Where are you heading with your project and how are you doing? The answer to this simple question is probably complex and I imagine you keep all the pieces of the jigsaw in your head.
And that’s OK if it’s a personal project with few moving parts. But as soon as you bring someone else into the loop they need to see the picture on the box and understand how you’re doing with fitting everything together.
How do you do that?
I’ve found that most people aren’t brilliant at laying out the puzzle. And even when something looks amazing, the facade can crumble under closer scrutiny.
The power of three things
When I’m asked into loops where I have no pre-knowledge, I try to find the corners and edges of the picture using “the power of three things.” It’s like Toyoda’s famous Five Why’s exercise except instead of drilling into the why of a thing, I’m looking for an landscape.
Every project needs different questions but all of them try to go three layers deep. Here’s the kind of thing I’m talking about:
- When thinking about this project, what three things concern you the most?
- What three things do you think of as its strengths?
- What three things tell you you’re on the right track?
- What three things would tell you for sure?
- Being honest about where you are now, what three things would you like to have completed in the next hundred days, six months, one year? (That’s a sneaky three part question).
- In three sentences, why did you get involved in the project?
- In three sentences, what is your role?
- In three sentences, what are the drivers behind this project?
- What three things would you like to get out of the meeting?
I’ve used this exercise face-to-face, by email, as a break-out, as a web-form to be completed before a meeting. I’ve used it on myself. It can be tough, it’s always brings insight.
My experience: solo is better than group exercise; written answers are deeper than spoken; time to think means better answers than time under pressure; asking the same questions of multiple team members is better than only asking one; 20% of people don’t give written answers at all.
Why three things? It works. It gets beyond the obvious and opens up the veins of free thinking. Mostly thought, it’s about setting an expectation of effort.
Time in the room
It’s always better if everyone’s looking at the same picture. The power of three things is that it gets all of the jigsaw pieces out on the table so you can maximise time in the room for the real work of any project: building clarity and cohesion, testing assumptions, and working together on next steps.
Skippy Strategy: Anytime you bring someone into your project, or join someone else’s, work out where leverage is greatest and knowledge is weakest. Put together a set of three-things questions and then do what it takes to give or get the answers.