This blog is for executives and others who ideate, plan, assign, and oversee difficult to achieve efforts. The inspiration was several clients asking us to help them do the ‘Impossible’ fairly regularly! Here are several ways that we found help to achieve an ‘Impossible?’ goal.
There are several reasons for taking on an ‘Impossible?’ goal, and in fact it may be *preferred. Why?
- If it was easy, others would have already done it
- Almost every startup was founded on an ‘Impossible’ premise. One is Netflix whose founders bucked the worldwide trend of in person DVD rental.
- There could be unanticipated spin-off benefits peripheral to your main effort. Think Tang powdered orange drink invented during the 1960’s space race food research.
- You will get further than you would have had your goal been less challenging. Even if you don’t hit your initial goal, you will have gone far fast 🙂
* Caveat: Setting a goal that is physically impossible like this example from my lovely wife: “We can make it to our appointment by 7:30 if we leave at 7:15.”
Me: “Well, my map app says it is 35 minutes with current traffic…”
Take away: Trying to ‘Make It So’ in this case leads to needless stress.
There are a few techniques to bring an ‘Impossible’ goal into the possible…
1. Prioritize (re: Agile MVP (Minimum Viable Product) fast and first.) Instead of trying to create the whole set of desired deliverables, create just those you need for a decent proof of concept. Don’t underestimate the buy-in you can get from a partial goal becoming real. If you just can’t get an MVP, back off on some sub-goals and get as much of your vision as you can. Maybe just one cool valuable result. Think how the mighty Microsoft trickled out Windows updates building on a truly bad product into a market leader over a decade…
2. Pivot. Create something related or completely different, depending on what your leader, funders, and customers want. Several startups and a few large firms and agencies I have advised found real value from pivot products rather than their original goals. Think 3M’s Post-It notes that came from a failed glue experiment!
3. Delegate. When time, money, or other resources are tight, such as in a complex effort, you may be able to delegate. Here are but a few possible recipients of that delegation: vendors, lenders, customers, virtual assistants, social media followers, interns, student ‘projects’ for credit (maybe you can get lucky and find a competent PhD student who needs a thesis topic!), advisory board members, family/friends, SCORE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), federal, state, country, local, and other government agencies. Think crowdsourcing such as the State of Texas Department of Information Resources who talked many folks, including me, into basically writing their methodology for free!
4. Innovate. When something cannot be done in a traditional way, explore new ways before giving up. Many, many times in my career we have been tasked with what initially seemed an impossible task. These impossibilities included not enough resources, something that technically can’t be done, crazy short timeline, and other reasons one or more people have declared a goal was impossible. Even if you are not familiar with Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Partner Agreements, or Business Process Outsourcing, someone you know is. You may have some very recent advances that could change work enough to make the ‘Impossible’ possible.
Here are but a few of the innovations I have witnessed making the seemingly ‘Impossible’ possible!
- New software, hardware, or other aiding tech
- Volunteers or ‘voluntold’ people to help
- New techniques (such as Agile evolved in the late 90’s)
- Automation of rote tasks adds speed and frees up time
- Customer providing funding and acting as a beta partner
- Hiring top experts rather than regular contract contributors
A closing example.
My firm was engaged to turnaround a large ($14+m) financial software development project in partnership with a financial and banking client and a major consulting firm. I brought in 10 IT contract specialists, two of whom were nationally recognized experts. I kept the 12 consulting firm staff, and kept the end client 12 staff. The effort was a mortgage tax system, the first of its kind. The goal was to retain and gain many new lucrative customers for our end client. The consensus of the end client, the consulting firm, and about half my staff was that this was totally impossible due to the amount of processing that had to take place daily in such a short window of time.
While I was very proud of perhaps half my team for making great productivity inroads, one breakthrough made the whole system possible: preprocessing using the database engine rather than the application code. This dropped the processing load during peak times by 75+%. It took several brainstorming sessions, some heated words, letting go one staff member who just would not cooperate, and fast proto-typing by our expert DBA. I like to think that my motivation and constant brainstorming led our DBA to this. It did not hurt that I used to be a DBA and was the architect on this project, but it was his work that made it possible.
If you have experiences with doing the ‘Impossible’ please share them here or with me! Now get out there and Prioritize, Pivot, Delegate, and Innovate your ‘Impossible’ efforts!