The Pace of Change

If things have seemed a bit frenetic in your business lately, you’re not alone.

Many markets are experiencing a rapid rate of change – and in fact, the rate of change is accelerating. As a result, businesses, governments and even National Football League officials are struggling to keep up.

For example, if you watched the Super Bowl Sunday night, you could see it happen on almost every play. The offense would go into a formation, the defense would react before the play started and the offense would react to that, again, before the play started – with the quarterback changing the play or aspects of the play multiple times in the seconds before the ball is hiked.

Ask Florida State

This sort of pace isn’t unique to the Sunday’s game, it’s a normal part of football these days. If you saw Oregon play Florida State in college football, you saw a similar thing. Rather than using half a minute to stand around and talk about the play, Oregon was averaging a play every 16 seconds – meaning 16 seconds after a tackle was made, they were hiking the ball to start the next play.

For Oregon, this is normal and their conditioning and play calling is designed around it. For most opponents, the pace causes confusion and wears out their defensive players to the point that Oregon often rolls over exhausted defenses in the later stages of the game. The pace of change in the game is not what most opponents’ physical training or play calling training is designed for. As a result, teams often end up reacting on a play by play basis, rather than working their plan. Sometimes, it isn’t pretty, as Florida State found.

This sort of pace isn’t accomplished by simply speeding up the normally slow parts of the game. To execute at this pace requires smarter players, smarter coaches, better technology, as well as training regimens, on-field communication and play calling mechanisms designed to play non-chaotic football that feels chaotic to opponents.

The pace of change in business is no different

Things are no different in business these days and if your market hasn’t experienced it yet, it’s possible that you simply haven’t noticed, or you’ve perceived it as a temporary bump in the road that’s made things feel a bit more chaotic than normal. Be very careful about seeing this as temporary. From what I’m seeing and reading, that bump in the road is a new normal.

The accelerated pace of change has been obvious in the technology space, where there are well-known graphs showing the ever-shrinking time it’s taking for broad market technology adoption to reach a solid level of adoption.

This chart shows the rate of technology adoption accelerating from 1873 to 1991, yet the pace of change during that period is nothing compared to the adoption rate of the last 10 years, where reaching 50 million customers has gone from several decades (telephone, radio) to at most, a few years.

While the adoption time to 50 million users for the iPod (three years) vs. the radio (38 years) may not seem important to your business, the changes hitting your market are accelerating.

Is keeping up…enough?

In the fastest markets, keeping up is incredibly difficult – if not impossible. Yet some are not only keeping up, they’re pushing the changes.

Historically, when the speed of a technology or business function accelerated, it took a while for the level of quality and safety to reach steady state. These days, systems are often built into “the next big thing” (for this quarter) that enable quality and safety to remain stable.

Waiting for things to slow down…isn’t going to happen. If your business is affected by these changes, the methods you use for planning, tracking, finance, execution, supply chain management, manufacturing, hiring, security, business models and many other things have to keep up – and keep keeping up at an accelerating pace.

Keeping up while needing to accelerate your ability to keep up…that’s the trick.

The dangerous thing is thinking that your business isn’t affected by this. Finding a business that isn’t affected by 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, “big data” or cloud computing isn’t easy.

What’s easy is fooling yourself into thinking that it might not affect your business.

Startup DNA

For those in the software / SaaS business, an interesting slide deck from a guy involved in some fairly high end startups.

The last third of the deck is not as impactful as the first 2/3rds, where in addition to his comments, the author offers some pretty helpful resources.

It’s worth a look.

Do you see the future or the fingerprints?

While watching this, some will complain about the system running Windows, while others will wonder aloud why anyone would want to use it, grumble about specific features, or wring their hands over privacy implications much less the cost.

Some might even focus on the hassle of removing fingerprints from the advanced technology’s surfaces.

What do you focus on…the future or the fingerprints?

iPads for business? Yes. Start now.

Trust me on this. Your business needs an iPad.

I know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this:

Why does this Apple fanboy think I need this thing? It’s just like a dinky little laptop with no keyboard. I can’t even plug my USB thumb drive into it. There’s no camera.

I hear you, but I ask that you think forward a bit. The iPad available today will seem like a lukewarm joke in 5 years. Your kids won’t even touch it.

If you wait 5 years until “the space is ready”, you’re gonna be 5 years behind – maybe more.

