Business Systems & Really Great Chili: Part 2

Posted by Jim Tennant on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 @ 10:03 AM

Last week on our blog, I shared insight on how to define and analyze your existing business systems. (If you missed it, be sure to check it out here.)  Today, I share with you the three steps needed to plan out and execute your strategy.                   

                              Strategy & Planning

Step 3:  Plan your plan

This is where you really start to expend resources. Not that the first two steps are easy or free but you are now committing to a path that can be interrupted or even cancelled, but only at a cost. The cost will be tangible; dollars, lost opportunities, man hours and the cost will be intangible; loss of momentum, depressed morale, reluctance to commit to other projects.

6 Key increments in this step include:

  • Specification; identify the project parameters of the new business system. Everyone needs to be clear on definition, budget, and time frame.
  • Definition; This needs to be as simple and short as possible, without leaving anything out. OK, so now that you have stopped laughing, read it again. It isn’t impossible, only difficult. Every minute spent here writing and revising will save hours later and incrementally increase the chances of success.
  • Budget-Personnel; The biggest temptation and the surest path to failure is to overcommit key personnel to the project. That being said, outsourcing this project is impossible. Think it through. Who knows more about what your business needs to do best, your people or a consulting firm? The consulting firm has seen a lot of examples of businesses similar to yours but they aren’t you. They do, however, have a lot of tools and experience that are far, far above your capability. They have been to see the elephant many times. Hire them and use their advantages but don’t expect them to do it all. No matter what, your team members will have to be extensively involved. The best option is to find ways of offloading their current work, at least in part, to allow them to be involved in the new system development. Ask yourself this, “will they be more inclined to make the new system work if they help build it or if it is just handed to them?"
  • Budget-Money; the wise man mentioned earlier provided this formula.  New software dollars + consultant dollars + “buffer” = price. Price x 2 = real cost. Fully half of your final total cost will be the expense of your team's work.
  • Budget-Time (man-hours); There is no magic formula here. The best advice is to allow “enough” time and make sure that regular accountability sessions are held. This project will certainly go on long enough that some burnout will occur. This will evidence itself as project personnel spending a greater and greater percentage of their time on their “normal” tasks. One simple but effective tool is the first-thing-in-the-morning-standup. A short standup meeting where team members individually report to the team leader and their peers that assigned tasks were completed and where new tasks are assigned. The team leader sets the deadlines, the team members set their own task due dates, everyone agrees on priorities.  
  • Time Frame; Calendar time not man-hours. This is best approached by having the team brainstorm; to generate a list of the required milestones, to assign practical durations to each milestone, and to determine what milestones can be achieved in parallel. After these steps are complete choose a start date and enter each milestone in order of requirement. The end date will determine itself. One practical note on this document. Gantt charts are great for the board meeting to show how much effort and manpower are going into this major project. But, on a day-to-day basis, and certainly for the morning stand-up, use a task list format with dates. Much easier to keep updated and a hardcopy can be marked up and handed off to an administrator to copy and distribute.

 

Step 4: Execute your plan

Now you have all the information in hand to move forward with the “real” work of building your business system. Before you do, think back to the chili. Now me, I love a bowl of really good chili. I especially like to sit down to watch the Superbowl with friends on a cold day, while I eat way too much of my own chili with Miss Adrea’s homemade cornbread. On the other hand, outside, in the sun, in August… I’ll choose ice tea over hot chili every time.

So, before you pull the trigger on execution, ask; is this the right plan, is this the right time, and are we prepared to undertake this effort? We all remember General Sun Tzu’s admonition about choosing the battlefield and counting our treasure right? We also all remember that “a great plan poorly executed is no plan at all”. I promise that your team and your shareholders would all rather the effort stop right here, than to go forward and fail.  Be realistic, but don’t be fainthearted. Expect to succeed.

3 Key increments in this step include;

  • Launch; personally I happen to be “celebrationally challenged” so I have to work at this.  That is no excuse for a quiet, under-the-radar, halfhearted launch of such an important project.  Be a Yoda, “do or do not do…” Having an official launch date helps keep everyone’s timeline in sync.
  • Do; there are at least a million euphemisms for this part of the work. I’m a Lean/Six Sigma guy so I like “Do". No matter what you call it, it is indeed time to eat the elephant. If a particular task is taking too long or seems to be stuck in a loop, break it down into small better defined tasks. If one sub-team is really tearing through their items, leave them alone.  Celebrate their win and redistribute the remaining tasks. A note here on completing tasks and the morning meeting. You will undoubtedly find that you have someone on the team who is falling behind, not completing tasks and is regularly returning to their “normal” work a high percentage of each day. Resist the urge to punish them and the urge to just work around them. What you have here is either someone who is diligent about their day-to-day work or is just not a good performer. If they are diligent about their regular work, great! Don’t we want to have more people like that? Take them off the team and replace them with someone who is excited about participating. By the way, if they are simply not good performers, why do they even have a “regular” job with your team?  
  • Monitor and report; you must monitor the progress of the team against budget, time frame and quality of results. Your team should be presenting you with regular summaries but don’t let that be your only connection to this project. Make sure you know the status first hand.  This is a great help in keeping your team motivated. You must also report progress in a summarized manner to the shareholders. No it isn’t fun, do it anyway. 

 

Step 5: Check your execution

Great, the situation was assessed, a plan was made, the plan was executed, balloons rose, the band played, tiny trophies were passed out. And you are the only one who realizes that the job is not finished yet, right? Think this through. My chili is great (if I do say so myself) because I learn from my mistakes. The thing is, I think my chili is always great.  So how do I know I’ve made a mistake? I measure, I ask my friends and family about the results.  How do you know that all the expense and time spent on your new system was worth the effort? You measure!

3 Key increments in this step include;

  • What was “wrong” in the previous system? Look at the faults and deficiencies identified in step one.  Have they been eliminated or only reduced? If only reduced, have they been sufficiently reduced? Remember, no matter how hard everyone worked and no matter how much money and time were spent, if the desired results were not achieved then the plan did not work.
  • What were the desired characteristics of your future business system? Check your list.  Have the requirements been met?  
  • Here’s a toughie. Is everyone using the new system? If not, why not? There is only one reason you should except for someone not using the new system, they don’t know how.  You will already know that they aren’t up to speed because you created an assessment way back in step two under “metrics”, remember?

Be sure to check out our blog next week for the final chapter in the 3-part blog series on business systems and really great chili.  

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