More on Why Business Plans Fail – part two – the connection to customers

In the preceding post about key causes for business plans to fail, we discussed the lack of a robust process to convert strategy into tactics, to convert the plans into the day-to-day work of the organization. This posting will take up another major failure mode. That is the failure to have a compelling customer perceived value proposition and the corollary failures to understand markets and customers more generally. Continue reading

Critical Element Missing from Fast Company 3M Article on Innovation

Fast Company published an interesting article about an old story, 3M’s innovation culture yesterday, “How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo” by Kaomi Goetz. The article repeats the well-known story of 3M’s policy of giving employees time to develop new ideas.

There is a critical element missing from this story.

Business Unit Managers at 3M are required to generate a rolling average of 20% from new products year in and year out. If they fail, their business unit is dissolved and the products rolled into someone else’s business unit. This drives business unit managers to continuously look for new ideas and invest in them. It is difficult to create new ideas, even harder to bring them to market. This policy drives the organization to make this critical step happen.

Why Should You Develop a Business Plan for Going Concern, How to Do It, and How Do You Convert the Plan Into Action?

Why Should You Develop a Business Plan?

For every startup the development of a business plan is a  required first step. It is so obvious – business schools have course on writing the business plan and it is impossible to get funding without one. Teams coalesce around the labor. So, every startup has a business plan.

For the going concern, the ones that are now three or so more years old, the business plan (also called strategic plan -really the same thing) is forgotten, only stumbled on when a move forces someone to pick it up and wonder, “Should I just relegate this to the dumpster?”

This is not a good situation. A business without a plan is like a boat sitting in a pond just waiting to sink to the bottom for nature to compost it. Or, if it has the fate to be afloat in a stream, it will be carried along willy-nilly until it bumps into a stone or dead branch or reaches the ocean where nature will also send it to the big composter.

Every business exists in a world that is changing and filled with opportunities and threats. Your business plan is your set of oars to provide the means to pull in the direction you want to go in, to avoid the rocks. You might even row to shore and portage around the falls, to move to an entirely new river.

But, many people, even accepting the wisdom of having a plan, find it a painful exercise, all too easily avoided. This may be driven by the idea that a business plan involves dozens of pages of writing, lots of spreadsheets with numbers they really don’t believe (sometimes don’t understand). Business plans, strategic plans, these are just the exercises one does in business schools. Or it may be the folk wisdom that business plans are not a useful part of managing and they always end up on the shelf or hidden in a file cabinet only dusted off for display when in search of a bank loan.

However, shift your thinking to view the process of building a plan as a value in and of itself, and adopt a simpler more flexible business plan model you will find that building that set of oars for your little boat is fun and productive. Continue reading

TED Talk by Tim Brown of IDEO – Why Design Is Big Again

I have not read Tim Brown’s book Change By Design, but this TED talk strikes me as very valuable in itself. I look forward to reading the book which has just been published. The focus on involving end users, rapid prototyping, systems thinking resonates for me. Lean practitioners will find much in common here. It is great to hear a designer talk forthrightly about the ephemeral nature of most design efforts and even alluding to how much design is gratuitous design.

Hiding Innovations from Customers

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I learned something quite startling.

The age-old problem of rolls of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and other rolled goods jumping out of the box when you are dispensing them was actually solved years ago by a clever packaging engineer.

My sister-in-law, Meredith Morgan, Press Here to Lock Endan award winning chemistry teacher at Governor Livingston HS in Berkeley Heights NJ, learned this from her students one day when she was fumbling around in front of a class with a roll of aluminum foil.

“Dr. Morgan, don’t you know about the little tabs your press in on the ends of the box?”

She didn’t. But she learns quickly. Meredith was so impressed by this innovation that she demonstrated it to me on every box of foil, plastic wrap, and wax paper in the kitchen.

Now, you might ask, “What does this have to do with my business?”

This is a good example of a small innovation with very practical, day-to-day utility that has probably never been marketed beyond the end of the box. Yet, it works well, addresses an annoyance that every consumer has experienced, but, somehow the solution has remained unused, probably by most consumers.

Note that once you learn of this little push-in tab, you will probably look for it on the end of every box of roll goods you buy. You may wish to follow this discovery on the Web, search on Google for “press here to lock end”tab pushed in

A further example of hiding innovations comes from a customer advisory board meeting for the Albany NY region of a major telecommunications provider. During this meeting, attended by many major customers from health care, high tech, industry, and government, a number of customers said, in response to the comments of other customers attending, “They provide you with that service? I did not even know that they offered that!” Here were major customers of a large, successful telecom who were not aware of significant service offerings. Needless to say, this telecom learned that their marketing efforts were ineffectual and needed more work. If you current customers do not know of your product or service offerings, how could potential customers discover them?

Have you made innovations in your products or services but never told your customers about them? Do you make innovations without even involving customers? When was the last time you actually asked your customers what they like about your products? Have you examined how customers use your product or service? Do you have a formal process to gather customer feedback? Do you have a Customer Advisory Board to drive innovations?