll end up with a far richer understanding of what underpins the roadmap or strategy. Why does this approach work?
- It provides an “audit” of our reasoning
- It explains our logic, assumptions, and data
- It can be viewed at multiple “resolutions” for clarity
It “nests” well … the form can be nested inside itself
Most goals have a “why”, some constraints, and some proposed solutions. I call these Because, While/Without, and By. We’ll repeat these throughout the mind-map.
, While/Without, and By#### An Example
I’m short on cash and my friend is coming to town tomorrow.
I need to make $70 by tomorrow evening so I can take my visiting friend Bill out to dinner. This is my “why”. We use “because” as it helps us form coherent sentences inside the mind-map.
We specify a Because#### While / Without
These are not solutions, but they guide our selection of a solution. We use “without” when we assume or know we don’t want to (or can’t) do something. We use “while” when we assume or know that we will do something alongside the solution. Here I list some potential constraints:
We list our constraints#### While / Without Because
Each of these constraints has an underlying assumption. We make sure to differentiate between things we know, and things we assume. For example, I can’t do physical labor because I know **I hurt my back. I **assume travel could be expensive (or too time consuming), but who knows … maybe a friend will give me a ride. We specify these using the following format:
Each of these constraints has their own assumptions#### By
Now that we have a clear understanding of the why and constraints, we dream up some potential solutions. We could start a lemonade stand, do some freelance web work, or borrow the money.
Potential solutionsLemonade Stand is looking like a good option. I repeat our Because / While-Without / By form for this solution.
Because and While/Without
The forecast says it will be hot tomorrow. And I’d like to avoid using powdered lemonade … first because I hate the taste myself, and second because I assume people will feel cheated. Again I start with Because and While/Without. I hate the taste of powdered lemonade (and I think it will leave customers bummed) so I make sure to specify that:
It looks like the weather will be hot. And I hate the taste of powdered lemonade#### By and By ___ Because
Our “solution” also has solution details, and these have underpinning assumptions. In this case I’ve made an assumption about what I can charge, my overhead, my location, and my product (fresh squeezed lemonade). My assumption is that $1 will hit the sweetspot.
Our solutions ALSO have underlying assumptions#### Overview
Here is the completed mind-map for my goal of making $70 today. This could be easily handed to someone and the story would be told.
Going from a goal of making $70 to the details of the lemonade stand### Real-World Example
This can be applied to many types of business (and general problem solving) situations:
Take a SaaS company hoping to hit an ARR (annual recurring revenue) goal. Because sale’s goals are finicky and potential disruptive, we balance the goal with constraints. In this example we make sure to point out that we don’t want to sacrifice employee morale, or to stop innovating.
Sales Goals are potentially dangerous unless mitigatedWe add assumptions to those constraints. In this case the sales goal is offset by a limit on the acceptable level of professional services income, first because it might distract the team, and second because it could sap employee morale.
Turns out that some revenue isn’t investor friendlyWe add other constraints including employee morale, continuing innovation, and the all important churn/renewal goal (to offset overly ambitious sales tactics)
. And then we proceed to list solutions. We start with Sales and Marketing, but would eventually list product initiatives.
With the constraints listed, we move on to the proposed solutionsAnd that’s that. It isn’t complicated … but it requires patience and conversation. Using this format can help a team battle voids in shared understanding and come up with something that is coherent and actionable.
Please let me know if this works for you!