By Ian Coyne

Done is a strange word. Whenever I ask someone "Is that done?" I am never hugely confident of the answer. Done is a binary thing. You either are, or you aren't, but in business this is rarely the case.

Change can fail because no one is clear what you mean by 'done'. Let me start with a question.

Have you ever written down what you mean by 'done' in the context of your business, product, department or organisation?

Take a very simple example. My team regularly writes communications which are sent to the whole firm to share updates on our performance and priorities. On the wall is a check list which looks like this

1. Written and formatted correctly
2. Signed off by Ian or Jo
3. Audience agreed
4. Final version saved to the shared folder

The two most important elements of being 'done' in this case are the middle two. Everything should be reviewed by someone. That someone can be more junior or more senior, but a review automatically makes something better. The fact that anything you do will be taken by someone and examined for both mistakes and improvements automatically improves the attention you pay to it.

This is no different in my department, every communication is read by the communications manager, Jo or I and feedback is given on it.

Painful lessons

The third point is about knowing who you are speaking to. This was a painful lesson during a major business restructuring. Working to incredibly tight timescales, my team had to email simultaneously to finance, HR, IT and Marketing about the changes due to the restructuring. This included details of timings for redundancies and moving people around the business.

We'd followed point 1 and point 2. We had written, formatted and reviewed the communications and they were signed off. The marketing email went, as did the HR and IT emails. When it came to the email to the finance teams, we realised we didn't have a full list of names of all of the people in the department. The HR system was not accurate as a number of people were not permanent and the email list hadn't been updated for a number of months. The entire morning was spent building, checking and re-checking the list of the finance team members to ensure no one received the email who wasn't affected by the restructure. And worse still, someone who was affected was missed.

Drilling down on done

Done is about drilling down to the point you feel comfortable that you are happy with the risk of not going further. This was the conversation between the companies Chief Technology Officer at a recent conference where a new product was due to be launched.

Q: "Is the product demonstration ready for tomorrow?"
A: "Yes, its done"
Q: "And have you tested the internet connection in the exhibition hall? Is it fast enough for the demo to run smoothly?"
A: "It worked on the lab...."
Q: "Are we in the lab now?"
A: "No...."

You can apply the principles of 'done' to your product or department. You can also apply it to individual situations. Drill down and ask questions to make sure 'done' for you and 'done' for them means the same thing.

'Make Change Happen: Get to grips with managing change in business' by Ian Coyne is out now from Pearson, priced £14.99