Maybe the winner in 5 years will be an Android-based GooglePad. Maybe it’ll be a Windows-based GatesPad. Maybe it’ll be one of the tablets from the folks at CES this summer. But…

IT. DOESNT. MATTER.

What matters is that you shift your thinking.

This stuff is going to impact your business and your life (and the lives of your clients) – and I can say that not knowing what you do for a living.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

First off, don’t worry about what it won’t do. Focus on what it *can* do for you instead.

There are at least five areas that need some strategic thought on your part:

  • How your staff will use the iPad
  • How your customers will use the iPad (and iPhone/iTouch)
  • How a phone-enabled, GPS-enabled tablet (generally speaking) will change your work, your clients’ work, your clients’ personal lives and so on.
  • How this “intelligent”, connected form factor will change how people consume information – which includes information that brings them to your business.

Note: The same things will apply to the HP Slate and other touch devices already in the pipeline.

Portable, connected – and finally, capable – touch-based interface devices are here to stay. You can either take advantage of them or watch someone else and then whine about the competition.

Answer this 27 part question

The iPad gives you a way to show your clients and prospects touch-navigable information that is *already available* but often poorly presented. That info is rarely displayed in context with anything else.

That’s gonna change.

Here’s an example:

“Show me a map with the locations of the three best italian restaurants on the way to the bed and breakfast we’re staying at tonight (it’s just outside Glacier Park). Include an overall rating from previous reviews, an option to read those reviews, directions to each restaurant, menu items with photos of the food, prices and eliminate the ones that don’t have a table for six at 7:00pm. Oh and a photo of the front of the place so we don’t drive past it.”

27 phone calls or visits to websites later, you *might* have a decent answer. That’s one of the simple, easy to understand examples. There are a TON more. If you’re a client, ask me how you can take advantage of it.

The difference with the pad isn’t just the always-on internet and the GPS/location-enabled functionality. Those are huge, sure.

What changes things is that you get a touch interface that a 5 year old can operate. Don’t discount the impact that has. Most people don’t truly understand it until they use it – I had the same gap in experience with the iPhone/iTouch, despite being a geeky, computer-toolhead kinda guy. This time, I know better.

I have so many ideas about this thing, my head is spinning (some might say it did that before the iPad).

If yours isn’t, think a little harder.


Retailers: How do I know you *really* have it?

Yesterday we talked about a retail experience that could have been better – mostly by doing something to encourage a customer to call you next time.

Did you notice the cost of yesterday’s suggestion? ZERO.

Today, we’ll talk about an experience related to yesterday’s story: Stock levels.

When you go to the websites of most retail stores these days, you can see stock level information. In some cases, you’ll see it for each store location.

In most of the big chain stores, this information is as close to real time as you can expect – in other words, if you check the website from your car and it says that 52″ Sony you have your eye on is the last one in stock, the chances that it’s still in the store are very good.

It might be in someone’s cart, but it should still be in the store.

In stock…maybe

When you start working with local and regional retailers, the information quality tends to go downhill a bit.

What I see is a combination of these things:

  • “Call for stock info” (or a similar message)
  • “Item in stock”
  • “23 in stock”

The unfortunate reality of this is that none of this info is accurate.

If you’re going to have this stuff on your site – make it accurate, even if it has to say “Item in stock as of month, day, year” or “stock status updated every Friday”.

The alternative is having in-stock inventory info on your site, which your customer believes. In some cases, they make plans based on that info.

And then they find out that the info really means across your entire retail system as of a week ago, not of their local store. And even that might not be accurate.

If you don’t have the systems in place to keep this info accurate, ask them to contact you instead of relaying poor quality (inaccurate, outdated) information.

If you can get the info on your site up to date (and many of you probably can), then make it accurate to within an hour, or 5 minutes or real time – but state the accuracy for your customer’s convenience.

Remember, if people can’t trust your site…they’ll stop coming to it.

Are you thinking about 5 years from now? Really?

What about in other markets that affect yours?

Ever want to know at least a little bit of what Google might be thinking?

This 5 minute excerpt is the meaty part of a 45 minute long discussion about the future with Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen to what Schmidt says about the inevitable intersection of TV, radio, video, internet – ie: of media in general.

Sure, it’s obvious. And it’s just one aspect of what he’s speaking of.

But are you considering it in your marketing? In your product delivery? In what your products and services look like? In who you have on your staff, the skills you’re looking for in new hires and the training you’re offering to existing staff?

