Out of nothing grew a startup crazy.  Startups are nothing new, in fact every company since the beginning of time was a startup.  They grew and prospered because they did things right, made fewer mistakes and were able to ride the wave of opportunity.  At the same time there have been many who failed and will go down as hard lesson learned.  So why the present craze?

First of all governments see an obligation to create jobs without having to be the only source for employment.  For each job created there are a multitude of others who become the beneficiary of this.  Whether it be a merchant, our families, the community or government all will benefit.  We also benefit by becoming a productive part of the world community.  For the community, healthy commerce means that the quality of life can be improved upon.  Parks, schools, transportation and infrastructure are all advanced through the contribution of commerce.  Its for these very reasons that governments and communities are investing in the development of the startup up enterprise.  Unlike in the past where you were left to your demise, today we seek opportunities to avoid failures.

Let’s start out by establishing a few definitions.  A startup is an enterprise comprised of one or more people who have an idea for a role to play in commerce sector.  It doesn’t always have to be about ICT (Information Communication and Technology) although many regions have this as a pivotal service.  There are also companies with great ideas that rely upon ICT enablement in order to achieve their operating mission.  If I was asked what should the focus be, I would say both.  I believe that putting all of your eggs in one basket does not provide sufficient flexibility to address ever changing market conditions.  At the same time singular focus creates a market saturation that places competitive stress on other upstart enterprises (in an unhealthy manner).  The value of diversity increases the economics of scale by utilizing common discipline guidance across a broader audience base.  A incubator is a environment in which a startup can operate.  Normally associated with a facility/location, an incubator is accompanied by a shared space for learning and development.  For some the concept of an incubator can be met with a bit of reluctance, fearing that a concept or idea might be exploited by others.  Proper protection is always in order but this still allows for a general concept to be discussed without the fine details being disclosed.

When one considers becoming a part of the startup community you will be motivated by several reasons.

  • Education – Gaining crucial knowledge in areas of the unknown.  It isn’t enough to expect that you know even what you are missing and therefore your first steps become a general awareness about the overall startup landscape.
  • Visibility – Finding and establishing ways to be seen.  In most cases this is limited to local or regional market but seldom reaches beyond borders.  Exceptions like MaGIC Malaysia’s Accelerator Program which has reached out to foreign investors, advisors and successful incubator communities as are found in Silicon Valley, CA  USA.
  • Funding – Startups are poor, thinly funded with very steep needs for revenue flow to sustain formation and advancement.  Whether it be funding, alternative collaborative sharing, partnering, investing or seed capitalization the startup community attempts to fill a much needed void by providing a one stop shopping source for funders.
  • Infrastructure – For many startups their only resources are an idea, a computer and a cell phone.  The lack of physical space and a consistent location creates barriers.  This is the most expensive element found in the support of startups.  It takes community and governmental backing in order to provide this necessary element.  Failure to do so creates protracted time to implement.
  • Mentoring – It isn’t just about training if one cannot apply it to their situation.  All startups need objective and constructive examination of where they are at, what needs to be done, and what can be expected beyond the initial introductory period.  A key mistake is using what we might refer to as those ‘one hit wonders’, those individuals that have had ‘some’ success but lack in diversity of repetitive successes and experience.  At the same time its also a bit of a hazard to rely upon those with loads of experience but may lack in thinking beyond a single model.  So who is the mentor?  First and foremost is compassion and caring, startups are particularly frail and therefore need constructive neutering.  Secondly the mentor must be objective.  Just because the concept isn’t for you doesn’t mean that it fails in market potential.  Finally, and again these are ‘my’ opinions, the mentor must be creative.  Should a region aspire to create a startup community they might not find these elements all in one person but may require a broader composition of collective mentors in order to achieve balance.

Most recently I was involved in a startup competition comprised of both ICT and ICT enabled enterprises.  The two lessons that I shared are instrumental in knowing why you are there and what you are trying to achieve.

  1. Who is your pitch for?  Are you pitching to potential customers (meaning you are market ready), investors (meaning you are ready to go but you need fuel for your enterprise engine) or collaborators (you are ready but you need some help to introduce a broader market potential).  If you aren’t ready or you don’t know who you are addressing you need to step back and get your affairs in order.
  2. The best ideas will die if you don’t have a plan or a means to convert market thinking.  Maybe the timing isn’t right, or that your zeal for your concept is so great that you expect everyone else to jump on board.  Often they weigh superficially benefit and risk, you need to do likewise.

In conclusion, startups are in vogue at the moment.  My fear however is that with many man conceived initiatives that the luster will wear off and the forward progress will die.  To keep the dream alive the startup enterprises must prove their efforts, use these to justify the framework commitment and to recommit to the further development of positive measures to produce success and reduce failure risk.


We hear allot about design…..

  • Simplicity of the design,
  • Durability of design,
  • Beautiful design,
  • Failure in design, and
  • Blah-Blah-Blah design.

What the heck is all of this stuff about design?  Thousands if not tens of thousands of books have discussed, formulated and promoted design as the key to outcomes.   But as we see the buck stops at the talk and often goes no where beyond that stage.  Why is this happening?


