Let’s stop walking in circles please!

Updated: May 25

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - Lao Tzu

Iteration is a word we hear a lot these days. I can easily identify ten or more companies that have the word in their name. Iteration Manager is now a common role in Agile environments. I’ve had discussions with people arguing that transformation is not important, but iteration is.

Iteration is a great concept as long as it is part of a wider context. The word itself simply means repeating the same process over and over.

But what happens if we are repeating the wrong process, iterating in the wrong direction?

Executing a strategy is like climbing a mountain. You must decide which mountain you want to climb and then head in the right direction. Then you’ve got to keep walking in the right direction. Walking is a type of iteration, we put one foot in front of the other again and again and eventually we get to where we want to go.

But it’s also true that if we go in the wrong direction, we end up moving just as inexorably away from our goal. Simply iterating without a clear idea of where we are going is not enough. We need to keep a close eye on where we put our feet so that we don’t stumble.

While it's true that learning from failure is an important part of how we do things in modern ways of working, walking in the wrong direction isn't a failure you can learn from, it's just - wrong.

Great business leaders do it all: Set the strategy, repeat the things that move towards that strategy, check that the strategy is still valid and adjust direction if need be, avoid obstacles, learn from failures, keep moving, look back to see how far they’ve come and look forward to check that the way ahead is clear. They view the whole picture.

When we reach the top of the mountain the full transformation becomes apparent; however effective transformation is also about envisioning what cannot be seen. Sometimes we have to climb a mountain covered in cloud, or we climb one ridge only for another higher one to be revealed.

Transformation happens when many effective processes come together. Iteration is certainly important, but it’s not a magic one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.

I have known many situations where teams are iterating rapidly and precisely and yet no real progress is being made. On the other hand, if the goal is clear and the processes are aiming in the same direction, it's remarkable how rapid progress can become.

Even the best walkers sometimes need a guide. Without a clear goal and a path to get there, we’re just walking in circles.

Ray Delany is the Founder of CIO Studio, a company built to partner with SMEs and help them solve the “strategy” problem and align their digital investment with their business outcomes.


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