Working In Cycles

EP 14

Working in 5-8 week cycles can unlock new progress and momentum. At Strategic Schools we help teams to get out of yearly implementation plans and into working in shorter, more responsive cycles of implementation work. Simon explains how you can constrain the scope of projects, and focus on manageable chunks by being strict from the outside about the time the cycle will run for and the bandwidth available. Working in Responsive Action Cycles is a shift in workflow that every leader should try.


One of the things I want to explore together, a practical and simple and effective approaches for improving the way that we implement as improvement teams. One of the common errors I find when coaching teams is that they have a three or four-year plan. They almost all have a one-year improvement plan, but they really struggle to move from the intense or the strategic directions of that one-year plan and find a way to follow through and develop real momentum in their work throughout the year. The key solution I find if you feel that you are really running aground or struggling to keep things moving, is to move away from thinking about years and move towards responsive action cycles.

Each team should begin to work in five to eight weeks cycles. I love five to eight weeks. It’s a period of time that is long enough to get something meaningfully moving forward, not just dabbling in something, but get a project, get a bit of improvement, work up to a next milestone that can be locked in. But equally, it’s not too long. It doesn’t allow me to delay and avoid and to wait because hey, we’ve got six to 12 months to do this. So there’s real power in working in manageable cycles of five to eight weeks. Those cycles can easily fit within the time of most school terms, but there’s no need to think that improvement cycle should always start at 8:30 AM on the first Monday back and finish at 3:01 PM on the last Friday of the term. Indeed, we need to find a more manageable cycle when we are thinking about improvement, where we might start an improvement cycle a week or so into the term, bring an intensity to that work as a team and then bring it to a close early enough to have some sense-making recalibration and a cool down period before heading into a holiday.

And then of course, heading into a new cycle. Working in responsive cycles of five to eight weeks is absolutely common sense, and yet it is almost never in my experience, common practise. And so I want to encourage you to start to play around an experiment with what it would be like to take certain priorities or initiative off your plan and begin to work on those through five to eight week cycles of work. One way to think about this would be to consider one project and consider what would be the length of time that would feel right to you for an upcoming cycle. There are some leaders who really like to work in those shorter cycles of about five to eight weeks. They tell me it helps them keep focus, keep things moving, and gives them a chance to reset and recalibrate more regularly. Others like to stretch it out closer to eight weeks and run a little bit longer and give people a little bit more time to progress the work.

So have a think about the length of time you find useful, and secondly, you can start to consider about the bandwidth that might be available from your team during this cycle that’s coming up. If there’s a lot of other things going on and people being pulled in different directions, maybe the overall bandwidth is only a one out of three. If people have a fair amount of bandwidth available, if there’s not too many things happening at the same time, then maybe you might say we have a bandwidth of two out of three, or even three out of three. And as you think about both the time that you’ve got available and the bandwidth available, you get yourself in a position where you can start to make good decisions about the scope of work that can be meaningfully progressed during the current cycle. So I wonder what appeals to you about moving from thinking about implementation as a yearly activity and moving to more rapid cycles of five to eight weeks of work.

I wonder what benefits you might experience in being able to get things done, in being able to motivate and focus your team in being able to have a regular opportunity to reset and course corrective things aren’t going to plan. Working in cycles is one of the most powerful shifts that teams can make to dramatically improve their ability to get things done without needing to take on any new complicated processes, tools, or ways of working. So how could you experiment with running a five to eight week cycle? Is there one project and a one team that you could begin this approach with? Is there an end of a term coming up that might give you a point to reset and to set up a cycle to build fresh momentum and help people take the next manageable step in their long-term improvement journeys? Well, thanks for joining me. I hope you’re getting a huge amount of value out of these ideas. One last request before you go. I genuinely appreciate it if you could subscribe, rate, and review this show. It’s one of the easiest ways for us to get these ideas into the hands of even more educational leaders.


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