Working On My Business: Good Enough Maybe Isn't!

During the past 12 months we have explored most of the key concepts that must be mastered if an organization is to grow and prosper - let alone survive.

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This is the time of year when we start anew and put our lessons learned from the previous year into practice for a brighter future. For some, the holiday season gave them a respite - a time to catch their breath - as new ideas and new directions took hold before the close of the millennium. For others, it is a matter of building on a solid foundation and challenging the market with renewed confidence. Still others wonder what has happened to 1999. Feast or famine! Growth or survival! Optimism or pessimism! Regardless of your situation, this is when we must take stock and decide what you want the future to be?

During the past 12 months we have explored most of the key concepts that must be mastered if an organization is to grow and prosper - let alone survive. Nimbleness, speed, market and customer development, true leadership, effective asset development and management, managing the risk - the challenges facing every company today, everyday!

We are the economy! We are global! We are, by definition, in an age where managing time is the mandate, not an option. A sound, shared vision backed by commitment that is results-based deter-mines the degree of success. It all depends on how you choose to define what you want - what is good enough?

I hear from many readers that the rules of doing business are a changing! Customers demand shorter and shorter lead-times. Costs are expected to decrease! There are fewer and fewer very small shops that can live off the business without constantly finding new business. Global competition is becoming the norm. No surprise!

There are three questions that require some reflection: (1) What have you done in 1999 that will make your business prosper and grow in the new millennium? (2) How do you plan to achieve growth and make it happen in the next few years? and (3) How effectively are you managing the time asset?

Easy to say! Many will claim that they are overwhelmed already. Others may take a good hard look at their total operations. Most will comment that time is the one commodity that is high in demand and short on supply.

As a reference point, let me summarize how I personally manage the time asset in my organization to create results. I'll review my company's 1999 events, the plans for 2000 and discuss the role that the basic principles played in determining my success - past and future.

During 1999, there were basically two components to my business. The first was the public activities. The second was helping people put sound business principles into action for results. These are complementary.

Typical events in the public domain included:

  • Speaking engagements at six major trade conferences including Mold-making 1999 in Columbus, OH, and INC Magazine's Customer 2000 in Vancouver;
  • Writing a new book;
  • Writing the monthly column for this magazine;
  • Guest lecturing at universities and technical schools;
  • Keynote speaking engagements at Fortune 100 corporate functions; and,
  • Volunteer work with inner city neighborhoods.
Doesn't sound like much but it requires time. It also requires strategic thinking and constantly being in touch with one's values and vision.

Helping people and consequently organizations achieve their goals was the second and most significant focus area. There were four major events that occurred in this area. Two were associated with small shops, one with a Fortune 50 company and one with a virtual start-up company.

I had the privilege of working with two very fine small shops in parallel during a six-month period. This required on-site development, coaching and mentoring with everyone in each of the organizations (30 people and 58 people, respectively) from management to the factory floor. They learned the principles of how to change the rules of engagement in their market and grow globally, how to effectively lead (at all levels) the organization, operations management principles, teamwork, quality principles, the role of ISO and consistency as a business contributor, how to manage the risks, how to manage their image and how to build the framework for future growth. They learned, through knowledge and practical application, how to implement a time-based strategy!

The third area that required time was providing targeted, customized leadership development, coaching and mentoring to the managers of a Fortune 50 company. This was performed weekly during the entire year with groups of five to 10 people. Each group was diverse and had different and often unrelated functional and business responsibilities, represented many different cultures, and had varying levels of business wisdom. This task is ongoing into the new millennium as there are more than 5,000 managers in this global company. In 1999, once again time was critical! So too, was nimbleness.

In early May 1999, one of the small shops that I was assisting expressed a concern about one of their customers for whom they were building prototypes. The concern had to do with the future of the product that was being prototyped. There seemed to be a common pattern among some companies - build the prototypes and then see the product die because the customer had no true plan for success. They were seeing a similar trend here. A meeting was arranged for May 22, 1999 with their customer to discuss ways of helping that customer make their product introduction a success story. This was part of my client's value equation - do things to help their customers become successful!

