The biggest barrier to scaling a business is often the culture. Bad culture allows silo-thinking to dominate. Smart, successful cultures let dynamic, multi-departmental projects be defined and executed in a spirit of collaboration. Egos minimized. Results are key. Praise often in public. Criticize only when necessary, and then only in private. Culture is a corollary of actions, it’s not a verb.

I’ve noted below a simple solution on how to create a project focused culture, with examples that I hope will help. Execution seems theoretically simple but that’s where the problems start. Stuff only gets done when you really understand the type of problem you are solving, the key issues that the solution needs to solve and who is going to own the solution.

6 Stage Playbook    

We need to step back before diving in. The CEO needs to call the projects that are key. The projects that will move the dial. You can’t do them all. Examples? Executing an acquisition strategy, launching a new service line, creating an internal university to build an internal training system, transforming your recruiting process, building a new board structure, transforming the marketing story telling, and the list goes on.

The prioritization needs to come from the top. Every special, essential, value-changing play, should go through this 6-step review. The leadership team meets to discuss one problem chosen by the CEO. This is the agenda:

  1. What is the link to strategy and how does it align to the strategic plan?
  2. What are the issues to solve?
  3. Who is going to lead, who is in the team and what needs to happen?
  4. What resources do we need and what is the ROI?
  5. What is the timetable to success?
  6. What are the abort criteria?

#1 – How Does This Project Link To The Strategic Plan? If it can’t pass this test, it can’t be an essential project. Where management spends its time is an investment decision. Make your time count. And don’t get confused with small projects not having a big impact. In turning around a software business in a previous life, we changed many small important things in sales, marketing and metrics building, which had a huge impact on clarity and decision making. Of course to prioritize operational projects you must have done a strategic plan!

#2 – Issues To Solve – The Scoping Session. This is key to finding a path to success. Last year we operationalized a specific pain point for a client – how to train the customer on the technology. In this case, it was a materials testing machine with robotic software. What were the issues that helped us scope out the project?

  • What is the definition of on site training?
  • What is the definition of on-line training?
  • Do we offer training at a separate price, include it in the total package of the system, or offer it for free?
  • How do training videos form part of the solution?
  • At what point in the sales process do we discuss the onboarding of the customer?
  • Who is going to do the training?
  • What level of documentation are we giving to the customer?

These were only some of the issues! White board all the issues. Get them written down. Don’t think about how to solve them. Just scope them out. It’s amazing how stress relieving this process can be. This will show you the size of the problem and leads seamlessly into the other discussions.

#3 – Who Is Going To Lead And What Granular Actions Need To Be Executed ? Bandwidth is always a struggle but unless there is ownership within the management team, the project will die. That owner has total jurisdiction on that project. He or she is allowed to ask the CEO to be a member of the solutions team if it is appropriate. The leader of the project is the boss. The organization chart has no relevance inside the walls of a project team. The only agenda that matters is determined by the Project Manager(PM) of that project. And it’s all about getting the right stuff done. Because you’ve scoped out the issues, you should have a good idea of who to allocate to each action and how to manage them.The PM needs to assemble his team and disclose the first version of this granular roadmap. What has he missed? What needs to happen first? Where are the dependencies? Who owns each action? For example, this is the main hurdle when companies go on the acquisition trail. They don’t think through the problem of managing all the people involved in the process. Often these people have “day” jobs and that has to be recognized, as they are allocated to these special projects. Once the team is established, processes can be agreed to measure progress and feedback to the leadership team.

#4 – What Resources Do We Need & What Is The Expected ROI? It’s not just about people. Budgets, systems and measurement need to be built into the thinking. What gets measured gets done. Do you require external help to get the job done, extra equipment, software, facilities etc? How will you measure the Return on Investment? How will you know you’ve succeeded. How many people actually measure the success of their acquisitions, their new capex, and their product roll out?

#5 – What Is The Timetable? What milestones are we setting? What are our 30-day, 60-day, 90-day objectives? Are some activities sequential? Can some activities be run in parallel? Are we being realistic given our total workload? Does the team own the deadlines?

#6 – Abort Criteria. In launching a new magazine division many years ago in Thomson, the publishing giant, the management team were adamant that abort criteria were set up in advance. If sales targets were missed in three consecutive quarters or cash expenditures exceeded certain maximums, the project was to be aborted. They weren’t needed but it was close. Once projects kick off, the emotional attachment builds and giving up gets confused. Bad analogies with sport are used and it’s tears before bedtime!

I’ve specifically seen software groups spend millions of dollars on new product lines that were years past their abort dates.

Scaling a business becomes a lot less stressful when we break problems down into essential projects, talk through the scope and allocate owners. Every problem can be solved this way and of course building an operational blueprint to solve problems gives you a tremendous competitive edge to scale your business.

The Portfolio Partnership continues to offer practical operational support to leaders who wish to scale their businesses both organically and by acquisition. or call 978 395 1155.