Breakthrough projects open up new realms of possibility.

by Christine S. Flouton Read more from the Execution issue

Imagine you’re on an uncharted island. There are strange plants you can’t identify, sounds you don’t recognize and phantom animals rustling in the foliage—maybe threats, maybe harmless. This is still Earth, but not as you’ve ever experienced it.

That’s what it’s like working on a breakthrough project. It happens in unknown territory. You don’t know whether you can achieve results because you haven’t even imagined them yet, let alone developed the language to describe them.

Time after time, we make cultivating breakthrough results a reality. And every time, it’s an exhilarating new world of possibility.

In a breakthrough project, the breakthrough happens as a paradigm shift in the attitude of a team. You enter a new realm or dimension of thinking that enables all sorts of possibilities. You break with the past and open to new possibilities for the future. That’s all the word breakthrough means. You break through the familiar to get to the undiscovered possibilities. It’s different from the world you’ve been living in.

When you’re trying to achieve a breakthrough, skeptics will say, “Well, that’s not possible because … ” and they’ll point to the past as evidence that it can’t be done. But on a breakthrough project, teams begin to see that there are many ways to approach an issue.

A breakthrough project happens when the team switches from saying, “This isn’t possible, and here’s why” to “It is possible. Now—how?” It’s a leap of faith. You invent how to do it. You build the strategy, the goal, the pathway, the culture and the process. It’s like unnailing your foot from the floor. IQ

Five Characteristics of a Breakthrough

  1. Breakthroughs are demonstrated by specific and measurable outcomes. In a breakthrough, you’ll see quantifiable results. You’ll have brought products to market faster, created a new process, increased a company’s sales or reduced product cycle development time.
  1. They produce an unprecedented result. It will be unexpected, given the company’s history. If a company has brought 100 products to market every year, and next year it’s bringing 105, that may not be a breakthrough. If a medical device company has brought five products to market in two years, and next year they’re bringing 20—that’s a breakthrough. It’s a reinvention of every function and aspect of that business.
  1. You don’t know how you’re going to produce the result. A breakthrough looks impossible in the context of the company’s current environment.
  1. You’re committed to producing the result. A breakthrough won’t happen unless everyone on the team is wholeheartedly on board,  and you have buy-in from all levels of the organization.
  1. The result will be sustainable. Results are only breakthroughs when they don’t compromise quality, integrity or safety, or the team’s quality of life.

 


Christine S. Flouton , a partner at Insigniam.

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