The Next Best Step

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the decisions before you? When there are numerous interconnected parts and an overabundance of unknowns, and yet you are called upon to develop a comprehensive plan designed to seamlessly get you from point A to point B? Such situations can cause even the best leaders to freeze up a bit. How can you develop an effective plan when there are so many variables that could impact the best path forward?

How about, rather than trying to develop a comprehensive plan that may be rendered ineffective in the blink of an eye, you simply took the next best step.

I’m not suggesting you just shoot from the hip on an important project. I am suggesting there is a middle ground between the 47-page detailed plan (which provides a totally false sense of comfort) and just winging it — a strategy that will allow everyone to breathe easier, respond to emerging information and foster more effective and timely outcomes. What exactly does that middle ground look like?

It starts with a clearly articulated end goal. Where exactly are you trying to get to? What are you trying to accomplish. You should be able to state this in a few sentences, including both the “what” and the “why”. These sentences form the foundation, the intent, of the plan. You can include a few sentences on the “knowns” of the situation — where you are starting, timelines, expected budgets, etc. Finally, identify who will be making the decisions that get you from where you are to where you want to be. The full plan should be no more than one page. And then, to implement that framework, you simply take the next best step.

There are numerous advantages to a next best step approach.

  1. It allows you to respond to changing variables in the moment, rather than having to go back and make adjustments to a plan that was based on unknowable assumptions about how the project would unfold.
  2. Once you have taken the next best step, you can see things you would not have been able to see from the “starting point.” Your perspective is different, and more accurate, allowing you to see shortcuts and roadblocks that were not visible two steps back.
  3. It builds a sense of ownership and accountability that is so often lacking in a “just follow the plan” approach. Active engagement in making decisions to ensure the success of a project moves you from a “they” to a “we”, and we is always more effective.

There is one catch, of course. A next best step approach requires trust. You have to trust the people closest to the work to make decisions about the best path forward. No, they don’t have to make decisions in a vaccum, but you do have to create a level playing field where their perspective and insight is given equal weight with the experience of those farther removed from the issue at hand.

The decision is up to you. What’s the next best step?

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