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What’s the Shape of Your Mission?

Frank Font

If you diagram your missions using reverse-planning (aka backwards planning or reverse engineering), you’ll gain some powerful insights. If you collaborate with others, your entire team can share this same clarity. Let me show you how.

Your mission is what you want to achieve. A famous self-help author once wrote “begin with the end in mind.” All clear missions have an end-goal.

You may have one mission or many. You may have personal missions or team missions.

Mission diagrams clearly illustrate the key steps (called “twigs” in Twigflo) along the way to achieve your end-goal. All steps of the diagram lead toward that end-goal. Arrows connected between steps intuitively communicate this.

We build our missions from right to left, anchored to an ultimate goal. We work through our missions from left to right, completing goals as we go. Teams that prepare backwards anticipate the necessary steps more clearly. We tackle new goals as we complete the ones connected to their left until eventually we arrive at the end-goal of our mission.

But those are details within a mission. 

Instead, let’s talk about the diagram shapes. To do that, we will zoom out to see what they look like from a distance.

Wide Triangle Shape Diagram

A shape that is wide at the left, like a triangle, has many steps that are available for execution at the same time.

If this is a team mission, there are opportunities for team members to divide and conquer toward the shared end-goal. 

If this is an individual mission, you have the flexibility to vary your work as opportunities and interests present themselves instead of having to follow one set sequence.

Linear Shape Diagram

A shape that involves mostly singularly connected steps locks in a specific sequential workflow.

This shape tells us at a glance there are not many opportunities for sustained mission acceleration through teamwork because little of the work can be done in parallel. 

Also because this mission is highly sequential, there is very little opportunity to constructively cherry pick work based on mood or other relevant factors. In this shape, every step can be interpreted as a bottleneck. 

Mixed Shape Diagram

Mixed shapes offer islands of opportunity for workflow variation.

A mixed shape mission diagram has both workflow bottlenecks and also workflow flexibility areas. Where the diagram is narrow, the work is limited to one or a few people. Where the diagram is wide, acceleration through teamwork can come into productive play.

Reacting to the Mission Shape

If your mission diagram is linear, ask yourself, does it have to be? Are there assumptions of sequence that are unnecessarily narrowing the workflow? If you widen this mission by adjusting the diagram where possible, you create opportunities that might make a difference.

Workflow Flexibility per Shape Type

Linear

Low - few choices on what to work on and when, and who can work on the mission 

Not environmentally flexible. Conditions change but the mission may be poor to adapt.

Mixed Shape

Medium - decent number of choices on what to work on and when, and who can work on the mission

Flexible enough to work in an agile way while working through well-thought out bottlenecks.

Wide Triangle

High - many choices on what to do next and who contributes to the mission

Environmentally agile as you can shift work as conditions may make one goal inaccessible while others are open and fruitful to tackle.

Reshape your mission to offer the most flexible workflows instead of trapping your team into a track that seemed good yesterday and is not so good today.

The shape of your mission diagram reveals insight into the flexibility of your path toward the end-goal of mission success. 

We've all heard the phrase "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." It's true—no one has a crystal ball that can see the future, so why pretend that our plans yesterday are the best ones for tomorrow?

Reverse engineer your mission diagram and change them as conditions and insights change. Be both flexible and clear. Build in flexibility everywhere it belongs and share that insight with all your collaborators through a mission diagram.

Mission diagrams reveal and invite insight into where missions could become more adaptive. Those same diagrams quickly show teams and leadership how work will get done.

With a mission diagram, teams can regularly align on the same mental picture of the way forward whatever shifting conditions may come. And that picture can quickly evolve as insight and circumstances evolve.

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