You’d be surprised how many companies – and I mean large as well as small entities – appear to be “winging it” when the rubber meets the road. And I’m not talking about companies with Lean Processes which allow flexibility and reconfiguration as needs arise. At least there’s a plan in place to make that happen. An extremely solid plan with buy-in from all those concerned (or at least we hope there’s buy- in).
So how would you succinctly describe yours?
Most small to mid-sized companies struggle with lack of sufficient human assets to apply against whatever their business model is supposed to be. Hence, their Operations Plan, when pressed to describe it, resembles everyone rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever it takes to get the job out the door. Sound familiar?
And while we all have done this at one time or another, present company included, it won’t get you to the next level. So if you are jazzed by the energy and urgency of always operating in crisis mode, feast or famine, 11th hour deadline mentality, then that’s great. (Hint: sort of like advertising agencies).
However, if this modus operandi is getting old, and you find that your annual earnings and profitability have been stuck around a certain bottom line for the last 15 years, then it’s time to revamp your Operations Plan. Especially if you are thinking of starting your own manufacturing or service business or engaging in an innovative venture that may require external funding or perhaps transferring technology outside of an academic setting.
First and foremost, ask yourself what are your Key Operational Processes. These aspects of your business may include, but are not limited to:
1.) Marketing and sales – new customer acquisition and retention of existing customers (not the same, by the way)
2.) Accounting – includes purchasing, overhead and employee / vendor compensation
3.) Customer Service – follow up on all of the above and more, a critical function
4.) Quality Control – testing, checks and balances on all aspects of your business, even the “soft” stuff, and analysis against established benchmarks for your company (if you don’t have these in place, please establish them)
5.) Manufacturing Processes – including assembly and production, shipping and receiving
6.) Supplier Acquisition and Qualification – identification of sub-contractors for various aspects of your processes
7.) Employee training – continuous improvement doesn’t happen in a vacuum although many small companies train employees on an as-needed basis depending on the project they are trying to acquire
8.) Documentation and Contracts – maintaining and updating quality and project manuals in compliance with standards
Second of all, ask yourself whether you have enough staff on board to credibly describe your Operations Plan and Key Operational Processes to potential customers. It’s hard when there are only two of you. Or perhaps one. Because potential customers are concerned about contingency and your ability to complete a project in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Which means: do you have enough collaborators with whom you complete projects on an ongoing basis so that you and your company will be solvent and viable for the duration of the project? In other words, do you have an established track record, credibility and some aspect of longevity?
Now for entrepreneurs, this last paragraph is painful. Because the honest answer, in most cases, is that you don’t have any of the above. And for many large companies, the issue is one of fiefdoms and a siloed infrastructure which, in essence, isolates departments and prevents the internal network responsible for innovation and collaboration to take that organization to the next level.
Your blueprint for successful business development mandates that you identify individuals with whom you can collaborate for successful, and repeated, project completion. And your blueprint for success also involves being able to succinctly describe your collaborative network from the git-go so that you do not always feel like you are describing The Little Engine That Could.
I cannot tell you how many small businesses struggle with this aspect (e.g., their version of “I am not worthy.”) Trust me, if you do not have a solid business plan, and an extremely well-thought out and articulate Operations Plan, this area of business acquisition will be your stumbling block. You will dread getting to this aspect when you present to new and existing customers.
So get over it and address it immediately when you are creating your Business Plan. Because your Operations Plan is your barometer of whether or not you have your cart before your horse.
I don’t need to tell you that we operate in a demanding, highly competitive business economy where there is little room for error. Having your blueprint for success hinges on the ability of your infrastructure – Operations – to support and deliver on a consistent basis.
Winging it may be exciting from time to time. At least be aware of whether or not you have a robust operational infrastructure before you make promises.
Think about it.