The Most Important Question

I referred to this in a previous post but I want to highlight it here because I believe it’s so critical to a well-functioning team: in a team environment, there is one question that you want all team members to ask themselves every single day.  You need to create systems that remind them to ask that question and systems that give them the information necessary to arrive at the most timely and best possible answer to the question.

The question is this:

What is the single most effective thing I could choose to do today to help the team deliver business value?

So much work is wasted because people are busily doing what was estimated to be the most effective thing when planning was done last week, or last month, or last quarter (but that planning is now obsolete and wrong).  Or maybe they’re doing the work that’s most most personally interesting rather than what’s most valuable.  In any case, if you’re not asking and answering the question every day with up-to-date information, you’re probably doing things that don’t matter.  And that’s threatening the effectiveness of your team and the viability of your business.

That doesn’t mean you need to hop around from task to task with the attention span of a drug-crazed squirrel.  Task switching has its own costs and that needs to be taken into account.  It’s also true that the most urgent thing that needs doing is not always the most important and effective thing you could do.  Of course the evaluation function for “the single most effective thing” will vary from team to team.  The point is to get clear about what your evaluation function is and make sure that everyone is applying it correctly every day using the most current information available.

How well does your team handle this question?  Do they have frequent opportunities to ask the question and make choices about how they spend their time?  Do they have the information they need to correctly answer the question?  If not, why not?  Are there systems in place that encourage people to act on stale information?  If so, get rid of them.  Does your team’s view of the world frequently diverge from reality?  If so, figure out what causes that to happen and fix it.

Do the most effective thing.

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