This past week I met with a colleague to talk about my method for launching a new initiative at work.  He explained that next month he will be moving to help open a new office in an emerging market and he wanted to hear my advice for leading this new market entry.

When I originally received the meeting request, I was somewhat taken aback.  I have never helped open a foreign office and I wasn’t even sure if I had a “method” for launching a new initiative.  However, I figured it couldn’t hurt to chat with him and see if there was any way I could add value.

Entering the meeting, I still wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to say.  I started by writing “How to Create Order from Chaos” at the top of a white board in capital letters.  I paused for a second to think about my past experiences launching new initiatives and then just starting writing.  Here’s what came out:

“How to Create Order from Chaos”

Step 1) Gain a general understanding of the initiative goal

Whenever you start something new, you need a “north star”. What is the overarching goal of the initiative?  If no goal exists, then make one up.  It’s totally fine to create a temporary north star, there’s no penalty for changing it later.

Step 2) Identify the key sources of information

When launching any new initiative you need to make sure you do your homework.  The first step to doing your homework is locating your sources of information.  Who are the key stakeholders for the initiative?  What work has already been done?  Has anyone done research on this topic already?  Who has expertise in this area?  What are the documents (internal or external) that could help better define the strategies and tactics for this initiative?  Key sources of information could be people, documents, videos, etc.

Step 3) Consolidate all of the relevant information into one single location in an unstructured way

Now that you’ve identified your key sources of information, suck all of the information out of these sources and put it in one single location.  This could mean writing things up on a whiteboard, it could mean making a word document, or (my personal favorite) writing notes on index cards and sticking them to the wall.  The only thing that matters is getting all of the information out of the many disparate sources and consolidating it into one single location.  The structure of this information does not matter, it’s better to optimize for casting a wide net and collecting a lot of information than it is to optimize for a structure that makes sense.

Step 4) Take a step back and look at all of the information holistically

Now that you have all of the bits of information relevant to your project in a single location, take a step back and look at all of the chaos holistically.  I find that it’s very helpful to use a whiteboard or index cards here, just so I can look at everything at the same time.  Presenting all of the information in one place and looking at it all at the same time helps define the limits of the problem.  It’s like dumping all of the puzzle pieces onto a table.  You know that the solution is right in front of you; all you have to do is arrange the pieces the right way.

Step 5) Identify the key themes

Now you’re going to start solving the puzzle.  Take all of the bits of information you’ve collected and start to identify themes.  Here I find that it’s useful to use an array of different sized index cards.  Big cards represent categories, medium sized cards represent sub-categories and smaller cards represent the granular bits of information or tasks that need to be done.  I usually spend a day or two arranging and re-arranging the cards until the picture starts to make sense.

Step 6) Identify the key work streams that need to be launched

In this step, you take all of the themes you developed in step 5 and start to think about what needs to be done to address each theme.  It’s important that all of your work streams are in line with you north star developed in step 1.  If you’re setting up a new office in a foreign country, your work streams could be anything from “furnish the office” to “win the business of a major client in the local market.”

Step 7) Identify owners for the work streams

Now that you know the different things that need to be worked on, you need to identify who is going to do them.  Whenever possible, try to keep from owning work streams yourself.  The more work you are personally responsible for, the less able you will be to lead the initiative.

Step 8) Decide how you will interact with the work stream owners 

You have four choices for the way you interact with work stream owners:

A) Active participation

If you choose this interaction method, you are closely involved with the work stream on a day to day basis.  You make most of the major decisions and maintain a high level of interaction with the execution team.

B) They check in with you regularly (once per day/week/month)

Here, you delegate decision making to the work stream owner, but you require that they check in with you regularly and provide frequent status updates.

C) They come to you when they need help

For this method, you delegate decision making to the work stream leader and do not require a regular cadence of check-ins.  Rather, you just make yourself available if the work stream leader needs help.

D) Full delegation

Here you fully delegate the task to the work stream owner and 100% empower them to act without your participation.  The only time you need to hear from this work stream owner is when they’re done with their task or they have a mission critical problem.

Step 9) Work with each initiative lead to establish key milestones for the initiative

Now that you’ve created work streams, identified owners and your interaction model with those owners, the next step is to map out key milestones for each work stream.  It’s important to let the work stream owner make their own milestones for their portion of the initiative as this allows them to take ownership over their deliverables.

Step 10) Map out all work streams against each other on an “air traffic control” board and track interactions between streams

Once you’ve collected all of the key milestones for your work streams, it’s your job to track the cross-work stream dependencies.  The whole thing is a bit like choreographing a ballet.  When one of your work streams pirouettes across the stage and jumps, you need to make sure that another work stream is there for the catch.

Step 11) Set up a meeting cadence between work stream owners (daily stand up, weekly meeting, etc..)

Now that your work streams are under way, you need to facilitate a regular meeting cadence between your work stream owners.  Depending on your timeline for the initiative you may choose to have a daily “stand up” (short meeting), or meet once or twice a week.  Most initiatives I’ve been a part of demand a meeting of all parties at least twice per week.  In the regular meetings it’s important to review your air traffic control board and make any tactical or strategic pivots necessary to ensure the success of the initiative relative to your north star.

After I finished writing up these 11 steps, I stepped away from the whiteboard and smiled.  Hopefully my colleague took some value away from this exercise of recording my method for launching an initiative – I know I did.

How to Create Order from Chaos
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