Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Outcome-Value Statement Revisited

Awhile back I wrote a blog on a method I use to gain clarity on requirements by describing an Outcome, which is simply what you are trying to accomplish without describing how you plan to get there.  These Outcomes are what drive Values, which is an change in cost or revenue, service provided or risk present.  When that's clearly understood, then the best Projects, Requirements or the Activities that lead to the Outcome can be determined.  As I describe this framework to people, I find that I need to provide examples that are more easily understand.  To that end I turn to the game of golf.

I find golf more of a mental game than a physical game, which is good for me since I'm not particularly physically gifted (or maybe not at all) nor a natural born golfer.  But I can hit a variety of shots: high, low, fade, draw, etc..  And this is simply a matter of physics.  A golf ball only responds to the limited number of forces you can impart on it, and after it leaves your club head, gravity, air and the ground take over.  The ball will react to where on the club face you strike it, and the forces of direction, velocity and acceleration in each the x-axis, y-axis and z-axis.   So you only have ten Outcomes to consider when making a shot.  When you achieve those Outcomes, you’re ball will very predictably go exactly where, and how, you wanted.  It doesn’t matter if your Jack Nicklaus, Happy Gilmore or a pudgy fifty-something. The golf ball isn’t looking at you.  It just responds to the club.

Now let's turn to the shot you're attempting to hit.  This is the Value.  Let's say you're on the tee of a long, dog leg left par 5.  A long tee, shaped right to left would be of Value.  So you swing hard and hope you're normal slice magically disappears this one time.  As is typical, when you don't want a slice, you get a bigger one.  Now you're in the woods and if you're lucky you find your ball and chip it back in the fairway.  And swear next time you'll tee off with an iron instead.  Or maybe you just stop at the swearing.

What was missing from this errant tee shot was a description of the Outcome you needed in order to achieve your Value.  Hitting a long draw requires some specific Outcomes.  The most important Outcomes is this case are (1) hitting the ball on the sweet spot, (2) having the club head square at impact, (3) the club head having a high velocity, (4) the club head moving from left to right relative to the ball and (5) the club head having a moderate rate of acceleration.  These five Outcomes will cause the ball to fly a long way due to having the proper trajectory, a large amount of energy and some counter-clockwise spin (as viewed from above the ball).  How you archive these Outcomes is irrelevant.  You can hit the ball with a tin can, a baseball bat or a golf club and the ball will fly exactly the same way, given the same Outcome is achieved.

Armed with this viewpoint, you then can begin to try to figure out how you can accomplish this Outcome, or maybe just come to the conclusion you just can't that shot no matter how hard you try.  If you can't hit the ball far enough, having a successful draw on the ball simply puts you behind some trees with no direct second shot.  If you just can't hit a draw to save you life, a long tee shot puts you though the fairway and no better off.  For example, I really struggle to hit a fade, which for me, a right-hand golfer, means the ball goes left to right.  I know that's because I stand farther from the ball than most people, and that makes it next to impossible to come across the ball from right to left and cause the Outcome, a clockwise spin, that I know I need.  So I don't try to hit that shot.

Another example occurred a number of years back. Towards the end of the round, one of my playing partners was about forty yards behind a fairly tall tree.  He elected to chip back out to the fairway.  I told him that the tree wasn’t really in the way.  To demonstrate, I dropped an extra ball and launched an 8-iron over the top of the tree.  He was amazed, mainly because he noticed that I normally have a lower trajectory on my iron shots.  He asked me how I did it.  I responded “I accelerated through the ball”.  That causes the ball to stay in contact with the club head a little longer, which in turn causes the ball to roll up the cub a bit more and get more benefit from the loft of the 8-iron.  That’s the outcome I wanted.  How did I do it?  A shorter back swing and a longer follow through.  For me, that combination results in the needed acceleration.  But again, the Outcome matters, not how you get there.  

So in golf, I suggest studying the physics of the game first and clearly understand what makes the ball do what it will do.  Only then begin figuring out the hows, like the grip, elbow and stance. Getting a firm grip on Outcomes will make you more effective, at work or on the golf course.

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