The product was designed for the marine (boating) industry. It required machining, electrical expertise, assembly and a molded packaging element. My client was right - there was no plan! On June 1, 1999 I agreed to help my client's customer take their product to the worldwide market.

If this sounds like a marketing story - it's not! The ramifications of success in the endeavor required that my client - the supplier - had to be able to expand its manufacturing capabilities by 100 percent in less than six months, maintain an error-free quality record for the product (safety and liability issue), handle capacity surge requirements of 300-500 percent with less than 30 days notice, handle all of the packaging and shipment of the product and carry-on business with their other customers with no interruption. The time-based strategy that we implemented during the previous five months within my client's organization was about to be tested. Internally, the demands for nimbleness, speed, leadership and asset management were immense.

This was a bit of a challenge for me personally as my efforts to date associated with the marine industry were minimal. We started first with the market action objective: What do we want the marine industry to do as a result of this new product making its appearance in the marketplace? Besides the obvious (i.e., buy a ton of them), the goal was to elevate the company's stature within the industry as a recognized leading innovator - quicktime. To do this, we had to find out more about the inside workings of the industry. This became an ongoing focus area. Notice that we started with the market action objective as opposed to what the industry currently does - forward vision as opposed to status quo!

This was a new product and a very small, unknown company, which meant that acceptance in the industry and the public would be a challenge. Market and customer development as well as image management were key to achieving the market recognition and capturing the market share that was required. Positioning the product, unique and targeted value equations and pricing strategies were all part of the up-front planning.

My company's role was to help them build and then facilitate an integrated team - customer and suppliers. Our focus areas with this team included: worldwide marketing, distribution and operations management. Participation in new product development also would be part of the task.

Everyone managed the time element - R&D/product development, time-to-market, market timing, production flow, material generation, customer response and follow-up, responsiveness to the media, strategic placement, inter-organizational responsiveness, delivery responsiveness (forty-eight hours or less) - nothing was excluded! Details, details and more details! Along with the time element came quality - quality in everything that was done. The team became focused and soon became one with their Vision.

What actually happened? What are the results to-date? Where was the project at the end of 1999?

  • Time-to-market (concept to full production and worldwide distribution) has been reduced to 60 days.
  • There are 10 new products (not available on the market anywhere) that will be formally introduced by March 2000.
  • The company shows a conservative growth forecast in new product revenue of $17,000,000 for the year 2000 with a sustaining 45 percent increase every year for the next five years.
  • Manufacturing is prepared with quick-change and quick-turn plans and capabilities to handle surge and volumes of up to 60,000 units per month.
  • The company is receiving international recognition as a high-growth, entrepreneurial company that is changing the marine marketplace.
Spent lots of money, I bet? Not in 1999! We accomplished the entire effort in 1999 with three dedicated people. The company's spending was less than $100,000 - mostly for printing and travel. Note the only paid formal advertising for the products cost less than $4,000.

What's next?

  • Improve time-to-market.
  • Introduce three new products every two months.
  • Develop supplier partnerships with injection molders, casting houses and technology firms for the new products.
  • Be a major player in Europe and South America within 18 months.
  • Develop supplier partnerships with plastic packaging firms for the new products.
  • Expand the application of the company's core competencies to other industries.
  • Double the business revenue every 18 months.
Do time-based strategies work? My experience says they do. When done with commitment to purpose and the structure is an integrated team approach (i.e., true strategic partnerships), you always seem to land on your feet. When you add the time-based strategy, you land on your feet running. For my client's customer, the competition is still trying to figure out what just happened to their market.

Have you achieved what you wanted in 1999? Are you on the road to even more success in the next few years? Can you afford the time to plan it out and work the problem? What happens if you don't make the time to manage time? Only you can answer these questions.

It's never too late to start the process. As a barometer, check your definition of good enough - for you, your people and your company.

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