Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 23: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 13

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 10, 2017

This is my 23rd installment to a series that offers a general discussion of business transitions, where an organization exits one developmental stage or period of relative strategic and operational stability, to enter a fundamentally different next one (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 559 and loosely following for Parts 1-22.)

I have been discussing a set of closely related to-address points in this since Part 20, which I repeat here for smoother continuity of narrative:

1. It can be vitally important to make explicit strategic effort to more deeply understand where your business is now and where that business is headed if it seeks to simply follow a straight-forward more predictively linear path, rather than making a more profound shift and going through a genuine transition such as an exit or entrance strategy.
2. And it is equally important to be aware of the possibilities, at the very least of what types of transitions could be possible, and their implications and consequences.
3. This leads me to the question of what would be planned for in a strategically considered, intentionally entered into business transition, and how such a transition plays out.

And as a part of my overall response to them, I focused in Part 22 on priorities and timing:

• And both for how priorities themselves are organized according to their urgency and their timing requirements,
• And for how changes in business process timing as actually achieved, can help identify when issues are emerging that will require prioritized change or correction.

Then at the end of Part 22, I stated that I would continue its line of discussion here, by more directly considering breakdowns and their indicators. I will address that set of issues, but to set the stage for doing so, I am going to complete my discussion of timing issues here, at least as required for purposes of this series. And I begin that by picking up on a point of detail that I only noted in passing in Part 22: urgency and timeframe compression and extension.

Managers, and I add hands-on employees who report to them are almost always balancing multiple ongoing tasks and their completion at any given time. And breakdowns in their being able to satisfactorily fulfill them: for their here-and-now iteration for recurring tasks, or to reach a more definitive resolution for one-off tasks, have ripple effects. This obviously holds true when for example, carrying out a task B is contingent on a task A having been completed, and either for the resulting output of A or from its completion freeing up a limited availability, bottleneck resource that will be tied up until A is completed. But it is not just critical needs equipment that enters in there: the availability of key personnel does too, and in ways that are not always obvious and certainly if you focus on work done and to be done, and not as much on the human resources who would do this.

As noted above, I wrote in Part 22 of how timing changes in task commencement and completion can and do serve as warning signs that problems are developing in business systems, and that is a valid point. But I want to at least reconsider the above paragraph in what might be a more nuanced light by making explicit note of an at least tacit assumption built into it.

In the real world, there is and has to be at least a measure of flexibility in essentially any business process timetable. If everything required for a task or project is suddenly available earlier than expected, and resources that need to be brought in for specific stages of it are all there at least on time if not earlier, and no complications arise when carrying any of this work out, or at least none do that would slow things down for it, then it is likely this work will be completed ahead of schedule. Now the question is one of whether the people and the systems in that business that require this work’s output are ready for it, or if this in-effect gift of time is going to be lost because next steps cannot start early too, to take advantage of any timing gain offered here. And collateral to that are questions as to whether any bottleneck resources that had been tied up in this work but that are now free for alternative use early, are going to sit idle through this “bonus availability” period too.

Late completion with the delays and other overt challenges that brings with it, have obvious possible downsides and particularly where contingency plan work-arounds have not been at least thought through and in advance for more effectively dealing with and resolving them. Early completion can and does create at least potential challenges too, and these are also ones that can have wider-spreading ripple effects.

• Few tasks or processes, projects or programs are so tightly choreographed that only one possible completion date and time can be contemplated. The cost of attempting that type of rigidity is an increased overall level of risk to the business and probably to that business as a whole from loss of flexibility and overall adaptability in the face of change and the unexpected.
• So even when a specific completion date is stated, that is or at least should represent more of a tentative, on-paper normative goal and not an absolute, and with capacity build in to accommodate at least a measure of flexibility around that point in time. (Yes, I am writing here in terms of an ideal that does not always arise as a possibility, and that is one of the places where business resiliency and ability to adapt enter in.)

Now let’s reconsider my above assertions regarding schedule changes as indicators of potential new or worsening problems. Yes, that assertion is valid and so is my just argued point regarding schedule flexibility as just offered here. How can we reconcile them? That is a question that can be parsed into a set of related questions that would have to be addressed in order to answer it, some of the more generic of which I offer here:

• I write of a timing of completion window, when I write of timing flexibility here. What should this be, as a matter of more normative planning? How wide should it be and where should its start and end points be set?
• Normative here, indicates when genuine problems are arising due to scheduling shifts, from actual work performance drifting outside of that timing of completion window. And once again, this can mean early completion that has not been prepared for and even in principle, if critical bottleneck resources that a business really cannot afford to keep idle, are left that way because no one who should be using them are ready to do so, due to their own current task responsibilities and schedules. There, “… that a business really cannot afford to keep idle” becomes overlty real when schedules tighten up again and those too-long idle resources are now being all but fought over again by competing stakeholders and their competing perhaps all-high priority tasks. Who decides what “normative” means in the context of the above bullet point? And who at least enters into the conversation that sets it and particularly where slippage from planned for normative might have wide-spread ripple effect consequences?

Think of the issues just raised here as representing sources of impact on both direct and indirect costs accrued and on overall value and benefits created. And think of all of this in risk management terms. And yes, this is also all about “breakdowns and their indicators” and making sure that all necessity and required stakeholders in this work are in agreement as to what would constitute red flag warnings of problems arising here, and that they have and use clear communications channels for discussing and resolving them. And with that I explicitly at least begin discussing the issues that I stated I would turn to next in this series, at the end of Part 22.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will continue discussion of breakdowns and their indicators as they arise in the types of work timing planning and execution under consideration here. Then I will consider working capital and cash flow, and reserves in this context, as well as goal planning and goal change and reprioritization. Meanwhile, 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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