Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a business for resilience 28 – open systems, closed systems and selectively porous ones 20

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 20, 2018

This is my 28th installment to a series on building flexibility and resiliency into a business in its routine day-to-day decisions and follow-through, so it can more adaptively anticipate and respond to an ongoing low-level but with time, significant flow of change and its cumulative consequences, that every business faces in its normal course of operation (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 542 and loosely following for Parts 1-27.)

I have been discussing a set of six topics points in this series since its Part 20, which I repeat here for purposes of smoother continuity of narrative as I continue analyzing and discussing its issues:

1. Thinking through a business’ own proprietary information and all else that it has to keep secure that it holds.
2. While reducing avoidable friction where there can be trade-offs between work performance efficiency, and due diligence and risk remediation requirements from how information access is managed. This, in anticipation of discussion to come, means consideration of both short-term and long-term value created and received, as well as short-term and long-term costs. (As a point of reminder here, risk represents a source of cost here so it of necessity has to be included here in this type of analysis.)
3. And this means thinking through the issues of who gathers and organizes what of this information flow, who accesses it and who uses it – and in ways that might explicitly go beyond their specific work tasks at hand.
4. What processes are this information legitimately used in, and who does that work? With the immediately preceding point in mind, what other, larger picture considerations have to be taken into account here too?
5. And who legitimately sees and uses the results of this information as it is processed and used and with what safeguards for the sensitive raw data and the sensitive processed knowledge that are involved, where different groups of people might have legitimate need to see different sets of this overall information pool?
6. Think in terms of business process cycles here, and of who does and does not enter into them.

I have already delved into the issues raised by the first five of these topic points, at least for purposes of this series, in Part 20 and subsequent installments leading up to here. My goal for this posting is to in effect tie that overall line of discussion together, in how I address the last, sixth of those topics points. And with that orienting background commentary added, I begin addressing that goal here, with some organizing details.

The overall underlying rationale behind including Point 6 in the above-repeated list is very simple, at least conceptually, even as it can become anything but that as a matter of actual business practice and when taken out of the abstract context that I just offered it in. Considering larger and more complexly structured businesses for this line of discussion and assuming at least a measure of business systems friction with the communications challenges that that engenders:

• Individual employees: hands-on and managerial, work on specific tasks and carry specific areas of responsibility that are essentially defined in their job descriptions, and enforced in their ongoing work performance reviews. And all of those individuals primarily focus on what they do and on the input they require for that from other stakeholders, and on where they directly pass the results of their work to. But even there, they do not necessarily look beyond their receiving the input results they need to consider what those producing stakeholders do. And they do not necessarily look in any detail at what the stakeholder who receive their work results do with them. And they are even less likely to see or know in any real detail what else these stakeholders do in carrying out their jobs, that might be more unrelated to their own efforts and contributions.
• So when you view a business as a whole as a consequence of this and in terms of this, you find yourself facing a strategic and operational system that is in effect formed as a tiled construct in which most actual hands-on work and most of its direct managerial oversight, are carried out from a more blindered, vision and understanding-limited perspective.
• To clarify that, I note that hands-on employees who actually carry out specific tasks and work process steps see them in the most detail. Their direct lower level managers who supervise them and their work there, see excerpted samples of this more direct and detailed experience, and that mostly just when short term goals do not appear to be effectively enough accomplished, at least to satisfy any stakeholders to might bring this to their attention.
• And the higher up a manager is in the table of organization, and the wider their range of vision is, or at least should be in seeing and knowing how everything fits together under their overall control, the more excerpted and limited their knowledge is likely to be of the details that take place at those lower organizational levels – that they, ultimately are responsible for and that they plan and act in terms of and in support of.

One of the more pressing and immediate consequences of this is that a great deal of a business’ ongoing and more standardized tasks and a great deal of the overall work process flows that contain and enact them, are carried out from a very limited-vision perspective. And that definitely applies when only standardized, normatively expected channels of professional communications there, are considered.

Let me take that out of the abstract with a very real and I add immediately current example of how this can create challenges, and certainly in the face of the unexpected and unplanned for. I had to go to my local bank today: a branch office of a major bank with a global reach. I had a minor problem that was in fact resolvable and that was resolved on the spot. But this brought me into a room with a bank officer who I got to talk with, as my issue was straightened out, with phone calls to another office required for that.

My problem arose because of disconnects in their system where individually performed tasks did not always fit together effectively and particularly for carrying out transactions that would require participation from distantly located resources. So in this case and apparently others like it, error could slip in and without raising any immediate red flags and certainly for the people at my local bank branch on this.

When, what in this case should have been a fairly basic transaction was being carried out, with task results developed at my bank branch: a customer agreement and its data, passed on to other people in more distant offices and to automated functional resources needed to complete this overall transaction at hand, the overall end result of this was off by enough so this entire transaction had to be directly and explicitly fixed.

As I just noted above, I had an opportunity to really speak with this bank officer while we were waiting for the part of this correction that he could set up, to go through. And he very circumspectly told me how he and his colleagues were all but plagued by at least one recurring problem that they could not report-in with any positive remediative response expected or achieved, in setting up certain types of new accounts. Everyone in their system actively does their assigned tasks in this, and as quickly and effectively as they can. Automated elements in that overall chain of involved participants in this, are set up with algorithms that have been carefully crafted to effectively carry out their particular tasks or subtasks in these overall transactions and certainly when attention is explicitly focused on what they would do (absent contextual error correction checking which can become more open-ended in nature, the more comprehensive it would have to be done.) But errors can and do creep in, and certainly in task step to task step transfers, calling for remediative corrections and way too often to be business effective – or customer friendly. And this officer and his colleagues cannot seem to be able to find a communications pathway that would allow them to report this to the right people who could drive any effort to fix this problem.

This is a very large and well known bank with a widely known and respected brand. And that scale and reputation is in fact largely justified. But like essentially any large and complex organization, they have at least some functional areas where larger and most complex process flows can and do break down and particularly where their completion cuts across several or even many of the “blindered tiles” that I write of here. And this can and in this case does show, even within single customer-facing business transactions. And this brings me back to Point 6 and its imperatives, offered suggestion style as:

• Think in terms of business process cycles here, and of who does and does not enter into them.

I have offered this posting with a goal of putting that topic point in a fuller perspective. And I will continue addressing it in a next series installment, where I will at least begin a discussion of how the types of problems raised here can be better understood for their details, and remediated. An anticipation of discussion to come, that means identifying, characterizing and addressing the right problems and with the right people brought into this. But this of necessity means building better systems for carrying out this type of corrective work in general, and as proactively as possible, and not simply dealing with these challenges on a more one-off and ad hoc basis.

I have just written this posting as a due diligence and a risk management challenge, couched in communications flow and communications limited form. I will address the issues raised here in my next installment from a more strictly communications systems perspective.

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.


Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 37 – the issues and challenges of communications in a business 4

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 18, 2018

This is my 37th installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-36.)

I began Part 36 of this series by repeating two to-address points that I would at least begin to address there, which I went on to restate if not reframe as:

• Reconsidering the developmental timeline of how a business grows and evolves from startup on, and
• At least starting a discussion of the second of those points too: the issues of who is brought in and retained in a business.

Then I went on from there to offer a selectively brief recounting of how both organizations and a whole, and their communications systems that drive them take form and develop as a business grows and in both complexity of work done in it and in its overall staffing and managerial headcount.

