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Acquiring executing intelligence through feed-forward


Business driven by technology

Business driven by technology

Effective execution will require asking the right kind of question earlier enough before it is time to start executing the project. Some of the right questions are what is the problem? How does the problem manifest? What are the interactions and interrelationships of the problem? What actions need to happen to overcome the problem? Who should act to trigger these actions?

The assumption behind asking these critical questions is that it helps the executive to build strong intelligence about the execution process. Oftentimes, the failure of execution is a failure of intelligence as executive go about implementing projects without through understanding of the execution process. Business intelligence software and other resources management apps and processes are all part of building critical intelligence to effectively execute a business plan.

The problem with building intelligence for effective execution is that oftentimes when we embark on execution it becomes late to revise and deliberate. The execution mindset requires that the manager focuses on getting the job done and should not entertain any doubt about the project. So, if we have already made up our mind on the project and are resolutely committed to firmly execution of the plan how do we ensure that we don’t get caught up in error and ultimately fail in executing the project?

The emergent science of productivity management teaches us a lot about how to improve the quality of execution. We can improve how we execute to make sure there are no project failures. One of the lessons we have learnt in the past is to carefully and insightfully calibrate between deliberative and implementation mindset. We know that before we sign off the project we put on the deliberative mindset which enables us to acquire as much information as we need from as diverse sources as is possible. At the deliberative stage, we design the process to make room for doubts so that we don’t suffer from overconfident. Cognitive scientists and behavioural economists have assured us that we are prone to overconfident, and would offence seek for confirmation of our biases. This tendency distorts good decision making.

After the deliberative stage, we exit the deliberative mindset and put on the implementation mindset. The difference is that here we are concerned with delivery. We don’t have time to entertain doubts on whether the project is the right kind of project or whether we ought to implement in the manner we are implementing. It is time to get it done; it is time to execute.

The problem is that oftentimes the deliberative period is shallow and not well structured. Therefore, we did not undertake sufficient deliberation and bereft of good intelligence for the execution. At the stage, there is little can be done except to truncate the execution.  Or we go ahead and wait for the feedback period to build the required intelligence. This time it will be intelligence about failure of execution to prepare for the next time.

But a new thinking developing amongst experts of performance suggests that the best time to feedback is before the project takes off. That is at the deliberative stage. Daniel Kaheman argues that executive could improve the prospect of successful execution by using feedforward instead of feedback. What is the difference between feedforward and feedback?

Feedback looks at probl ems. It looks back at what happened or did not happen. For project execution, the feedback period is a period to learn about what did not work; the wrong assumptions that failed and the connections that were not noticed. It is building intelligence after the event; a sort of Monday morning quarterbacking. Feedforward is forward looking. It focuses on solutions not problems. It focuses on what will make the projects, identifies constraints and challenges and proposes approaches to solve the problems. It is the essence of the deliberative mindset. It spares no thought on what could make the project not succeed and proactively deals with it.

Marshall Goldsmith and others in their book: Coaching for Leadership, argues the superiority of feedforward over feedback in helping success in project and careers. Feedforward does not require that the person contributing to the deliberative process of project development should have personal knowledge of the project. We don’t need to be part of a project team to be part of the deliberative process. All we need to have is important information that will assist in building intelligence to get the work done. The executive is just casting around looking for solutions that work.

Feedforward works best with some personality types than others. It works better with person who are liberal minded and are humbly. Humility to seek out information and willingness to listen to outsiders are critical personality enablers of feedforward. It is then little wonder that Jim Collins have identified humility and firm and professional will as the core attributes of exceptional leaders he called Level 5 Leaders.

Level 5 leaders are effective executors. One reason for their effectiveness could be because they employ feedforward rather than feedback to develop their projects.

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