Manage by Commitments


I was recently watching a video from Donald Sull on manage by commitmentsand execution culture. In these videos, Don talks about the differences between successful companies and unsuccessful companies. His basic premise is a company's strategy does not make a company win. What differentiates the winners from the losers is their ability to execute, and he goes on to talk about managing by commitments.

In particular, Professor Sull discusses five ways to manage by commitments:

  1. Public: made and monitored publicly

  2. Active: both parties must understand what's needed

  3. Voluntary: even if there are clauses (I can only do this if...)

  4. Explicit: from who, to who, what's committed to and always subject to renegotiation

  5. Mission based: what you're asking for and why

This got me thinking about our planning process. On the surface, it's simply a way to build, track and accelerate a plan while getting buy-in from team members along the way. Many people will never get past this stage and think it all boils down to software. For the thinkers amongst us however, there are many deeper levels and while applying the five points above to the planning process, I was able to see why it's successful in so many ways:

  1. We define the goal, the purpose by which is to put bounds around the project/program (ref point 5)

  2. Team members meet as a group (ref point 1), identifying their activities and estimate how long they they will take them or their team (ref point 3). Often a discussion takes place clarifying the intent and scope of the task (ref points 2 & 4). This process gets buy-in from all team members.

  3. The activities set out in the plan are tracked (updated) in a group session (ref point 1). If an activity has not yet finished, the owner is allowed to re-estimate the remaining duration (ref points 3 and 4).

Conceptually, the planning process incorporates all of Don's five main points and is one reason why the planning process works over and over again across many diverse companies. More on the Fast Time To Market planning process by clicking here (then watch the video). More on the blog here, and more on fastProject that supports the process here.

Donald Sull is a Professor of Management Practice in Strategic and International Management, and the Faculty Director of Executive Education at the London Business School.