Don Khouri Blog

What I Learned At Fidelity Part 4 -- The Big Picture and The Details

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Jan 11, 2010

Leaders need to have a good grasp of both the big picture and the details.  It is the best way to ensure success of your initiatives. Some leaders may be good at establishing, communicating, and motivating followers around the big picture.  Some leaders may be good at digging into the details and know what is going on.  Strong leaders do both well.

First, let's define both terms.  The big picture is a broad, overall perspective with a long-term view of a project or issue.  The details are the particular tasks and items that need to be accomplished to fulfill the big picture.  As the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."  If the leader does not understand enough about the details, they may not be supporting the path to the big picture.  Conversely, if the leader does not see the big picture they could become too caught up in micro-managing the details and "miss the forest for the trees."

A great example of this is the software quality assurance (QA) process.  The Software QA group focuses on the overall quality of the product to ensure that quality is built into the process throughout the software development life cycle.  By focusing on the details, the Software QA team will ensure the proper testing of the software during that phase of the life cycle.

QA is testing the software to ensure overall quality, and it is not enough.  You cannot test quality into the software; it needs to be built into the whole process from project startup and requirements gathering to implementation and rollout.

When a pilot takes off, he knows his destination and staysairplane landing focused on that for the entire trip.  It is fascinating to note that 90% of the time, the airplane is actually off track.  During this time, the pilot is using the instrumentation (note, paying attention to the details) to get the plane back on track.  The only way to do that effectively, is to know the final destination (the big picture). 

Successful leaders keep their team focused on the big picture and remind them the reasons they are working so hard to deliver on time and on budget.  Successful leaders also understand enough about the details to provide support to the team, to remove barriers, and to ensure the details are supporting the big picture.  It is easy to get off track and get so focused on a detail that, in the end, will not help contribute to the ultimate goal.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What is the successful outcome (aka, big picture) of your current project?
  • How well do you understand the details?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to get back on track?

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Tags: productivity, software development, big picture, details, quality assurance, testing

What I Learned at Fidelity, Part 3 -- Master Communication To Be Productive

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Jan 04, 2010

This is the third part in a series of What-I-Learned-At-Fidelity-Investments-About-Being-a-Leader 

Mastering communication is a key component in succeeding as a leader.  It is not enough to have a good idea, or be a terrific project manager, or to be great at developing software, you also need to effectively communicate it.  Mastering the art of communication is so important because it is what keeps everyone on the same page, and enables you to take appropriate action.  Without communication, there can be misunderstanding or lack of action.  Ultimately, good communication leads to improved productivity.

In this article, I would like to layout a blueprint for a communication plan.


Think of yourself as a hub of communication.  The Leader is in the centehub of communicationr, communicating with all of those people around him / her, and must provide the right information to the right people in the right format for it to be effective.  Too much and too little information is not appropriate.

Your Team.  It is important to keep your team up to date.  I find it effective to do so using a number of formats -- staff meetings, 1:1s, and email.  In staff meetings, establish an agenda, seek input from your team, and have an open discussion about projects, strategy, and issues.  It is a time for your staff to learn about what is going on with their peers.  It is a time to encourage teamwork, and a time to identify how staff members can help each other.  It is also time for problem solving.

Your Peers.  It is equally important to keep your peers and business partners up-to-date on the status of your projects and your team.  In my leadership roles at Fidelity, I found it beneficial to set up recurring project status meetings with business partners to share the current status of projects, issues, risks and actions.  When all the data is on the table, it is easier to take appropriate action.  An open line of communication with partners and peers also helps to identify problem areas early and provides a forum for discussion.

Your Superiors.  With your immediate manager and other superiors, it is vitally important to communicate strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, and vendor updates.  I found it helpful to structure the 1:1 agenda with my boss along these topics, putting the most important ones up front to ensure they were covered in the scheduled time.

Other Stakeholders.  Identify who the key stakeholders are and what means of communication are best suited for effectively reaching them. 


What should you be communicating?  Here are some things to consider:

Team -- Vision, project information, upcoming events, how your work fits into the organization, issues. 

Peers / Partners -- Project status, issues, risks, actions

Superiors -- Strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, Vendor updates


Different situations call for different forms of communication.  Richer forms of communication, like face-to-face meetings, are best and not always possible.  So, as the sensitivity of topics decrease, other forms can be used.  Using multiple formats to communicate information will work best -- face-to-face meetings, email, phone calls.  Think carefully about the audience and content before selecting the most effective means to portray the information.

For example, use 1:1 meetings to discuss the progress of individual projects, to solicit feedback on targeted ideas, and to discuss individual development plans.  Use email for updates that require no discussion or interpretation.

Good communicators listen actively, use stories to communicate ideas, and are clear about what they are communicating. 


The simple answer is early and often.  Get the information on the table, and be transparent about it.  When the information is available, it is easier to solve problems.  When the information is not available, issues fester, and the longer they fester the more difficult they are to resolve. 

Each of these topics could easily be a blog entry on its own, and for that matter, a book.  The simple point is this -- mastering communication is a key to being a successful leader because it helps ensures all stakeholders are operating with the right information.  Hopefully, I have given you the start and framework for thinking about communication and developing a plan. 

Don's coaching questions:

  • When are you at your best communicating ideas?
  • What does your communication plan look like?
  • What actions can you take this week to improve communication?

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, motivation, communication

Remembering a Leader

Posted by Don Khouri on Fri, Jan 01, 2010

We lost a close family friend unexpectedly yesterday afternoon, 12/31/2009.  I am compelled to share some thoughts on leadership in this special New Year's Day edition of the blog.  To give you some sense of the relationship, Jim, or Chucky as he was known to his friends, was a life-long friend of my parents, served with my Dad in the army, and his son and I grew up spending many, many weekends together.

My direct relationship with Chuck was serving on our church's parish council together in the late 80s and early 90s.  If you have been reading my blog, you know my philosophy about leadership and productivity.  Chuck was a leader who knew how to get things done.  There are three qualities that defined his leadership style that have always stuck with me -- commitment, creativity, and community. 

Commitment.  Every leader needs to have a commitment and passion for the cause.  There was no question about Chuck's commitment to the church, always keeping its best interest in mind during parish council deliberations.  He would not speak or act without doing what he thought was best for the church.  It was this commitment that earned my personal respect.  I always wanted to understand his point of view on a topic, and although we may not have always agreed, I always respected his viewpoint and opinions.

Creativity.  Every leader should be willing to try out new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Bring a fresh perspective to the work, and your teams will innovate.  Chuck was one of the creators of our annual Christmas Bazaar over 20 years ago, and it still serves as a significant part of the Church's income today.  This spark triggered others, and the Bazaar Committee came up with so many different ways to keep it interesting.  Then there was the 1000 Club, the Bonanza Night, and so many others.  Chuck had countless ideas that he brought to the table -- "let's try it this way, or how about this, or why not that."  This creativity brought energy and excitement to the community.

Community.  Chuck had a way of creating a community environment and inspiring those around him to work hard for the community.  He recruited me to serve as Treasurer of the Bazaar which I did for many years.  It was a pleasure to work for him because he worked hard himself, and he demanded excellence.  I remember him coming into the office during Bazaar weekend wanting to know exactly where we stood relative to the previous year, and encouraging us to make sure we balanced out to the penny. 

I don't remember Chuck as a boisterous, outgoing, attention-grabbing leader.  He led quietly, he led with distinction, he led in a way that inspired teamwork, and he was true to himself.  I bring these lessons with me today serving on the council, and in all my work. 

Chuck, may you rest in peace, and may your memory be eternal.

Tags: productivity, leadership