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Use Simple Rules To Explode Into Action And Beat Procrastination

The tent was packed with soldier on a christmas lunch when the explosion happened. It was the busies hour for the caterin in Mosul. A suicide bomber had walked in wearing a friendly uniform when the terror started. The year was 2004.

As the dust settled, Sergeant Edward Montoya sprang into action from under the table where he miraculously hidden in time to save himself. He began to search through the casualties in order to evaluate the situation.

Within hours, a small makeshift hospital had been set up and the troops were taking care of the injured. Those with the most urgent needs were taken in first, minor wounds were put in the hallway and the less seriously injured people were waiting in the parking lot.

88 soldiers and allies forces who were injured to varying degrees and in different degrees were waiting for treatment. No fatalities occurred.

Now the question that has obsessed me for quite a time is this.

How is it possible to default into massive action and create such an effective organisation out of total chaos?

During World War II, the US Medical Administration introduced a process to prioritize treatment and reduce fatalities. The “Triage” was a set of simple rules that guided the way patients were dealt with; Is the pulse below 120? Is the respiratory rate greater than 10 but less than 30? Can the patient follow a simple instruction?

These simple rules allowed anyone to assess the need for help in less than a minute and mark the injured person with a color code indicating the urgency and level of treatment. Treatment with the green label could be safely shifted, yellow with urgency, red with priority, and those with black marking were deemed to be beyond intervention.

When working with limited resources it is critical that team members are able to move fast and precise even in chaotic situations. Aviation engineers at Boeing had to learn this the hard way.

The Flying Fortress was one of the most ambitious projects of the United States Air Force in the 1930s. It was a bomber that was being prepared for World War II and it had to rewrite the rules of the game.

Captain Pete ‘Ployer’ Hill and his crew served as the test team on a routine flight.

Then, something went wrong. The plane crashed and all of the crew died.

Horrified by the experience, Boeing launched a major accident analysis. The investigation revealed that the cause of the accident was a simple human error.

The crew had forgotten to release the locking pins that fixed the wing flaps while the aircraft was parked on the tarmac. The complexity of this new type of aircraft had exceeded the capabilities of even the best pilots.

High level of complexity is not only one of the biggest obstacles to getting started, but a root cause for many epic failures.

Complexity, combined with urgency is a recipe for disaster.

To date, I have met with only one software project that had seemingly endless resourcess at their disposal. For the rest of us, there is always a budget and it is usually slim.

For most airline pilots, it is too late to write an action plan when inside the firestorm.

Much the same way, it is way too late to draft a plan for taking care of injured after an explosion.

The latest example of course is the pandemic we are dealing with now in 2020. Most officials were horribly late with taking action during the first wave.

One of the core conclusions in the Flying Fortress investigation was that people forget things and don’t effectively solve problems under pressure. But what people can do is that they are able to follow simple rules that get them moving. They came up with checklists and the rest is history. Aviation became the worlds safest mode of transport.

Getting the team over the threshold of starting is critical if you wish to create results no matter the circumstance.

These small decision making protocols like the ”triage” or checklists in aviation must be planned well in advance of the troops shipping out with their tents and flying into a warzone.

For this reason, I ask, what does your team or organisation do when resources are scarce and the deadline was yesterday? What are the 3–5 decisions that you must take to not only survive, but also to raise your game in the difficult moments? What’s are your ”triages” in different difficult situations?

These small decision making protocols must be planned well in advance of the troops shipping out with their tents and flying into a warzone.

And if you don’t plan them, who would do it for you?

The Tool

Isn’t it true that complexity is the enemy of execution? All the while simplicity invites into action.

Step #1: Think about the critical moments that your team or project faces. The kind of moments that define your relationship with clients, or the internal dynamics of the team, or maybe even things like go-live decisions. Make a list of all critical moments that you can think of. And be as specific as you can!

Usually, on my list, there are things about starting new things or wrapping up others, there are debriefings and mission briefings, there are handovers from a phase to another, client reclamations, arranging customer demos or software emergency updates/roll-backs.

Step #2: As your list can get long, it is important to decide where to put the focus first. Simplicity, after all, invites into action. So, circle 1–3 critical moments from your list that you feel are most important at the moment. If you’re doing this session with colleagues, compare what you’ve got.

Step #3: Now, take each circled item and draft a set of 3–5 simple rules that are paramount to succeeding. For example in aviation, the problem solving script stays pretty close to these keywords: Aviate, Navigate, Investigate, Communicate, Secure.

Bonus Step: When and how could you teach these simple rulesets to your team?

P.S. Are you a software professional committed to excellence? The FREE ”What Makes Software Awesome” E-Book I wrote might be for you. Check it out here:

P.P.S. Did you like what you read? Please, double tap that clap or share this on your social. This way more people can be exposed to ideas that create awesome software quality!

Today the world doesn’t need your fear or your worry. Now, more than ever, it needs the best version of you!

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