How Can a Visionary and an Implementer Speak the Same Language?

January 24, 2013

When I hire someone to do a job, I want it done the right way, right away.

I’m always in a hurry (some may say impatient), so my expectation at the outset is simple; defy gravity, stop time, get it done. Am I alone? I don’t think so. From remodeling the kitchen to developing a new online strategy for their business, people tend to want instant results, and they don’t want to wait for the payoff.

Most projects have two types of people involved: visionaries and implementers.

Both skill-sets are vital and both people need to work hard to understand each other. The visionary speaks the language of the visionary, seeing down the road, understanding the value of the results. Visionaries can sometimes have a tendency to overlook the realities of the timeline and propose unreasonable expectations.

Implementers, however, are very aware of the timeline. In fact, they’d often like to buy themselves enough time to deliver a fantastic product and avoid the liability of failing to meet a deadline. The implementer is aware of the ground-level issues, the nitty-gritty that it takes to get the job done. They speak the language of the contractor, the doer, the one who must implement the vision.

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The key to making headway on a project is to understand that, even though you both speak English, you’re actually speaking two different languages. In this case: the language of the visionary and the language of the implementer. In order to get the job done, you need to find a shared language.

Whether it’s with your customers, supervisors, team or vendors, a shared language is absolutely invaluable.

Consider this shared language for the Implementer and the Visionary:

When dreaming up an idea and initially plotting milestones on a timeline, there is often a standard deviation from the projected completion date and the actual completion date. Both the Visionary and the Doer need to acknowledge this.

The shared language is about managing this standard deviation, and setting expectations accordingly:

  • At the outset, when a brand new project is in the “what if?” stage, the margin of error is 300% or higher. The project could take a day, or it could take three hours, or it could take a week. It’s all pie-in-the-sky at this stage.
  • As the project gains clarity, it starts to gain definition. At the stage of defining the “features” or “program” the margin of error comes down to, say, 100%: it could take a month, it could take 2 months. You have a better idea now, and your contractor should be able to work safely within the margin of error on your timeframe.
  • As each feature of the project gets fleshed out into a detailed set of criteria, the funnel narrows. Suddenly, the project starts to come to life. No longer a skeleton, it has some meat on it. At this stage, the margin of error comes down further to about 40%. Now we’re getting somewhere! The timeline is less of a shot in the dark.
  • As the initiative unfolds, it enters the final stage. From this vantage you can truly understand the full scope and begin to estimate completion within a 5% margin of error. Now you’re just guiding the ship home.

Even though I’m a bit impatient, I (reluctantly) understand this process. Truthfully, I don’t really like the concept of margin of error because it forces me to come to terms with the imprecise nature of life. I’ve been on both sides of this equation in my career. Sometimes proposing the unrealistic vision and also having the responsibility to implement said vision. When communication is open and clear, it’s a lot of fun. When things are muddy and unnecessary conflict arises, not so much. 

Developing a shared language among your team, will help get you the hustle you want from the team, and provide them with the clarity they need to succeed. I find that I’m less anxious throughout the project development because I’m clear on what’s possible and how to effectively marry the vision and implementation.

Where and how are you stuck right now? Is the vision clear? Does the project team have a shared language?