New Project? Don’t Analyze – Act
In the March 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Leonard A Schlesinger, Charles F Kiefer and Paul B Brown wrote about how entrepreneurs take small, quick steps to get initiatives and projects off the ground and how organisations can do the same.
I’ll explain the theory shortly, but this article got me thinking. At work when I want to get something new happening, I just want to make it happen and see how it evolves rather than considering every step and eliminating risks. I had a very similar experience when I introduced Mobility Scooters into my business and I’ll relate that shortly.
But first, here’s the theory…
Act, Learn, Build – the Theory
The main point of the theory is that entrepreneurs don’t just think differently they translate this thinking into immediate action. An example is the concept of act, learn and build:
Act: take a step toward a goal
Learn: evaluate the evidence you’ve created
Build: repeat steps 1 & 2 until you accomplish your goal, realize you can’t, or opt to change direction on the basis of new information
The authors give us 6 steps to follow in order be agile like an entrepreneur:
- Use the means at hand. Firms like to review projects, build businesses cases and plans and get multiple approvals before embarking on a new venture. While this at times is a good idea, there are times when you just use people’s knowledge, skills and experience combined with existing budgets to get something going. This is entrepreneurial thinking.
- Stay within your acceptable loss. The act-learn-build model is low risk, but you still need to know that is working or not and to decided whether to cut your losses. Retailers use the sale or return model which means giving up space to try a new product and if doesn’t work to return it to the supplier to get a refund.
- Secure only the commitment you need for the next step. Rather than asking how I get everyone’s commitment ask what is the least amount of commitment that I need to act.
- Bring along only volunteers. Get people involved in the venture who believe in it and can make it happen. Use only volunteers. “Enrollment” happens when you show your own engagement in the process, act honestly and are willing to collaborate.
- Link your move to a business imperative, and produce early results. There needs to be a sense of urgency and a greater calling. I have successfully deployed a retail operation into an insurance business by showing that the members enjoy the experience combined with a sense of urgency for the staff to stop declining foot traffic, therefore making their distribution channel remain relevant. I also run bounty’s on new products to ensure that we sell through and to encourage staff to learn about the product and to introduce it via add ons.
- Manage expectations. Don’t over promise. Have a robust, defendable early target and don’t make any big launch announcements.
So this is the theory, the way it should be done. When I was reading the article I got to thinking about when I introduced Mobility Scooters about a year ago and why I felt frustrated by the process just prior to launch.
Real Life Example
A couple of years ago I really thought that our brand could support the sale of mobility scooters – the battery operated electric ‘gophers’ that senior citizens use to increase their mobility. From this idea and a business planning session the thought become an idea and then a business plan.
Similar to most entrepreneurs I tend to get a thought into my head, think that I can achieve a result and I go away and make it happen. When I reviewed the first few steps of the theory I followed this process almost word for word:
- I used my person resources, did a bit of a web scan, engagement with one of the internal brand managers and developed a plan about which Brands to contact. Once completed I did a deal with a supplier and set about creating a launch date. Further in the process the Brand Manager wanted to over engineer the solution and eliminate all risk. As you can imagine this started to frustrate me!
- I negotiated a sale or return with the supplier, a trial period and ordered just 2 units for each of the 6 metro shops
- I received approval from my internal partners and my manager for a trial and the Executive team were informed out of courtesy
- I implemented the sales process with my Operations Manager and buyers and had an engagement session with the sales staff
- The sale of mobility scooters is to continue the growth of the merchandise business, especially as child car seats will start to decline over the next 12-18 months. Staff understood that these sales will help them to achieve their sales target
- The target was set at a low level, 100 units in year one with only small advertising in the company magazine and online
So in terms of process the theory worked well for my company and we have been able to set up a small new income stream from little investment and little risk.
Reading this article confirmed with me that the process that I had followed provided low risk to the brand as well as allowing the business time to learn how to sell the product and to plan for the next steps.
It also confirmed why I was feeling frustrated at times with my internal partner. True entrepreneurs develop the idea and want to get it into the market straight away; there may be ‘fuzzy’ areas but we hope to learn about how we deal with these on the run. My internal partner wanted to minimise the risk down to zero and kept on stalling the start date. This led me to be frustrated, so I gave the project off to another staff member prior to go live.
The result is that we delayed inventorying the product by 2 months and loss the opportunity to make any sales between February and May 2011. While this was disappointing it does demonstrate point 1 – just do it! You need to adopt the act-learn-build model as it is low risk and small issues can be sorted out on the fly. And you only need to get the commitment for the next level, not the whole solution.
The great news is that we have sold 100 units in 12 months, achieving our target. The next goal is 300 units per annum and we have developed a business plan that calls for Super Centres and more engagement with the community/aged sector. Once 300 units are achieved then further integration into our business can occur.
And the risks that stalled the project….they never occurred and just lead to a delay. You can over engineer solutions at times and businesses should listen to their entrepreneurs and just…. act-learn-build!