Are you struggling to make real progress in improving your processes?

What if I told you there’s a straightforward three-step exercise that can help you identify the one obstacle holding you back?

If you’re anything like me, you’d love a step-by-step guideline. That’s precisely what I’m offering you today: my proven easy-to-follow system that will enable you to identify exactly what you need to focus on right now to build better products faster.

This exercise has been a game-changer, and I don’t want to waste another minute!

Without any further ado, let’s dive right in!

How to Determine What You Should Focus On Right Now In 3 Steps

Let’s walk through a very quick and easy exercise, which you can use to identify the one impediment you should focus on right now to improve your process. You can introduce this approach immediately, so be sure to take notes and try it out in the next 24 hours. The best part? It only takes 3 easy steps.

I’m going to show you exactly what to do. I want you to make a commitment that you’re going to try this 3-step challenge and when you do, you will identify the one obstacle you should address first, to get closer to delivering better products faster.

And I can tell you, the students of my Sustainable Predictability program absolutely love doing this! I think you will too.

The Simplest Exercise that Reveals Your Top Problem

What I know for sure is that optimizing your workflows is an ongoing journey. To be able to succeed with this initiative, you should take small evolutionary steps, one at a time.

The more problems you’re trying to handle at once, the more time it will take to see results. In fact, that’s the #1 reason why most transformation initiatives actually fail.

What I’d encourage you to do is design small incremental experiments and measure their impact. That way, you will manage to achieve quick wins that build up to a massive improvement.

You can’t solve all the problems at once – that is simply impossible. So, you need to make sure you make strategic decisions on how to prioritize your next steps. You should address one problem at a time, take action and measure the results.

Once you resolve that problem and see improvement, you should move on to the next one. This is a continuous improvement process, it never ends.

And the exercise I’m going to show you will help you identify the one problem you should tackle right now, in order to move the needle forward.

So here’s everything that you’ll need: a stack of sticky notes, a sharpie and a piece of paper.

Step #1: Identify What Slows You Down

Now, Step 1: I want you to use these questions to identify the obstacles that slow you down. Each problem goes onto a sticky note.

Here are the questions you’re going to answer. Every answer goes on a sticky note.

  • What delays your work and hinders your performance? Think about the instances where you had a deadline, and you weren’t able to meet that deadline. What prevented you from achieving this goal
  • Next, what customer’s expectations were not met? Were there expectations that were not aligned between all parties or others that had been set but weren’t realistic? Why?
  • Third, what are the problems under your control that are affecting your delivery times? Is your team struggling to coordinate the work by themselves? Are there collaboration problems? Think about the situations where there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication within the team. Or, are the delays primarily caused by the fact that the focus is being placed on the individuals’ performance rather than the flow of work?
  • And finally, what are the impediments outside of your control that prevent you from delivering on your commitments? Do you work with third-party vendors or external teams who need to make their contributions before you can deliver your work? Or is your customer the one who is taking forever to come back to you with feedback or approve the work?

Try to come up with 5 to 10 answers in total.

After this step, you will end up with a handful of problems that hinder your delivery speed.

Here are some examples of what you might discover:

  • Constant change in priorities
  • Unclear requirements
  • Third-party dependencies
  • Delayed customer feedback
  • High level of specialization
  • Too much work in progress

Identify the impediments that slow you down.

And the next question here is: how could you mitigate these problems, how can you handle these challenges?

Step #2: Look Deeper for Answers

In Step 2, I want you to think about the possibilities you have. Look beyond the surface and think about the root causes of the problems.

Don’t reconcile with the symptoms. Dig deeper and look for a narrative.

For example, let’s say that your customers are not happy with your last release. They might be saying that the changes to the UX are clunky and unintuitive. But why do they say that? Probably because the UX wasn’t tested properly before the release, because the feature was finished too close to the deadline, meaning there wasn’t enough time for full UX testing.

This means that the estimated completion time was too optimistic. It’s highly likely that this is due to the fact that your delivery date estimates rely on intuition and gut feeling, rather than data-driven methods, such as Monte Carlo simulations.

So, the solution for this problem is to adopt Monte Carlo as an approach to set reliable delivery commitments.

Dig down to the root causes of the problems you’ve identified. For each problem, write down a potential solution to that problem on the same sticky note.

So, by the end of this step, you should have 5 to 10 sticky notes listing both the problems that hinder your performance and their potential solutions.

Alright, so far, you have come up with problems and potential solutions.

So how to choose which one to start with? When you’re deciding which initiative to implement first, you should consider both the impact that each problem has on your performance and the difficulty of the possible solution.

We need to make sure we prioritize the solutions in a very specific order. So, our goal is to attack the source that has the highest impact on your delivery speed, the one that causes the highest amount of delays and is, at the same time, the least difficult to implement.

Step #3: Decide What to Fix First

In Step 3, I want you to take the piece of paper and draw the following table.

How to identify the one problem you should focus on right now to build better products faster in 3 easy steps

Now, you should take a bit of a subjective assessment on whether the delays that a certain problem is causing are high, medium or low, and how easy it is to implement the solution – is it easy to solve, moderate or hard to solve?

Then grab your problem-solution post-its and stick them in their corresponding section on the table.

What we want to achieve here is making sure we don’t start with the lowest-impacting, hardest-to-solve things first. You want to give priority #1 to the things that cause the longest delays and are easiest to solve.

And here you have it. You have now identified the one impediment you should put your focus on right now to improve your delivery speed and see results quickly.

And here is why this is so important. When you use this approach to identify your next step, you make a strategic decision.

Remember, you can’t solve all of your problems at once. You just can’t. You want to invest your labor and resources wisely, to maximize your improvement potential. Always remember, the most productive way to move the needle is to focus on one thing at a time.

Don’t overthink it, let it be easy, let it flow and just follow the steps.

I want you to commit to doing it in the next 24 hours. It only takes 3 steps, so make sure you block some time out to do the work.

I wish you a wonderful day and I’ll see you next week same time and place for more managerial goodness. Bye for now!

Do you find this article valuable?
Rating: 5 stars (4 readers voted)