Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a business for resilience 1 – buildings systems and processes so they can fail gracefully

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on June 11, 2015

Entrepreneurs build businesses to succeed, and managers and business leaders work full time at making that success happen, as do their hands-on employees. But in the real world, problems develop, and both structurally predictable ones and novel and unpredictable ones as well. Shipment deliveries can arrive late or damaged, or with unexpected and wrong content. A key employee or manager can be out sick at a time they would be most needed for their specific skills and experience. Systems can become sidetracked and processes can break down – and with time they will.

I write about business processes in this blog and about planning and developing them for agile, flexible response and both for dealing with the expected, and where possible for the more unexpected or at least the more unusual as well. That can mean building to accommodate a larger workflow through the various parts of your business’ systems than would normally be expected, and it can mean building in the flexibility for achieving work goals and timetable bench marks as quickly and smoothly as possible when breakdowns happen. And when, as in the case of lost or faulty deliveries that you need in addressing the immediate needs of your clients and customers, that means building in effective outwardly reaching communications capabilities, as well as building internal communications excellence.

• What I am writing about here is building business processes and systems so that when they do fail, they do so gracefully and with limited collateral damage ripple effects.
• And I am writing here about building those systems and processes with a goal of both identifying the source of problems, and addressing them so as to facilitate a smoother and more rapid recovery.
• And to complete the cycle here, I am writing about building your systems and processes so that the people who carry out this recovery effort can learn from it and so your overall business can too and both from successes and from challenges faced.

The goal there is to limit making mistakes and to limit running into problems and challenges. But even more importantly than that, it is to learn from the problems that do occur, when they do. The goal there is that if you have to make a next mistake it should at least be a new one, and not simply a repetition of an older problem that you have not learned how to recognize early for its potential, and that you have not learned how to limit for its impact if you cannot entirely avoid it.

I write this immediately after being interviewed for an internet radio business program. And one of the points that I made in that interview was that when a consultant goes into a business to work with them and help them address problems, they often know a lot more about the symptoms that they face than they do about the actual underlying problems that caused those more overtly visible pain points to develop. I did not express this point using this specific term, but I was in fact talking about business resiliency and what goes into building a business to be resilient in the face of change and uncertainty, and the unexpected.

When a process breaks down, you are probably looking at an end-result consequence, and a symptom of a more underlying problem – and particularly when you see the same “problem” recurring again and again. You keep seeing delivery problems for key supplies or materials that your business needs? The fact that your own production line slows or even closes periodically and recurringly because of that is a symptom of a more fundamental underlying problem. You lose customers who head out the door without doing business with you because they have difficulty getting more customized service support to help them find the right products and models that they need, of what you offer, to meet their specific needs and preferences? That is a symptom, and it is probably best seen as a consequence of underlying process problems.

• Resilience is all about resolving process problems, and it is about building those processes to fail gracefully when problems with them do occur.
• And peeling back the layers of this challenge, that means knowing how to better identify what are more properly just symptoms and consequences and what are actually more underlying problems.
• And it means analyzing and understanding those problems themselves for their details, and in ways that can be operationalized in more systematically resolving them.

I am going to conclude this posting with those points, and will pick up on this discussion in an upcoming continuation posting where I will focus on a more specific retail business case in point example and with a focus on managers and on building for more effective and responsive management. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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