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Define Success, Work Backwards December 27, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, strategy.
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I recently started a new position leading a factory quality department in a high-volume manufacturing site in China. This is pretty radical departure from my work over the last twelve years managing software development and software quality organizations, but it fits with my interest in international business, building teams, and establishing processes and competencies to support long-term growth. Throughout my career I’ve been attracted to challenging positions that seem far removed from my education and early work as a Ph.D. chemist. I’ve always tried to use my status as an outsider to bring a fresh perspective to the existing state of affairs.

One of the first things I like to do is investigate how my new department contributes to the overall success of the larger enterprise. How would we know that the department has succeeded? Can that success be measured objectively, using metrics, control limits, and targets? If you understand what success looks like, then you can align the operational processes, organization chart, job descriptions, and individual performance objectives to improve the likelihood of achieving that success.

Unfortunately many organizations grow and evolve in ways that can distract them from their unique contributions to business success. This can cause a lot of wasted effort on the wrong priorities, and in the worst cases outright conflicts between internal processes. Everyone benefits from a clear understanding of what success looks like, including partners and customers. Sometimes a newcomer with no previous experience and no stake in the status quo can ask the “dumb” questions that provide the necessary focus.

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