To clarify “communications” there, I repeat a categorical distinction here that I have found useful in understanding and explaining business work flows and how they do and do not succeed, that I cited there. Most if not all businesses of any significant scale and complexity of organizational structure, come to develop two essentially inevitable but at-times uneasily coexisting types of communications systems:

• Structured and even formally structured communications channels, that collectively represent the basic system of who can communicate specific types of sensitive or confidential information with whom in a business, and according to their titles and positions there, and on the basis of specific need to know determinations. (N.B. I will have more to say later on in this as to what “sensitive or confidential” mean in this context.)
• And unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it, that by their very nature cut across the system of communications that more structured systems would formally allow and expect.

Then towards the end of that posting and its narrative, I raised a briefly stated laundry list of issues that come into prominence here in this type of context, which I repeat now as a starting point for this posting and for what is to follow from it:

• Finding the right balance there, depends on how innovative a business needs to be if it is to thrive in its competitive context and in meeting the needs of its marketplace.
• And this depends on the levels and types of innovation that might be possible for it, in its industry and business sector, given any outside regulatory requirements it has to meet among other factors.
• Should it be openly and widely innovative and everywhere in its organization, and if so how?
• Should it develop and support innovation centers in its overall systems and organizational structure, and if so where and how?
• And how can it more effectively bring the best of its people for this, into these innovation opportunity settings?
• And how can it best support them there too?

Anyone who has in any way followed my ongoing progression of postings and series on innovation in this blog, and particularly on more effectively encouraging and developing it in a business should find this list to be quite familiar. I have in fact addressed all of these points of observation and questions in other postings here, and even as central areas of discussion for entire series. But I have primarily done so from an organizational perspective, and certainly in series such as:

• Keeping Innovation Fresh (as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, as postings 241 and following for its Parts 1-16) and
• Innovators, Innovation Teams and the Innovation Process (as can be found at that same directory page, as postings 366 and following for its Parts 1-13, and at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 as postings 402 and following for Parts 14-19.)

That has meant discussion of business’ organizational structures and of how innovators would be supported and encouraged in them, as valued members of their overall teams. My goal here in this series and in this part of it is to switch directions from that to at least briefly make note of these same issues from a communications systems approach, in keeping with the dichotomy repeated towards the top of this posting of dividing communications channels into structured and unstructured forms – and at least at times into parallel structured and unstructured systems.

My goal for the still ongoing succession of series on business innovation that I have been offering here, has been to pose and argue a case for what I have found to be better and even best practices in making a business effectively and competitively more innovative. My goal here is to step back from that level of analysis and discussion to examine one of the essential underpinnings that would have to go into making any of that work, and from an individual participant and an interpersonal relationship perspective, as ultimately it is individuals who perceive and develop the New and who innovate in making it a possible reality. And it is individuals who communicate in making that happen.

• Working together effectively, and by essentially any meaningful measure, requires communicating effectively together, with channels available for sharing information that could contribute to work done, and in ways that could facilitate both next-step action and review of what has already been done up to now.
• And it also requires effectively unencumbered access to raw and already processed information to share, so as to enable its use in practical directions, and its further development and augmentation and refinement for those next-step process completions too.

Stepping back from the flow of discussion that I have been developing here in this series, and with Part 36 and this installment up to here in mind:

• Ultimately investing in people with ideas and not just in specific ideas, depends on how effectively a business can in fact institute an effective back-channel if you will, unstructured, or at least less-structured communications system that can address the novel information flow needs that innovation, and disruptive innovation in particular need, while still maintaining effective risk management oversight of genuinely sensitive and confidential information.

I am going to at least begin to address that complex tangle of issues in my next series installment, but in anticipation of doing so note as an orienting point of observation that this means going beyond tacitly assuming that any information not directly needed in one’s more routine work and in carrying it out, should be restricted from your access, knowledge or use. Ultimately, that approach when blindly – and routinely followed, rather than being challenged and managed for its consequences, is probably the most significant single operational level reason in a business whey they would fail at being more innovative than they are. (Returning briefly to my above offered parenthetical nota bene comment, that is where I will reconsider the issues of what “sensitive or confidential” mean in this context.)

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. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

Leveraging social media in gorilla and viral marketing as great business equalizers: a reconsideration of business disintermediation and from multiple perspectives 8

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 16, 2018

This is my 8th posting to a series on disintermediation, focusing on how this enables marketing options such as gorilla and viral marketing, but also considering how it shapes and influences businesses as a whole. My focus here may be marketing oriented, but marketing per se only makes sense when considered in the larger context of the business carrying it out and the marketplace it is directed towards (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 278 and loosely following for Parts 1-7.)

I have been discussing this set of issues, and particularly from the wider perspective of the overall business organization and its market context here, since Part 2, doing so in terms of two generic but nevertheless realistic case study examples:

• A new, young, small startup that seeks to leverage its liquidity and other assets available as creatively and effectively as possible, and from its day one when it is just starting to develop the basic template that it would scale up from,
• And a larger, established business that has become at least somewhat complacent and somewhat sclerotic in the process, and with holdover systems and organizational process flows that might not reflect current actual needs or opportunities faced.

And in the course of developing that dual-facing narrative, I have at least mentioned communications disintermediation-enabled marketing approaches such as gorilla and viral marketing on several occasions, as specific areas of operational and strategic intent and action. Then at the end of Part 7 I said that I would continue its line of discussion here, by:

• More directly focusing on those new and emerging marketing and sales options themselves, and on communications disintermediation as a goal in and of itself.

I begin doing so by more explicitly considering the issues of intent per se, as viewed from a marketing business side and as viewed from an actively responding and engaging marketplace and consumer side. And I begin that by noting that both the similarities and the differences found between these two perspectives are important, and telling. To be more explicit as to what is to follow here, I will address this narrative thread in terms of a business scenario sketch that could consistently arise in either my already discussed new or established business case studies as developed up to here:

• A manufacturing or otherwise providing business: new and startup or old and established, approaches the products and I add any supportive services that they would bring to market with an active intent, seeing them and their success in sales as crucial to their own success and to their long-term viability as a business.
• The consumers and potential consumers of these offerings that they face in their targeted marketplace might or might not take a correspondingly focused approach to these same offerings. They might be more inclined to do so if and when they see these offerings as being necessary in some way for their genuine, higher priority needs: ongoing, or at least contextually here-and-now. But when those products and/or services are viewed as more fad in nature, impulse purchase in nature, or both, a real asymmetry of perceived importance and value can emerge between provider and consumer in this, with those consumers viewing those purchase options as holding lesser priority and significance than their providers would.
• But manufacturers and their wholesale and retail distributors have to be able to look beyond their own product and service assumptions, and their own conceptions of priority and need here, when reaching out to their markets. They need to find ways that help themselves to better connect with their customers and potential customers, and in terms that resonate with the consumer-side vision of what they offer, as is actually taking place around them, and with a goal of capturing the interest and if possible the purchasing activity of these people too.

Marketing in this sense is all about developing and conveying a vision of knowing and understanding the consumer and their needs and preferences, however strongly held or fleeting, as might apply in any given here-and-now. And it is all about crafting a message to these buyers and potential buyers that validates and supports their views and opinions, and in an encouraging and supportive manner.

