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Where to Begin

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The journey of a thousand miles…

Whether it’s a family reunion or a work-related project, the very task of planning can seem overwhelming. Yet, our success is often directly tied to our ability to manage projects and accomplish goals despite changing tools, processes, and people. So what do you do when there are so many factors to consider? When faced with daunting circumstances where some factors are within your control, but many are not – how do you cope? More importantly, where do you begin? Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said it best: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Whether you are planning a new process or attempting to improve an existing one, the place to begin is with your people. Once you consider the needs and experience of your primary audience, you develop a point of reference that makes it easier to make subsequent decisions. Conversely, if you start at a different point, with tools or processes, you run a risk having to retroactively retool certain aspects of your project to meet the needs of your audience. Let’s use a family reunion planning scenario as an example.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #1 – Starting with Tools

You and most of your cousins are on Facebook so as next year’s reunion host, you decide to create a group page for your family. You set up the family reunion as an event. You set up a GoogleDocs area for the planning committee. You post pictures and link to online reservations. You are on a roll, until…you receive a phone call from your elderly Aunt Jo, who plans to boycott the reunion because she felt excluded from the planning conversations that usually occur. She only learned about it because her granddaughter mentioned it to her. Yikes, you failed to consider multiple avenues of communication since not everyone is “on the Spacebook” as Aunt Jo so eloquently stated. You start calling around and find that many of your older relatives are equally offended.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #2 – Starting with Processes

Based on previous reunions, you believe logistics are the biggest thing to tackle with the reunion. You research various venues and options and decide that a beach weekend is the way to go.  You get a great deal on several adjacent beach properties and arrange charter bus transportation to the beach homes.  Everything seems set. Then, after a couple of weeks, the questions start rolling in – Are there accommodations for Uncle Pete who is in a wheelchair? Will all of the families with young children be housed together? What about Margo’s special diet? Who wants to cook for the entire vacation weekend? All of a sudden everyone seems to have some sort of special concern that must be accommodated. You implode and are on the verge of cancelling the reunion altogether. Once you factor in costs for catered meals and additional support, the reunion price almost doubles.

Your Family Reunion – Scenario #3 – Starting with People

First, you recruit a diverse reunion committee. This accomplishes two goals. First, it allows you to have representation from a variety of age groups and interests. Second, it provides a support team for logistics, finance, communication, and execution. You set up standing conference calls and discuss volunteer needs. You disseminate a list of questions and ask the planning committee to poll different relatives regarding preferences, special needs, willingness to help with specific tasks, and acceptable budgets. Armed with their feedback, you and the committee research reunion venue options and decide to take a family cruise. Everyone is informed and feels involved in the reunion. You are a hero!

Closing Thoughts

When considering any project, start with the needs of your people. Ultimately, every occupation in the world is based on improving the lives of people. When you start by considering the needs of the people and envisioning the experience you want them to have, you are already well on your way. Your tools and processes can then be driven by the needs of your customer audience. In some cases, you will have the leverage to switch or change tools or processes. In any case, you can examine your constant and variable factors. Which aspects are feasible to change? Which positive aspects are so entrenched in the culture that you want to be certain to preserve them? How can you incorporate feedback from previous efforts into your strategy? Ask yourself questions that make your customer audience your highest priority. Then, enjoy the journey as you incorporate change!

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