You don’t have to be in the tech business for this to have a profound impact on you. Has the iPod has affected businesses other than those who make cassette players? Surely.

What often separates the big dogs from everyone else is that they think ahead, they look ahead and they position themselves to be at cruising speed when that next big thing gets traction and hits cruise control.

Focusing merely on survival is not only a great way to never make it to top speed, but to find yourself on the wrong highway altogether.

Measurement and the fine art of bidding

Toon Studio â?? Disney Studios, Paris
Creative Commons License photo credit: eyeSPIVE

Ever messed up a bid?

Even after 25 years in the IT business (much less other stuff), I find that one of the hardest things to do accurately is bid a sizable time and materials-based project.

If you’re in IT, you know all the reasons.

Stuff changes. Requirements aren’t necessarily what they really are. Features get added, removed, changed and re-added.

It can be troubling if you live by (or try to live by) a schedule.

As long as the communication channels are open, it works out. It works out because over the years, you’re zig zagging across the good bid/ouch line with smaller and smaller zigs and zags each time (mostly).

But I deal in atoms not pixels!

Yeah, that’s another reference to Free. I’ll stop with that eventually.

I wonder how big construction, architecture or engineering firms can afford to do that zig/zag thing.

Pixels are cheap. Atoms are not, especially when you’re talking about a project like a mall, a bridge or 23.3 miles of Interstate highway. Which brings us to yesterday’s measurement discussion.

I was talking to a guy in the construction biz a while ago and asked him about this. Based on all the bidding processes for huge municipal (etc) construction projects, are any of them right? It seems like they all go over budget and over time.

Can you imagine what the expense of being wrong is if you’re the construction, engineering or architecture firm?

Parts is parts

And then I was thinking… buildings, roads and bridges break down into finite tasks just like programs do.

In the programming world – or at least in the academic one – there’s something called function point analysis.

The theory is that you can assess the time/complexity/cost of a project simply by counting the function points it contains. Rumor has it that it works if used properly. Guess how many businesses I’ve encountered using it over the last 25 years.

Doughnut. Zippo. None.

Why? Because it’s hard work. For small clients, it may not be worth the effort. Add to that, it means you have to properly plan and spec the work in pretty good detail. Not a lot of people want to put that effort in before handing a job to a programming staff to complete it.

On the other hand, not even Electronic Data Systems used it when I was there back in the Ross Perot days and we checked, rechecked and re-tested *everything*. Twice. Three times after 5pm.

I beam with joy

Let’s get back to the architects and such.

As I noted, buildings, bridges etc break down into components like beams, walls, pillars, etc. (Now you see why I just had to talk about function points, sorta.)

Like programmers (perhaps more so), these folks deal with complex bids with lots of variables.

They bid a bridge job because they have the best bridge designer in the state. Or condo. Or stadium. Whatever.

3 days before the bids are opened and awarded, she gets hit by a bus. Or gets a 3x salary offer from some Middle East engineering firm. Or disappears to find herself by walking the Great Wall.

Regardless of the reason, she’s gone.

It isn’t unusual, but it sure will throw your design time estimate a wicked curve ball and any technically-oriented business might see this.

What if?

What if your design software had the ability to measure how long it took to design an I-beam that will hold a dynamic load (ie: a load that changes/moves). Or how long it takes to design a retention pond at a factory.

So what, right?

OK…Imagine that your design software has the ability to do that for each staffer, broken down for each possible component of a building, screened-in patio, bridge, truss, lake, or other feature.

Like function points in software, the design software might keep track of all this based on complexity – such as by the number of load points and force vectors, or maybe square footage and materials have an impact.

Maybe experience and type of training comes into play. Maybe you learn that the designer’s college choice impacts these numbers.

Speed, Quality, Complexity

Now, imagine that this software can aggregate all this data by employee, by component.

With a little extra effort, you eventually figure out which designers are the best at designing each type of component.

A combination of speed, quality and work complexity ends up telling you exactly who to allocate to a particular piece of design and most likely that comes along with a very accurate estimate of the time needed to do the job.

If you break down the design of the most complex project you ever had, you know how many I-beams, trusses, concrete walls, pillars and so forth there are, as well as what kind of loads they have.

And now – because you have measurements of what the real work takes – you can make a bid that is far more accurate than the guesses those other folks are making.

