We trying to get your idea sold to upper management or leadership it could come as a big challenge to demonstrate and explain exactly what you want to do or how you are going to achieve. A concept of the operation, CONOP, is the best hybrid approach that I have found to answer questions quickly and tell someone the “5 W’s”.
A CONOP is a one page document that will answer the overall concept of a problem/solution set at a 10,000′ view. There is no fine grain detail or planning that takes place in this document. It is almost like a elevator pitch mixed with words and visual cues to answer the initial questions in order for someone to want to get to the next level; next level being a detailed plan for execution.
In a CONOP you need to answer the “5 W’s” both written and visual to capture both ways that someone understands information. You should have a diagram or image of what is going to occur in the most important part of the solution. A mission statement that has the words to answer the “5 W’s” and then extra information that would help identify a potential plan of action or answer some devil’s advocate questioning.
The above image is an example of a CONOP layout with possible information sections. “Main Idea” would be where your diagram or image goes to visual depict your idea. The other sections are not necessary, but I would highly suggest a minimum of the “Mission Statement”, “Key Tasks”, and “Timeline” sections.
Somehow you need to be concise enough to get your idea in entirety on one page for review by management and leadership to OK further development of the idea. This document will help capture that idea in order to tell your story with trying to aggressively defend it.
BLUF: Give your team the time they deserve to accomplish their planning before execution.
During any operation in the military there is a rule of thumb that should be applied to any mission planning set. The “1/3, 2/3 Rule”. This rule states that you should only use 1/3 of the planning time for your planning and give 2/3 of the planning time to your subordinates.
For example, if you need to move a logistics package from Tampa, FL to Atlanta, GA and it needs to happen in 3 days, then you should take 1 day (1/3) of the time to plan out the logistical movement at your level and then give your team 2 days (2/3) to plan out their part at their level.
If you think about this, then you are allowing the most planning time given to your teammates rather than being selfish and hoarding all of that time and everyone else’s time to create my plan and then throwing it at everyone else hours before the execution has to happen and expect a great execution to occur. Also, if you wait until the end to give your teammates your plan, then your team is sitting around doing nothing and guessing about what actions they need to take to make this a successful execution. They can only guess if you actually told them that something is coming down for them to get ready for.
This planning technique highlights a few leadership characteristics that I have discussed in previous posts.
- Don’t be selfish, be self servant. Allow your team the most time to plan for mission execution.
- Provide a WARNO (Warning Order). This will answer the 5 W’s for your team to prepare for without knowing the intricate details of the plan.
- OODA loop – Don’t let this 1/3, 2/3 Rule confuse to be a hard and fast rule about you do your 1/3 planning first and then they do their 2/3 planning. This is still an iterative fashion that you should continue to feed information to your team as your receive it.
BLUF: Planning is only as valuable if your information is accurate and worthwhile.
Planning and design is the biggest consideration if you have the time and information to apply at this stage. This stage will allow you to reduce code maintenance. It also allows for expectations to be set correctly.
Backwards planning helps you setup tasks that need to be accomplished by a deadline. This planning technique can be used with any software development lifecycle methodology. It allows you to estimate tasks timeline from a deadline and work backwards to see when you need to start each task in order to meet your deadline.
Here is a quick example. Fly from Atlanta to South Africa.
- Deadline: June 18, 2018
- Pack: 1-2 days before
- Find travel amenities (magazines, books, pillow, snacks, etc.): 3-4 days before
- Order new luggage: 1 week before
- Vaccinations: 1 month before
- Book hotels: 1-2 months before
- Book tours: 1-2 months before
- Passport: 4-6 months before
- Purchase plane tickets: 1-6 months before
In this example you have to start your process of getting ready for this trip in January 2018 otherwise you run the risk of not having a passport to leave. If you already have your passport, then you can start in April 2018. Obviously with experience and know how you can further reduce your timeline. All of that is part of the planning phase.
Backwards planning can allow you another tool to tell you if your timeline is accurate or if you need to reduce your workload in order to meet your deadline. This can also help you in finding which features or tasks will never be able to make it into your timeline because it just doesn’t have the runway to accomplish something that is dependent on another team or third party to accomplish.
Realize that this technique can help estimate points in Agile, timelines for Waterfall, or to find predecessors for your tasks. Also realize that you cannot always have a great planning phase without enough information to accomplish your planning. Sometimes things happen that interrupt schedules and cause you and your team to be dynamic.
