Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 13

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 8, 2017

This is my 13th posting to a series on tactical and strategic planning under real world constraints, and executing in the face of real world challenges that are caused by business systems friction and the systems turbulence that it creates (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 578 and loosely following for Parts 1-12.)

My primary point of focus in Part 12 was on the taxonomically differentiated identification of core and peripheral processes (with core processes and the resources needed to carry them out determined to be essential to fulfilling the business model in place, and with peripheral ones more supportive in nature, if even that.) And as a part of that taxonomy, I explicitly partitioned peripheral processes into two subcategories: primary, that would best be actively maintained and supported and in-house, and secondary that would best be outsourced or even discontinued. And with this brief taxonomy in place, I began to systematically address a set of three to-address points:

1. Different functionally focused stakeholders might reach different conclusions as to what processes and subsystems of them are core or peripheral, and as to what might be secondary peripheral of them – and if so of what type. And it is important to both clarify and discuss those differences, and reach a working consensus that all key stakeholders can come to at least tacit agreement upon, and certainly if a business is to enter into and carry through upon the right transitions for its own needs, and in the right way and with the right timing.
2. Then after that, and in the context of distinguishing between core and peripheral processes, I said that I would turn to consider areas and aspects of the business that can be linearly scaled up, and areas that represent true nonlinearities – places where simply scaling up according to the pattern in place would create inefficiencies.
3. And I added that I would discuss all of this in terms of crucial information availability and communications, and in terms of two types of case study examples: a retail business, and a software development business.

I began addressing Point 1 of this list in Part 12, and primarily in general and even abstract terms and with a focus on its first half where I outlined a basic challenge that I address here: knowing which of the processes in place (and their supporting and enabling resources), are in fact core or peripheral, and which of them are primary or secondary.

I then stated at the end of Part 12 that I would turn in my next series installment to discuss how the challenge of disagreement as outlined in Point 1, might better be resolved. And that is precisely what I will do here – by specifically addressing the second half of Point 1 as repeated (with minor rewording) above. And I begin doing so with the fundamentals and by widening the scope of my Part 12 discussion, as to how this type of disagreement can arise.

First of all, let me set aside an area of discussion that I am explicitly not going to pursue, at least here in this phase of this narrative. I have been addressing the issues and the challenges of effective communications per se in businesses, and for several years now in this blog. That consideration of necessity enters into any meaningful answer to the Point 1 challenge. But for purposes of this discussion and for now in it, I will simply assume at least an acknowledged concern for more effectively communicating as a given and that any communications problems that are in place are at least being worked on; I am going to focus here on what would most crucially be communicated to address this challenge – not on how to communicate more effectively as such. And in doing so, I start this discussion with one basic assumption: that at least some of the key stakeholders who at least should be crucially involved in determining which processes and systems are core or peripheral in reviewing business strategy and operations in place, disagree – or that at the very least, they are inclined to reach different conclusions there and as a result of systematic differences in perspective taken.