Traditional marketing bases the resonance that it seeks to establish in this, in in-depth market research that it then crafts into messages and images that it broadcasts at its intended target markets and their consumer members. Viral and gorilla marketing may supplementally build themselves from similar types of more formally gathered market data as starting points, when reaching out initially to begin more direct conversations. But they continue on from there, developing direct information gathering channels, with specific members of those markets from that point on. And crucial to this, these are two way information sharing channels: two way communications channels.

• Viral and gorilla marketing are spontaneous and free-flowing from the market side, and of necessity so. This is true at least in part, because that is how most marketplace participants approach this type of communications and information sharing opportunity: for its entertainment value as much as for its information gathering value and its purchase decision making value.
• And viral and gorilla marketing are inherently less structured, and for both sides to the conversations that arise there.
• A business entering into this type of conversation, presents its brands and represents itself in terms of them. But at the same time, the individuals actually reaching out and engaging in them as representing those businesses, of necessity have to be able to share something of themselves and of their own personalities in this too, if their side to these conversations are to show any spontaneity or anything of a genuine quality. Static script-only in this, abrogates any possibility of actually entering into a genuine two way conversation with anyone. From a consumer perspective that would be more like talking back to a robocall, and it would be just as disengaging, and just as much of a turn off.
• And the market participant consumers who these business representatives meet and converse with in all of this, bring their own personal perspectives and priorities to these conversations too, and individually so, while at the same time showing their affiliation with the general demographics they resonate with too.

One of the core Marketing department goals that a business should pursue in making this type of endeavor work, should that of making these conversations into data gathering exercises, and with every possible learning curve opportunity cultivated from all of the marketplace-to-company and back, interactive exchanges so developed. Traditional focus group exercises are often developed and run with a goal of gathering structured data wherever possible, that can readily be fed into more standard statistical analytical tests for better modeling and understanding their consumer markets. Some unstructured data that cannot simply be handled that way, all but inevitably leaks into that mix too, there. But the conversations that arise here, in the more direct two-way interactive contexts that I write of here, reverse that with a perhaps majority of all data gathered in, starting out as unstructured data and with just some more immediately readily structured data of a more traditional form and format leaking in there too.

Imagine, from the marketplace consumer perspective, you’re receiving a message from a business about a new product idea, through social media. And they express interest in hearing from you, what you think of this. But instead of their trying to capture your interest and curiosity as a full person, they try hitting you with a traditionally formed marketing survey that is filled with yes and no only questions, and questions that allow for fixed numerical scale-only responses, and with no options or opportunities for more nuanced or unplanned for responses allowed. How quickly would you unfriend them and move on? How quickly can you use a mouse or keyboard?

I have taken a more generic approach in this posting than I have in other installments to this series up to here. But I will turn back to reconsider my two working business scenarios of earlier installments in my next posting to it, to at least begin to discuss how the issues and details raised here, would more specifically apply to them. 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. You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

Pure research, applied research and development, and business models 11

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 12, 2018

This is my 11th installment to a series in which I discuss contexts and circumstances – and business models and their execution, where it would be cost-effective and prudent for a business to actively participate in applied and even pure research, as a means of creating its own next-step future (see Business Strategy and Operations – 4, postings 664 and loosely following for Parts 1-10.)

I have been discussing exit strategies in this series, and particularly ones that might arise as a new business exits its earliest stages of development and enters its first real growth stage as it becomes reliably profitable (see Part 8 and following.) And I began to explicitly discuss five such scenarios in Part 10 as they would specifically apply to the development of a new business that seeks to offer research as a marketable product:

1. A default, organic growth scenario,
2. A venture capital-backed one,
3. An angel investor-backed one,
4. A crowd source-backed one, and
5. A friends and family-backed one (elements of which might also apply to the basic default model scenario as discussed in this series.)

All of these scenarios are organized around how a business’ founders and owners would manage their finances, and more particularly on how they would or would not bring in outside capital development funding to jumpstart their venture. And they can all best be explained and understood, at least for purposes of this series and its type of discussion, from the perspective of the consequences arising from that.

To be more precise and explicit here, for how I have set up and pursued this narrative up to here, I offered this list of possible next step Scenarios with a basic default possibility as its Option 1, because I wanted to hold that out for at least tacit comparison from the beginning, and certainly for any reader with any direct familiarity in building a startup. It does in fact represent a simplest business development possibility here. But I began considering this set of possibilities in more detail in Part 10 by addressing Scenario 2 of that list first. And I will continue on from there in this posting where I will consider Scenario 3, and then I will move on from there in subsequent discussion to address Scenarios 4 and 5. I will actually address the default Scenario 1 of that set last, and from the perspective of the other four outside-funded options as already discussed. More specifically, I will discuss the default option here from the perspective of founders who know of and who have considered the others here, and in terms of their reasoning as to why they would or would not want to pursue one of them.

With that noted in anticipation of further installments to come here, let’s consider Scenario 3: angel investor participation. As already noted in earlier installments to this series, angel investors tend to gravitate towards business ventures that offer and would hold to missions and visions that mean something to them personally. Venture capitalists invest more money than they do, and certainly on a per-investment opportunity basis. And they do so with a focus on returns on investment and on risk management analysis and more strictly adhered to due diligence vetting processes, when seeking out and selecting their investment opportunities. Angel investors tend more to seek out investment opportunities that move them for their perceived importance and value.

Let’s consider this and its implications from the perspective of the founders of a research as product, oriented new business venture. And let’s assume that they would seek out a measure of outside sourced capital development funds, but that they are leery of seeking out venture capital support for this. That might be because of their concern that the types of venture capitalists who they could consider, that they might find acceptable to work with for their deals offered, would not be interested in as speculative a venture as their type of business would seem to be. Or this might be because they were concerned that venture capitalists would in fact seek out new businesses such as theirs to back – but at an unacceptable cost for the terms and conditions that they would impose when offering their backing, and for the level and type of voice that they would insist on having in the building and running of the business, in order to protect their investments. The why of this does not matter here – only the fact that these new business founders would accept smaller investors who did not place as many restrictions or conditions on the businesses that they invest in, as a trade-off to their only making smaller investments in them. How would these founders market their new business to these preferred investors?

• In general terms, they would seek market themselves and their new venture with what amounts to a lock and key precision that is centered around explaining and marketing their mission and vision for their new enterprise.
• So if their area of research focus is to be biomedical in nature, and if their plan is to (among other things) manage the clinical trials side to new drug testing, helping smaller specialty drug development companies to better and more effectively navigate hospital systems with their requirements (e.g. their institutional review boards and other healthcare system due diligence requirements), they would seek out angel investors who have been affected by diseases of types that their efforts would help address, from their speeding up and enabling the critical testing needed to get relevant new drugs approved and to market and into clinical use.
• And if they want to focus on clean energy-related research (such as materials testing for building sturdier but less expensive frames for solar panels, or for building solar panels that would be less polluting to produce), they would seek to identify and market themselves to angel investors who have track records of established interest and concern in that arena: in supporting new ventures that would support and promote sustainable environmentalism goals.

These same founders would seek to pursue a lock and key fit approach to finding and securing the right venture capital support and under the most favorable terms possible for themselves if they were to pursue a Scenario 2 approach instead, but they would lead with their business fundamentals, and with their emerging strategic and operational systems, instead of with their mission and vision goals. They would focus on the viability and on the likely profitability of their business instead, and particularly when seeking to retain maximum oversight and decision making control in their new venture, in the face of investor-sided risk management considerations.

