Getting Important Shit Done! (A summary of ‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ for small-scale organic vegetable farmers.)

Alright. Here’s the bottom line-this winter you need to read the book ‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’ (4DX)!

In the meanwhile, I thought it might be useful for me to write a short summary of the 4DX system. I will focus primarily on how it can be of service in the context of a small-scale organic vegetable farm.

Breaking out of the whirlwind

We’ve all been there. During the winter we have these great intentions of what we want to improve on our farm. The challenge is that these intentions get blown away by the busy whirlwind of urgent tasks.

  • 4DX is a system for being able to make important changes IN ADDITION to the baseline demands of the whirlwind of urgent farming tasks.
  • 4DX is a system to give ownership of the goals to the farm’s crew and support them to feel what it’s like to be part of a winning team playing towards a clear and meaningful goal.
  • 4DX is a system designed to be implemented with and by your team… not to be imposed top down. It is paramount that your team be involved in developing the goals and designing the visual tools that will be used.
‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’, page 21.

Less is More

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important

When it comes to achieving important goals above and beyond the basic operation of the farm, the key is to focus your energy on one maybe two Wildly Important Goals (WIG). Imagine trying to pierce a piece of paper with all 5 fingers at once… not very effective…. now try with just one finger. Boom! Less is more. Imagine the sun’s rays… they only ignite a fire when they are focused by a magnifying glass on a single point. Are you ready to light your goals on fire!?!

The first step is the craft one or max two WIGs:

  • If everything else at the farm remained at the current level of performance….
  • What is one change that would have the greatest impact in terms of bringing your vision into reality?
  • What is one change that would have the greatest impact on your quality of life?
  • The WIG is phased as a measurable action with a set date:
  • Increase farm revenue from 300 000$ to 350 000$ by December 31, 2019.
  • Reduce work hours from 70 to 50 hours per week by August 15, 2019.
  • Increase farmers market sales from 45 000$ to 60 000$ per year by November 1, 2019.

To generalize the formula:

Verb → Key Parameter → Starting Level → Target Level → Target Date.

Focusing the right lever: Lag vs Lead measures

Discipline 2: Focus on lead measures

As Peter Drucker said, we can’t manage what we don’t measure.

There are two types of measurements we can make:

  • Lag measures are things that by the time we measure them, we can no longer influence them. Lag measures are the results that we want to create (ie Profit, sales, leisure time, etc) WIGs are lag measures
  • Lead measures are things that when we measure them, we can still impact the outcome. Lead measures are the means we have of influencing the outcomes.

Let’s take the example of the farmers market.

The lag measure would be that we want to sell 60 000$ per year at the farmers market. (WIG: Increase farmers market sales from 45 000$ to 60 000$ by November 1st 2019)  While we can measure sales, there is no way we can directly act on them. You can’t force people to give you their money (legally).

Lead measures for farmers market sales include making at least 2 product suggestions to clients, keeping the tables fully stocked and beautiful (to measure this, you could use a chart of presentation criteria and aim to score above 90% at key times), and reducing client check out wait time to 2 minutes.

‘The 4 Disciplines of Execution’, page 53.

The key is to shift our attention from trying to push directly on the boulder and actually focus on pushing on the lever. Work smarter, not harder!

TIME TO BRAINSTORM: It’s time to identify 2-3 lead measures to focus on that will move you towards achieving your Wildly Important Goal.

Make it a game worth winning: Keep score!

Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard.

People play differently when they are keeping score. The challenge is that so often in the height of the growing season, we are juggling so many balls that it’s hard to know where we’re at in terms of our larger goals.

The scoreboard is just the tool for this!

The scoreboard is a visual representation of the WIG and the 2-3 lead measures the team has identified. Anyone needs to be able to look at it for 5 seconds and know exactly whether the team is winning or losing. It needs to be centrally located and visible.

It will become the centerpiece of your weekly WIG sessions. It will become the glue that binds your team.

One more nuance that is highlighted by the authors of 4DX… People play differently when they are keeping score. Your team must be empowered to keep score, fill out the scoreboard, and own the results! This is not just another tool to pressure your crew… this is their scoreboard

One for all and all for one

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability.

This is where the work actually gets started! The key to success is consistently taking small sweet steps towards your goal.

The glue that holds this whole 4DX system together is the weekly WIG sessions.

WIG sessions are highly structured, efficient 20-minute sessions held each week. The sole purpose of this meeting is to keep the team focused on the WIG and make it possible to chip away at the WIG while still accomplishing everything that needs to get done in the regular whirlwind of farm activities.

Here is the format for the meeting:

  1. Check in on last weeks commitments.
  2. Look at the state of the scoreboard.
  3. Make a commitment for the coming week.

Each week, members of the team make personal commitments regarding what they will do this week to move the scoreboard towards a victory. This can be an action they take, or this can be some way they are willing to support a team member by clearing the way for them to advance. The following week everyone reports back on their commitment. Team members are accountable to the whole team, not just to the leader.

WIG Session Rules

  • Do not let whirlwind topics encroach into the WIG session. The ONLY topics at the WIG session are limited to:

‘How do we move the scoreboard forward?’

How do we meet out lead measure goals?

Is the lag measure responding as expected?

If needed, hold a regular planning meeting at a different time

(it can be right after the WIG session) to discuss the farm activities for the


  • The WIG sessions are non-negotiable. Meaning that it is paramount that you hold them every week, both to keep on track towards your goal and to send the clear message to your team that this is highly important for the success of the farm, and the farm’s ability to create meaningful and satisfying employment for them.

Have fun! As I said, this book is a must read! Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

Looking forward to hearing your feedback and experiences implementing this on your farm!

Go make a ruckus!



*Please note that all links to Amazon are ‘affiliate links’ where I earn between 4-10% of the sale depending on the product. Of course, this does not influence which products I mention… I just figured that if I was going to be linking to them anyways, I might as well generate some income!

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