Now imagine that you make the software that allows for this kind of measurement.

Your customers are the ones who bid more accurately. They win more bids. They become more successful. Your software becomes their secret weapon. You know what that means.

Imagine soft puffy clouds

Now… consider this discussion in the context of the service you provide, from programming to sports writing to graphic arts to small engine repair to architecture to plumbing or whatever.

You may already do some of this assessment by the seat of your pants / gut feel. Is it accurate? Be honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter what you tell me.

But would it be as accurate as an ongoing set of measurement data that is based on your current staff mix? I doubt it.

Would it help? Let’s see.

  • Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a project if you knew exactly what each component required time-wise.
  • Imagine how much easier it would be to manage a project if you knew exactly how to allocate your people to different details of the project.
  • Imagine what your sales staff would face out in the field when they realize they can confidently bid a job and know it’ll come in on time and on budget and they can whip out performance reports to prove it.
  • Imagine how your testimonials would change and the impact that would have on prospects.
  • Imagine how your customer retention numbers would improve.
  • Imagine what something like this could do for your staff’s morale. Never a late project, ever again. Well, maybe almost never.

Measurement. Might be a good idea, ya think?

Little things sell big things

Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward
Trailer, courtesy of Bill Ward

Earlier this week, we talked about how a little thing like the delivery of a sippy cup at the end of a long, hot weekend could change an entire restaurant experience.

Two recent adventures further illustrate how little things could make a difference.

Unfortunately, they involve those gasoline-powered devices / vehicles that so love to toy with me.

Les to the rescue

First, there’s the youngest son’s car which needed tires rather badly. So badly that they were on my short list of stuff to deal with when I return from out of town. Of course, one of them decides to fail *while* I’m out of town.

Because I’m at Scout camp, there’s no way to catch me (no cell, no internet) and of course, my wife was unavailable at the time the tire failed as well.

So there is my 17 year old needing tires, without enough cash in his account to pay for them, temporarily with no access to mom and dad, and (of course), no credit card.

For whatever reason, Les Schwab Tires put tires on it, wrote up a bill and sent him on his way – and he was on time to work.

Maybe that would happen in a big city, maybe it wouldn’t, but the bottom line is that it happened and I appreciated it. Stuff like that is why I buy tires at Les Schwab – they do stuff that they don’t *have* to do.

Tow headed boy

This morning, I wake up after at least 3 cups of coffee (ahem, yes that it more than it usually takes) and realize that another vehicular issue needs to be dealt with.

My trailer light wiring got ripped out from under my Suburban on a leisurely off-road excursion a while back. Also on the “round tuit” list, they remained dysfunctional until this morning when I realize that I need working lights.

See, I have to tow the Montana Federation of Swimming’s Western division timing/scoring trailer back from Shelby MT in preparation for our Divisional swim meet here next week.

It’s a pretty sizable trailer and driving back with no trailer lights on a prime tourist route is a really bad idea for lots of reasons.

Oops.

So I go to a RV sales and repair place on the way back from town and ask if they have the trailer light T-adapter that fits onto the lighting harness. Getting one of these means I just unhook the harness and plug the ends into the T-adapter and whammo, I’ve got lights.

I walk into the RV place and if we were in the South, you could’ve heard crickets. No one in sight. I look around and finally a few minutes later I find a guy walking out of the lunch room.

He proceeds to spend 20 minutes digging in a paper catalog to find a part number, but finds nothing and blames the guy who wrote the index.

Google is your friend

Meanwhile, there is a computer on the counter. I suppose I could have Googled trailer light adapter a little faster, but I thought I’d give the guy a break.

After all this, he gives me the catalog and starts opening a box of mail on the counter. I’m just a little stunned. I go back to the index, use the brand name that is on a similar adapter from the shelf (I brought it to the counter as an example of what I needed).

The brand name is indexed and one of the two entries lists the page where the exact item I need is shown.

He looks up the item and tells me the price ($21) and asks if I want it. Of course I do, as I have 30 minutes invested in it already.

He says (I suggest you sit down)…“We don’t stock these items, do you want me to order it?”

So 30 minutes later, I still don’t have wiring harness and he is just now sharing with me that these items aren’t stocked.

He says the one I found on the counter was mis-packaged and apparently came from the repair department as an ordering mistake. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out why we spent 30 minutes searching for something that they don’t even stock, despite my telling him I needed it today.

