Traction and Triage: An Interview with Mike Richardson

As OTA works toward a more Agile culture–one that values behaviors and capabilities that enable both our company and the individuals within the company to be more adaptive, creative and resilient when dealing with complexity, uncertainty and change–we have dedicated a section of the monthly newsletter to different topics within the agile framework.

This month is an interview with OTA’s Agile consultant, Mike Richardson, on traction and triage.

Deanne: When we talked about the journey of successful companies in the last edition of the newsletter, you explained that success is not linear; there is no straight path to the big hairy audacious goal (BHAG). Instead it is one of ups and downs, lefts and rights, and curves and swerves.

Mike: And the trick to navigating these curves is to stay in traction on our desired trajectory of profitable growth despite all the twists and turns that can happen along the way to the top of the BHAG mountain. We do this through traction and triage, two words you may be hearing a lot around OTA recently.

Deanne: I have, and I have heard you explain that triage is the procedure of prioritizing tasks and procedures to determine the most effective order in which to deal with them. Traction is the avoidance of “wheel spinning” and following the path of least resistance and highest reward to the best outcome possible.

Mike: Exactly! To stay in traction, we have to be working in business model 1.0 and 2.0 and 3.0 simultaneously. Our current business model, 1,0 is the only thing which pays the bills and keeps the lights on! So we must be continuously improving on 1.0, tweaking it here and tweaking it there–1.1, 1.2 and 1.3–streamlining this and strengthening that, all while simultaneously giving birth to an evolutionary 2.0 business model and a revolutionary 3.0 business model. And we have to be doing it with the whole business, and the whole business model. We have to be doing it with our education. We have to be doing it with our sales and marketing. We have to be doing it with our student success. We have to be doing it with our operations, our franchisee support, our accounting and our investment in people.

Deanne: Wow! That is a challenging task.

Mike: Doing it with one of these steps is challenging. Doing all of them simultaneously can be downright difficult. In fact, Bill Ford Jr, the great grandson of Henry Ford and chairman of Ford Motor Company recently fired their CEO because he could not do all three—1.0 and 2.0, and 3.0—all at the same time.

Deanne: So how does one work in 1.0 while giving birth to 3.0?

Mike: This is where triage comes into play. The only way that you can do 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 simultaneously is if you triage well. If you do too much 1.0 and not enough 3.0, it doesn’t work. If you do too much 3.0 and not enough 1.0, it doesn’t work either. The journey will flatline, if not nosedive, if not tailspin, if not become a smoking hole in the ground. That is what has happened to Ford’s share-price over recent years, because they weren’t doing 1.0 and 2.0 and 3.0 sufficiently.

The word triage is unfamiliar to most people and yet at some level most of us know what it means intuitively. We know that it means to prioritize. But triage is not just ordinary prioritization. Triage is extraordinary prioritization. It is the most acute form of time-management, priority-management, resource-management, focus-management and frankly everything-management you can get.

Take the recent wild fires in California, for example. We don’t have enough resources to go around to put out the fires, even when we fly resources in from out of state. In addition, the winds could change in an instant, and things could get out of control quickly. There is just too much to process, thus we have no choice but to triage. When we triage well, fewer houses burn. If we triage not so well, more houses burn. If we triage well and the wind changes, we must re-triage on the fly.

Deanne: It sounds like we need to be ready for the change in the winds?

Mike: And to prioritize in an acute, real-time, unfolding, high-stakes journey of a situation. That’s triage. When one triages well, we don’t overthink or under think, we don’t over act or under act. Instead one is in flow. And when one is in flow, triaging well, most of the time it all ends well. It may seem chaotic at times, but when triage is done well, it flows as organized chaos, not disorganized chaos, which are two completely different modes.

Deanne: The situation may appear chaotic, but in reality, there is enough order so that a company can make progress and still achieve its goals.

Mike: Yes, and there may be some wheel spin at times. This is when a company falls off their desired trajectory. A company may hit a speed bump, for example, and not experience the revenue growth, profitability, or sustainability that they want.

Deanne: But when the Agile business model is in place, we can adjust accordingly.

Mike: That’s right. It works like a traction control system on your car. The moment the wheel starts to spin, the traction control system kicks in and shifts the power, putting less power on one wheel and more power on another.

Triage is the traction control system within a company. To triage means to sort. It is the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.

Deanne: So distributing the power in this way helps make sure a company stays on track and keeps its momentum.

Mike: And to know when to change and where to prioritize on the fly. We develop a traction plan and we identify all of the things we have to be working on and triage them well depending on how things change shape, depending on how the landscape shifts, we re-triage, re-triage, and re-triage. Not just as individuals but as teams from different departments with different specialties. It is a collective triage, not just an individual triage. It is a dynamic ongoing process where everyone is in sync. And when we triage well, we create traction on our desired trajectory, as a leader, as a team, as an organization, as a business and as an enterprise.