I have essentially made a career out of being able to dig down and uncover the root cause of problems. For many years I served at the request of the CFO of a large consumer goods corporation. He would crunch the numbers, do some analysis and then say “Go down to the plant at Dayton, Tennessee and see what is happening in the warehouse – invoices are arriving to dealers before the product does.” And off I would go, dig through all the issues, discover the real source of the problem and develop solutions on how to fix the problem. The CFO would pick from the choices I had offered up and then I would lead the charge to make changes. It was a great deal of fun.
But there were two itches that could not be scratched in the role that I had. One, often times the solutions I developed were only partially implemented. I would create what I felt was a great design but reservations of local management would prevent them from fully implementing my solution. And though improvements were gained, they often fell short of what they could have been. I wanted to have control of an organization where I could design, implement and then execute.
The other itch was wanting to participate in the setting of direction for the corporation. One of my inherent strengths is the ability to think strategically. I wanted to be in the Board Room when direction was being set and strategies were being developed.
In order to gain access to that august group I had to take on the role of an executive so when I was offered the CIO position I took it. I believed I would now have control over an entire department and could mold it in the image I felt would best serve the corporation. And I would participate in strategy sessions.
Indeed I did get to shape the IT department but there were constraints placed on me by the CEO. This is to be expected. This one form of governance for the IT department.
And I became disenchanted with strategic planning. If every company goes through a planning process then why do so many companies underperform? What is it about the planning process that is not working?
Turns out it has to do with design. A strategy can only be executed if a design can accommodate it. Executives fail to realize that their business has a design and therefore ignore it or think that changing strategies has an effect on business design. It does not. To improve the performance of a business you have to go beyond strategy! You must look to the business design for success.
Success will be defined differently for each area of our lives. For some personal success is measured by the size of their bank account while others look to their marriage and children. Professional success may be looked at from how high in the organization you have climbed or it can be the degree of delight received from a job well done.
The eight steps I am going to discuss does not address either directly but if you look closely and think about each one you will find many applications for these steps. This “process” was developed to assist businesses in achieving sustained Business Excellence but its application goes beyond strictly business.
Too many businesses are on the down-side of their growth curve and are facing very difficult times and decisions. Executives at these companies are not in enviable positions. They have an entity that has existed for many years, was successful and is now struggling. Some have been at the helm during the good times and bad while others have been brought in to ‘right the ship’. Regardless the challenge is the same.
As they work with their management team and try to address the situation they will repeatedly ask themselves these four questions:
· “How did we get here?”
· “How could things have gotten this bad?”
· “What could we have done differently”
· “What can we do to get out of this mess?”.
An answer to the first two questions can be found in Tom Peter’s book Re-Imagine. Mr. Peter’s identifies some very interesting facts. In 1917 Forbes magazine first identified the top 100 companies in America. These were the best and the brightest. One could make the argument that these companies had everything they needed to ensure their survival. Fast forward 70 years and 61 of those 100 companies were not to be found.
Next Mr. Peters investigated the performance of companies listed in the S&P 500. Again these are top companies with money and people to drive their businesses forward. The span of time is now from 1957 to 1997, so the window of change has been reduced by 30 years. Here we are shown that 426 of the 500 S&P companies ceased to exist.
From 1917 to 1987 – 60% of top companies did not make it. From 1957 – 1997 81% of the largest companies no longer existed. The percentage and speed of becoming obsolete is increasing. But what causes companies to become obsolete?
It would be interesting to establish a correlation between the rate of change in the world around us and the rate of obsolescence in business. Who doesn’t say things are happening faster and faster – that the merry-go-round of life isn’t speeding up? While a part of us yearns for the good old days at the same time we want our HD TV and Blue ray technology. As the world turns faster and the globe becomes smaller, customer expectations change more rapidly and businesses are challenged to keep up.
The relevance of any business and the products/services it offers to the market place is determined by the world external to it. I refer to the external world as the competitive environment. Businesses don’t get to decide how relevant they are, instead it is the competitive environment that determines the relevancy of a business. Each business, its suppliers, business partners, competitors, customers, distributors, sales, …are all within a competitive environment. The environment provides the context in which to evaluate the relevance of the design of every business and its products/services.
So in response to the questions:
· “How did we get here?”
· “How could things have gotten this bad?”
· Your business became obsolete due to a changing environment.
And that leads to the next two questions: “What could we have done differently?” and “What can we do to get out of this mess?”.
