Along for the ride

Photo courtesy of Peter Lee (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Peter Lee (Creative Commons)

When I worked for Borders, we had an all-store inventory count each year for which we would prepare for weeks. It would be scheduled on a Sunday evening after closing, and would last into the wee hours of the morning. The more smoothly the inventory went, the more accurate our systems would be throughout the following year, allowing for better customer service and improved financials and profitability.

I remember those hours just before the inventory team arrived, and commenting each year, “we’ve done what we can, and now we’re just along for the ride.” It might have felt a bit like a roller coaster ride, but at that point, there was nothing else I could do other than hang on for dear life!

There comes a point in any big challenge or project when you have to be confident that you have done the preparation necessary for success, and then just let the process flow.

It might be a presentation for which you have prepared slides and handouts, practiced what you want to say, and made sure all the equipment is set up. The audience arrives, you step onto the stage and you go ahead with it.

Perhaps you are directing a large volunteer opportunity, and have the activities planned, the leaders lined up, and the materials ready. No need to continue stressing – once the group arrives, you can just focus on that experience.

For me recently, we have begun using a new database at work. I spent a couple of weeks learning the new system, testing the reports, refining the instructions, and training my team. Once the Monday came that we were to start, I closed out the old system, and we launched the new one. I felt a bit like those inventory nights where I knew I was getting locked into that roller coaster car and we were lurching to the top of the hill, ready to go dashing down at top speeds.

The good news is that we haven’t flown off the rails! It has not been an easy couple of weeks, but it has not been because of problems. Time is needed to enter all the information and check to be sure it is accurate, but the process itself has gone smoothly.

The key is preparation in these kinds of situations, as well as having backup plans. Because I did the work on the front end, and had an alternate idea if the reports did not work the way I expected, I was able to focus on just getting the information entered. And the more my team and I work with the system, the quicker and more accurate we get.

I wish I approached more situations that way – sure does feel better going into the big day confident that you’ve done your homework instead of nervous that things might fall apart.

How can you better prepare for your big projects?