Getting Things Done: A Key Leadership Skill

It is a bit ironic that this post has taken me twice as long to do as my average post. But while it is an important topic, it is difficult to pinpoint, of all the practices you can leverage, which ones really help you or your team or organization get the right things done. So, just before the Memorial Day holiday, here is a post to help you execute better for the rest of the year and meet those goals.

Have a great holiday weekend.  Jim

Getting things done is a hallmark of effective teams. Unfortunately, the focus and flow of large business organizations combined with influences of the modern world erode our ability to get the right things done. To raise the productivity to a high performance team,  as a senior leader, you should impart an ability to get the right things done at the divisional and team level within your organization. And while there are myriad reasons that conspire to reduce our focus or effectiveness, there are a number of techniques and practices that can greatly improve the selection and capacity at all levels: at the overall organization or division, at the working team level, and for the individual.

Realize that the same positive forces that ensure a focus on business goals, drive consensus within an organization, or require risk and control to be addressed, can also be mis- or over-applied and result in organizational imbalance or gridlock. Coupled with too much waterfall or ‘big bang’ approaches and you can get not just ineffectiveness but spectacular failures of large efforts. At the organizational level, you should set the right agenda and framework so the productivity and capacity of your IT shop can be improved at the same time you are delivering to the business agenda. To set the right agenda look to the following practices:

  • provide a clear vision with robust goals that include clear delivery milestones and that are aligned to the business objectives. The vision should also be compelling — your team will only outperform for a worthwhile aspiration.
  • avoid too many big bets (an unbalanced portfolio) – your portfolio should be a mix of large, medium and small deliveries. This enables you to deliver a regular stream of benefits across a broader set of functions and constituents with less risk. Often a nice balancing investment area is drive several small efforts in HR and Finance that streamline and automate common processes in these areas used by much of the corporation (thus a good, broad positive impact on the corporate productivity).
  • aggregate your delivery – often IT efforts can be so tightly tied to immediate delivery for the business that the IT processes are substantially penalized including:
    • where a continuous stream of applications and updates are introduced into production without a release schedule (causing large amount of duplicative or indequate design, testing and implementation)
    • where a highly siloed delivery approach where every minor business unit has its own set of business systems resulting in redundant feature build and maintain work.
  • address poor quality standards and ineffective build capability including:
    • correct defects as early in the build process as possible. Defects correct at their source (design or implementation) are far less costly to fix than those corrected once in production
    • lower build productivity due to a lack of investment in the underlying ‘build factory’ including tools, training and processes or the teams do not leverage modern incremental or agile methods
    • delivery by the internal team of the full stack, where packaged software is not leveraged (recently I have encountered shops trying to do their own software distribution tools or data bases

So, in sum, at the organizational level, provide clarity of vision, review your portfolio for balance, make room for investments in your factory and look to simplify and consolidate.

At the team level, employ clarity, accountability, and simplicity to get the right things done. Whether it is a project or an ongoing function:

  • are the goals or deliverables clear?
  • are the efforts broken into incremental tasks or steps?
  • are the roles clear?
  • are the tasks assigned?
  • are there due dates? or good operational metrics?
  • is the solution or approach straightforward?
  • is there follow up to ensure that the important work takes priority and the work is done?

And then, most important, are you recognizing and rewarding those who gets things done with quality? There are many other factors that you may need to address or supplement to enable the team to be achieve results from providing specific direction to coaching to adding resources or removing poor performers. But frequently well-resourced teams can spin their wheels working on the wrong things, or delivering with poor quality or just not focusing on getting results. This is where clarity, accountability and simplicity make the difference and enable your team to get the right things done.

Most importantly, getting the right things done as an individual is a critical skill that enables outperformance. Look to hone your abilities with some of following suggestions:

  • recognize we tend to do what is urgent rather than what is important. Shed the unimportant but urgent tasks and spend more time on important tasks. In particular, use the time to be prepared, improve your skills, or do the planning work that is often neglected.
  • hold yourself accountable, make your commitments. As a leader you must demonstrate holding yourself to the same (or higher) standards as those for your team.
  • Make clear, fact-based decisions and don’t over-analyze. But seek inputs where possible from your team and experts. And leverage a low PDI style so you can avoid major mistakes.
  • and finally, a positive approach can make a world of a difference. Do your job with high purpose and in high spirit. Your team will see it and it will lighten their step as well.

So, those are the practices from my experience that have been enablers to getting things done. What would you add? or change? Do let me know.

Best, Jim Ditmore


About Jim D

Jim has worked in the IT field for over 25 years and as a senior leader for over 15 years. He has successfully turned around a number of IT shops to become high performing teams and a competitive advantage for their companies.

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Vision and Leadership and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Getting Things Done: A Key Leadership Skill

  1. Steve R says:

    Jim, for the most part I agree with your article. But you left out several signifcant needs that everyone shoud and must be cognizant of. The first is human behavior. When people are not motivated to perform for the benefit of the employer, dysfunction grows. The second key ingredient is alignment to business strategic objectives. If people and the teams they work on are not in alignment, the result yields more dysfunction. Leaving these key ingredients out of the mix and you have a blazing behavior fire that is difficult to bring under control. Your article implies that the individuyal Manager or individual contributor to think of their needs first ahead of the business. I could not disagree more. There is a way out. Using techniques to grow and sustain work transparency and accountability can help recover and put out the fire within. To do so, must start with the person in control.


    • Jim D says:


      Well said. Business objectives must be first and foremost in the work that is being done. I’ll update the post to reflect your additions.



  2. Dan says:

    I just wanted to say great post and enjoy ths holiday weekend!

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