Friday, 31 July 2009

Knowing excellence

Really knowing what excellence means for your project is the first law of performance management. Everything else builds on understanding what excellence means.

The clearer, more basic, and more direct you can make your understanding, the better. Getting to excellent can then be a purposeful journey, with a clear view ahead.

Everyone has different ambitions – whether you are an individual or an organisation. It might be to write a book, reach a particular goal or grow a product line. It might be to develop a well-used and useful software system or reduce your carbon footprint by a certain amount.

Excellence can always be defined. It’s not always easy – invariably it’s difficult – but it can be done.

Carl von Clausewitz, author of the 1830 classic text On War, starts by asking the simplest of questions: “What is War?” He provides a pivotal definition:

“an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”
By defining war at its fundamental level, he expands our understanding and tolerates no weakening of war’s purpose.

It is instructive that a military man starts his discourse by considering such a basic question.

I wonder how many advertising men consider the essential nature of advertising before designing an advertising campaign. Or garage mechanics consider the basic design of the internal combustion engine before carrying out a service. If they did, would more advertising campaigns might properly communicate with their intended audiences, and fewer cars might be returned to the garage after a service?

War is an act of violence; advertising’s purpose is to sell, and car servicing should make cars run better.

Whilst von Clausewitz in no way implied that diplomacy shouldn’t be used in resolving conflict, he defines war as a violent act that forces rather than persuades the enemy. By this definition he presses the case of diplomacy.

If you have a project that has stalled or isn't progressing as you would like, back up a little and check how you have defined your excellent end-point.

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