What We Produce Should Be Useful and Used

Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.
— Anton Checkhov

“Hmm, I don’t know who uses it”, was the honest answer I received to my question.

I was coaching an overburdened leader.  When I reviewed the complete list of things the leader was doing, updating a manual loomed as a large time commitment.  When I work with overcommitted people, I often look for tasks they are doing where the best answer might be “no” or at the very least “not now”.

After a brief survey of a few people, the leader decided to stop doing updates to the manual and see what happened.  It’s now two years later, and still, no one is complaining.  In fact, many people were happy to hear that the manual was being removed from the library.  Somehow the organization had created a large document that no one valued. The fact that no one was using the document made the lack of value crystal clear.

In doing a retrospective of how this even happened, we determined that each of these five critical steps was missed.

  1. Determine the audience for your creation and what value you are adding for that audience.  This should be as specific as possible.  In other words, don’t say the document is for “Organization X” unless the document is useful to all 500 people in the organization.  Get specific.  For example, “This document is for Organization X’s leadership.  It provides guidance on key problem areas customers are having and how to solve those issues.”
  2. Test your premise before putting in significant effort. It is important to know if this audience has the problem you think they have.  How do you test?  The first step is to talk to people about the issues they are facing and share your ideas about how you think you can help.
  3. Test a rapid prototype.  Returning to our example, don’t write the whole book of all the problems.  Pick one specific common customer problem that leadership often has a hard time-solving.  Provide a write-up that details various approaches that have worked to solve that problem.  Did your prototype show that this approach has potential?  
  4. Track whether what you produced is useful and used.  The leader I was working with found no one who used the manual they were updating. A little more research uncovered that people knew it existed. The manual wasn’t a well-kept secret that people didn’t know was out there. Instead, people were clear it wasn’t used because it wasn’t useful.  Go back to the first steps if that occurs.  Find a problem that is useful to solve.
  5. Learn and adjust.  You may find that the written documentation worked for some people, but most people found that having you talk through the solutions worked even better.  When this happens, some organizations take the approach to build short videos to augment the write-ups.  The two can work brilliantly together.

The leader who was maintaining a dust-covered manual was happy to put the manual and the dust in the waste heap of yesterday.  Freed from the burden, the leader was able to focus on big problems whose solutions were valuable to the organization.

Leaders find this last question challenging but find that answering it is very valuable.

Is any of the work you are producing destined to be a dust collector?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

Image by Monsterkoi from Pixabay

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