We have all heard of – and probably have first hand experience – of business plans that, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, died early after a long period of senile decay. From alive and active on the desk to lying moribund in the filing tray, the business plan was eventually laid to rest in the coffin of the bottom drawer.
In my forthcoming book – Plans to Reality – I’m up to 30 reasons why things don’t happen – and counting. I’ve long ago reached the conclusion that there is no “single most important reason” but a sure fire failure mode is to develop a business plan that is not linked to the current reality. The new business plan represents the planting of a new seedling rather than a grafting onto an existing stock. And if the existing stock is in poor health – and that might have been the catalyst for planning new seedlings – it is almost inevitable that the organisation focuses on treating the symptoms of the current malaise to the detriment of the organisation’s future vitality. The new seedlings are planted in ill-prepared soil, don’t get watered and don’t get fed and succumb to the inevitable.
So in my book – literally – one of the key requirements in strategic planning is the need to give equal emphasis to improving the existing business as well as developing new growth strategies. I’m not talking about tinkering at the margins – I’m talking about a fundamental re-think on the way you do business – how can you make a step change in serving your markets?
- How can you improve order fulfilment times?
- How can you make your manufacturing more flexible?
- How can you make it more efficient?
- How can you cut the cost of inventories?
- How can you get closer to key suppliers and customers.
- How can you improve product development times?
- How can you improve profitability?
- How can you enhance organisational alignment?
- How can you manage change better than you do?
- How can you re-structure your business to reduce bureaucracy and enhance cooperation and teamwork?
- How can you create an environment that results in greater employee engagement?
- How can you radically improve customer service?
Of course there is no magic bullet but there is no better starting point than the adoption of lean thinking. Lean thinking as a business philosophy is a major advance on lean manufacturing. The problem with the latter was that it only addressed one stage in the total supply chain and it started at the wrong end – with suppliers rather than with the final customer. And – as the name indicates – it was a manufacturing concept and so largely limited to that sector.
Lean thinking, in contrast, starts with the customer and works back from there. It is also applicable to any business – after all, what business doesn’t have customers – even if they are called clients, patients, students, consumers or employees?
Now I’m not a lean thinking consultant but I know people who are. The results that can be achieved through lean thinking are truly remarkable. What’s more – your business is in much better shape to pursue the growth strategies that were a part of the strategic plan. It’s much better to graft new stock onto an existing root that’s in the best of health than to plant one or more new seedlings that you don’t have the resources to care for.