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 Investments About Being a Leader

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Dec 10, 2009

Ten Strategies You Need to Excel as a Leader 

The rules of the game keep changing, and the rate of change is increasing, all being driven by the rapid pace of improving technology.  As a technology leader at Fidelity Investments for 21 years, I learned a great deal about being a leader and how to work in this fast-paced, ever-evolving industry.  Fidelity is well known for its commitment to technology and uses technology solutions to its competitive advantage. For example, Fidelity was the first to offer automated phone services, the first to allow customers to withdraw funds from Money Market accounts, and has always been on the forefront of electronic trading.  To the best of my knowledge Fidelity spends more on technology as a percentage of revenue than any other financial services firm.  

During my tenure at Fidelity I played many different leadership roles managing global software development teams from Boston to Bangalore and Dallas to Merrimack.  The teams that I was responsible for focused on a broad array of projects and products over time including the delivery of back-end systems to support Fidelity Active Trader,  B2B conversion, market data systems, payroll quality, and retirement services quality. 

From my experience, I found that there were ten key factors that directly contributed to my success as a leader.  For the next ten weeks I plan to address each of these factors individually and highlight what I believe are the necessary ingredients to excel as a leader.

1.  Build Strong Relationships
2.  Master Communication
3.  Understand the Big Picture, and Know the Details.
4.  Adapt to Change
5.  "No" is not Acceptable
6.  Have a Sense of Urgency
7.  Produce Results
8.  Improve Every Day
9.  Develop your People
10.  Develop Yourself

It is important to note that when I use the term leader, I am not referring solely to those who manage other people.  A leader is also someone who manages projects or an individual who needs to coordinate and get things done across many groups or teams which involve large numbers of people.  In my mind, a leader is someone who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal (  

The rules of the game keep changing, and the rate of change is increasing, all being driven by the rapid pace of improving technology.  As a leader you have to not only lead effectively, but also figure out the game-changing rules that apply at the same time.  The best leaders are the ones who actually define the rules.   Over the next ten weeks I hope to enlighten you with what I believe are the ten key factors to focus on in becoming an effective, productive, and successful leader.

Next time:  Build Strong Relationships

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, software development