Let’s consider the message of that paragraph from the more explicit perspective of a research as product new venture. According to that, angel investors would at least be more oriented towards the outcomes that might be achieved from the research that such a new business would come to undertake. Venture capital investors would be more concerned about the likely business effectiveness of these new enterprises, and about their prospects in succeeding as businesses in being able to do this type of work in the first place. Ultimately, both sides to that are essential and both should be of significant concern to the founders of such a new business. The question here, is one of what side of this effectively-same coin would be highlighted when marketing for funding support, and to whom.

As noted above, I am going to continue this overall line of discussion in a next series installment by turning to consider Scenario 4: crowd sourced funding. Then I will turn to and consider Scenario 5 and then Scenario 1, which I will discuss at least in part, in terms of the other four.

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.

Intentional management 47: elaborating on the basic model for adding people and their management into the equation 8

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 8, 2018

This is my 47th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-46.)

I initially raised what can be viewed as a fundamental question in Part 45 towards its end that I repeat here, when I raised the possibility of:

• How managers at essentially any level or position in an organization can facilitate value creating and value supportive processes and systems of them for their business, from their inclusion in the conversations that help shape them and keep them effectively focused.

Note that this does not mean blindingly following fixed and immutable business rules and procedures, or keeping managers oriented towards always automatically doing so; this addresses the issues and challenges of more actively supporting these professionals – and perhaps particularly in the face of change or of need for it, while still encouraging them to address that from a more stable core perspective of established and more widely held processes and procedures.

Then I began developing a foundation for addressing that bullet point and its issues in Part 46, ending that installment with a short list of next to consider questions and points of observation that all revolve around the sometimes conundrum of knowing what operational processes should be fixed and consistent, and what should more properly be allowed flexibility and a capacity to change.

I assume here that there are at least some areas of a business would support and even actively need such adaptability and flexibility, even as large parts of their operational systems would best remain stable and consistently so. But with that stated,

1. What happens to standardized processes and procedures in all of this?
2. And who gets to decide, and particularly on a specific-context by specific-context basis, what should be and in fact is standardized for this?
3. The issues raised in that question become both more pressing and more complex as a business becomes more complex and widely geographically spread out.
4. Now, and with that in mind, how can a business and its senior leadership maintain overall organizational consistency while allowing for necessary flexibility and opportunity to at least locally prototype test out new alternatives to what might be more standard and routine?
5. And this brings me to the next to-address point that I acknowledged as coming up in this series towards the top of Part 46: ad hoc and special exception practices, and the emergence of the “ad hoc standardized” and its consequences.

My more usual approach for addressing this type of topics list in this blog, is do more systematically discuss each of them in order, and with any cross-over between them in how I discuss them identified as such. But while I will cite specific points on that list by their identifying numbers in what follows, I will primarily address them as a whole this time, and certainly for Points 1-4. And I begin doing so by making note of a type of categorical distinction that I have been discussing at length recently in this blog, and by then noting a second one that while related, has been much less visible here.

I have found myself writing repeatedly about core business processes and systems of them that directly enable and enact the business as it carries out its value defining mission: business activities and functionalities that when followed create the products and/or services that that business brings to market, and in ways that would give it competitive strength and profitability. These functionalities and their business processes in effect operationalize the mission and vision of a business as laid out in its basic business plan and in its overall business strategy and strategic vision. And I have also discussed supportive but non-core business functions and services and the processes that comprise them, some of which might best be maintained in-house as necessary cost centers, some of which might more effectively and cost-effectively be outsourced to specialty providers, and some of which might best be dispensed with as no longer needed.

That is my first of two sets of categorical distinctions that I would raise and consider here. And the second of them that I raise now cuts across it, adding in an imperative of change and of adaptation, and both reactive where that is needed and proactive where that is possible and where it would be beneficial:

• Assume that a business under consideration faces need for change. This might be a business that has more traditionally been more staid and stable in what it does that suddenly finds itself facing unexpected disruptive pressures from competitors or from change in what its market demands. Or it might be a business that operates in a very competitive industry and that caters to the needs of an always change-demanding market audience where the change pressures under consideration are anything but unexpected and novel to them. And I add that it does not matter from the perspective of this line of discussion whether the pressure to change comes from outside of this business or whether it arrives from within, as for example from the emergence of an unexpected disruptively valuable insight or innovation coming out of the work of members of their own staff. Generically, I am setting up a business scenario in which pressures to change arise and from whatever source and of whatever form, and in ways and to degrees that cannot be ignored.
• And I only assume that this is a change imperative that would demand business process change. I am not for example, writing here of minor cosmetic changes in products or services offered to a marketplace, which would not raise to the level of significance or of impact as to qualify here as meeting the terms of the above bullet point. So if this change starts with a new product possibility, it is one that would offer real value to the business and its customers and market, and it is disruptively new and different enough when compared to what this business has offered before, so as to require change in their production systems and in marketing, and change in business processes that support them that would radiate out from there if this enterprise were to gain all possible value from this breakthrough.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment, focusing at least to start on Points 1-4 of the above list. And in anticipation of that, and with the boundaries between core and peripheral strongly in mind for business processes and functionalities, I will explicitly consider the pressures and needs for change when addressing more gradual evolutionary change, versus the disruptively novel. 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. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

On the importance of disintermediating real, 2-way communications in business organizations 8

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 6, 2018

This is my 8th installment to a brief series on coordinating information sharing and communications needs, and information access filtering and gate keeping requirements (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 275 and loosely following for Parts 1-7.)

I have been discussing workforces and some fundamental shifts in how they are shaped and managed in an increasingly wide range of businesses and industries, in this series since its Part 5. And I have very explicitly focused in upon this topic area since Part 6 where I delved into issues of terms of employment and how they are changing for their basic norms. I then brought that line of discussion into a very explicit focus in Part 7, where I began writing here of the emerging gig economy, in which an increasing percentage of the overall workforce is increasingly limited in how they would be hired: limited to taking temporary and other “outsider” work positions, rather than more traditional full time in-house positions, and even when they would perform types of work traditionally carried out in-house and by full time employees there.

This represents an emerging trend away from offering in-house employee status to new employees, and even to ones who would be expected to work for a same employing business in a same work position long term. And the primary source of impetus behind this emerging trend is an intended cost savings on the part of those hiring businesses, where their personnel costs have traditionally been among their single largest overall expenses faced. But this shift, of course, simply means those employers shifting these expenses or at least responsibility for assuming them to others: to their individual employees and staff members themselves.

More specifically, I am writing here of businesses no longer offering even large percentages of their actual hands-on employees, in-house employee benefits such as healthcare coverage that would be at least partly paid for by an employer, sick days and vacation days, and retirement-facing investment options (of types that employers have traditionally paid some form of matching funds into) and more. Temporary hires and other gig employees have to fund these types of expenses on their own, to the extent that they do so at all.

This is a series about communications in businesses, and both up and down the table of organization and across it as that proves necessary too. And this is a series about simplifying and enabling those communications and information sharing flows, and specifically by disintermediating them: removing unnecessary gatekeepers and intermediaries from them so people who have to connect and communicate can do so more easily and effectively.

This might not be a significant source of concern for small businesses with correspondingly small headcounts and where everyone there can and does see essentially everyone else at work and on a regular basis. But this can and does become important in a more widely spread out, larger headcount setting as would be found in a large business or corporation. The types of communications challenges that I write of here can become endemic to such settings unless explicitly addressed. The types of employment and employability changes that I write of here are certain to complicate that, and for many in unexpected ways.

