Formula for Forward Progress


Ingredients for Forward ProgressI’ve been working through a number of projects lately and I’ve started to see progress in multiple categories. It occurred to me that, in my experience, progress has a very simple formula. To use math lingo, I would contend that Progress is a function of New Ideas, Spare Bandwidth, and Resources. If you hold all of these constant, you will likely maintain the status quo.

Ingredients for Forward Progress

If you can increase at least one of the three, though, I believe progress will result. Here’s why:

  • New Ideas: If you only think about your challenges or operations the way you’ve always thought about them, you’re not likely to see change. New ideas, or innovation, can come from visiting someone else’s organization, going to a training event, or bringing new perspectives into the team. Increase your openness to new ideas and your capacity to think differently. It will pay off.
  • Spare Bandwidth: I’ve written more about margin here, but let me summarize by saying that you can’t build toward progress if you spend all of your time doing the same things. If you can’t break out of your own time routines, it may be time to bring someone in who can contribute spare bandwidth to your efforts. (In the not-for-profit arena, finding a volunteer with some experience in your area of weakness and bandwidth to help you build is a big way to add value.)
  • Resources: Sometimes you have plenty of new ideas and even the bandwidth to execute them, but your limiting factor is resources, financial or otherwise. If you’re a leader with financial decision-making authority, watch for this to be a lid for your team. If new ideas and spare bandwidth are going under-utilized, you may want to look for a way to allocate additional resources.
As in math, you don’t necessarily have to increase every value to achieve a greater result. Adding new ideas can cause progress even if you hold bandwidth and resources constant. And the same is true for each. In fact, sometimes new ideas or spare bandwidth can help you continue to make progress even if you need to decrease resources (cost-savings innovations, e.g.).
Paying attention to these three factors will help you lead your team forward toward your goals and vision.

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