The Lars-principle

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on September 10, 2015
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Today I had a session with the management group of one of our hospitals. We ended up talking about how to choose what we’re going to do next. Questions like; “but how can we know what is best”, “there’s so many things to do” or “everyone have a different opinion” were discussed during and after the meeting.

I was reminded of a tip from a colleague and (to me) mentor from way back, Lars Littorin. I was complaining about so many things to do, not knowing where to start etc. His answer:

Great! Then you know exactly what to do; make a list of the things you need to do, and then start doing one of them.

There’s much truth in there. I think Lars is a great guy, but I doubt he knew how much use I have had from this single quote. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t even remember saying this to poor confused soul from way back

I dedicate this post to Lars, who helped me so much in the early stages of my consultancy. We worked daily and very closely between 2000 and 2005 ca.

Let’s dissect the answer a bit:

“Great! Then you know exactly what to do”

Having to much to do or not knowing where to start doesn’t mean that we should panic. Too many times have this feeling paralyzed me (and team, and organizations I’ve coached) leading to nothing at all being done. Or worse many things being started and nothing being completed.

Now we don’t have to feel stressed by the fact that we have too much to do. Instead it becomes a trigger, a call to arms for our trained routine in these situations.

That just took us from “Aaaaaaah” to “Great! Let’s go!” Quite the start Lars. Quite the start.

“make a list”

Lars tip in the second part of his statement is brilliant.

First of all it gives us something easy, practical to get started. It feels like we’re already making progress from our confused situation, right. We’re working here. We’re making a list.

Secondly, making lists is at the core of many great ideas and awesome books I’ve read. It’s structuring and visualizing (or at least concretising) thoughts, worries and idea. It’s like a little therapy of it’s own.

“of the things you need to do”

It had to be said, right?

What do we actually need to do? What do we need to do now? What is that need that force us to put this item on here? Will this take us closer to the goal or not?

I cannot count the number of times when I’ve written things down and many of my worries or work items have disappeared from the list, just by me organizing my work a little bit.

“and then start doing”

He’s pulling out the heavy stuff now.

Yeah, let’s do something. Because, as most likely everyone agrees on, not doing anything doesn’t resolve the situation.

Go ahead; plan for a year, weigh alternatives or estimate what would be best like the pros … and you will still not have resolved much before you actually do something.

Two quotes comes to mind:

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Praying is very important but sometimes the Lord needs us to take down our hands and get them dirty working. - My Grandmother, Salvation Army Officer (pastor) for 40 years

Planning or praying is great activities, but they don’t complete task. Doing does that.

“one of them”

The final part holds some hidden gems too.

So what should we do then? Wasn’t that a the thing that got us worried in the first place? Which is best? If I do this - this other thing will not get done…

Lars (and others) don’t worry to much about that. Just do something that you think is important. Then the next thing and then the next thing.

For this to be a viable strategy the things you want to do have to be small. One trick that I often try is to ask myself (yeah, right) or my client (yes, I do):

What is the smallest thing we can try to see if this is a good idea or not?

“one of them”

He didn’t say; everything that is important. No, do one of them. Only that. We are not expected to fix everything at once. Let’s do one thing that we think is important and then see what is the next, one thing we think is important.

Summary

This idea and tip has helped me a lot. It also scales extremely well and I’ve tried it in teams of 2 to 40, organizations up to 6 teams and once on the portfolio level of an insurance company in Sweden. It’s worked out great in all these place.

As you can see I was very lucky to have a guy like Lars to work with. In all honestly everything he said during those 5 years didn’t stick in the same way… but this sure did.

Thanks a lot for everything, Lars.

Since this has turned out to be the post of quotes - let me end with one more that pointing to the same thing as the quote of Lars.

I’ve shared this before, by Bob Beamer, inventor of ASCII, escape sequences, COBOL etc.

((((DO SOMETHING!) SMALL) USEFUL) NOW!)

Parsed, for non-techies that will become

DO SOMETHING! DO SOMETHING SMALL! DO SOMETHING SMALL USEFUL! DO SOMETHING SMALL USEFUL NOW!

By the way, you can read my “personal kanban board” if you like. It’s just a list of things. And some WIP limits. Ah, basically I “knew exactly what to do: I made a list of the things I need to do, and then I’m doing one of them at the time”



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