I begin discussing that point of observation here by noting the obvious. When you work with a same, relatively stable set of colleagues who have been working there long enough to have learned their way around the business, and who have in turn become known there for what they do and for how well they do it, it becomes easier to find the right people to communicate with, gaining information from and sharing it with and carrying out tasks with. When, on the other hand, crucial (at least to you and your job) work positions that would be filled by such colleagues, are routinely held by perhaps just temporary hires and of whatever sort, even just finding the right people can mean searching out a moving target. And even if a gig or “temp” employee has been in the same place for a more extended period of time and has been reliable and reliably available up to now, the fact that they are outsider employees and not working in-house, can mean their suddenly not being there anymore and without warning to anyone they might work with.

With that point of replicably reliable observation noted, let’s consider its implications from a communications perspective – and not just from the perspective of availability and connectivity, but from how they are accepted and vetted into such systems. And in anticipation of that, I cite information security and confidentiality and its risk remediation requirements as just one possible point of justification of what is to follow here.

Outsiders such as temp and gig workers tend to be treated very differently than in-house employees would be in any such workplace communications flows taking place, and even when the same temp employees and gig workers are there in place over extended periods, and even when their work responsibilities while there are similar to those of in-house employees who they work with. They formally and officially are outsiders there, and they are often at least selectively left out of or only partly included in what would be considered more in-house only conversations and information sharing, and even by default. This makes these issues of employment and employability very important here, as this trend holds real potential for creating new forms of cost and of risk to businesses, even as it holds potential for limiting other cost centers, and personnel-related expenses in particular for that. And from the perspective of this series, this trend if anything, adds in information access controlling gatekeepers, and with all of the added delays and all of the added potential for friction-limited communications that this increased communications intermediation brings with it.

I stated at the end of Part 7 that I would continue this narrative flow here from a more game theory perspective. And I have at least begun doing that here by offering some further background to put that line of discussion into clearer perspective with. One of the core issues that I have raised and pursued in my concurrently running series: Some Thoughts Concerning a General Theory of Business (as can be found at Reexamining the Fundamentals as its Section VI), is that any such endeavor in conceptual organizing and analysis of business processes and practices, has to be able to account for good and best practices – which is obvious. But just as importantly such a body of theory and explanation would also have to be able to include and account for less than effective, and even bad practices too and certainly insofar as they are followed and adhered to in the real world too. And it should address the issues of contexts where what could be good or even best in one circumstance, might become less effective if underlying circumstances and contexts change.

This is true both because ineffective and bad happen, just as good and best do, and because their occurrence impacts on any corresponding effort towards following best practices too. And it is true because the value and the value-creating or limiting potential of business processes and practices is context specific; there are not absolute goods and bests in this, where such judgments would always hold true. In the real world, the types of communications-based business systems friction that I write of here, as a source of ineffective and bad business practice, happen, as do more effective alternatives to them. And good and bad, best and worst are context dependent. And how they would rate in this sense can be trade-off dependent.

I have been couching my approach to a more general theory of business in the above-cited series, in interpersonal terms and in terms of game theory and I cite that series here because of that. And two of the more general game strategies that I have discussed there are win-win with its goal of achieving stability-enabling mutual benefit, and win-lose with its goal of more effectively addressing short-term need, attainable resource limitations, and/or uncertainty in pay-off.

I have among other things, addressed these two strategic approaches in my general theory series using:

• Long-term businesses as they relate to their markets and to possible business-to-business collaborations (e.g. supply chain participation), as they seek out ongoing stability,
• And short-term, season-limited businesses that need to move in quickly, create positive revenue flow and profitability for themselves, then close down and hopefully without their holding much if any leftover inventory or other sources of what can be essentially unrecoverable loss. (Think of businesses such as sidewalk Christmas tree vendors there with their immutable drop dead date for when they would have to close out their business for the year, and where any leftover inventory would hold zero value beyond that date.)

I would argue that a traditional business personnel policy with all or at least most people hired, brought in-house as full time employees, leads to what can become a win-win strategic context. Us versus them conflicts as for example can and do arise between employees and senior management, or between unions that collectively represent employees and their interests, versus senior management, illustrate how it is still possible for these businesses to slip into more of a win-lose competition between a business and its rank and file employees. But win-win is achievable when a business seeks to secure and retain a stable pool of effective employees long term, and when they can reach agreement with them as to what fair compensation and fair workplace treatment mean in enabling that.

A shift towards a largely or even primarily temp worker and gig worker only, personnel policy ends that, and win-lose conflict between a hiring business and its employees becomes all but inevitable.

I am going to delve more deeply into these issues in my next installment to this series, and will focus on how this impacts upon and shapes communications and information sharing, and trust as that enters into this set of issues too. 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. And also see Social Networking and Business 2 and that directory’s Page 1 for related material.

Business planning from the back of a napkin to a formal and detailed presentation 22

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 4, 2018

This is my 22nd 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 1-21.)

I initially offered a short to-address list of topic points in Part 19, that I have been discussing since then, so far focusing on the first of its three points in Part 20 and Part 21:

1. More systematically discuss how business operations would differ for businesses that follow one or the other of two distinctively different business models,
2. How the specific product offering decision-making processes that I have been making note of here would inform the business models pursued by both of these business types, and their overall strategies and operations and their views and understandings of change: linear and predictable, and disruptively transitional in nature.
3. And I added that I would discuss how their market facing requirements and approaches as addressed here, would shape the dynamics of any agreement or disagreement among involved stakeholders as to where their business is now and where it should be going, and how.

My goal for this posting is to at least begin a more detailed discussion of Point 2 from this topics list, noting that it addresses both prospective, and retrospective feedback-driven elements in how a business is planned for, executed and performance reviewed: going from the business plan and its processes as it is executed to the product and service lines offered, and from that back to the business plan and its processes of execution too. And to add in one more complicating wrinkle to that, I add that I laid out and began examining a point of distinction in how a business is run, in Part 21 that I will continue pursuing and developing here too: a distinction between what is formally expected and included in a business’ official business plan and in its formally structured strategy and operational systems as specified there, and in what it actually does day-to-day and across longer timeframes. I identified those two perspectives on a business in Part 21 as its idealized business plan and its realized business plan respectively, and will use those terms here and in what follows too. But I begin addressing all of these issues with the message and wording of Point 2 as explicitly and directly laid out in it: with the specific product offerings that would be developed and brought to market, and at least preliminarily for how their selection, development and offering would inform the business models pursued by both of these business types. And I begin by acknowledging a crucial gap in what I have offered here in this posting up to here, from the narrative that has led up to this installment. I just wrote “both of these business types” so I begin this line of discussion and this posting itself, by briefly repeating what my two briefly sketched out case study examples are.

• One of these businesses is a retail store that has strategically gone through an expansion transition, going from having a single storefront that houses its entire range of product and service offerings, to having two specialized storefronts that collectively cover everything that their original store did – but in greater depth and with greater variety offered to their customers and with more showroom floor space and more effective use of that made possible.
• And the other is a high tech-oriented manufacturer that has to actively pursue the new and different and all of the time, if it is to remain effectively competitive in its industry and in its sector there.

The differences between these enterprises are significant and in large part obvious. The retail business acquires pre-manufactured goods, that it vets as meeting its quality standards and as representing inventory choices that would appeal to and meet the needs of their customer base. The manufacturer of my second case study business here actually produces what it sells, and does any design work that would have to be done to keep what they offer both current for meeting consumer needs, and competitive in the face of other offerings: and for quality, variety and price. I looked beyond those more overtly obvious points in Parts 20 and 21 to consider business process differences, and I went on in Part 21 to consider underlying similarities that would be expected there too, and regardless of those product and market differences.

