More on Why Business Plans Fail – financial planning -part three

In the two earlier postings on key causes for business plans to fail, we took note of the lack of a vigorous implementation process and poor understanding of the customer value proposition and market environments. 

A third significant cause is poor financial planning. Entrepreneurs fail to plan six basic financial elements: Continue reading

Manage Your Business As Processes

Many business owners and managers are frustrated by the poor results achieved by some portion of their business. They diligently track their business using metrics like sales, profits, customer perceived quality, on time delivery, etc. These are obviously some of the most important results any business needs to produce. Why doesn’t attention to these important metrics produce better results?
Unfortunately none of these metrics are actionable nor controllable as objects of management focus. No amount of teeth gnashing about inadequate sales will generate a single additional sale. No matter how intensely you beat on your operations to improve on time delivery will this lead to improvement.  
Why is this so? 
Let’s examine on time delivery as an example of the problem. On time delivery is an end result of a process, a series of ordered steps, activities, that are your production operation. This process may not be delivering adequate on time delivery to your customers. But, you cannot understand what is causing this process to be out of control without examining in detail, through what is commonly referred to as root cause analysis, the causes of this failure. Here is a brief list of some of the more common causes: 

  • Part shortages  
  • Machine down time for poor maintenance  
  • Production bottlenecks  
  • Poor part quality  
  • Lack of labor  
  • Poorly trained labor  
  • Poor scheduling  
  • Inadequate customer requirements specifications

The lesson here is that in order to improve on time delivery you really need to first determine the cause, second set improvement tasks that eliminate the cause, and third measure improvements in that function until you achieve a controlled state of adequate  
performance for on time delivery. 
The fundamental mind set is to see your business as a system of processes. Your task is to make sure the processes are well defined and operate in a controlled state to produce the desired results. The method for achieving in control processes is to determine the root causes of failure, set tasks to eliminate the cause, and track metrics that measure the reduction of the causative element.  
Now you might be in a service business and say to yourself, “My business does not produce widgets. How can this apply to me?” 
Services are also produced through a series steps. In many cases these steps are not well-defined and are further complicated by the frequent direct interface with, and frequently the participation of, the customer. It is not as easy to “see” the steps in services production as in widget production. You don’t have the machines and parts moving around with a sequence of physical transformations.  
Here is a list of typical causes of poor service quality: 

  • Bad service design  
  • Mis-managed customer expectations  
  • Inadequate information resources in the hands of the frontline service provider  
  • Poor training of the service provider  
  • Unclear decision making scope and authority for the service provider

Learn to see your business from a process perspective. Then, apply process control techniques to drive to better results in sales, profits, customer retention, and whatever else is important.

Your Business Plan, Business Goals, & Tactics – Where Are Yours?

For most business plans the document is the end itself. It is such a commonplace of my practice to ask a business owner, or manager, “Do you have a business plan?”, only to have them look around in a bookcase, or in a pile of papers in the corner, in response.

A good business plan is the result of a process in which the management team comes to a common understanding of:

  • the business situation
  • the value the business provides to customers
  • strategies to achieve new business goals
  • obstacles to be overcome or avoided along the way,
  • tactics to bring the business goals to life – this includes who is responsible, resources assigned, timeline of tasks, and results expected
  • schedule of review meetings to measure results and take corrective actions

The plan also provides a common language about the business and a platform to communicate  business goals and values to everyone involved, employees, vendors, and customers.

So here we are at the key question:

If your business plan authentically identifies the business goals of your company, how can you put your management team into action to achieve that future as opposed to the future that will come willy-nilly and that almost inevitably is not the one you desire?

As Peter Drucker said about planning, “a plan is only deployed to the extent that it has devolved to day-to-day work” ((paraphrase from Drucker’s The Effective Executive: a definitive guide to getting the right things done (Harper Collins: New York, 2006) ))

Making a  Business Plan Become Day-to-Day Work

This is where you the Owner, the CEO must take the lead. Otherwise the plan is just a plan and is not converted into action. If you have done a good job of establishing the tactics, the step by step actions required, you will know:

  1. who is responsible
  2. resources assigned
  3. desired results
  4. success metrics
  5. timetable for action
These five items characterize every tactical action. Good project management practices demand them. Without these five elements, the tactics are just a plan, a bit of wishful thinking, they are not in fact in action. You cannot achieve your business goals without taking these practical steps.

By tying your business plan to your existing financial reporting system and project management tools, you will be able to measure results directly. The review sessions are not designed to be dull reports, but opportunities to understand where the difficulties lie and where new opportunities pop up. A review session brings together the management team to work on the most important strategic activities of the firm.

Let’s wrap up.  

Your business plan is converted into action through the tactics identified in the plan. These are supported by active supervision and follow up by the Owner, the CEO. Only you can provide the impetus to sustain the management team over the long haul. Without your involvement the management team will fall back to day-to-day busyness and not spend the time required to drive the tactics to reach your business goals.