First One to Simple

I was having a great conversation a few days ago with an extraordinary woman. She is the director of a personnel development department of a large complex company. We were discussing the various functions one would find in an organization such as hers. What struck me was the degree of complexity in some of the various departments. She and her team are responsible for delivering the training required by those departments.

Intrigued by the enormity of her task, I asked the obvious question—how do you fill the need for what seems to be an arduous task. Her answer is classic and thought provoking. She said, “the first one to simple wins!”

The point is clear. Take the difficult and work hard to make it simple, and do it with a sense of urgency.

How does one go about becoming “the first one to simple?” I would offer there are three things that require intense focus—Objectives, Planning, and Execution.


Objectives must be stated in clear, unmistakable terms. It is telling the team where they are going and why. Objectives are the destination. Giving insight into why, builds in the sense of urgency and importance of the effort to the team.

As an example, an IT department of a health care organization is tasked with developing a new code. The effort is to support the company’s compliance requirements. A clear statement of the objective may sound something like this:

“Our department is going to develop a new code in support of Enrollment Departments requirements to offer three new product lines. These product lines are ABC, HIJ, and NOP. These product lines are in accordance with the new Federal Affordable Care Act. These product lines must be up and running no later than April 30, 20XX. We have XX months to develop, test, and get up and running. Are there any questions?”

The objective is clearly stated—writing new code to support three new product lines. It states what product lines specifically. The statement also gives the why—compliance with Federal Regulations. Lastly, the statement provides the time frame the department has to work with—no later than April 30, 20XX.


Planning is always “right-to-left.” Looking at a calendar and laying it out linearly, the date of completion, producing the objective is to the right. As Steven Covey would say, one starts with the end in mind. The Marines would call it deliberate planning.

Simply put, start at the end and ask—how do we do that? With each answer, ask the next how do we do that? Each answer to your how do we do that question is given a date to complete. In essence, they become your sub-tasks. This process continues until you have no more “how do we do that questions?”


Execution is “left-to-right.” You are now accomplishing each task in the reverse order of the right-to-left planning.

The most important part of the process, at this point is to supervise! Once the execution has started, you, the leader, must keep your objective in mind. Things go wrong every day. Equipment breaks, key people get sick, and the eventual in-house political issues can all combine to make one forget the objective. Things get complicated. Not allowing oneself to get side tracked requires discipline. Remember, first one to simple wins.


Keeping things simple is tough. It requires clearly stating objectives, methodical planning, and supervised execution. Keep It Super Simple (KISS) and be the first to win.

© 2015 by John Boggs all rights reserved.