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The Death of Discipline

rainbow block pattern

A long, long time ago, a now almost extinct species once roamed the halls of our organizations. The natives of this species lumbered along at the speed of buffalo, maintaining standards and following procedures.

Lumbering Buffalo

They kept their heads down and focused on managing their own herds while ignoring everyone else’s. They were sticklers for details. They pushed their herds to get the work done right. Unfortunately, they didn’t necessarily get the right work done.

And then one day about ten or fifteen years ago, an invader on a fast steed bounded into town. He jerked his horse to a quick stop, looked around at the lumbering buffalo natives, and then shot them all dead. You see, the invader had been schooled in the beliefs of the New World – be nimble, change constantly, focus on your customer, innovate, get ready – don’t bother aiming – fire.

The slow-moving natives were in the way. There was no time for working through a process or collecting data. Seize the moment. Make it happen. Out with bureaucracy, in with… well, we’ll get to that in a moment. If a program didn’t work in six months, try another one. Push forward, focus on results, just get the job done, don’t confuse me with facts, take no prisoners.

Before long, the new leaders ruled most organizations and the lumbering buffalo managers were a distant memory. So all must be well with the world. Or is it? Now we have rapid change with no real commitment to the long-term. We lack focus on process and accountability.

Lots of projects are started and very few are completed successfully. In short, we have lots of churn and very few real results. In the haste to embrace a new, more dynamic model of leading organizations, we have lost the talent of discipline. Discipline brings order to the chaos. It brings alignment with strategic goals. It brings reality to the vision. It brings processes that create the dreamed-of results.

Discipline comes in many forms: in the form of accountability and commitment, in the form of decision-making and problem-solving, in the form of setting goals appropriately and then deploying systems and processes to execute those goals. Let’s examine some of the disciplines that are needed to effectively execute a strategic plan:

  1. After the strategic plan is created, there has to be a reality check before there can be a commitment to see it through. Is it possible to achieve? What will it require in resources – people, money, time – to get it done? Can we supply those resources?
  2. The strategic plan is then decomposed into programs and then projects. The Project Steering Council then implements an organizational filter to select the projects that the organization as a whole will work on. These projects are then prioritized and funded.
  3. If resources are not available, the project is put on the unfunded list. Funded projects then move into the project management process and are completed using a structured approach to initiating, planning, executing and closing out the project.
  4. The project steering council ensures that lessons learned from one project are communicated to the rest of the organization.

We are only kidding ourselves if we think we can run organizations without discipline. We can’t run our own lives without discipline. Discipline without vision and change is bureaucracy. Vision and change without discipline is chaos.

We need a balance. We need dreams and reality. We need hopes and plans. We need intuition and data.

Paula Martin

Paula Martin is a Master Level Certified Matrix Management Consultant™ (CMMC™—MOL), and the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute. She is the developer of the MM 2.0™ Operating System, and the author of the Matrix Management 2.0™ Body of Knowledge, the Matrix Management Reinvented book series, and more than 10 other books on topics related to Matrix Management and Managing Projects in a Matrix.