Early planes had few navigation aids, so pilots had to use their best judgement to fly successfully – thus, the origin of the term "fly by the seat of your pants." What is today's business equivalent of flying without navigation aids? What aids might enable you to fly your business better?

To see how these concepts played out in our project for this client, please visit Improving Planning, Accountability, and Profitability Using Workflow Automation.

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In a business, what happens when everyone is flying by the seat of their pants? Things will usually get done, though not without a lot of bumpiness – for example:

  • Tasks take longer than planned.
  • Expectations are not clear, resulting in rework.
  • Due dates are not clearly communicated and thus cannot be consistently met.
  • "Rush orders" and similar process workarounds become the norm, not the exception.

What is the antidote to flying by the seat of your pants? Knowing who will do what by when.

There is an excellent book, Who Will Do What by When?: How to Improve Performance, Accountability, and Trust with Integrity, by Tom Hanson, PhD and Birgit Zacher Hanson, MS, that explains exactly how to do this. (For more on this, please check out my 2015 Summer Book Reviews titled Free Range Staff.)

While the full WWDWBW process consists of five steps – Gap, Declaration, Request, Promise, and Outcome – the two key ones are:

  • Request – This is an explicit appeal directed to a specific person, to perform a specific task, by a specific date and time – with the hope of obtaining a Promise from the other person, committing to do all this.
  • Promise – This is the person's explicit agreement to fulfill the terms of the Request made by the requestor.

The essence of the Request is what accountability author and speaker Linda Galindo calls a "Clear Agreement." In her excellent blog post, "How Making Clear Agreements Will Radically Improve Your Business," she explains the components of a "Clear Agreement:"

  • Task – Start with a statement of the task or project. You can only own what you understand. Gain a high level of understanding of the task or project.
  • Outcome and Deliverables – Ask questions to gather information until you can unambiguously describe what you are expected to produce. What level of detail is expected and what’s the format you will be asked to provide it in? Are there any measures or standards you need to follow?
  • Actions – As your clear agreement develops, outline what you will need to do in order to deliver the agreed upon results. Consider whose help might be necessary and determine the level of authority you will need. As more clarity emerges it is likely this will surface resources that need to be provided. Will they be provided? It is a good thing to know “up front” as you craft a clear agreement. If the task is large, break it into steps.
  • By When – Someday is on nobody’s calendar. A date is required to drive attention and action. Be realistic rather than optimistic in your time estimates. Agree on a deadline that you can successfully meet.
  • Stakes – Clearly state the benefits of completing the task or project and the consequences if the task is not completed successfully.

In this month's case study, our client knew they had to stop flying by the seat of their pants if they wanted to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and to be able to take on more business – and to do so, clear agreements had to be able to be made between and among those doing the work.

While our solution used Technology and improved Process to help People perform better, the hardest part of our work was getting folks to agree upon definitions for terms which initially seemed to be obvious. Our insistence on setting clear definitions of these terms mystified – and occasionally frustrated – our client's personnel. We could not, however, perform the tasks, take the actions, create the deliverables, and achieve the outcomes for which our client had engaged us without having these clear definitions.

As it turned out, client personnel understood and interpreted "project" in many different ways. The stakes were high – without getting a clear agreement on a common lingo, the project would have failed. Fortunately, clear agreements were obtained, allowing us to develop and deploy the desired solution.

Our client is now beginning to rely on this solution to define Who Will Do What By When on numerous small tasks, visibly track the status of these, and provide accountability for everything coming together at the desired time – and no one wants to go back to the lack of visibility, clarity, and accountability of their old Excel worksheets!

If you've successfully grown your business so much that MBE – Management By Excel – no longer works, perhaps we can help you clear that hurdle. Please call or email, and let's discuss whether we can help you and your business achieve results like these.



Todd L. Herman