Common Characteristics of All Transitions and Some Methods to Help


Life and business transitions are full of unique circumstances they don't have in common with anything else you've experienced or heard of.  There are a lot of new things to learn, get done, and coordinate across a variety of parties to complete your transition.  However, there are plenty of common and general characteristics to them as well, that when viewed in this way, can help you make an easier time of it.  Many business owners or professionals may be familiar with what I'm about to describe but there are probably some people out there that may have not viewed their transition from this perspective.  Even people may be familiar with these methods may not have used them for their own life's transitions so hopefully this post will help them as well. I want to apply some principles, methods, and tools from my work as an Industrial Engineer in the Aerospace world to help people organize and accomplish their transitions as smoothly and stress free as possible.  This is just one way to look at things and hopefully it helps!

Commonalities Across Transitions

Transitions can be viewed just like any project can be.  However, in my experience, they are typically a bit more complicated, for example, than building a shed in your yard or even getting a home remodel done.  Here are a few characteristics to help generalize the transition and hopefully help you organize your thoughts and actions to be as productive with your time as possible:

  1. Resources - all transitions require a some mix of the following: time, money, attention, effort, other people or organizations support, mental focus, etc.
  2. Priorities - as I've mentioned in other posts and is somewhat commonly known, there will be a relatively small amount of the work/tasks that are required that will really drive 80% or so of the transition work to get done.  This is known as "Pareto's Law" named after economist Vilfredo Pareto and popularized by management consultant Joseph M. Juran.
  3. Dependencies - some of the work involved with your transition will have dependencies between itself and other work that needs to get done.  For instance, you can't move into your new office space without first finding a suitable business location, leasing or buying the space, etc..  That's a little overly simplified but you get the point.
  4. Choices and Decisions - as I've discussed in the post "Problem: I'm Overwhelmed by the Options", (and is quite obvious for a complicated transition) there will be several choices and decisions to be made before, during, and even after a transition.
  5. Sh*t will happen (i.e. variability to the plan) - even the best laid plans with either have surprises you didn't anticipate or things you thought you planned well might take longer or shorter than expected.  This is "natural" and will always happen.

Methods and Tools That Can Help

There are a variety of methods to help you be as productive with you time and resources as possible and help avoid as much stress as you can.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start with your "Why". Speaker Simon Sinek has a great TED Talk titled "How Great Leaders Inspire Action".  This video has been all over the corporate world but it helps illustrate the point quite well like only a TED talk can.  Start with WHY you're transitioning to your next stage in the first place (deep exploration required!), then HOW you intend to do so (ala your Mission, Values, Principles, down to your methods/techniques), then focus on the WHAT of the transition.  Keep this in front of you at all times!
  2. Plan ahead and revisit/improve the plan often.  The idea is to understand the big picture before you start and adjust course as you go, keeping the pieces of the transition always in front of you.  This is also a good way to communicate and understand the transition between yourself and a spouse, business partner or any other stakeholder that might be a part of it.
  3. Prioritize - There are a variety of methods that can be employed to understand and take action on priorities (and deal with what comes at you along the way).  A popular one is explained in Steven Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he describes a 4 square picture of Urgent vs. Important work.  It's not 1 dimensional.  There are Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not-Important, Not-Urgent/Important, Not-Urgent/Not-Important.  Those items that fall into Urgent/Important and Not-Urgent and Important are the priorities of the transition.  The Not-Urgent/Important in particular are usually high level, strategically focused, involve long lead times (hence don't need to be accomplished in the short term but need to get things rolling now) and so devoting time and attention to plan and accomplish them will be critical to success.  This is another way to understand being "Effective" vs. "Efficient".  Effective means getting the right things planned and accomplished and Efficient means doing them quickly and with high quality.  There is no point in doing the wrong things (or at the wrong time) really well.  Start with understanding what's most important things to get done first.
  4. Dependencies - really dive into the workflow and understand ahead of time how the different pieces of work relate.  Sometimes you may have assumptions that they are related or have to be done in sequence when in fact there are ways to decouple them.  Maybe you thought they had to be done in sequence because you thought ONLY YOU could get them done.  This is a resource thing and so you should really challenge the thought and perhaps this is something you could hire out or get a trusted partner to help with.  This can help shorten your time to get things done and perhaps motivate you and others to be engaged more in the project.
  5. Choices - SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY.  Break down the choices, take them a few at a time, or really challenge their necessity in the first place.  As I've discussed before and is elaborated on quite well in The Paradox of Choice, humans really don't work so well when there are too many options to consider, too many criteria to base those decisions on, and too many tradeoffs to be considered.  Work hard to make decisions ahead of time and stick with them, limit the quantity of decisions at any given time, spread them out over time, and allow others to make some decisions for you if necessary.  You'll stay motivated, disciplined, and moving forward if you do just this one thing!
  6. Sh*t Happens, Otherwise Known as Variability and Change - I'll admit, sometimes things go better than planned and that's great but plenty often they do not.  There are ways to avoid the pain of unforeseen events and delays.  First and foremost, do the hardest/riskiest/most uncertain tasks/work as soon as possible.  They inherently experience the most variability to plan and also can have the biggest roll-on effects to the rest of your transition.  Make them happen early and tightly control/monitor them and this will help a great deal!  In a similar fashion, include strategic buffers of time or resources throughout your transition at critical junctures and accomplishments.  This means that you leave unplanned time after major events and before other ones need to get going so that if things don't go as planned you have some wiggle room to get them done.  Resourcing wise, this might mean keeping a little extra money planned into your budget to deal with those unforeseen expenses like a remodeling contractor that finds something that needs fixed but wasn't in the original plan or perhaps you need a bigger moving truck and a commercial driver, something like that.  You could also involve a few other stakeholders that might not be main players in your transition but you let them know ahead of time that things could get really tough and you might call on them for some help.

In this post, I hoped to get across some of the common characteristics of life or business transitions, whether it's exiting a business, changing careers, retiring, or other life's big transitions like moving your home, elderly parents moving into a care facility, or even the hardship associated with being an Executor of an Estate.  I've found these simple methods have powerful results when used appropriately and as first principles to a transition, even in incredibly complicated projects in the aerospace industry.  Of course more advanced tools and methods can and are employed but the basic principles still apply.  In a later post, I will provide an overview of a few tools to help visualize and communicate the elements of a transition and integrate some of the methods I describe above.