Doing The Right Things

Our fascination with efficiency still trumps our dedication to effectiveness.

In 1967 Peter Drucker published The Effective Executive. There he made the now familiar distinction between efficiency and effectiveness where:

  • Efficiency is “doing things right,” while
  • Effectiveness is “doing the right things.”

Drucker argued that we spend too much time and energy on doing things right when, so often, they are the wrong things to begin with.

So, where are we forty-five years later?

In the realm of strategic execution (translating strategy into specific actions), we seem to have abandoned Drucker’s insights.

Think of how Project Management has evolved into a highly disciplined profession. Specialists earn advanced degrees and certifications, equipping them with various frameworks and techniques to ensure all critical elements are addressed. Companies today demand these credentials before entrusting Project Managers with large or complex projects.

But Project Management is all about doing projects right. What about ensuring we are doing the right projects?

Common Sense (In Its Original Sense)

In most companies, we are still making decisions with the same intuitive approach used forty-five years ago:

  • See a problem or opportunity
  • Generate a solution
  • Prove it’s worth doing
  • Get it approved

Common sense, right? Unfortunately, too common. In early English, “common” was an insult meaning low, inferior, or shoddy – an apt description of the intuitive approach to figuring out which are the right projects.

In the last two decades, we have discovered a long list of pitfalls in the intuitive approach. Teams overlook better solutions or over-value favored ideas a third of the time… or more! Many new tools and techniques have evolved to counter these pitfalls, but few companies apply them in a systematic and disciplined approach.

It is easy to see why project management received all the attention. It’s obvious when a project misses schedule milestones and spending limits so, of course, intense effort was applied to re-establishing predictability.

Conversely, how would senior executives know that a business team overlooked a more innovative and valuable solution? Even value estimates frequently go unnoticed given inconsistent follow-up practices.

Back To The Future

It’s time to reconsider Drucker’s advice. Yes, companies need project managers to ensure projects are done right. Companies also need specialists equipped to ensure we are doing the right projects.

© Dave Wittenberg