|Surprises occur when something happens that you didn’t expect. Sometimes that’s just unavoidable, but many surprises are completely avoidable.
Surprises often occur because we have a false definition of “Done”. Just because we complete our task, doesn’t mean that the job is done. For example, let’s say you’re tasked to change a process that will achieve a cost savings of 25%. So, you do your thing, come up with a better process, trial it, document it, and roll it out. You even make sure that the training department creates a course to teach the new process. You’re happy, everything worked out great and you think you’re done. Are you? What if people don’t use the process? What if in using the process, discoveries are made that require a tweak in the process? What if the new process doesn’t achieve the objectives of why it was created in the first place? Are you “done” when the new process rolls out or are you done when the use of the new process is successful?
Let’s say you’re applying for a mortgage, or applying for a job, or rolling out a new product, or producing a new marketing campaign. Are you “Done” when you hit the submit button, or you shipped the new product, or you give the advertising agency the go ahead to print it?
The Critical Thinking question to ask to define “Done” and avoid surprises is simply, “What’s Next?”. Asking this questions triggers look ahead thinking to understand what’s coming, prepare for it, and not be surprised about it.
After you submit an application, ask “What’s Next?”. It might be to verify that the application was received or to check the status. It might be to understand what other deliverables are required and when they are due?
After rolling out a new process, ask “What’s Next?”. Maybe to check how people are using it, if it’s achieving its objective, and if there are some steps that need tweaking?
If you’ve signed a lease on a new apartment ask, “What’s Next?” Perhaps it’s to setup the utilities and billing, figure out when and how you’re going to move, and where you will place your furniture, etc.
Asking "What’s Next?" before, and at the very least no later then when you finish a task, will greatly diminish surprises down the road. You’ve anticipated the next step, the next thing, the next deliverable, the next task. Put these on your to-do list. Now you know what’s next, so you can plan for it and avoid a later surprise or an oops.
Are you ever done? Yes. When the answer to “What’s Next?” is “Nothing” then you are done. Although the response of “nothing” will be much less common than “something”, don’t despair. Be happy and satisfied that you’ve completed a task, but don’t be complacent that you are Done. This will result in surprises that could have been avoided if you had asked “What’s Next?”. Change your definition of “Done” to be “moving on to the next step and making life easier going forward”.
The Takeaway; Avoid surprises by asking “What’s Next?”.
This will allow you to understand what’s coming down the pike and when. Hold a “what’s next” discussion with your team so that you’re always looking ahead and avoiding surprises. When the answer to “What’s Next?” is “Nothing”, then you are truly “Done.