Tortoise and Hare - Chris Hendricks screenhog com

Tortoise & Hare – Chris Hendricks on

Ah, the satisfaction of getting things done. Like many others, I have a very long “to do” list. Nothing makes me happier than whittling down that list or knocking off the last item of the day.

But In the rush to get things done, it’s important that we take time to set ourselves up for success. Sometimes, we have to go slow to go fast.

Why Go Slow?

Fast gets things done quickly… sometimes. Slow helps ensure that we get the right things done quickly.

Say we’re leading a mission-critical, fast-track project within our company. It represents a major change in how people operate, and it’s tied to a new corporate strategy.

Often we begin a project like this by going fast. We pull together the team for a short kickoff meeting. We create the project plan and then get to work.


The Pain Curve

The project follows the dotted red line on the graph by moving quickly in the beginning. Early on, we feel the satisfaction of marking activities on the project plan “complete.” (That’s represented by the first peak in the red line: activity increases dramatically at the beginning of the change process.)

Soon things get dicey. A vice-president expresses concerns about how the project is being implemented. The implementation team develops a subgroup that’s convinced that they must create a time-consuming extra feature. Rumors start to fly among employees that the project is another “flavor of the month,” and so there’s no need to comply with deadlines. Each event causes a dip in the red line as work slows.

We rally, work resumes, but the next issue slows work again. All of a sudden, the project is overwhelmed. We’re working eighteen hour days to fight the fires. Progress slows to a snail’s pace. The project is in serious pain.

A Better Way: Going Slow to Go Fast

Contrast that approach with going slow to go fast, represented by the blue line on the graph. We’re leading the same project. Instead of a short kickoff meeting, we schedule a half day. In the meeting, we work through the Power Five (five strategic questions that improve any change initiative or project). With our team, we refine the project plan and create a stakeholder engagement plan. We meet with vice presidents and other critical people to explore their goals and concerns about the project. Then we put together a group of employees to serve as the implementation advisory board.

During this process, we feel impatient: Can’t we get started already? It feels like all we’re doing is talking, and nothing is getting done. The blue line is barely moving at all. But we have been doing valuable work. We’ve built the relationships we need. We’ve built shared understanding of goals and success criteria. We’ve resolved critical issues. Now work speeds up, and we can get the job done.

It’s Our Choice

We have a choice: what kind of pain do we want?

If we’d rather deal with political issues, stops and starts, and firefighting, then choose the red line. Go fast up front and take our pain later.

If we’d rather reduce the politics, stops and starts, and firefighting, choose the blue line. Take the time to engage people, tackle the tough issues early on, and then speed through implementation.

Go slow to go fast.