These dynamics can either be your best accomplishment or greatest downfall as a leader. Don’t allow a misstep in plans to fail your project. Don’t forget…
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. – Helmuth von Moltke
BLUF: Get your team to own the work and increase the productivity.
Communication and information flow is obviously an important part to building a great team. In order to drive that information flow you need to understand the start to end process of how the process works. Where does the business process start? How far do you need push that information down? You also need to provide that filter to push the right information to the team that empowers them to be productive.
Keep your team involved in understanding of the business processes work, so that they understand as much as possible to keep them informed of proper information. This process will help ensure that vacating your position or going on long vacations allows the team to continue with the productivity.
The counter argument is that filtering everything might keep them in the dark about certain information that could be clues to keep them more informed of certain situation. This becomes a balancing act with the teams productivity. If you pass down unfiltered information, then you can overload team members with information that they need not worry about. Now you have inhibited their productivity from full potential. So keep the hims and haws from around the office away from your team, and allow for a higher morale on your side of the house and out of the office politics.
Build team value
Passing around the correct information and showing your team how they fit into the puzzle and proving the value that they are creating will engage them in the work. This will cause a greater degree of ownership amongst the team.
Encourage creative thinking
Don’t turn down communication opportunities with a team member that comes directly to you. This will cause them to never return to you for conversation after a few attempts. Sometimes these conversations present better solutions or opportunities for advancing productivity.
Get your team to own the process for product delivery and get them to engage through every part of it. Ensure that communication is able to flow appropriately. This is just a small piece to being able to deliver on time.
BLUF: Rules are there to be prescriptive if your team needs to be told explicit instructions.
I have a team that has no problem conversing about issues, problems, or just to BS about something that is going in life or work. Not one of my team members has ever had an issue coming to me to talk. That isn’t me looking at the world with rose colored glasses. They have come to talk to me about career growth, anger with other team members, benefits, and just life in general. I am 91.1111% sure that they would come talk to me about anything if they needed answers or discussions.
I have never been a fan of the agile process, but I am in a spot where if you don’t do it, then people think you are weird. So do we need scrums? No. If your team does not have a communication problem or deficiency, then there is no reason to have a scrum everyday. If you maintain your tickets, then you keep the scrum master happy, if you complete your sprint tasks, then everyone is happy, and if no one has questions or misunderstanding, then what do you need to communicate everyday?
Our scrums are not long, 2-3 minutes on average for a team of 4 developers. I hold to it that scrum is not for discussion. We do have conversation bleed over into more discussion in case there are problems or issues. The rule that is place to have a scrum everyday seems to be there just because. A rule exists because someone needs to be explicitly told how to perform actions:
- Holding hands when crossing the street.
- No toys at the dinner table.
- Do not run in the house.
These are some of the rules that my wife and I have for our kids, but these rules will diverge, change or be removed completely over time because they will not make sense or are no longer necessary.
Your team should be treated the same way as well. If they understand what they are suppose to be doing and the rule becomes a hindrance more than a business process, then take it away. Keep rules around indefinitely if they promote a good business process, such as, two developers need to review a pull request to ensure that code is correct, it implements the right solution and unit tests are written.
A common term that I always see in the military is “BLUF”; Bottom Line Up Front. A synonym for this you find on the internet is “TL;DR”; Too Long; Didn’t Read. These terms are used when you want to tell people the main point of a long diatribe. People don’t have time to waste on reading your reasons and insight into an issue or an informational email. Sometimes all of that filler information is not necessary for a leader to make a decision. They just want to know cause and effect, or they are looking for the exact issue and don’t want to parse it out from a long email.
Always start your emails with a BLUF. Give people the meat and potatoes of the information up front and if they decide to dig in beyond that, then they can, but the less than 30 seconds that it takes you to write the BLUF will save everyone anywhere from 1-5 minutes of reading the entire email and extracting the information that they need out of it. Beyond the BLUF emails should be short. Don’t waste more time writing a book that no one wants to read.
Start inserting this into your emails and you will soon receive questions about what BLUF means. Instill this culture into your company to save time. There are other small actions you can take in emails to make sure people are getting the most out of your emails. Prefix your email subject or email body with the following:
- ACTION – The receiver needs to do something.
- RESPONSE – You need an answer from the receiver
When the email protocol was originally created it was not meant to be a fulfilling system, but we expect so much more out of it in today’s businesses. I have seen people expecting magic out of it. “Well, I sent you an email about it…” If you put me on the CC or BCC line, then that email was not meant for me. Make sure you are providing accurate details in your email to ensure the best response from the receivers.