New Project Off to a Mushy Start? Check Below the Water Line



For those of us in the Midwest, summer is a really big deal. And one of the things we look forward to the most? Water skiing.  

Having been a skier for more than four decades now, I’ve developed my share of experiences.

One of these experiences is something that happens nearly every year and it provides a nice illustration of something we frequently overlook as strategists.  You see, every so often you stop to gather up skiers, perhaps take a short break, and get the next skier ready to go.  They are in the water, everyone is seated, and with the thumbs up, off we go.

Except it doesn’t feel quite right. The boat is sluggish and doesn’t get up to speed as fast as it should.  We look back and the skier is struggling a bit, too.  Then it hits you – the anchor is still out.  It’s really easy to miss that one item on the checklist, and at first, nothing really seems amiss. In fact, it’s not until you apply the throttle that you find that it’s just not going to perform right.

I’ve seen a similar scenario play out in firms, as well.  A well-designed new strategic play is put together, and on the surface it looks like it should take off.  And while it does in fact get off to a good start, as the need for additional support and resources comes up, it starts a cycle of debate and conflict inside the parent firm, which like the anchor, creates a great deal of resistance.

Why isn’t the new business standing up and functioning at a high level?

There are some subtle and repeatable things that occur that keep internally-sourced, new programs from getting to full scale.

To understand what a new-to-the-firm team is up against, let me set some context:

The teams and assets that are set up to deliver high volumes of products and services are finely tuned and focused engines.  To keep up the volume and quality of services, variation is reduced and daily output metrics are measured carefully.  Leaders of these groups are measured on the effectiveness of producing those services to standard rate, and a large amount of compensation is on the line.

In short: the fulfillment operation is like a modern high-speed train: sleek, on time, and very hard to change direction.  

When an internal advanced development team has incubated something new, it’s like they are stationary on the train platform and trying to make the leap to the proverbial moving train – with very predictable results.

With this background, let’s look at a couple of ways we can break this resistance so the business can function at a high level:

  1. First, when projects are selected by the senior leadership cohort, it is essential that the full executive staff participate and be on board with the areas that are selected.  Truly new customer benefits are almost always going to involve some give and take (and short term pain) by the entire team, and it’s in the early stages that you need to get full support.  Leaders at this level are very metrics driven (and compensated), so agreements need to be specific and actionable. In the teams I do strategy work for, we follow a process that has a higher probability of alignment.

If you are working to bring a new product or solution to the firm, and your sponsorship doesn’t include the operations team, be very wary.  If support is simply out of the question, work hard to find alternate paths rather than working under the radar.

2. Second,  The team needs to be built to identify the horizon risks before they slow down the day-to-day operation.  All too many times the team is staffed to consider the technical challenges and understaffed (and perhaps unequipped) to remove the operational risks that include everything from supply chain depth and breadth to distribution scale and capability.  Considering the whole equation is best done with a risk and reality centric process.  For firms large and small, I find that the STRIDE path gets us to the right set of questions.

The siren song here is to work on optimizing the tech and not the full value proposition.  With careful positioning, you can engage value-added beta partners from the full value chain and be working on the pieces that are going to keep you out of your customers hands.

3. Third, Be sure that the whole business sees the strategic reasons for the new line of business or services.  Just as an anchor creates all kind of drag below the waterline, people who are not on board with the new product or service can built up all kinds of resistance to releasing the best problem talent to get the hard problems solved.  The root of this is also early in the process – see posts here and here for a start.

Doing this well allows you to be able to develop a persuasive and useful cost per day of delay.  This helps to make the impact of speed to market tangible and visible to all the groups you need help from.

I encourage you to think about these three items as you are doing your strategic planning and choice making.  By playing the tape forward towards these implementation factors, you will make better strategic use of your scarce resources for new growth projects within your firm.

Do you have a program where you sense “the anchor line is out?” If so, all is not lost.  Please give me a call at 847-651-1014, or click here and set up a no strings attached, 20-minute phone call.

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