Start Less To Finish More

“Full transparency, I am about to BLOW UP your meeting, in a really good way.

It’s going to be a big unexpected ask for the team and they are so ready for it…”

​I sent this text to my client last week, right before we pushed everyone in the deep end of the pool – they swam!

I’d started working with them around 5 weeks ago, and I knew they were really frustrated with me – but also being super patient and going along for the ride.  When I first start working with teams – particularly on a big change like this team is thinking about – ​​I’ll pull everyone back to step one: capture customer demand.

And if feels like we grind to a halt.

Only 2 weeks earlier I’d had someone actually say (cheeky whiney voice and all) “but I don’t waaant to”. 

We have a deadline
We want to go fast
We want to make progress
We can’t leave it all to the last minute

All that pressure we put on ourselves often culminates in jumping to solutions before we’ve actually done our due diligence about the problem we’re trying to solve.

“But isn’t it simple?” They’d asked… “the current system is no good and we need to replace it”​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Yes and – they were further along the path than simply replacing an IT system.  They had real reasons for change – reducing queue times for customers.  We had seen that was a problem in some observation work they’d done in the prior 6 months.

But in an effort to make progress fast, they’d skipped to a solution based on an assumption that most of the people in the queues were new customers who wanted to buy.

I’d played hard ball and asked them to look at *why* customers were queuing – go back and do your demand capture to understand what is important to your customers, rather than assuming a new system that makes it easier to buy online will eliminate the queues at the gate…

“Wow.  I’m so glad we did that exercise – it actually turned everything we thought we knew on it’s head.”

… they’d discovered that most of the customers queuing at the gate were already known to them (they’d visited before) and they had their ID cards.  The opportunity was to get those customers straight to the gate without having to visit a desk and they’d reduce queue times by 50% or more.

You can’t plan this stuff.

Honestly when I’m pushing hard on a team to go back to the frontline – I often don’t know how it’s going to turn out.  I don’t know if they’re going to come back and say “well that was a waste of 3 hours, we already knew that” and it’s my biggest fear every single time.

But so far it hasn’t happened.  So far it’s worked out every time.  We’ve learned something that we COULDN’T have known without going through that process.

And so here we were, having done that demand capture.  We’d done some analysis and come up with 3 examples that were high frequency (I want to buy, I want to rent some equipment, I bought online and I have to come here because the gate won’t let me through).

And everyone had settled in for a comfortable meeting about designing the next set of requirements for the new system.


“Let’s ask our potential partners to prototype this software for us so that in 2-4 weeks we can see it working in our environment.”

Well that was awkward.

“But we don’t know about  <insert the pet thing that’s bugging that individual most that they want to make sure makes it into the new system>

“What about <insert list of general functional stuff we know we need to get to eventually>

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​”They’ll never go for it! <on asking potential partners to prototype something for free or no cost>

Suddenly all that going slow, well we’d flipped and now it felt like it was all moving way too fast.​​

You see we’d already identified what was important to our customers – we’d done the demand capture (and we’d done enough of it to know that those 3 things we found, well they were predictable, they happened a lot).

So why not finish what we’d started rather than opening up a new set of loops about how we were going to do all the other things the new system needed to do?

It’s an extreme version of what I call “starting less to finish more”

And it’s one of the most powerful tools you’ve got if you’re trying to build true business agility.

This week’s video is not actually about this story – it’s about another way that starting lots can hold us back, spread us too thin, and destroy trust and collaboration.

These patterns of start start start (because then we must be making progress) crop up all over the place.  And they can come up in unexpected ways – so I wanted to show you two different examples to help it really stick for you.

You’ve read one.  Now for the other…


Love Your Process

Phewf, what a week!

Sometimes it get’s like that right?  And this week for me was a week to remind me what’s really important.  And instead of feeling too out of whack, I actually did feel pretty well grounded – for which I was grateful, and also reflective!

And then as I sat down to record this video, I listened to a podcast episode talking about Michael Jordan’s famous “love the game” quote.  And I thought “that’s it!”​​​

So this week’s video is about loving your process.  That’s YOUR process – not anybody else’s.  This week is about getting back to basics…


Measure For Insight

We have to change the philosophy of measurement, from measuring achievement (did we hit the number, if not why not) to understanding where to go next for improvement.

This little gem flew under the radar last week and so I wanted to go a bit more in depth and make sure you didn’t miss something which I think is *crucial* in building responsive organisations.​​

In this week’s video I explain what it means to make that shift, and I’ve got 3 examples of how your attitude and approach will change as a result.


Open Season… On High Performing Teams

Hey tribe 🙂

This week I had a question come in from Moses, who asked about what it takes to build a winning team – so that’s what’s this week’s video is all about!