Let’s start out addressing Point 2 and what these businesses offer, from this just-stated list of obvious differences. And I begin that by repeating a detail that I noted when initially presenting these two businesses in this series: The retail business under consideration is conservative in what it offers, developing its overall inventory of goods that it would sell with an eye to more standardized and recurring sale offerings. This is definitely true for their more hardware oriented offerings. Consider basic hand tools there as a source of working examples: hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, staple guns and so on. The same holds for the household oriented products and product lines that it sells too, and consider soap and toilet paper dispensers, table cloths, laundry hampers and a host of other possible examples here, for that.

The manufacturer under consideration here, on the other hand, is in a constant race to develop, offer and sell new and next to a change demanding marketplace and to customers who seek change and new as essential for meeting their needs. They cater to a much more early adaptor market audience and they have to in order to succeed, let along thrive.

The basic business models in place for these enterprises would of necessity be selected and developed with a goal of effectively satisfying the needs and requirements of their particular underlying assumptions, understandings and goals. And the business plans that would be produced out of that and the strategic and operational systems that would be laid out in them would be designed, or at least intended to facilitate those business understandings and goals being achieved, and stably so for long-term success. Everything going into their business plans would be developed and put there with that goal. Consider market analysis for example, with its consumer response and feedback-based reality checks. What would the business’ founders of these enterprises want and need to offer to a hopefully receptive marketplace and customer base? Is there a potential market and customer demographic that would actively want what these businesses would offer and at prices they could realistically and cost-effectively be able to offer? And if so, what are their target markets? And even if there is a seemingly good fit possibility there, does a review of who one of these businesses would sell to suggest product or service tuning and adjustment, to make their success more likely?

This line of discussion up to here, has largely been static and timeless. I noted for example, a business adjusting what it would offer in order to more effectively meet the needs and desires of its marketplace. But I ended Point 2 with “change: linear and predictable, and disruptively transitional in nature” and with the question of how the owners of these businesses would address them.

• My retail business was perhaps anything but conservative in how it redeveloped itself from a single all-inclusive storefront into a set of complementary and mutually supportive specialty stores. But as posited here it is conservative for the most part in what it offers and how within its now two storefronts. True, this business would embrace new and different in what it offers, as it sees its customer base asking for and wanting that. But it is not going to be inclined to bring in disruptively new and novel to fill its shelves just to be cutting edge, and without any input from its customers to guide them in what they would bring in to sell. So this is not what you would call a pioneer or early adapter business for what it brings into its sales inventory. Its owners and managers might bring in a few new items at the early adaptor stage for its customers if they were taking off in sales elsewhere. But new for them would also begin with meeting the needs of middle-adaptor and late adaptor customers too (as well as stocking and selling their more bread and butter standard inventory selections.)
• My manufacturer example would die as an effective business if it were to try pursuing that approach, unless it were to completely reframe itself from new and cutting edge into a business that only, or at least primarily just produces and sells older model replacement parts and the like.

These business understandings and business goals, here returning to the actual business practices and approaches followed, determine all strategic and operational goals followed, and all priorities developed and followed too, and certainly for any core areas and aspects of these businesses that would serve to realize and directly support them as fulfilling their value defining business models. Even the most generic and business model-agnostic functional areas such as bookkeeping and accounting, that would be the same regardless of the differences under consideration here would be affected – in what funds were expended and for what, and for how reserves would be invested or otherwise held, even if not in how their cash flow issues would be calculated and documented, and reported upon.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to and address the rest of the issues that I noted above, that I would delve into when addressing Point 2 as repeated above:

• A point of distinction that I offered in Part 21, between what is formally expected and included in a business’ official business plan and in its formally structured strategy and operational systems as specified there, and in what it actually does day-to-day and across longer timeframes.

This is in fact where the actual validity and relevancy of all of the underlying assumptions that go into a business, are actually tested and on an ongoing basis. And this is where a need for change arises when it does, and for both smoother evolutionary change and more disruptive transitional change. I will at least begin addressing all of this in my upcoming Part 23.

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.

Rethinking exit and entrance strategies 25: keeping an effective innovative focus while approaching and going through significant business transitions 15

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 28, 2018

This is my 25th 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 1-24.)

I have been discussing timing issues in this series since its Part 22, and timing breakdowns and related planning and scheduling challenges in that narrative beginning with Part 24. And at the end of that posting, I added that I would continue its line of discussion here, further elaborating on the issues of these operational and strategic issues, and on the stressors that can lead to them, and that I add are created by them too. I add that I will also discuss the issues of fall-backs and building for a capacity to “fail gracefully”: here in a scheduling and work coordination context, when need for that becomes necessary – as it inevitably does for any business for at least some of its work processes and tasks if it persists long enough.

I begin at the top of that to-address list and with further consideration of timing breakdowns themselves and on how they can and do arise. To put what will follow here in perspective, I focused in part in Part 24 on schedule deadlines and on:

• Absolute ones that are, for example, tied irrevocably to fixed calendar dates,
• And on relative ones that for example take form as limited shared-resource dependencies that demand coordination in the step-by-step carrying out of separate tasks or projects by different teams that all require some set of same limited-availability resources (e.g. some specialized piece of equipment) and potentially at the same time.

“Relative” also applies here, to cite another common situation, when the completed output results of some specific project or of a specific cycle of some recurring work flow, is required for another necessary or even essential task to take place. The goal in these scenarios, or in other relative scheduling instances is to optimize resource accessibility and use according to:

• Any more-absolute deadline requirements faced
• And according to the overall priorities that a business would assign to any competing work flows and their desires outputs, that would come into at least potential collision here, so as to maintain ongoing continuity of business and as effectively as possible.

I delved into that side to this set of issues in at least in brief outline in Part 23, addressing it from the perspective of coordinating work flows per se in this type of framework with its potential bottleneck resource limitations.

I begin this posting by stepping back from both of those perspectives: from that of the deadlines faced and planning and executing in the face of them, and from the perspective of How to coordinate work flows and project or task work, to consider the more Why: risk management and cost/benefits analysis side to this sometimes puzzle. And that will lead me directly to the other issues raised above, in this posting’s to-address narrative of its second paragraph.

I begin addressing all of that here by breaking open the up-to-now for this narrative, black box hidden inner workings conceptualization of the here-competing tasks and projects under consideration, to take a closer look at what is involved, and how that would be cost/benefits evaluated and prioritized on a work flow by work flow, and work flow versus work flow basis.

Let’s at least initially consider this topic in terms of project work, with at least functionally defined, general goals-specified starting-point needs, and at least initially planned for and desired endpoint goals. And in keeping with a project management and project execution paradigmatic model here, let’s assume at least some project complexity with step by step completion dependencies, and with need to coordinate use of key resources: the hands-on availability of necessary expert personnel called for here, included.

Project managers use tools such as Gantt charts to visually map out the ongoing flow of step-by-step requirements, dependencies and possible conflict points as arise here within a single project, or in overall task work if considering recurring but discretely definable and bounded work flows in a business as well as more one-off projects per se. (Note: I freely acknowledge that some project managers love Gantt charts as project planning and execution management tools, and some loath them and turn to alternatives. But that is not the topic here, so I simply cite this tool as a well known option here for purposes of this discussion, noting that I use several such tools depending on context and situation in my own practice.)

