Tag Archives: planning

Willie Sutton Strategy

Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? Legend says Willie robbed banks because that’s where the money was.

We’ve talked about strategy over the past couple of weeks because many of you are engaged in strategic planning. Successful companies bring their (right) product or service to the right market at the right time in the right way.

Strategic planning is not to create tactical goals for the following year, but to examine those external systems that will have an impact on your long-term success. Willie Sutton may lack moral turpitude, but he knew where the money was.

We Improvise

“Not one plan, but four plans?” I wanted confirmation from Roberto.

He nodded. “I was in the Marines. We had a saying, ‘We don’t plan. We improvise.’ But, improvisation only works if you are prepared with a plan. What’s the first part of every plan?”

“Purpose,” I replied. “We all have intentions, mostly unspoken. A plan is created when intentions become a documented purpose.”

“Improvisation only works when there is a commonly agreed-to purpose,” Roberto continued. “Without a purpose, improvisation becomes chaos. The chaos may be interesting, but it accomplishes little. Purpose drives the next step.”

“Visualization,” I replied.

“Everyone on the team must agree to the purpose and hold a similar vision of what that future state looks like,” Roberto explained.

“How do we know the picture each holds is close to the same picture of their elbowed teammate?”

“Simple,” Roberto grinned. “They talk to each other. It’s a discussion. It is the necessary work of improvisation. When all hell breaks loose, we have to be prepared to make the micro-decisions of the moment, in concert. Serendipity doesn’t happen by random chance. Serendipity is all about our intentions.”

“And?”

“And only then can we create the mile markers to chart our progress, the goals, objectives of our micro-decisions. What looks like serendipity only occurs when we create the context of a plan in which to operate. It may appear we are winging it, but our actions require preparation to be effective toward our purpose.”

Scenario Planning

“You had a pretty good year, last year,” I said. “What was your secret?”

“It was a solid plan, flawlessly executed,” Roberto flatly stated with a smile.

“I know that’s not true,” I replied. “I mean, I know you had a plan, but, that’s not what happened.”

Roberto’s smile turned into a grin. “Your observation is correct. We didn’t have a plan. We had four plans. We took the two largest variables that would impact our business and played them out in four quadrants. We played each variable up and each variable down in combination. At the time, what we thought would happen was very far from what actually happened. If we had not had three alternate scenarios, we would have been sunk.”

“And this next year?” I asked.

“Same. We thought we were finally getting back to normal, then Ukraine, protests in China and Iran, now a looming rail strike. You have to plan for contingencies, not just what you think will happen.”

A tip of the hat to Gideon Malherbe.

The Two Strategic Questions

When I was in journalism, I was taught to answer the 4 “W”s. Who, what, where and when?

This is planning season and companies across the globe are asking those questions. The multi-day retreat is called strategic planning, but in most cases, it is tactical planning. Here are the questions again, only two are strategic.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How? (I know it doesn’t start with “W”)
  • Which?
  • Why?

The responses to the list are mostly tactical.

Given two or more choices (and there are always at least two choices), which choice fits our strategy? Given two or more choices, why would we choose one over another? Those are the strategic questions.

Fear and Hesitation

“Let’s hear the self-talk,” I said.

Lucy began to describe her vision of the project as it would be completed. Her words were tentative. “When we finish the project, the new territory should be ours. The competitors will think twice about ignoring our expertise. The client should have a new-found respect for us.”

“Not bad, for starters,” I said. “I want you to try something different. Pretend the project is already finished. Close your eyes and visualize that we are one day beyond the project’s completion. Now open your eyes and describe it again.”

It took Lucy a moment for it to sink in. I could see her eyes blink hard as she moved her mind into the future. “We finished the project and the new territory is ours. The competitors cannot ignore our expertise in this marketplace. The client has a new-found respect for us.”

“Lucy, it is more than just confidence. What else is different when you talk like that?”

“When I transport myself into the future, all of the problems that get in the way and slow us down are gone. All of the hurdles have vanished.”

The power of visualization, to a real time in the future, works to conquer more than problems. It conquers the fear and hesitation of moving forward.

Timespan of Discretion

“Your goal is to make it all happen according to your schedule?” I continued. “Sounds easy. Can’t you just make up a schedule and tell everyone they have to follow it?”

Taylor chuckled and shook his head. “I wish. No, my schedule has to meet the Contractor’s schedule and it has to mesh with all the sub-trades on the job. And most importantly, my schedule has to be tight enough to match the budget and man-hours in our original estimate. There are a thousand things that have to go right. By the way, we have 30 other projects that will happen during this same twenty two months.”

“So, let’s talk about the decisions that go along with your goal. Every role has decisions that must be made. That’s the work that must be done. Your effectiveness in managing this schedule depends on the decisions that you make. When I look at the Timespan of your goals, I also look at the Timespan of your decisions, your Timespan of Discretion.”

Longest Project

“Tell me, what is your longest Timespan goal?” I asked.