But before we jump right in, something else happened this week…

The reason my emails are late is that yesterday, right after recording my video to answer Moses’ question, we got our first fire call out of the season.

Now I’m a volunteer rural fire fighter down here in New Zealand – and when we get called it means we gear up, drive to the site and are then helicoptered in to chase some flames up and down the hills.  The work is steep, physically very challenging, and a callout could come at any moment.  We are just entering our busy season at home, and shortly the crews will be deploying out to Australia and Canada to help over there too.

So as I sat down to write my email to you this week I was reflecting on yesterday.  First off, there’s something slightly surreal about putting out tussock fires as the sleet-rain is coming in with hectic wind and snow patches underfoot.  But mostly I was reflecting on my team…

My brigade is like family.  There’s around 20 of us in the team and we have around a third women (which is high compared to other brigades).  We are all volunteers and we can attend anything from grass and scrub fires on mountain-sides like yesterday, through to medical emergencies and car accidents.  You get called up at the drop of a hat and I can tell you that when that siren goes off, you can’t help the adrenalin.

I think mostly due to the nature of this work, this environment, the real danger we can be in – our crew does a *lot* of work on building a team, making it safe to speak up.  And that’s what I was reflecting on yesterday.

As we grabbed our gear and listened to the pilot briefing yesterday, we all buddy-checked to make sure there were no loose straps and equipment before heading to the chopper.  First rule of helis, make sure everything is tied down so it doesn’t get sucked into a rotor blade.​​​​​​​​  Experienced fire fighters on the door to make sure we’re locked in tight with the wind and rain.

At the top, we managed to get both skids down this time (not the usual) and ​​​​being second off the chopper, we’d noticed my team mate wasn’t sitting on top of our bags – a potential that they could get whipped up into those blades as the chopper departed.  I gave him a nod (because you can’t hear a THING when the bird’s running) and we sat down on bags, smiled, waited for the chopper to lift off again.  As we did, he grinned and pushed my visor down so I wouldn’t get sh*t in the face from the downdraft.

Mop-up was pretty low-key (that’s the term we use for fire fighters following a blacked-out burn line and making sure all the little spot fires are no longer burning, so they won’t start back up again).  We split the crew – half up the hill half down.  Conversations all the way about who’s keeping up, can someone with a different hand tool come and dig something out because the shovel won’t do, how’s everyone’s body temperature (the sleet-rain was coming in pretty bad at this point).

Amazingly, with snow patches on the ground​​​​, rain coming in hard and a howling wind, we did come across the odd tussock patch that was smouldering away and kicked back up as we started trying to put it out.  Apparently the snow had come in over a fire in Twizel earlier in the week and started insulating the fire burning underneath it – a bugger to try and put out.

But we made it nearly to the top of the ridge without a hitch, when over the radio I hear “Dougie, this is Mike, wellness check?” – yep, our guys on the ground might be sitting in their cars with the heater running, coordinating heli buckets and ground crews but they never stop checking that we’re doing ok – got food, got water, you getting cold yet, when do you want extraction….  Which is great to hear when you’re struggling to see them on the ground below.

With the ridge looking quiet and the rain coming in really hard now, we headed back down the hill just after 5 to beat the darkness.  Our downhill team had finished ahead of us and were happy waiting till we were in the chopper, but around halfway down our descent, plans changed and they picked up the downhill crew first (I counted around 10 minutes and thought I’d hate to be sitting still in this weather).

We climbed in the chopper, soaked to the bone, steaming, grinning from ear to ear and it was skids up heading back home.​​​​​​

At the bottom we all got out, carrying gear as we go – and I feel a hand on the back end of my shovel from a mate who’s just making sure I was carrying horizontal – sometimes those slip ups happen when you’re moments from home.

So as I sat here this morning, reflecting, I thought of all of those little moments throughout what had only been 2 hours on the hill.  Little catches, little checks, no matter whether you were more or less experienced – feedback given without malice, a simple “pass the butter please” – and how seamless that had all been.  

​​When I’m on a fire ground​​ with my crew, I know they’ve got my back.  

​​I know that if they’re bumping my shovel or putting my visor down, or tucking in a flapping radio – that it’s for the safety and wellbeing for me, my team, and for the whole.  And I reflected, how often have I been that lucky in business, in life.

I count one team where I’ve felt that magic.  I’m currently in the makings of a second – they just don’t come around that often.  But my fire crew are definitely that magic team.  They people you’d go into battle and walk over hot coals for (literally sometimes).  And so my question to you this week, is what are we all doing to create that team?

– D.

Extra links I mentioned in the video are here:

Dan Pink “The surprising truth about what motivates us” – – on individual and team incentives

David Marquet “On Greatness” – – a masterclass in servant leadership on a nuclear powered submarine