Nov 2 2023

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The old carpenter’s axiom of being extra careful to plan before executing is something not enough executives take to heart in business. Just like cutting a piece of wood a little too long, sometimes you execute in ways that can be modified on the fly; but other times, just like the cases where you cut a piece of wood too short, you can’t. And of course, in business, sometimes it’s somewhere in between. Some examples:

  • One example that’s a little more literal is around cutting staff or planning a layoff. Layoffs are traumatic for everyone involved – mostly those impacted, but for you as CEO and for your remaining organization as well. Being thoughtful about how much you cut and (unlike the case of a piece of wood) erring on the side of cutting more than you think you need to can prevent you from having to do a second set of even more traumatic layoffs down the road
  • Getting a lease on a new office? Plan, plan, and plan again – you can end up spending too much if you get too much space and can’t sublet it…you have a real headache if you don’t get enough space and need to scramble for more
  • Planning a major investment in a new product? You don’t want to spin up a whole new effort internally and hire people before you’ve done enough discovery and planning to know it’s worth it

It’s an interesting question as to whether or not this axiom conflicts with the startup mentality of moving quickly and with agility. I don’t think it does, although in the startup ecosystem, a lot of fixed decisioning has moved to variable, which means you may be faced with fewer times where you need to measure twice. For example, a lot of SaaS licenses you have to buy are per-seat, or AWS costs are fluid. All that is much easier than perpetual license software models or standing up servers in a data center.

I’m a big fan of Eisenhower’s line that “plans are nothing but planning is everything.” That’s why I like to measure twice, cut once when I’m working on something big. It just raises the odds of getting it right, whatever it is.