In this series, Justin Browder and featured guests discuss aspects of organizational, program, project and team leadership… in 5 minutes or less.

Shaving a Yak (Following your Strategic Goals)

Have you ever heard of MIT’s coined phrase “Shaving a Yak?”

We’ll give you a hint: It has to do with defining your strategic objective, and making sure the processes you take to reach your goals are articulate and straightforward.

Join us as AXIA’s Andrew Zotter and Justin Browder explain what it means and how it relates to strategic objectives.

What does “Shaving a Yak” mean?

It originated at MIT and it goes a little something like this:

You want to wax your car, but your hose is broken, so you need to run to the store. But, in order to get to the store, you have pass through a toll booth. Rather than paying the toll, maybe you want to borrow an EZ Pass, but maybe someone won’t lend it to you because you still have a pillow of theirs they let you borrow. As you go to return it, you realize it is missing the stuffing. So then you find yourself at a zoo, “Shaving a Yak” to fill a pillow so you can give it to your neighbor so you can use the neighbors easy pass, go through the toll booth, go to the store and get a hose all just to wax your car.

So how does this relate to your day-to-day work?

What you need to know is if what you are doing every day is leading you to your goals or making them further away.

You need to always assess what you are doing and why you are doing it to understand if it is really getting you closer to your objectives. And, is it worth the effort to do this step, or where can I potentially skip it or do a scaled-down version?

When you do this as an organization, there are a few things you will realize when you ask the questions above:

  • Do you even know what your strategic objective is?
    • If you don’t, start there and define what your strategic objective is
    • If you do, then each step of the way that takes you further from the objective, you need to evaluate and have a conversation around it, are these next steps worth it to achieve those goals?

As these steps add, those questions should continue to be asked so you know the total amount of effort it’s going to take to “wax that car.”

Some real-world examples:

Example #1: Stakeholder Group’s Feedback

When a SaaS product has a schedule deployment, Andrew likes to have focus groups with key users to make sure there’s good participation. However, if participation falls lower than 30%, then he’s learned people may feel their voices aren’t being heard, so pushing back the deployment may be a good idea and schedule some additional sessions.

Example #2: Single Stakeholder’s Feedback

So, then a few weeks after that a super user comes in who was on vacation and wants to provide input, but you may have to deliver the tough message that their input may have to wait until the next deployment so you can still achieve your objective. You can’t “shave every yak” to keep everyone happy.

Example #1: Research, Develop Recommendation

Say you worked for an online retailer and you want to add a next day shipping option so you go and look at your competition, review buying habits and shipping speeds and you pull that information into a recommendation.

Example #2: Customer Survey & Results

But, then a leader says they would like to run a survey and get customer feedback. So you conduct a survey for feedback and have another meeting to review with leadership. They say they love it sounds like a great idea and now we need to launch into an official business case process to achieve funding.

Example #3: Business Case Process

Now, you are 6 – 7 steps into this recommendation and then you’re launching into a formal business case, but all consideration points, you have to analyze, is this really worth it.

To recap: You first want to focus on the question about strategic value:

Define your Goals: Is what you’re doing day-to-day moving you towards your strategic goals?

Assess your Work: Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish strategically?

Challenge “Busy” Work: Are you “shaving the yak” just because it makes you and the team members around you feel productive because you’re staying busy?





The REMOTE Method to Personal Development

Personal Development…with a twist!

Brought to you by AXIA’s Brittany Marcellino and Justin Browder

R.E.M.O.T.E. – How you can take control of your personal development with the REMOTE Acronym

R – Realistic goals – Important when working remotely, really take the time to think about the goals you want to accomplish for yourself. Goal should be SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound, Evaluate, Re-assess) to make sure you’re at the right spot.

E – Exercise your Brain – How can we exercise our brains to meet our goals that we set? Read new books because they introduce new ideas, new ways of thinking, different perspectives. Search the internet, think about the goals you set for yourself, and the people that can help you achieve it, for example, you can find people you’re interested in and see what they are doing, what they are posting, etc.

M – Mentorship – It’s not always what you think, it doesn’t always have to be in person and it can be many people. Look to people who can offer you guidance, advice, insight you many not have thought of before. Reach out to people you trust and admire to get their perspectives, it can be formal or informal, whatever you want it to be

O – Openness – This is a weird time so just be open to how all strange this may feel even if it’s not natural to you. Acknowledge the different ways you can be open to achieving your goals.

T – Training – Virtual training can be really effective, for flexibility purposes. For example, some universities have free courses you can take online.

E – Empower – Empower yourself to get out of your comfort zone! Try something new and different. It’s not all going to feel natural, really utilize this time to make the most of the time you have to accomplish the goals you’ve always wanted to.

Summer Reading Recommendations for Leaders

Looking for some great leadership books? Check out this video with AXIA’s David Lim and Justin Browder for some reading recommendations.

  1. Book which had Taught you the Most: Rise, by Patty Azzarello
    – Great series of reminders on how to do better, look better, connect better, lessons on working showing up and networking better
  1. Important Book for Leaders: Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute
    – Leadership It isn’t necessarily what you think it is, there is a level of authenticity that we all strive for and leadership is personal
  1. Most Recently Read Book: Move: by Patty Azzarello
    – Focuses on leading through the Middle of execution, Organization to make things happen, Valor required to push through and communicating with Everyone (MOVE)
  1. Next Book on your Reading List: The Ride of Lifetime by Robert Iger
    – Mentorship can be found in books
  1. Fun Book Recommendation: All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
    – Has a little bit of everything in it, time travel, adventure, alternate realities, technology, life philosophy, family, relationships, love all wrapped up into a great story

Putting Positive Intent into Action

In this video, AXIA’s Justin Browder and Dan Piening will discuss tactics to take the idea of positive intent and make it actionable in your day to day interactions. These include:

  1. Take that (metaphorical) drink of water – Assume positive intent before responding
  2. Check your correspondence bias – Even if you know their situation you tend to assign people traits based on how they treat you without thinking of the entirety of their situation
  3. Use W.I.Q.s, aka Well Intentioned Questions – These are not gotcha questions, but questions to unearth more information, such as “Help me understand what’s going on behind the scenes…”
  4. Treat your employees as you would treat your manager – It’s human nature to act differently toward the person you report to so if you can bring that to your interactions with others it’s very beneficial so start with trust and fight to maintain it
  5. Create positive intent ground rules within your organization and your team – Then continue to hold each other accountable

The Importance of a Product Roadmap

What is the ideal state for your product?

This short video highlights the importance of focusing on that future state and why having a product roadmap is so important.

Successfully Working Remotely

This short video provides some quick insights about how to run successful meetings and keep teams connected while working virtually.

Project Premortems

This video will explore how you can pull your team together, gather feedback and create a discussion based on the assumption that a project failed.

The key focus questions will be:

1. What does it mean for the project to fail?

2. What caused the project to fail?

3. How can we prevent these failures?

The purpose of this style of discussion is figuring out how to prevent these failures from happening so that you can work to prevent such issues today.

3 Ways to Pull Best of Agile into Waterfall

Did you know that you can pull aspects of Agile into your Waterfall Project?

Watch this video to learn more as we dive into:

1. Embracing the idea of transparency

2. Embracing the of shortening feedback loops

3. Including a continuous improvement approach process into your project

By understanding these three aspects, you will then be able to use them correctly in your project.

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