Think of the individual such project, or the individual such specific-goals directed recurring work flow as also just touched upon here, as the basic building blocks for addressing the scheduling and work coordination issues under consideration here in this posting and posting progression. In the real world, essentially any business that carries of project work: either entirely in-house and for in-house purposes, or outwardly facing (e.g. for clients), or in both strategically shaped contexts, carries out and has to be able to effectively support more than one project, and often more than just one at a time. And even if they are in fact only carrying out one such project at a time, they will still have to coordinate it with recurring, more standard and routine work flows with their resource and other needs too. And they can and at times will in all likelihood face the types of key resource availability bottleneck issues under consideration here as a possible source of scheduling challenge, as they rise between competing projects, ongoing tasks or both.

Think of this posting as addressing a puzzle building challenge, where the individual project and recurring task pieces involved, and their prominence in the overall stable pattern that is desired in them, shift and change, and where new pieces (i.e. new projects and new immediate priority tasks) arise and old ones fall away, and where the overall goals requirements of this puzzle change too. So this is a dynamically changing and fluid puzzle building and I add maintenance problem, and not a build once and forget it situation.

• This is important: the devil is in the details, as the old adage goes and the details are in the individual projects and their work flows that might align or compete and even disruptively collide if not effectively coordinated and co-managed.

And this brings me directly to the issues of stressors in these systems: specific points in these overall work flows where specific stakeholders can and do come into at least potential conflict with each other as they each champion their own areas of work responsibility.

Effective high level management of these overall systems calls for mapping out an understanding of where stressors are now and of where they are likely to arise, and of how best to limit and if necessary resolve them as they do arise and both from an interpersonal, and from a work-needed and work requirements perspective. And that means understanding where new investment in a business might be needed, and by this I mean very specific needs and goals-oriented business investment.

• If stressors: collisions and all of the conflict and interpersonal stress that they bring, keep arising and at least as a likely possibility that has to be worked around, should the business invest in expanding the availability of specific key access-limited bottleneck equipment?
• And if so should it purchase this equipment and bring it in-house with all of the support and ongoing maintenance expenses that that brings with it and with the loss of having to keep and maintain all of this when it is in fact going to be left idle at least at times?
• Or should they situationally pay for access to this type of resource or even outsource that type of work step to third party providers? There, seasonal or other recurring but only sometimes needed, can become a deciding factor.
• And if these stressors arise as businesses find themselves stretched thin from insufficient in-house availability of employees with specific skills sets and experience levels, how should they best handle this problem as they plan and execute moving forward?
• Should they bring in more in-house full time employees to meet these needs, or should they situationally bring in short term or gig employees, or consultants? Or should they pursue some sort of combined approach here and if so how?
• Should they bring in outside consultants, for that matter to help them plan out this type of business development change? And should businesses prototype test any changes under serious consideration here, where this type of growth-oriented change would be actively pursued?

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to the issues of fall-backs and building for a capacity to “fail gracefully”: here in a scheduling and work coordination context. 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.

Meshing innovation, product development and production, marketing and sales as a virtuous cycle 11

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 26, 2018

This is my 11th installment to a series in which I reconsider cosmetic and innovative change as they impact upon and even fundamentally shape the product design and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales cycle, and from both the producer and consumer perspectives (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 342 and loosely following for Parts 1-10.)

I have been discussing marketing and communications issues in the last several installments to this series (see in particular, its Part 9 and Part 10.) And I have done so from two perspectives: business-to-marketplace with its consumer oriented marketing and communications, and business-to-business marketing and communications, as for example arises for need when entering and participating in mutually beneficial supply chain and other collaborations. (Note that for purposes of this discussion, I include the more traditionally conceived business-to-business where businesses serve as consumers, as fitting a business-to-consumer pattern.)

I begin this posting by noting that effective communications and effective formulation of message to be communicated, makes all else possible for a business and for the outside participants that it conducts business with too. And that line of discussion as presented up to here, offers an essential background perspective for what I would turn to here – innovation and I add at least the foundation building steps leading up from that, to the production of marketable offerings as well.

More specifically, I begin addressing all of that here by at least briefly recapitulating a dichotomy that I have developed and offered in earlier postings and series here, that holds particular relevance in this context too. Innovation as a whole can be parsed in a number of meaningful ways, that shed light on both what businesses do and how, and on how successfully they perform at that. Here, I distinguish between:

• Market and consumer-facing innovation that is expressed in the products and services developed and offered by a business, and
• Business process innovation, that can arise and remain essentially entirely in-house for an innovating business, or that might be shared, or even marketed and sold but in a business-to-business context (e.g. within the collective partnerships of a supply chain collaboration.)

My focus here is going to be essentially entirely on the second of those two possibilities and on innovation in what a business does, operationally and I add strategically as a matter of process. Note, in anticipation of what is to come, that the tagline text that I appended to Parts 9 and 10 of this series was “rethinking markets and the consumers that comprise them,” parts 1 and 2. And my tagline text for this one that will accompany links to it in browser searches, is going to be the same, part 3. This is in keeping with my having partitioned marketing in consumer market directions, and in business-to-business directions too. So I do at least attempt to offer all of this discussion and its underlying analytical reasoning as fitting into a single, overall consistent pattern. And with that explicitly noted, let’s consider business-to-business contexts and business process innovation.

• Business A, or rather people working there develop and test out an innovative new way for carrying out or performance tracking one of their core back office business processes. Would it make sense to keep this as entirely in-house as possible and even as a proprietary trade secret if possible?
• Or would it make sense to in effect share (e.g. license or sell) it to other businesses?

At least for now, think of this portion of this series as addressing innovation diffusion issues, with initial business process innovations assumed, and with their prototyping or other initial vetting carried out, and their beneficial usability verified, at least in-house for the innovating business. So at least in-house, and there where it is initially developed, any such innovation has already established itself as a positive and known value proposition.

My goal in setting those innovation defining parameters is to at least limit the type of uncertainty that a new but untested innovative idea, or a pre-release research build of one under development would carry. Assume here that any innovation under consideration in this discussion, actually productively works, and in ways that create more positive value than adhering to it would consume. Now let’s directly consider those two Business A oriented bullet pointed questions just offered above. And I do so by raising a set of basic questions, the answers to which, would at least frame and parameterize an answer to them too.

• Does an innovation under consideration here, connect into and directly improve core business processes that are essential to creating the marketable sources of value that a developing business would bring to market, as their unique value proposition?
• Or is this a business process innovation that fits into and directly supports more supportive areas of the business, and even just what might traditionally be considered a cost center operation for their business type?

These questions consider innovative change and development from a critical needs versus a supportive needs perspective, and from essentially entirely in-house. And depending on which of the two would garner a yes answer and which would more merit a no, the business in question would have greater or lesser overall impetus to retain such an innovation in-house – at least if businesses in their industry and business sector do not face what amounts to cut throat competition from business rivals. Then, any advantage, however small that would make a business more cost-effectively competitive, can and will come to hold special value for its incremental improvement in that business’ competitive strength and position when facing its markets, and its competitors for them.