NAPA, take me away

Empty handed, I leave the RV place and head for Columbia Falls. I slide into NAPA and start looking around and less than 30 seconds have gone by when someone approaches me and asks if they can help me find something.

I tell him what I need and they go to the computer (wooo, aint that cool?) and find it.

He digs around for the wiring adapter in the back, then looks on the shelf and finds it. Note that this is different than what a typical store staffer elsewhere might have done. The expectation is that they will point toward the front of the store and say “They’re on aisle 8.”

Instead, in Nordstorm-like fashion, he took me there and found it.

All the time, he is smiling and friendly. The lady up front is also smiling and friendly.

Now to be fair, I should admit that I know the owners of this NAPA and they are more often than not (pretty much always) smiling and friendly. But these staffers don’t *know* that I know the owners. They don’t really know me from Andy Granatelli (I’m taller).

Yet I get service like that $19 purchase was the most important one I ever made. Oddly enough, it is – because you are only as good as your last transaction.

Get recommended

It’s unlikely that I will ever buy a monster RV and probably not even a camp trailer (that RV place sells everything from $10k trailers to $150k “Class A” RVs), but it is likely that sometime, somewhere, someone will ask me which RV place to go to or where to get auto parts or tires, and so on.

Which places do you think I’ll recommend?

Are your people doing what is necessary (or more) to motivate people to recommend your business? Psst: That’s just one form of marketing.

Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BoatAnchorBadSharingGood.mp3]
time
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.

Insane.

I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

I am a slacker. Are you?

undercover
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Yes, me.  I am a slacker. I admit it.

A year ago, I was planning to release my first book, “Business is Personal”.

You probably don’t remember me doing a launch promotion on it. That’s cuz I didn’t launch it.

As you might suspect, stuff happened and pushed it out of my immediate view and soon enough, a year went by.

Bet that never happened to you.

It’s still sitting in my authoring software, laughing at me: “You can’t finish me today, bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa” (yeah, that’s supposed to sound like an insane creepy laugh).

Enterrrrrr theeee excuuuuuuuuusee zoooooooonnnnnne (you can figure out how that is supposed to sound).

The Excuse Zone

See if any of this sounds familiar, even if you have to adjust the facts.

  • Before first light today, I headed out to Melita Island to help teach the 2nd part of Boy Scout Wood Badge. WB is an adult leadership course for Scout leaders and I am part of the instructor team.
  • The morning after I get back from Melita, I leave for Scout camp for a week.
  • The next week is 4th of July week and I have to go to a swim meet that will be a lot about remembering a dear friend who in her last 18 months of life literally willed a small town into getting a new swimming pool suitable for swim meets – all while battling pancreatic cancer.
  • Meanwhile I have client work, coaching sessions, blogging, writing my newspaper column, working on my own product development work, doing family stuff, visiting with that awfully cute granddaughter you see in that photo on the blog, a week in Missouri with the in-laws and such right after the 4th, out of town swim meets every weekend till August, then (not 100% sure on this one) 10 days in the backcountry on a wilderness pack trip.
  • That gets me to August 16 and doesn’t count other troop activities, Rotary (yes, I’m still club president), a few other volunteer gigs here in town and again, more of that client work stuff.

All the while… it sits there and taunts me. The book, I mean. You can probably hear it giggling.

Choice

You probably think “Heck, no wonder you didn’t get it done, with all THAT stuff going on.”

And you would be completely missing the point.

It has nothing to do with how much other stuff I have to do. It has to do with making a choice about the stuff I AM doing.

Each day since the Spring of 2008 when I started “Business is Personal” (the book), I’ve made a choice – several times a day.

These choices were made to do something else other than chip away at the book, even if I chose to do something that might have seemed important at the time.

No one else made these choices. Just me.

A few of my favorite Jim Rohn quotes come to mind:

  • “When you say ‘No’, you say ‘Yes’ to something more important.”
  • “Learn to say ‘No’. Don’t let your mouth overload your back.”
  • “We can no more afford to spend major time on minor things than we can to spend minor time on major things.”

What did you not get done today that you should have gotten done, if only it wasn’t for that “really important” thing you did instead?

Say “No” to the not-so-important so that you can say “Yes” to the really important.

PS: Stay tuned for the book. If you’d like to help with it, take one minute to slide on over to http://www.businessispersonalbook.com and enter a question (someone will win a pair of free consultations, may as well be you).