• This disagreement can arise because different stakeholders in different functional areas of a business face different challenges and requirements as they each seek to meet their own particular assigned goals and priorities and those of their teams, and on schedule. This means those stakeholders focusing on the goals and priorities that they will be performance reviewed for, giving them explicit reason to champion their own team and career-oriented perspectives. (I briefly explored this scenario in Part 12 as a starting point for further discussion and as an initial orienting, working example.)
• Alternatively, this type of diagreement, and certainly for more senior managers and executives, can stem from different stakeholders holding to different visions as to where the business is now, and where it is heading and should be going. (The above bullet point represents differences in local perspectives as taken within a business; this one represents a more global, business-wide perspective and the potential for differences there. But both can arrive at essentially the same type of disagreements and even the same types of impasses – just at what might be a higher level on the table of organization for this bullet point’s example.)
• And as a third possibility here, this type of disagreement can arise because one or more of the key stakeholders involved are pursuing their own more personal agendas – such as a desire to “empire build” as a means for them to personally achieve greater authority and influence in that business – and to help them advance up its table of organization. And to cite a very specific and all too common example of this and certainly in large, widespread businesses, this example represents what is perhaps the commonest source of this type of business process and supporting resource disagreement, that can arise when a business is being carved into locally controlled and “owned” fiefdoms.
• And as a back-up Plan B to that scenario in its various versions, this type of disagreement and how it is locally acted upon can mean stakeholders of the third example’s type, preparing themselves with resume bullet points that they can make use of if they have to look elsewhere for next-step career advancement opportunities, if their attempts at career advancement in their current place of employment do not work out. And with this point I explicitly note a key detail here. It is not necessarily the disagreement per se that is critically important here; it is how those differences in understanding and agreement are variously acted upon, with the collisions in goals and priorities and of resource availability and utilization that can arise. To take that point at least somewhat out of the abstract, consider the impact of stakeholder A treating what they see as a more peripheral process that they participate in, as having lower priority and for both its scheduling and for assigning resources to it, while stakeholder B sees its output as provided by A as crucial for what they know to be an important aspect of their area of activity and for completing what they see as one of their core functional requirements. (As a side note here, professionals who focus on different functional areas in a business and who have expertise in their own professional arenas, do not necessarily have matching experience or expertise in other areas – and even when their functional areas directly connect in achieving overall business goals. And people do not necessarily see, and certainly automatically, where there are gaps in their knowledge or understanding – with that leading to the type of challenge that I have just raised here.)
• There are a wide range of other possibilities that I could cite here, but they all hold some key details in common: different stakeholders arrive at different understandings in what is essential and core, and what is more peripheral and of lower centrality and priority as such. Think of this as a context where the fable of the blind men and the elephant play out as differing observers approach and seek to understand the same business that they all work for.

And this expanded reconsideration of the first half of Point 1, above, brings me to its second half:

• And it is important to both clarify and discuss those differences, and reach a working consensus that all key stakeholders can come to at least tacit agreement upon, and certainly if a business is to enter into and carry through upon the right transitions for its own needs, and in the right way and with the right timing.

Even a quick and casual reading of this point would suggest that I have just set up a context where negotiations and negotiating skills are going to prove crucial. I will, in fact consider some of the details of that when I address Point 3 from the above to-address list in this series. For now, I simply set the stage for that case study-based narrative by noting that any effective resolution here, and the prospect of coming to at least tacit working agreement in this is going to depend on two types of negotiating detail being achieved, at least to a workable degree for all concerned:

• It is important to arrive at a mutual understanding as to what all of the stakeholders see as core or peripheral to them, and why, going into these negotiations. You need to know where these negotiations start from, and with what can be very divergent tacit assumptions aired and on the table for examination and discussion. This means addressing both what these stakeholders variously see as crucial to the business as a whole and to their areas of responsibility in it, and what they see as holding higher priority as financial and other assets are allocated to meet more centrally important goals and needs – as they see them, first. This can mean revealing what might in fact be more hidden agendas and certainly when a manager (to cite a real world example that I have seen play out) is in fact using the business as a stepping stone for their own personal career advancement – and as their seemingly only goal there.
• And this means negotiating overall goals and priorities and from a global, business-wide perspective, bringing all of the stakeholders involved to look past the restrictions and even blinders of their own initial perspectives.

This is a very abstractly framed and stated posting, but I will explicitly reframe it in specific working example terms when I address Point 3, as stated above. Meanwhile, I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider Point 2 of this posting’s to-address list:

• “Then after that, and in the context of distinguishing between core and peripheral processes, I said that I would turn to consider areas and aspects of the business that can be linearly scaled up, and areas that represent true nonlinearities – places where simply scaling up according to the pattern in place would create inefficiencies.”

And then, I will (finally) discuss Point 3.

You can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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