How Do You Encourage Your Own Adaptability?

I see a push-pull situation at many of my clients. On the one hand, the managers want adaptability—the ability to respond to changes. And, on the other hand, the managers want great (some say perfect) estimates and assurances that the project will proceed as planned.

I don’t see how you can have both things: assurances/guarantees and adaptability.

I prefer adaptability because things change. People get the flu, Murphy’s Law comes to sit on your project, and the market may well change while you’re finishing what you guaranteed.

I can’t make people be adaptable. I can encourage people to think in an adaptable way. Here are two questions that might help if you’re working on a project:

  • If you’re on a project, you might ask, “What’s the first thing I can deliver and for whom?”
  • If you’re a manager, you might ask, “When can I see the first thing you can deliver?”

Those questions help focus everyone on releasing something useful, and fast. When you do that, you can change the next piece of the plan.

Even better, try these more meta-questions:

  • How little can we plan and still know we’re headed in a reasonable direction?
  • What do we need to know about the plan? (or the project or the deliverables)
  • How will we know we’re going in the wrong direction for the outcome(s) we want?

Adaptability isn’t for everyone in every circumstance.

If you’re constructing a building, you might need much more of a plan with many more deliverables than if you’re creating software. And, you might still need to be aware of and manage risks for when the project proceeds in the wrong direction.

Here’s what I’ve noticed, for me. I can plan. And, when I think about delivering something small more often, I’m more likely to succeed. That’s because I have a way to check: am I headed in more of the right direction and less in the wrong direction? Do I need a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D?

I’m not big on trying to change other people by force. I haven’t noticed that works at all. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that when I change myself, others might consider trying other options.

That’s why the question this week is about your own adaptability. Not your project’s adaptability, although you might consider that. Not the organization’s, although I do hope you consider that, too.

Nope, the question this week is for your adaptable leadership: How do you encourage your own adaptability?

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