Friday, April 3, 2020

Non-Fiction: Review of The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covery, and Jim Huling

For the unaware, when I’m not wearing my super-hero blogger spandex, I work in IT (wearing IT spandex, you know…). Specifically, I work for a manufacturing company, which is a lot different than working for a company whose main business is providing IT services. Rather than being a core function that drives value and profitability, IT is yet one more gaping mouth sucking up overhead costs. The business has their own priorities, many of which are of the quick-get-it-done-now-or-the-world-will-burn-down variety that really stretches my spandex. While I do my best to avoid it, I see how many of my colleagues are sucked into this swirl of whack-a-mole firefighting. Naturally, this results in a lot of frustration. People don’t feel they are working on truly value-added projects, or believe that many things which should have more priority are getting it, let alone ideas that actually come to fruition.

I’m not here as a paid-proponent of Sean Covey, Jim Huling, and Chris McChesney’s The Four Disciples of Execution (2012) as a way of combating the situation described above. But I can say that even at a bare minimum, its ideas and main thrust should be at least a springboard for thought to anyone in business looking to get out of the swirl of a persistently reactive work environment that is full of good ideas that don’t often become reality.
Like many good ideas and methods in business, The Four Disciplines of Execution (or 4DX as it’s known in short) is not rocket science. It’s a simplification, in fact—a way of carving out an eye of the storm for you and colleagues to focus on value-added effort—efforts, plural, only as needed—and see them through to completion. I won’t lay out the disciplines in detail—that is best done by the authors. But I can say that they focus on four areas (surprise!): focus (on what’s truly value-added by setting aside time with you and your team), leverage (apply effort in the truly effective areas, not everywhere), engagement (getting the team involved by non- authoritarian means), and accountability (following through on actions to reach the final goal). (Any mistake in paraphrasing is solely mine. IT spandex only gets you so far…)

Again, not rocket science, right? And the authors are correct: getting a group of people to buy into a concrete goal and execute upon it to completion remains the crux upon which a lot of success—and careers—in business hinges. Thus, regardless whether the four disciplines are applied to the nth degree of detail (such details are available in the book, for the interested), or applied in sentiment through to the end, there is value in the concept.

Supplementing the four disciplines are a few recurring themes: the importance of having concrete goals (versus lofty, abstract goals); the importance of having lag and lead measurements (and what each are appropriate for), the importance of cadence in bringing the group together to separate from the swirl. And there are others; I won’t steal all the authors’ ideas for this review.

Alas for my poor IT organization, we remain at the whims of business units which still operate in the swirl. But there are still pockets of opportunity to apply the principles of 4DX. Thus for me personally, applying the sentiment of the concept has been successful—not at super hero, spandex-wearing levels, but to minor degrees that we are looking to build upon.

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