The 5-15 – A Great Communications Tool

After the Boeing Company acquired Conquest in the spring of 2003, I became the managing director of a business unit creatively named Maryland Operations.  We went through the normal integration pains and once we got it through our heads that a  $100M business unit was not going to change the policies of a $50 Billion company, the adjustments actually became easier to swallow.

But this is not a discussion about the challenges of merger integration; this entry is about more effective ways for your leadership team to communicate.

Much of the culture of being a leader at Boeing was at odds with my personal leadership style, but one of the great tools I took from the experience was the 5-15.  The 5-15 was a tool used by Boeing to keep everyone informed on weekly (and normally tactical) activities going on in the company.
Each leader takes 15 minute to create a status that should only take 5 minutes to read.

Here is how it worked.  Each Tuesday night, my direct reports would spend 15 minutes creating a short status on what went on last week and what they are planning for the next week.  Then every Wednesday morning, I would take about 30 minutes to read each status (I had 6 direct reports) and would then create my own 15-minute status and send that to my boss.  My peers around the country would do the same. The drill continued up and down the organization with the objective that everyone in a leadership position would have a good sense of what was going on.  In an environment where time, schedules, geography and good intentions got in the way of solid communications, it was a simple, yet very effective tool.

The Benefits of the 5-15

Making the small investment in time allowed us to partner more effectively, share resources on timely basis, lower the risk of missing project deadlines and gaining insight on critical performance issues.

Each week, I made it a point to write a personal thank you note to a staff person whose project was referenced in the 5-15.  It gave me great insight into the organization from a 360-degree perspective.

Three Rules

For maximum effectiveness, follow these three rules.

1.    NEVER take more than 15 minutes to create your status.
2.    ALWAYS submit your report on time.  No excuses.
3.    READ every report each week.  It only takes 5 minutes.

Make it a part of your leadership culture. Throw the term around early and often so your team understands the importance and effectiveness of the tool.

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