Pilot Your Program the ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ Way

“Ready, fire, aim. Do it! Make it happen! Action counts. No one ever sat on their way to success.” – Tom Peters, American business writer

In the business literature, especially in articles written by academics lacking practical experience, you occasionally see tut-tutting about those who just “throw mud at the wall and see what sticks” in terms of execution. This deserves eye-rolling, because that mud-flinging is what people outside the ivory tower call testing.

More on that in a moment. For now, let’s go back to the origin of so many modern business practices: the military.

Yes, the military teaches the “Ready, Aim, Fire!” methodology. However (and it’s a big however), you must sight-in every new rifle using Ready, Fire, Aim until you adjust its sights to hit the bullseye consistently with Ready, Aim, Fire. Another military endeavor where Ready, Fire, Aim resonates is artillery. Lacking precise coordinates, artillerists fire and use spotters to correct their aim before eventually destroying the target.

How do you apply Ready, Fire, Aim at work? Follow these five steps to make it happen:

  1. Prepare an exit strategy — It doesn’t matter if your idea is ahead of its time or you’ve just executed it poorly, if it damages your productivity, repair or abandon it. Before you make any change, arrange a way to easily roll back things to the way they were before. Don’t discard your old way, gear, or equipment; you might need them again.
  2. Realize when you know enough — Here’s where your thought becomes action — if you’ve prepped properly. Go too far, and your planning soon hits a point of diminishing returns.
  3. Testing is necessary, whether you’re talking a simple A/B split test or a double-blind study of a new drug. “Ready Aim, Fire!” works fine if you’ve already done your baseline testing. But until you obtain a baseline, fire for effect. You can be sure the military tested the heck out of bullets, usually in battle, before they discovered the cartridges with the best balance of casing, primer, jacket, power load, powder type, and metal composition for their needs — and even then some of the ammo’s effectiveness depends on the firearm’s rifling, state of maintenance, and a dozen other things out of the ammo’s “control.”
  4. Ready, Aim, Fire, Fix Give the traditional way a try, and see where you actually hit the target — if you do. Before sighting-in, test your ammo again, first.  A warped arrow will never hit a bullseye no matter how well you aim or how nice your bow. This also holds true for an ill-advised advertisement, a bad presentation, a poorly-written blog, a poor hire or a flimsy product. Fix what ails your productivity, learn from your mistakes, and try again.
  5. Correct your aim — Now that you’ve got everything sighted in properly, try again. If it works, great! If not, go back a step or two and try again — or return to the drawing board..

The cost of ‘doing productivity’

Stop listening to people who gripe about the Ready, Fire, Aim method. It’s a “cost of doing productivity” when you don’t already know EXACTLY what to do, or what your end-user wants. Lacking mind-readers, you’ll need to use Ready, Fire, Aim at least somewhat before you can aim accurately. Get used to it. Don’t obsess over it. Just do it and move on.

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This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.