Necessary but not sufficient


S ome years ago my boss (and mentor) was reviewing one of my project plans I had prepared for a project I was about to manage. He made the comment that my project tasks were “necessary but not sufficient” to get the project completed. That simple phrase made a big impression on me and influenced how I set about managing projects ever since. So what does it mean?

If you have a math or logic background, you may already be familiar with the concepts of necessity and sufficiency. For the rest of you, let’s define the terms. Necessity means that something is needed or required. In more formal terms, a necessary condition is one that must be present for a condition to be true. For example, water is a necessity and is a necessary condition for life. If something is necessary, it is required – plain and simple, but is it enough? Is water sufficient for life to exist?

Sufficiency means ALL of the necessary requirements have been met in order for something else to be true. Formally stated, something is sufficient if all of the essential (necessary) requirements are met for a condition to be true. The key word here is ALL. For example, being female is a necessary condition for being a sister, but it is not sufficient. Not all females are sisters. Being a female sibling is a sufficient condition for being a sister. Being a sister requires both of the necessary conditions of being female and a sibling.

What does this have to do with leadership and organizational management? Necessity and sufficiency are the foundations of problem-solving, management, and goal attainment. An effective leader has to identify not just what’s required to make something happen (the necessary) but also has to know when ALL conditions are met to arrive at a sufficient solution. Most organizations are able to identify some necessary tasks, conditions, and resources to get something done. In order to be effective, the organization has to identify “all the things” to achieve sufficiency in getting something done. Someone is considered to be “self-sufficient” when they have everything they need to be successful. Thus, sufficiency applies to both individuals and organizations.

Is it okay to start a project without having everything you need for completion? Yes, it’s been my experience that it’s okay to be “directionally correct” in order to get something started, as long as you know what else is needed to be sufficiently confident that you can succeed. Waiting until sufficiency is achieved could mean a failure to ever get started. It’s both an art and science in knowing when enough resources are present to initiate an activity knowing that additional resources will be needed or conditions met along the way.

The same principle applies to individuals. Although it’s highly desirable for someone to be self-sufficient, that is rarely the case in most circumstances. Most people, myself included, don’t know what we don’t know. As leaders, we need to be aware of what’s necessary as we strive for sufficiency. For example, I may know all of the facts in order to make a business decision but it may not be sufficient because there are more than just facts to consider when making the decision – like who’s actually going to implement the plan?

Consider the necessary and sufficient actions taken by a salesperson. A self-sufficient salesperson is one who has the resources and knowledge to make sales by meeting all of a buyer’s necessary requirements – time, budget, scope, etc. Anticipating objections and handling requirements is the core function of a sales professional. A sale is only made when all necessary and sufficient questions are answered and the buyer is motivated to action.

When something fails in business, it’s mostly because of insufficiency – a lack of resources, sales, staff, working capital, motivation, time, and so forth. You can’t succeed without meeting all requirements for success. I haven’t run into an organization yet that doesn’t have some of the necessary ingredients for success. The key is finding sufficiency to bring all of that to bear to achieve the desired results. If something fails, then sufficiency was not attained and oftentimes people resort to a “blame game” about the missing necessary conditions for success – the “coulda, shoulda, woulda”. True leaders accept responsibility from failure, learn from it, and move on striving for sufficiency the next time.

Being effective requires the necessary and sufficient. What are you missing to achieve sufficiency? Do you have enough of what’s necessary to get started, knowing that you can achieve sufficiency along the way? None of us have it all figured out, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Somewhere between failure to launch and failure to land is a journey toward sufficiency and success. Once you have lift-off, be mindful of what’s needed to land. The year has just started, have you? If not, what are you waiting for?

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]