© 2016 by Mohamed F. Ahmed

  • Mohamed F. Ahmed

Traps of Scaling Excellence


I talked in three previous posts about how to scale excellence within your organization or startup. Even though there are plenty of ideas and techniques to scale excellence, it is easy also to fall in rate holes and your initiatives get stuck from early stages. Your scaling excellence efforts can be undermined by 3 main patterns: big bang, speed, and Abilene paradox.

As I mentioned in my first post, scaling excellence is a ground war and air strikes. You need to gain it inch by inch. You need to change not only behaviors, but also you need to make sure that your employees eventually believe in excellence and the core values that you're trying to spread across the organization. Think of your efforts to scale excellence as experiments. You are in constant experimentation mode. You always try something new to push the envelope further. In experimentation mode you set the desired outcome, plan your actions, measure results, and adjust your experiment.

Slow down to scale faster down the road. It is just like gaining a new skill. You do it slowly at the beginning, make mistakes, observe how you do it, and adjust your behavior. Make sure you do it this way. Don't overwhelm your organization with doing too much of a change in a very short time. For example, in on of my teams we do planning in waves, which is 2 to 3 months execution cycle. We make sure that we introduce only one change to how we execute during one wave. We kept it this way for a year. Eventually, we are doing more than 2-3 major changes without panicking the team or doing a mediocre job in these changes.

Abilene paradox is about a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many (or all) of the individuals in the group. Depending on post-mortems to correct your mistakes is usually too late for your scaling excellence efforts. I'm a big believer of Soren Kirkegaard quote: Life can be understood backwards but lived forward. Before pushing for an initiative do the following:

  1. Think of the desired outcome or behavior and list the steps that you want to take to achieve it.

  2. Set a side 45 minutes for pre-mortem practice (in triades minimum) by dividing it into 3 sessions, each of 15 minutes.

  • Session 1: You present the result. One colleague assumes postives results and go through the positive outcomes. The second colleague anticipate challenges executing on these steps.

  • Session 2: you take the position one of your colleagues and he/she takes your presenter position after adjusting the steps based on session 1.

  • Session 3: another and final round of rotation takes place and 3 of you do the same thing.

  1. Set aside 5-10 minutes to update your steps and goals based on what you learnt in the previous 45 minutes.

To summarize avoid these three to in you scaling excellence efforts:

  • Big Bang

  • Speed

  • Abilene Paradox


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