May 1, 2017

The System: Harnessing Ambiguity

Tom Nassr
CEO & Co-Founder

Our journey building a digital agency has been anything but direct. There has certainly been a period of discovery for ourselves, and constant realizations what we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

One example of that was the lack of an intentionally constructed ‘system’ to engage new people, proactively service customers, and handle an ongoing stream of work. After talking with a mentor of mine who had agency experience, he pressed for my concentration to be focused on a system to give my team the visibility into our own process that they needed to help them contextualize their work in overall scope of the project.

This couldn’t have been more eye-opening. Immediately, I started using tools like LucidChart to visualize the structure of the company, how clients reach us, what each meeting with the client should entail, the goal of each meeting, how and when spec sheets get created, etc. We already did all of these things, but we had never put it into a written, easily-referenced, refinable document.

The story below is my observation of what a detailed, intentional, and crafted system is doing for our organization.

If you do something right once, it could be luck or it could be skill.

The second you turn that set of actions into a repeatable process — one that can be communicated to, and understood by, someone who has no prior knowledge of the process — then you have something that that can be improved on, built upon, grown, and refined. You’re not just relying on luck or instinct anymore to get results.

The functional parts of any organization rely on clarity of tasks. The ability for each team member to focus on their craft and pursue a specific goal is essential to delivering something impactful. For team members, ambiguity is the fastest way to corrupt confidence. It breeds miscommunication, and embeds uneasiness into the minds and hearts of everyone involved.

Ambiguity is a rust agent, corroding synchronicity across teams and resulting in lackluster results on a consistent basis.

It’s not all bad though; ambiguity can also be the secret sauce if used properly. It forces a person experiencing the ambiguity to find clarity or to create it. During the creation of clarity, there is opportunity. The opportunity to twist an ambiguous mess into a coherent whole.

That was my task over the last few months: turn the 15 person machine called Checkmate into a systematized, tactical, and directional entity, with a touch of ambiguity to embrace spontaneity.

I started with the ambiguity. I looked everywhere for it, from on-boarding our apprentices, to weekly meetings with clients. All of it needed to be addressed in some way if we were going to continue growing at this pace.

Then I put it all into a flow chart. It started after dinner one night and lasted until the early hours of the morning. Next thing I knew, I was 500 points deep in a multi-page, massive flow diagram.

The ‘System’ we’ve developed here at Checkmate is under construction, as I think it perpetually should be. It’s already helped tremendously in making our operations more efficient, and I’m looking forward to sharing an interactive demonstration of it soon.

The dance between systems and ambiguity is an intimate endeavor that ultimately comes down to you and your team. What about you? Has devising a system helped your business to thrive? Or better yet, have you harnessed ambiguity intentionally?

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