Think 2 Up, Act 2 Over

By Ed Williams

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Former Special Forces officer deploys Integrated Service Delivery to help Sandia deliver on the mission

Ed Williams and other soldiers in Afghanistan
ISD IN ACTION — Sandia strategic planner Ed Williams, second from right, was deployed to Afghanistan while serving as a Special Operations officer. Ed attributes part of his success at Sandia to lessons he and his team applied while on active duty. (Photo courtesy of Ed Williams)

As a former Special Forces officer with more than 22 years of active duty, I had the honor and privilege of working with some of the most dynamic and high performing teams in the world. These teams are uniquely trained and organized to deliver on mission in unstructured environments, often with undefined problems and objectives. They realize success by rapidly organizing and taking responsibility to understand and shape the environment.

New to Sandia, not new to ISD

I joined Sandia’s California Site Operations Center as a strategic planner almost a year ago, and Integrated Service Delivery was part of the conversation from the beginning. ISD felt very natural to me. In military service, we relied not only on the members of our immediate team, but also the support, planning and logistics teams that backed us up. Taking personal responsibility and teaming for mission success is a big part of why America is protected and represented by the most professional and effective military in history.

So when I got here, I was initially surprised to learn that some of my colleagues did not know where to begin with ISD. As time passed, I began to have an appreciation for the highly technical and specialized work many on our team perform daily, and it began to make more sense.

Think 2 Up: See the bigger picture

There’s an approach that has worked for me in the military and at Sandia to see the bigger picture for mission delivery: Think 2 Up.

Simply put, Think 2 Up is viewing the project or task from a more strategic perspective. What would your leadership two levels up be asking?

Some of those question might be: What is the overall organizational objective? What is this project or task supporting? How would actions or decisions we make on this project support the objective and affect other parts of the organization?

The Think 2 Up approach is an empowering call to action. Two levels up is just far enough removed that it reveals the bigger picture without losing sight of the task at hand. It uncovers potential gaps, seams and collaboration and friction points. This contributes to a holistic understanding of the overall intent of the task. Understanding higher-level intent gives integrators at all levels freedom of action to achieve larger organizational goals and objectives.

In an operations-and-services heavy environment, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. Communicating and understanding the bigger picture encourages alignment across the organization and provides purpose in daily work.

Act 2 Over: Break down barriers

Simply put, Act 2 Over is following an operation, activity or action two steps beyond your direct responsibilities for the task. In a matrixed organization with multi-step processes that cross boundaries, this can be a challenge. This is the space where we break down barriers and team for mission success.

Communication and transparency are the critical components of Act 2 Over. Consider others involved in the project before and after. Where are the interfaces and handoffs? Ask, “How can I help set up the next team member for success, or take the burden off my customer?”

For example, when providing a service, activity or action, don’t stop collaborating when your specific portion is complete. Rather, Act 2 Over, by following the process two more steps. So, not only are you focused on your portion of delivery, but also focused on the next integrators or customers down the line. Was the delivery made? Did it get to the right people? Did it achieve their desired outcome?

Generally, Act 2 Over is expressed by keeping continuous communication with the customer or team member to guarantee the product or service met the need and the expected results were realized. As you continue to Act 2 Over, you may identify a process flow that can sometimes involve reassuming a lead role in the process or even moving back a step.

Integrators must be sensitive to teammate’s space and work to avoid the perception that they are taking over or don’t trust the next person to get the job done. This friction is usually avoided through good communication. Colleagues may even embrace the Think 2 Up, Act 2 Over approach. Ultimately, the successful integrator strives for effective end-to-end delivery.

Putting it all together

I can think of a particularly painful administrative example where the “Think 2 Up, Act 2 Over” mindset would have helped. The IT department of our organization was replacing all computer systems. Our logistics department had to track and account for all the systems. The IT department was aware that the computers had been purchased, shipped and delivered with program money, but they were not aware of the logistics.

Under pressure to have the systems up and running, the IT department dove into replacing the old systems. Like Sandia, individual users were responsible to account for their computers. When the property accountability finally caught up with the IT installation, it was a mess. The new computer systems were spread out from central Europe to the Sahara without formal accountability protocols, and the old systems were equally as hard to find.

Ultimately, the computers were all accounted for, but it took about two months and a lot of work. Working closely, the IT and logistics departments established systems to prevent similar situations from happening in the future. If the team had taken a moment to Think 2 Up and understand the bigger picture of mission success, and then Acted 2 Over to ensure the computers weren’t just installed, but accounted for, a true end-to-end solution could have been delivered.

The power to succeed

Bottom line, the principles of ISD executed by Think 2 Up, Act 2 Over are a proven path to success whether you are trying to accomplish a military objective, install a digital infrastructure that allows employees to work from home or supply labs and offices with needed equipment.

In my short time at Sandia, I’ve seen great examples of personal accountability and teaming for mission success. Sandians have been doing the most important work for our nation for more than 75 years, and it takes strong teams to get it done. In your day-to-day work, you’re most likely already demonstrating these behaviors, which is important because ISD will be practiced across Sandia beginning in fiscal year 2021.

This means that many of us will be formally evaluated for demonstrating ISD values and behaviors and acting as integrators. While there are plenty of materials available to understand what an integrator is, I thought we all might benefit from understanding the Think 2 Up, Act 2 Over mindset that was so effective in my military career.

I hope this article has given you another tool for your integrator’s kitbag to communicate to your teammates and leadership how you contribute to ISD and exceptional service in the national interest.