Taylor sat across the conference table. He was in charge of project scheduling. At any given time, his company has 30-35 projects in play. Some of the projects only last 4-5 weeks. Others last 12-15 months. Yet, every project is important. No details can be dropped, no matter how small.

“What do you mean?” Taylor asked. “I work with a Project Management software. I spend time meeting with all the Project Managers, looking at their contracts, their change orders, the deadlines in their project segments.”

“What is your longest project?”

“The longest one, is the Phoenix project. We got the contract last week. I have already been looking at it for a couple of months though, ever since it came through our estimating department. It’s a big project and we had to see if we could even mobilize to do it. Twenty two months is the schedule.”

“And what is the goal, what is your goal?” I asked.

“At the end of the project, all of the materials showed at the job site, all the crews showed up to do the production. The equipment required, whether we own it, or rented it, was on-site. All the trades that we had to coordinate, everything happened according to my schedule. That’s my goal.”

Planning and Execution

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I have been with the company for only 7 months now, and am very thankful I’ve found this site.

The biggest problem I face is three years of rapid growth in a family owned company. The culture is not keeping up with the changes in methods required to handle the increased volume. People still are working from memory instead of set processes, and are reluctant to train others in what they were solely responsible for years. Trying to force these changes seems to only increase turnover.

How can I influence my “older,” and most valued for technical skills, employees to change their ways of thinking?

Response:

If you continue to force these changes, turnover will eventually remove the resistance, and that’s not likely your intention.

In the meantime, think about these two things, planning and execution. Of the two, which is more difficult?

Flawless execution, to the fundamental processes, with speed and accuracy is best accomplished under a form of organization government known as a dictatorship; tyrannical may be the most effective. (BTW, you cannot be the dictator).

But, to be able to execute flawlessly, requires a planning process to support it. And this planning process must be created under a very different form of organizational government, a democracy. I know it is slow, requires participation, accommodation, discussion with divergent points of view, but it is absolutely necessary.

Plan like a democracy, execute like a dictatorship. It sounds as if you have things backwards. You are planning like a dictator, and you experience democratic execution. You are dictating and forcing processes, but the execution is slow, with much discussion (grumbling), divergent points of view and resistance.

You have to reverse the process. Plan like a democracy, execute like a dictator. Call a meeting. Explain the situation. You have increasing volume and the need for greater speed. Tell them the meeting will reconvene in twenty four hours, at which time, you will listen to their plan to handle the increased volume. Adjourn the meeting.
___
This process is explained in more detail in Driving Force by Peter Schutz.

For Well Over a Decade

“But, I thought, to do planning, the first step was to create some goals?” asked Nicole. “That’s what we have always done.”

I nodded. “That’s where most people start. And goals are important.” I stopped. “How do we make sure we are going after the right goals? And how do we make sure the targets are set high enough?”

“Well, we have to know where we are headed,” Nicole replied.

“Exactly, and that is what we have to define first.”

Nicole winced.

“There are a number of ways to do that,” I said. “We could take a picture, draw a picture, describe a picture of where we are going?”

“What do you mean?”

“A company I know, just finished a brand new building, something, as a team, they had been working toward as long as I knew them. For years, hanging on the wall, there was an artist’s rendering of that building. That was it. That was the vision. And everyone who walked by or sat in that office knew precisely where the company was headed.

“Year after year, without wavering, that picture stood inside the heads of the management team. It drove them to perform with that single thought in mind. Two weeks ago, they had their grand opening. It is amazing how that single visual picture drove their thinking, their performance, their goals for well over a decade.

“The first step in planning is vision.”

The Future Looks Like?

Miriam creeped into the conference so as not to disturb the rest of the meeting. Everyone was working hard on their business plan for 2021. “I’m having a bit of trouble,” she said. “I know all the steps for the plan, but I am just stuck.”

“And step one is what?” I asked. We were working with a structured planning model.

“Step one is to create the vision for my department. And that was easy. I think I got it all captured in a couple of sentences. It’s the rest of the plan that I am having difficulty with.”

“Interesting,” I replied, “that you can capture that much detail in two sentences.”

“Well, you are right,” Miriam confessed. “There isn’t a lot of detail, but I thought it would be better if it was short.”

“Miriam, here is the way the vision part of the plan works. The more detailed it is, the clearer the images are, the easier it is to write the rest of the plan. Instead of two sentences, write two pages. I want to know who your customers are and what services you provide. You probably have more than one customer segment, tell me how they are different and how your services to each are different? Tell me what position you hold in the marketplace, what your market share is? Who are your competitors? Tell me what your competitive advantage is, what are your core competencies? Who are your key personnel, how do you find them, how do you grow them? Tell me about your facilities, your plant? How do you control quality? How do you guarantee performance?”

Miriam left the room with a bit of thinking to do. A couple of days later, I read her vision statement. It contained all the detail we talked about and more. The plan that followed was clear and detailed, all driven by a carefully constructed word picture of the future.

The first step in the plan is vision.