Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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From Idea to Action in 5 Days

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Does it feel like you're spinning on your next big product idea instead of moving forward? That's a very expensive scenario when a data science team is involved.

I'm often called into companies to organize them and move them forward. Most of the time, they have an idea of what they want to do, but for some reason, they just can't move things forward. There's a lot of activity, and a lot of meetings, but no real accomplishments. Does this sound familiar?

There are several reasons why this happens, but all comes back to execution excellence, which is not intuitive or intentionally developed as a capability in most organizations. Even with great thinkers and doers, if you don't have a good frame for moving an idea into action, you'll probably spin. However, if you're focused and organized, your data science team can begin work on your next big idea in just five days.

It Starts With Leadership

The first day starts with you--the leader. If your organization is spinning around, my guess is that you're trying to get too many things done at once. If your next big idea is really important, your first job is to decide that it takes priority over everything else. You must resolve this for yourself before engaging with the rest of the team.

Once you've resolved that this is where your organization will focus, develop logical and emotional reasons why everyone should make the development of this product their priority. I had a leader tell me if they don't differentiate somehow, they're going to die. That's compelling and emotional! This is the message that you want to move forward with.

Start With the End In Mind

On day two, in the spirit of the advice given to us by the late Dr. Stephen Covey, start with the end in mind. Define what success looks like with your leadership team. This can take an hour or it can take all day--but it shouldn't take more than a day. The outcome of this exercise is more than a vision statement; it's a vivid depiction of how the future will look. I recommend doing this in three cycles: macro-environment, competitive environment, and internal environment; in that order.

In the first cycle, paint an outline of your future macro-environment, including political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal, and other factors that affect your company. Fill in this outline on the second cycle with your competitive environment, including: customer, suppliers, new entrants, and alternative offerings. Finally, complete the vision on the third cycle with how your organization will look, including size, composition, culture.

You've Got The Brains, Now Start Storming

On day three, involve your entire data science team in a brainstorm. The goal is to understand how the team will achieve the vision. The pre-work on days one and two are important. Open the meeting with the logical and emotional reasons why this effort is more important than anything else they're working on and clearly articulate your vision.

During your brainstorm, let the ideas flow. Encourage free flow of thought, and capture ideas in an organic fashion (in a mind mapping tool) and not in a linear fashion. Most brainstorms like this will last a few hours, so make sure to incorporate breaks. When I reach most organizations, they've started here and they're stuck here because nobody's defined a cutoff period. You're cutoff period is the end of the workday--after day three, there will be no more brainstorming.

Making Sense Of It All

Bring the team back on day four to organize everything. It's important to reinforce the sequence--we're done with guidance, we're done with visioning, and we're done with brainstorming. Don't let the team regress at this point--that's how everything goes circular. The team must mentally switch modes from brainstorm to organize.

Organizing is about grouping and removing duplicates. This can be time consuming for some; however, it’s easier for data scientists. They are naturally adept at separating ideas into affinity groups. You should reduce the ideas in your brainstorm into tangible deliverables; this will be the basis for your action plan. One more day to go.

Moving Forward

Bring everybody back on day five to build an action plan. Set the expectation that by the end of the day, work will begin. Divide the day into two parts. The first part of the day is spent identifying the top priority deliverables (from the action plan) and when they will be done.

The second half of the day is a working session to get started on the top priority deliverable. While the data scientists are moving forward, the analytic manager completes the action plan and the change leader is starts on the stakeholder map. If you want to move forward within five days, schedule it into the agenda for day five.

Summary

If you have a great idea, and you have a data science team, you should be getting things done and not meeting to schedule more meetings. I've given you a simple, five-day agenda for moving forward. It starts with a resolution you make with the man in the mirror--so take that first step. If everything's a priority then nothing's a priority. Make this the priority, and in five days you'll be well on your way to the next level.

Submitted for Publication in TechRepublic’s Big Data Analytics Blog

This is the sneak peak of my latest contribution to TechRepublic’s Big Data Analytics blog. As editors do, when this gets published, some of the words and content may be arranged or deleted for a variety of reasons including SEO. What you’re looking at here is the uncut, unabridged, unedited version of the article that was submitted.

Update: TechRepublic published this article on April 27th under the title, “From big idea to action in 5 days: A step-by-step guide”

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John Weathington is President and CEO of Excellent Management Systems, Inc., a management consultancy that helps people and organizations achieve strategic results. His Fortune 500 clients include Hewlett Packard, PayPal, Sun Microsystems, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco and Visa where he managed and mobilized their enterprise data strategy, a comprehensive program of 150 projects, over 45 initiatives, and 5 major tracks. John can be found on many social media sites including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+.

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Guest Tuesday, 16 October 2018