Now let’s parse these innovations in a second direction:

• Would use of a business process innovation of the type under consideration here primarily offer value in-house and in the internal back-office systems in place there?
• Or would it also significantly benefit a business if deployed in a business-to-business context, and with collaborative partners as found in a supply chain or similar system?
• Focusing on that second possibility, is this something that would best work, at least over immediate and shorter term timeframes when the innovation developing business was actively involved and in effect enabling it for wider use?
• Or would this innovation be more readily transferable to new settings, and even by direct competitors to the innovation developing business?
• Could it be patented or otherwise protected, with for example, supply chain partners offered opportunity to licensed use of it?
• Could such an innovation be developed into a standard of wide-ranging utility? This is a tricky question, and particularly where the (consumer as well as business-to-business collaborative) marketability of such an innovation might mean bringing others to see the innovating business as a market leader and best choice to buy from or to work with. Note that these considerations connect directly back to the issues raised in the first two questions of this overall list, dealing with profit and cost centers.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, as to how innovation and its development fit into larger business systems and their contexts. And in anticipation of that line of discussion to come, I will do so at least in part, in terms of markets and marketplace dynamics, as I have begun to do here. 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. And see also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation.

Planning for and building the right business model 101 – 35: goals and benchmarks and effective development and communication of them 15

Posted in startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 12, 2018

This is my 35th posting to a series that addresses the issues of planning for and developing the right business model, and both for initial small business needs and for scalability and capacity to evolve from there (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 continuation, postings 499 and loosely following for Parts 1-34.) I also include this series in my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and its Page 2 continuation.

I began discussing three exit strategies in Part 33, that all hinge on how a new business would enter into and pursue its first real growth phase after establishing itself as consistently profitable enough to perform at least better than break even in balancing its income and expenses, and on an ongoing basis. I have in fact been addressing this subject and these types of next-step development scenarios for a while now in this blog – and with some of that coming out quite recently. So my goal here in this posting is to take a fresh approach to one of those possibilities: one of those scenarios. And I begin doing so by briefly recapping what the three are, in order to put this discussion to come into perspective:

1. A new venture that has at least preliminarily proven itself as viable and as a source of profitability can go public and with all of the organizational change and all of the transparency and reporting requirements that this entails as they begin offering stock shares.
2. A new venture can transition from pursuing an organic growth and development model (as in exit strategy 1, above) but to one in which they seek out and acquire larger individually sourced outside capital investment resources, and particularly from venture capitalists.
3. A new venture, and certainly one that is built around a growth-oriented business model, might build its first bricks and mortar site, in effect as a prototype effort that it would refine with a goal of replication through, for example a franchise system.

I have basically finished my discussion of Scenario 1 here, at least for purposes of this series, in Part 34. And I turn from that, in this next series installment to consider Scenario 2 and venture capital funding in more detail. And I begin that by specifically acknowledging that this is the one scenario of these three that I have already delved into the most in this blog, and by far and certainly when compared to my option 3, franchise system development scenario.

What would I add here that would fundamentally add to what I have already offered on this topic? My goal here is to more fully consider how the founders of a new venture, and one or more venture capitalists might come together to discuss the possibilities of working together, and how those new business founders might best present themselves and their new business in this, in order to both secure venture funding and to do so under the most favorable terms, from their perspective. Ultimately, if a new venture’s founders cannot achieve that, Scenario 2 as listed above can at best only offer them a limited share of what could be its value creating potential.

I begin addressing this set of issues by explicitly noting that finding the right possible outside investors, or being found by them, and coming to a mutually beneficial agreement with them depends on who you know or can come to know, and how effectively you can organize and present your business development pitch. And online social media and the interactive online have made this coming together of at least potentially involved collaborating partners in this, a lot easier.

Let me at least start fleshing the how of that out, with the fundamentals, and by noting that most all of what will follow here, applies to securing angel investment funding too (which I will parenthetically make note of as appropriate):

• Venture capital investors tend to specialize in industries and business sectors that they have hands-on expertise in, as a due diligence measure that increases their chances of backing the right ventures that are more likely to succeed and bring them a return on their investments in them. (And angel investors tend to specialize too, though they are more likely to focus on business models and more specifically on the mission and vision statements and intentions that underlie them, than venture capitalists would.)
• So business founders need to both identify and successfully reach out to these investors, and to the right ones for what they seek to do, and in ways and with messages that would prompt them to want see and hear more from them.
• This means a new business’ founders doing their homework and for determining the levels and types of funding that they would need, and the levels and types of constraints that they would accept as trade-offs for that funding. And crucially importantly, this means their doing their homework to identify what possible funding sources might be interested at least generically in their type of business, categorically.
• Both more traditional broadcast published online resources such as web sites, and more interactive resources such as social media enter in there, with an initial focus for this step in this process, one of finding out before reaching out. See my earlier series: Using Social Media as Crucial Business Analysis Resources (as can be found at Social Networking and Business 2 as postings 217 and loosely following for its Parts 1-7.)
• Know who you seek to work with in this and who is most likely to be most interested in investing in the type of business venture that you are developing and building. Know something of where they have invested in the past, and their terms of agreement and their due diligence requirements as expressed there: the demands that they have made on other business founders for what they would do and how and when, as well as what they offer in return. Is it possible to identify other businesses and their executives and owners who have worked with the investors who you are considering here? Can you contact them and gain insight from them as to their own experience in this, that would help flesh out your own due diligence here?
• And then reach out to the possibilities that you see as holding the greatest promise to you and your business.
• At the same time, selectively develop and offer pitch-oriented information about yourself and about your new venture online too, and with multiple explicit audiences in mind:
• Potential markets and their consumer members, with a goal of developing a basis for viral marketing as well as purchasing-oriented interest, and
• Potential investors included. Post online and interact with others online in this, with a goal of increasing visibility and creating at least a measure of buzz.
• And as part of your basic background research and of your outreach, identify appropriate face to face forums where entrepreneurs meet and pitch to potential investors, and with a goal of gaining insight in how to refine your message as well as with a goal of actually securing funding. If you do seek out an audience of this type, and opportunities to present at this type of forum, practice at what might more likely be a second choice one first. And then take the lessons learned from that to your efforts to present and win over investors at more of a first choice venue of this type. And remember: participation in forums of this type only opens conversations. The real work of marketing and negotiating follows. (These forums often bring multiple types of investors under one roof, with at least some venture capital participation possible but with angel and other investors definitely also included. Know who participates on the other side of the table, and the levels and types of investments that they make, coming out of these events, when they decide to invest from that at all.)
• Note that larger and more established venture capital firms are a lot less likely to appear at these forums unless one or more of their principals have a direct, personal professional relationship with a forum organizer. If you really seek support from one of them, you might consider participation in these forums as valuable practice runs for refining your pitch for when you do reach out to them. But even if this is your up-front goal, keep an open mind to the possibility that a perhaps overall smaller investor might be both interested, and willing to offer you a better deal.
• And very importantly there, remember that a good deal in this does not just mean how much investment funding would be offered, or better terms of investment as far as what these funding sources would demand in return, or how soon. Know what they can and will offer in the way of mentoring and advice, and yes: through board participation in your new venture and through other more direct forms of participation too. Who would they bring with them to the table – to your business’ table, who could help increase your chances of success, too?

I am going to continue on in my next series installment to consider the third scenario from the list that I repeated here towards the top of this posting:

• A new venture, and certainly one that is built around a growth-oriented business model, might build its first bricks and mortar site, in effect as a prototype effort that it would refine with a goal of replication through, for example a franchise system.

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. And you can find this and related material at my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory too and at its Page 2 continuation.

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