Just as the first two questions had a single answer so do the second set of questions. Allow me to develop this idea by returning to the ideas of environment and Context.
Businesses are created in the environment in which they are going to compete. As a business takes off its products/services are designed to meet the needs of the customer – otherwise the customer would not buy them and the business would fail to exist. Along the way the business grows and adds new functions and internal services to support the increasing demand for its products/services and the operations to fulfill that demand. All this is happening in the original environment.
Over time that environment will change. Customers will expect new levels of quality, service and options; competitors will offer new and improved products; new materials will become available; new suppliers will arrive on the scene; trade barriers will be erected or torn down,…. and your business, which was designed to compete in the old environment becomes less and less relevant.
Here I introduce the idea that businesses have a design just like products or services. That may be hard to conceive since you have never seen a set of Business Blueprints™. It is hard to visualize something that you have not seen but that does not mean it does not exist.
Sadly, Dr. Michael Hammer passed away recently. For those of you who are not familiar with his writings, he made popular the idea of reengineering processes to improve business performance. When his first book came out in the early 1990’s I had already been doing process design work for years but did not have a name for what I was doing. I just thought of it as solving problems at the root cause level.
Dr. Hammer came along and was able to have people understand that a set of activities used to accomplish a purpose could be defined as a process and that the design of any process has the largest impact on how well work is performed. By documenting every activity and placing those activities side-by-side the process design becomes visible, enabling you to analyze and subsequently intelligently reengineer that design to meet performance goals.
Understanding process design remains important in business today. BPR, Lean Six Sigma, Kaizan, Total Quality,… are all extensions of this concept. Many consultants are referring to business processes when they speak about business models (processes are only one perspective of a business design). Executives are looking for ways to improve the performance of their businesses and actively seek it through process reengineering.
All designs become obsolete.
Earlier I spoke about businesses becoming obsolete – the same thing happens at the process level for all the same reasons. Thanks to people like Dr. Michael Hammer and Mr. Derril Watts with Mountain Home Training and Consulting, http://www.mhc-net.com/, people have come to understand that just because you can’t see processes does not mean they don’t exist and that they don’t have a design. It took years for this concept to work its way into most businesses and I would argue that any business that does not have Process Management as one of its disciplines is lacking as a professional organization.
As process designs are invisible until they are documented so are business designs. The impact that designs have on process performance is even more powerful at the business/organization level.
Design Dictates Performance.
So in response to the questions:
· “What could we have done differently?”
· “What can we do to get out of this mess?”
· Design your business to compete in today’s environment.
If you are part of a business or organization and wondering what you should have done or what you can do to get out of your current dilemma it comes down to executing these Eight Steps to Business Excellence.
- Document the existing business design
· When a business is not meeting performance expectations you can not know whether it is a design or execution problem if the design can not be seen.
· More than 80% of the time an obsolete design is the root cause of performance issues.
- Establish the performance goals you wish to achieve
· Every company has growth and profit goals.
· Business designs must support business goals.
· Setting goals that are not attainable with the existing design is harmful.
· Unrealistic goals are a waste of money and represent lost opportunities.
- Establish the strategies you want to execute
· How will the strategic goals be reached given the environment and company’s organization?
· How you will accomplish something is deciding what strategies you wish to execute.
- Analyze the design of your business model in light of your goals and strategies
· Just because a goal is set does not mean it can be reached.
· Can you execute your strategies given the constraints of your design?
· If a design can not be seen it how can it be analyzed?
- Update the design to achieve goals and execute strategies
· The words design and strategy are not interchangeable.
· Changing a strategy has absolutely no impact on the design of a business.
· Designs determine what strategies can be executed.
- Create Strategic Plan and Master Project Plan
· A Business Strategic Plan:
o Strategic goals
o Analysis of the changing environment and the impact to business
o Clearly identified strategies and a description of each one
o All strategic initiatives and the rationale behind each one.
· A Master Project Plan is the ‘road map’ all executives want to see:
o Initiatives, dependencies and the sequence of projects
o Project prioritization no longer exists
o All initiatives from the Strategic Plan are in the Master Project
- Implement the new design
· A Master Project Plan is the ‘road map’ all executives
· The design has to be in place in order for strategies to be executed.
· The Master Project Plan shows how to implement the new business design.
· To receive the full benefit of a new design it must be completely implemented.
- Execute the strategies
· The entire design does not have to be in place before management starts to see positive results.
· Some strategies can be executed with the existing design while others can be executed after particular initiatives are completed.