Ready, Aim, Fire!

Sounds simple, right? Yet, how many of us would reluctantly admit that in this crazy busy world, more often than not, we ready, fire, aim?

Just today I was working with a client– a business of 30 people–all of whom are talented and stretched too thin. Before the holidays we recognized the need to create a procedure for how to manage an important corporate process that involved many players. A team was assembled, and in a few weeks, drafted the process. Fire, right?

Since then we have had a few more discussions, hired another key player and had some indications from the CEO he wasn’t quite on board. We needed to tighten the AIM of the process; it needed tweaking. In Collins’ new book, Great by Choice, he discusses the concept of firing bullets before launching cannonballs. In other words spend a little effort to “test” or vet something, and then when perfected, spend a lot to launch big! If we had fired after the initial work, we would have had a system that hadn’t really been embraced by all the key players. Inevitably, its use would have diminished over time until it faded to black. The tweaking process is the AIM. It tightens up our work; it ensures it stands the test of alternative approaches that could be better, that it meets the most critical needs of all players, and that it will produce the intended benefit.

The AIM step is so easy to skip. I have heard the mantra, “launch it and then adjust”. If the launch is a bullet, go for it. If it is a cannon ball, wait. Cannon balls aren’t just related to expense; sometimes they impact reputation, and they certainly affect opportunity cost. 

The importance of investing in the time of doing something right, of AIMING vs. just doing it, FIRING, is not just a business discipline; it can be seen on all kinds of playing fields. For example, what is the benefit of training hard before running a marathon? If I am mentally excited about checking it off my bucket list but I don’t adequately plan and train for the experience, I would be sorely disappointed–literally and figuratively!

What is the value of AIMING before FIRING when launching a new product? Apple’s success was in starting with the big picture of a new “apps” operating system and then working out the details one product at a time as it rolled through the industries of music, phones and entertainment. Nothing about Apple’s processes or success required firing before aiming.

So why do so few companies take advantage of planning before doing? Strategic plans take time, but they align sight with the target, ensuring that the shot has a good chance of working. Once we have gotten our aim down, then small bullets can be replaced by cannon balls. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to get excited about an idea–something we read about, or something our competition is doing–and strike out to do it. We are so busy working on these ideas and replacing them with something else when they fail (generally speaking, only one of every four growth initiatives returns value) that we don’t feel we have the time to plan.

Organizations that plan, save themselves time and money as well as frustration. A plan is the discipline to work on the best projects, determined by a team with hard data and experience, in an orchestrated, integrated way appropriately resourced to give the best shot at success. CEO’s with a plan can divide their desk into three piles–things that are on plan, things that might be on plan in the future when resources or circumstances change, or things not on plan. One pile is thrown away (things not on plan), the “future” pile is put aside for 60 days, and the 100% of the time can be focused on the much shorter stack of things that align with the plan. Taking time to “AIM” is a time saver in the long run!

Back to my client. We called one more meeting with all of the players impacted by the process. We had a dynamic discussion and made some great revisions and improvements to the process.  We will review one more time and THEN we will pull the trigger. Whew! Saved ourselves problems, aggravations and money!

Ask yourself if your company is aiming before it fires; if so, time to go back to “planning” a bit more, to save time, money and sanity!! Let me know if I can help!

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