Posted tagged ‘tactics’

Putting It All Together: Initiatives, Priorities and an Approach

November 3, 2008

Today’s post is the culmination of the “trilogy” of posts (see the “Managing by Priority” and number of Business Initiatives” posts for the first two.) My intention is to provide a working model that allows you to decide which projects should be in the portfolio of projects that you would choose to address.

To accomplish this, I have found it best to apply the classical decision making process with a strategic twist. (To learn more about this approach, you may want to visit the American Management Association site and research their seminars on Strategies for Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making or look at some of Peter Drucker’s books and particularly The Practice of Management)

Here’s the model we will use:

  1. Prework: Understand and agree on the problem / opportunity. This is really one of the most critical steps. Often decisions are made incorrectly simply because the “wrong” problem or opportunity is defined. I consider it wise to add a strategic filter to any discussion. Put more simply, the problem or opportunity has to be supportive or related to one of our strategic goals.
  2. Define the Objectives: Establish the outcome of the process. This is a further refinement of the defined problem or opportunity. It speaks broadly to the attributes of a successful decision. Performing this step allows us to assess the decision that we make is in the context of a specific outcome. If it allows us to meet the outcome that we were aiming at, the decision is probably a good one. This can be quickly accomplished by merging perspectives into a brief written statement regarding the desired outcome.
  3. Establish Criteria: Establish boundaries within which the decision must fall. This is yet another level of refinement of the objectives. I like to execute this step before we discuss tactical options. This is because it is not uncommon for the people in the room to be biased toward a particular tactic(s). By establishing criteria first, the group tends to offer more objective factors or conditions by which the options will later be evaluated. Examples of criteria might be ROI, availability of resources, committed executive sponsorship or complexity.
  4. Generate Alternatives: At this stage we are ready to list all of the tactical options. An effective facilitator should be careful not to edit out options or pre-judge them. To enable buy-in, everyone must be heard and the process must have integrity.
  5. Evaluate / Analyze Alternatives: With our choices in front of us and criteria establish by which we may evaluate them, the group is well positioned to determine which projects are the most appropriate ones to be addressed. I do counsel the group to create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term projects as well as allowing some room to handle emergencies.
  6. Make the Decision: This is the final stage. At this point the group reaches alignment. (The choice of the word “alignment” is by design. It is a more apt word to me than “consensus.” In many situations the group does not fully agree but they can “get behind” the decision and agree to move forward with it as the plan for the organization.)

Once all of this has been accomplished, there is typically one of two steps that must take place. Either the group must obtain approval from someone else or it can begin implementation planning. Each of these processes has very defined steps to success and I hope to discuss them in a future post.

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How many business improvement initiatives can a company manage at any one time?

October 24, 2008

Operating a business in these challenging times is certainly not easy. In the last two posts, I introduced a number of strategies that make sense during an economic downturn. One of these strategies can best be classified as a sales strategy – that is, how to reignite opportunities that one would otherwise expect to stagnate when the economy is in difficult straits and businesses are adhering strongly to the philosophy of hoarding cash because “cash is king.”

The other strategy looked to the internal workings of a company and focused on how a company might best use underutilized resources that are suddenly available because sales are lagging. In this context, we discussed the development of best practices and the optimization of internal processes.

It is on this internal opportunity that I would like to discuss in today’s post.

The internal business process redesign discussion begs the question as to how many initiatives can a company manage at any given time. Is there an optimal number and if there isn’t, how does one determine how many initiatives are manageable so that business opportunities and the needs of clients continue to be addressed?

In all of my research and studies, I have yet to come across a discussion that addresses this particular question. To address this question, I will rely on my thirty years of experience as a CEO and consultant and share with you what I have learned from my experiences as a strategist.

To perform this analysis, one must:

  • Understand your company’s strategic goals
  • Define what tactics are required to support these strategic goals
  • Establish what each department must do to achieve the strategic goals
  • Determine the time and effort required by departmental staff to support the achievement of the core goals that essentially enable the company to deliver value and stay in business

What remains after performing this analysis is the amount of time available for personnel to address new improvement initiatives.

In other words, this analysis is predicated on assessing the company’s priorities and the core roles that must be fulfilled. After all, customer support personnel must perform their support function or the company risks client defections. Sales and relationship professionals must be engaging prospects and customers to assure growth. Accounting and internal support staff must make certain that the infrastructure exists so that the organization can run efficiently. These are the prime functions of these departments.

So is there an optimal amount or maximum number of initiatives a company can manage? As best as I can tell, the number of enterprise-wide initiatives that a company can swallow is typically between one and three. (Note added 11/09/08: Interestingly, several weeks after this post was written, the Obama Transition Team was enagged in a similar conversation and may have reached a similar conclusion.)

The reason that I believe this to be so is that I have concluded that most people have a difficulty managing more than five significant goals or projects simultaneously at any given time. And if one considers that the average person has two or three core functions for which he or she is accountable, this only leaves so much space for professional and organizational development without impacting the core responsibilities that each of us have.


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