“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But learning how to improvise in a structured manner will help ensure the big bumps in the road don’t throw you completely off course, says consultant Adam Kahane in a recent blog posting on strategy+business.

Kahane’s tips:

Look forward, not backward. Sit the team down after each stage of the initiative for a “plus/delta” meeting (delta is the mathematical symbol for change), in which everyone gives an answer to two questions about themselves, their colleagues and the whole team:

  • Plus: “What did I/you/we do well that I/you/we need to keep doing?”
  • Delta: “What do I/you/we need to do better next time?”

The delta question should not focus on what you did wrong, because you’ll rarely have the opportunity for do-overs; instead, look ahead at what you need to do differently in the future.

Take measured risks. Whether your initiative involves revamping old processes or debuting new offerings, the risk-taking should be prudent. New team members should learn the established way of handling a problem before trying to invent a new way. Begin with small experiments in safe contexts, such as tweaking established offerings and processes with trusted partners.

Ask for feedback—from colleagues, clients and anyone else involved with the problem you’re trying to solve. Ask casually and formally, verbally and in writing, and with specific and open-ended questions. And share all of this feedback with everyone on the team so you can make grounded individual and collective decisions about what to do next.

See the full posting: “How to Fail Successfully”