How Focus Can Bring You Anywhere

“John”, said his boss at their O2O meeting, “when are we discussing our cloud approach?”

“You’re right Stephen, but believe me I’m consumed by X, Y, Z,……you know? Please give me another 2 weeks and I’ll come with our proposal”.

“John, I’ve been asking for it for months now. I want it next Monday at 9 am. I know you can do it”.

Stephen liked John and thought he was a good manager, but he and above all his team weren’t focused enough on their main areas of responsibility. “Let’s push a deadline, to help them on it”, he thought.

It was Tuesday, and John paled. “All right, boss” he reluctantly said. “We’ll do it”.

John immediately set-up a meeting with his cloud team, involving the architects too, to share the bad news. The team was frustrated, and John too. Nevertheless, he was determined to succeed.

After 2 hours, it was clear that they weren’t going anywhere. John set up another meeting for the following morning, asking the team vaguely to “work on the topic”.

A strange feeling made him uncomfortable: “which was the real issue?” he kept asking himself. “It isn’t time, perhaps”. He started to understand that they were facing the problem in the wrong way, and what they needed first was to understand which issues/risks they wanted to solve/mitigate, which value did they wanted to bring to the Company and what they honestly didn’t know and how to get support about”.

John immediately calmed down, a small light finally appeared at the end of the tunnel he felt they were trapped in. That evening he worked on those thoughts, and the next morning he proposed his approach to facing the “cloud elephant”.

The team was happy: they acknowledged John’s approach and immediately started working on it, producing a list of top issues/risks, mitigation actions, and sharing their long-time view. They envisioned a list of partners that could help to refine this view and above all its implementation strategy, also considering the IT architecture roadmap.

Monday morning came quickly, and John and his team made a good presentation on how to approach the company’s cloud journey, sponsored by the architecture team. Stephen was impressed, acknowledged issues he wasn’t aware of, and encouraged his teams to fix them and pursue the plan they submitted.

When the meeting was over, John felt incredibly lighter: “was this issue so big or our approach weak?” The latter, he honestly thought. And more: “how many big topics do I have on my table which I am not properly handling? Come on John, let’s fix them!”

This fictional story has been a reality for me several times and still is. And I believe I am not alone.

Complexities are increasingly higher in our IT world and no easy answer is often there to be picked up.

John’s example in the above story is about focus, and poor execution you may argue. He and his team didn’t put enough focus on a relevant topic it was on their table for some time, without properly identifying key aspects and how to tackle them.

Ok, yes, you might think it’s always easy to retrospect and say that things could have been managed better, without considering the hundreds of topics on our table. But I believe it is not the right perspective.

Each meeting, discussion, deliverable spent by your team, and yourself on an unfocused topic is mostly a waste of time.

Time that should be in the first place used to gain a pragmatic and value-creation driven direction.

I already wrote about the importance to identify your biggest risks, which are a powerful tool to sustain your direction definition.

In my experience, you can gain more clarity on your direction by putting together a risk-driven approach, which gives pragmatism, and a long term view.

This framework can help to gain a broad view of your issues or potential ones and set priorities. But to do it, and to define your medium/long time view you need focus.

Try these questions to help focus on a specific complex topic

When you are uncomfortable with one of your big topics on your table, these questions can be useful to help focus:

  • do you know which problems you need to solve?
  • which are the biggest risks you can relate to the topic?
  • where do you see your team and IT organization in the next two/three years about this topic?
  • which priorities you should set according to the items above?
  • do you feel confident to define your target model and an effective implementation plan or you might need help? In such a case, by whom?
  • are you involving relevant parties to the table (peers, stakeholders) to discuss/get requirements or share thoughts and plans?

A possible approach to gain a clearer direction

When you resolve to focus on a specific topic, here are useful actions that can put in place, according to my experience:

  • share the urgency with your team
  • get an understanding of what has been done so far and planned the next actions
  • ask the above-mentioned questions and see whether answers come easy
  • then work with the team to find or refine the most relevant answers
  • when all main elements are on the table, ask the team to set-up a plan to be built upon them, setting a close deadline, both with you and with your boss right afterward, to get buy-in and execute as soon as possible
  • then move to another topic…


As IT managers we often complain about not having enough time to face all the tasks we have on our table: urgencies, unplanned work, moving targets, impossible deadlines,…

But that’s probably the wrong way to see our table, though.

Focusing on a complex topic, and then on the next one is what I think we’re all aimed at as leaders, and scaling this capability with our teams through effective delegation and leadership can be the silver bullet to succeed in terms of value creation for our companies.

We need to gain the confidence to tackle our complexities in a smart, concrete, value-driven way. It can then be a matter of velocity and priorities in the end. But not time.

“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.

Zig Ziglar