Thursday, April 8, 2021

Must-win? What? When? How?

In sports and in business, you occasionally hear the phrase "must-win." It obviously signifies something of importance, but sometimes the word is bandied about meaninglessly. A few years ago, Dan Amira described the reaction of a Boston Celtic to the second game of a playoff series: "Every game is a must-win game. It's the playoffs." However, Amira notes, the Celtics had already lost Game 1, so if every game truly were a must-win, the season was over after the first game.

So what does "must-win" mean? Carl Dickson believes that in the minds of many, a must-win "demands an even more heroic effort than all the other pursuits." Unfortunately, the word "heroic" often suggests a bold move to work 25-hour days with no sleep, wearing adult diapers, cutting off all communication from the outside world (except for pizza deliveries), and doing EVERYTHING to ensure the win. "No, you can't have your baby for another two months! We are in a MUST-WIN effort!"

If you know Carl Dickson, you know that he didn't suggest anything like that. In the ideal situation, a "must-win" effort means that you recommit to a set of processes that is already in place, with people that are ready to engage in the processes. Obviously, situations are rarely ideal, and even if the processes are in place and the people are available, more work is needed.

As the name implies, companies try harder to capture Must Win opportunities. They often try to implement best practices and improve their processes to help ensure a better chance of capturing the Must Win. This approach requires lots of training and hand-holding since the staff working on the proposal, though experienced, may have limited exposure to the process. It may also require some patience since the people implementing the process may not have had a chance to fine tune it.

And while must-win opportunities don't demand superheroes who can maintain 11-month pregnancies, they DO require resources. As Dickson notes:

If a Must Win opportunity pursuit is starved for resources, then it really isn't a "Must Win."
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