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The Final 10 Percent September 13, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.

Success and failure are a breath apart. In writing most people quit right before their big break. In leadership and project management, it’s the last 10 percent that make all the difference. Here are three thoughts on how to achieve that critical 10 percent.

Thanks to Paul Jerry @http://www.flickr.com/photos/paj/

Proverbs 12:27 tells us “The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions”. My pastor once taught on this little bit of wisdom and gave it a whole new light to me. How much work is roasting the game compared to the rest of the effort involved in hunting, killing, skinning, and dragging game back home? It is very little work, perhaps 10 percent. Yet a person who doesn’t do that last step loses all the rest of the effort. Roasting the meat tends to preserve it, while the raw meat spoils.

How often do we miss out on success because we didn’t do the final ten percent? More importantly, how do we as leaders guide others to push through the last 10 percent? I would suggest 3 ideas:

1. Establish quality as an expectation and inspect what you expect.

I started my career in quality assurance. Later, I moved into development and delivered my work to QA, quality assurance. I still remember the leader of the QA group. He had an expectation of a certain level of quality testing before an item was shipped to QA. In development like so many craftsmen’s arts we tended to tinker with the code right up to delivery. We sought to make it just a bit cleaner and a bit more efficient.

That QA lead saved me embarrassment dozens of times. I would do some final tinkering. Then, I would be tempted to send the code out without re-testing. After all, I had tested the code thoroughly before that last change, and the change was minor. However, the thought of that manager finding failed code and asking me “didn’t you even test this”, caused me to run one more validation. So many times that last tweak broke the code. It was annoying, but it took my code to another level.

What was operating here? Very simply there was a manager who had high expectations (of everyone, but in my mind of me especially) who simply wouldn’t accept anything less that high quality. I knew that the work would be inspected and flaws would likely come back to haunt me. So I made sure every i was dotted and t was crossed.

You can achieve this too. Define high quality. Inspect the work for that quality.

2. Search for the missing 10 percent

A lot of times the problem is that people either don’t know how to roast the game, or don’t realize that they are not doing it. Part of process and project refinement is discovering where this 10 percent is missing. How do we improve our quality?

Every failure is a learning experience. If you treat it this way instead of shaming or punishing your employees, you will find more information and honesty coming your way. You will be able to spot and correct the errors. Finally, your people will become tied to you. There is real personal capital in forgiveness. “Holding someone accountable” for something they had little or no control over simply causes mistrust.

A final thing, your resources and your leaders are going to fail. If you are going to grow them and stretch them, they will fail. We grow many times more rapidly from failure than from success. You’ve got to be a strong enough Manager or Project Manager to accept some of those failures in order to make your people stronger.

3. Create processes that drive the final 10 percent

The key to long term success with the final 10 percent is process. In general the number of lazy people is relatively low. Even introverted people-oriented personalities, who do have a temptation towards laziness, will perform when placed in the correct process or system. Most employee under-performance is due to either a resource that has been placed in the wrong position or a bad process. Three quick things to consider to drive the final 10 percent:

Make sure you constantly improve your processes. Look for gaps and enhance them.

Make sure your team knows these processes. Under trained team members are setup to fail.

Establish project and task reviews to let the employees know that adherence to process will be examined. When you inspect work, you will get what you expect.

What story comes to mind when you hear “do the final 10 percent”?
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