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28 October 2013

Every task has to be done twice...

Mr.Stephen Covey, in his book '7 Habits of Highly Effective People', says that every task that you do should be done twice. No exceptions.

You can either 'Plan and Do' or you can 'Do and Rectify'. (Mr.Covey does not mention these terms. These are terms that I coined from the gist of the book)

You can 'Plan and Do'. Before starting the task, do the same once in your mind. Plan the work entirely, completely, thoroughly. If you have, in your team, a person who is good in planning, involve him in this exercise. Mentally visualize the process. Go to as much details as possible. For instance, I used to work with a lady who was very good in visual planning. Once we were planning a conference together. The day prior to the conference, we went to the conference hall to see the layout. At the hotel, she mind mapped the seating of entire 100 people attending the conference. She planned where each volunteer will stand, what will be the visual cues to expect from the invitees, the signals to be given to each other to communicate requirements...

You know, the entire conference was planned.

She even planned for a probability of physically challenged attending and planned seats for them also. She arranged for physical connectivity for all the presenters  least the Wireless router conks off !!

Now,  that is planning. Let me give you another example, The Institute that I was studying was planning to hold an international conference in October of next year. They started sending out information to the participants sometime in March of the year. Imagine their surprise when in the month of April they received an entire plan from the leader of German delegation informing them or their travel plans including two day holiday plan !!

Now, that is planning. 

One part of planning is to anticipate what can go wrong (risks) and contingencies. Your planning should be like 'If this happens, this is how we will tackle it'. This is called 'Risk and Mitigation Planning'. Another plan is related to the infrastructure required, including special needs (planning for elderly, sick, children, physically challenged, visually challenged), sudden absence of a keynote speaker, sudden availability of an eminently qualified speaker who was not in the original list etc

Once you plan, the execution can become very smooth. 

That is 'Plan and Do'.

That is not how most of us do stuff. We 'Do and Rectify', we struggle with the consequences much like a novice swimmer jumping into the deep side of a swimming pool. We plan a party and do not plan food for the main guest who is a diabetic. We start a project without the right people. We start a road trip without considering the brutally cold nights...The list is endless.

Why, we even go out without an umbrella in the rainy season !

There are two main deleterious effects of 'Do and rectify'. One some of the errors are non-reversible. For example, in an ERP Implementation project (my livelihood) some of the configurations cannot be reversed one a transaction has been done in the application. So if you start configuring application without proper planning (believe me, many do), you are left with a long term disaster which is not easy to manage.

Even if they are reversible, some of the errors leave a mark. It is like being hurt by a close friend who later apologized. You forgive, but do not forget. Also, unplanned tasks, with monetary impact, can hurt the relationships. 

Ask any IT sales person who did not get repeat business !!

In his book, 'The secrets of leadership', author Mr.Prakash Iyer tells the story of a boy who was suffering from short temper. His father tells him to hit a nail on the wooden fence every time he gets angry. The boy does as told. Initially the frequency of nailing is very high and tapers off over the period of three months. By the fourth month, the boy has stopped nailing nails in the fence.

By this time, the fence is filled with nails.

Now the father asks him to remove a nail from the fence every time he gets angry. Now that the boy do not have frequent episodes of anger, the 'Nail removal' process takes longer time, about a year. 

Finally, at the end of 18 months, boy proudly informs the father that he has removed all the nails and he is totally free of anger. 

The father takes him to the fence. It is filled with holes where nails were hit earlier. Father tells the son, "See son, hitting the nails is like hurting some one and removing the nails is like apologizing later. Even if you have removed the nails, even though you have apologized, the marks left by your temper still lingers on." 

Isn't this story applicable to the effects left by the 'Do and Rectify' method? (Of course, the author was conveying a different message in his book). But this is what 'Do and Rectify' do. They leave a mark.

Take this recent case of the rollout of Obamacare website. This is a classic case of 'Do and Rectify' approach. I have no doubt that the issues plaguing the website will be rectified. But the negative publicity and the loss of confidence of the public on the government will linger on. 

How can you overcome the 'Do and rectify' menace?

One approach is for you to get a good planner in your team. Even if you can't  a good planner, you can  identify a good planner (Lets say her name is Mary) and ask yourself the question, 'what would Mary do in this situation?'. The moment you start regularly thinking like Mary, you are on the path to 'Plan and Do'.

Finally, why do people get into the 'Do and Rectify' mode? Many a times it is due to lack of knowledge of the implications. But you are excused only once ( for getting into 'Do and Rectify' mode). Once you understand the consequences of this behaviour, you are expected to move to 'Plan and Do' mode.

As they say,  'Cheat me once.....'

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