3. Translating intent into action

Why it matters

Intent creates little value, if any, unless people at different levels interpret it to draw out the implications in terms of the actions they need to take to realize the intent. In an organizational context, this typically includes delegation of authority and allocation of resources to teams at different levels of the organization, ensuring no gaps and no overlaps at each level. It also implies ensuring the ‘main effort’ or #1 priority at any point in time is identified, designated and understood by everyone.

How it works

Practice 3 works by using a common thinking process for translating intent.

This process involves five questions and we refer to it as a “5MAP” (a 5-questions Mission Alignment Process). Effective translation at the organizational level benefits from everyone thinking about how to translate intent in the same way. The translation process not only helps with a structured analysis but also supports Practice 5 (Facilitating alignment).

The aim of translation is to simplify complexity by reducing organizational intent (clear or otherwise) to a set of actionable objectives and define a hierarchical relationship between them (i.e. to determine which are the most important). Effective translation forces people to think in a structured way, what actions are implied from the direction they are given and to identify any inconsistencies between them.

Additional benefits which impact other key practices are that the 5MAP process creates an area of autonomy by defining specific accountabilities. It provides an opportunity to set and confirm boundary conditions which define freedom to operate. It also enables an effective dialogue to establish clarity and to resolve any conflicting objectives or misunderstandings.

Effective translation helps people understand higher intent and develop their part in the plan by:

  • making it clear what they are accountable for
  • prioritizing effort
  • identifying where support is needed
  • agreeing on clear boundaries

Translation itself DOES NOT substitute for detailed planning. It creates a common and aligned starting point from which teams and individuals can plan and execute strategy.

The 5MAP questions:

Question 1
What is the higher intent?
Describes the context and what your superiors intend to achieve (one and 2 levels above)
Question 2
What is my contribution to delivering the intent?
Describe your contribution in terms of an outcome (WHAT) and a purpose (WHY)
Identify how you will measure success
Question 3
What do I need to do to achieve our intent?
Identifies the main tasks you will be accountable for to deliver the intent
Question 4
What is my freedom to operate?
Identifies your freedom to operate/decide and any constraints placed on that freedom
Question 5
Can I achieve the intent?
Identifies any additional guidance you need or issues you need to resolve