Myth #1 – Design is not a Title

Sure you may have the word in your position but design is not reserved to one person or one group.  Everyone does some sort of design.  Design is not a task but an interconnected set of events that compositely give us a sense of doability, complexity and direction in which to advance the development of a product or solution.  I’m sure that most have sat in meetings in which business units will sketch out what they are doing and what they would like to have happen… this is design.  Albeit possibly not to the formal liking of the purists it is none the less design, don’t make fun of it!  Even the administrative assistant who is arranging that all important luncheon meeting is doing so by design.  Some possibly from experience and habit and in some cases by a sketch of things to do and organized into some paradigm that they (or others) can utilize.  So design is not reserved just for those titled but everyone is a designer unto their own rights.  If we think back to our childhood, the moment we observed things and later picked up a crayon, pencil or pen our goal was to design something.  Maybe it was a big red barn, a portrait of our family (in stick figure form along with fido) or maybe it was a more ambitious project to form shapes that lead us to the creation of letters.  All of this is design.


Myth #2 – Design is Necessary

I prefer to think of design as not being necessary but merely the natural bi-product of thinking.  The human mind cannot process chaos, it strives to have order and seeks out some place where past experiences have had similarities.  The freeing of process to seek a base of information is essential but in doing so we need something that gives us certainty about so so many questions.  Some look for solutions, others question the importance and some even wonder whether we have got some reasonable level of completeness.  To answer these and many other questions we look for help and to achieve this we look to formed methods and techniques.  Experienced individuals will have their own preferences and even some custom made methods that they rely upon to acquire design awareness.  I have relied on tools such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) (structural, behavioral and interactive models) to exercise the multifaceted features of an application project but my design toolbox isn’t limited to this one approach.  Such techniques as high impact inspections, test driven design (TDD) and rapid story creation have been equally valuable and gratifying. These all are beginnings leading to a design vision.  It very well can be and often is more than one, and this is okay.  Multiple options give us flexibility and alternatives which we are most often going to need during the course of a project.  In the case of Agile projects if we look at the arrangement of stories into families, usually surrounding the notion of work to be performed we have a design that can be lifted from it.  In the more classical context of waterfall or v-model methods we are more apt to conceive design as a bi-product of understanding and embracing design.  Both the same yet achieved in difference ways (and possible with prejudice different expected value to be achieved from each of the approaches).


Myth #3 Design Is Magical

This is where it gets a bit dicey…. is design something you do regardless of sound engineering principals being applied or not?  Those who are proponents of building and exploring (which is by definition research) really do so without a design.  I would, from practical experience, say yes.  Its not that its not important or necessary its because the process being used is intended and focused on doability and the possibilities that can be exploited, nothing more. For this reason this sort of work is intended to lead to knowledge, which in classical terms is a defined requirements vision, to which the formalization for completeness can be exercised.  Unless we intend never to do anything more with it, including repair work, then design is not needed.  However, most will reverse engineer a design from what is produced to not only create a positive maintenance atmosphere but also to definitively answer the question about whether the endless possibilities of the research has been reached.  For others design ‘anything’ are used as guides to form work and task lists of things to be constructed to achieve the desire outcome.  This includes a definitive understanding of how the piece parts will work in harmony or contention, based on the desire of the design outcome (and requirement visions).  The creative aspect of design takes place as the result of formation and the convergence with specific technologies be it hardware, software or idiom (SaaS, Cloud, Big Data, etc.).  Its this exercise that we start to seeing balancing, or the absence of, occurring.  We hear the term dependencies to reflect the level of cohesive and interdependencies that exist in design.  There are reasons for tight cohesiveness, often centered around constraints (memory, bandwidth…) but sometimes its caused by gross negligence and poor practices.  Design management cannot be taken lightly, it required purposeful and dedicated attention to insure that all is made right.


Myth #4 Design Is a One Size Fits All Proposition

Will the concept is rational, at least in so far as the initial deployment, subsequent activities that involve changes and modifications results in an erosion to design.  This produces some interesting challenges for such paradigms as the software reuse factory, refactoring and agile driven modularity.  So how can this be overcome if at all?  Since it is a foregone conclusion that our lives will not remain static we have to assume change.  We might even have a pretty good idea as to where it will take place, when it is like to occur and to what extent it can be expected.  If we have even the slightest idea about any of these things we can insult our general design in two possible ways.  The first is by utilizing a plug-n-play approach where pieces can be exchanged in an out of the solution set.  The second more difficult approach  involves design retrofitting, the act of redesign taking place as changes occur.  In order to sustain durable and reliable design one must have software support to provide us with real time dynamic vision  into the solutionset.  Using this information is like having a dashboard that permits us to address the impact of change as to the target design it is being made against.  Not all design is evil.  In fact it can be a welcomed relief for legacy applications and those in which design was really never a strong point from inception (e.g. may be caused by rapid response driven deployment or first time out solutions).

imagesMyth #5  Design Mastery Can Be Taught

There are some things that you simply can’t teach without experiencing it.  It takes practice, failure, listening, observing and mentored guidance to become not just the ‘titled’ individual but one that clearly understands and has mastered design.  Disciplines such as structural and civil engineers mandate not just schooling but also board examinations and a period of internship.  Yet in information technology certifications are a matter of choice and not one of mandate.  Some might argue that the risks are different, but are they?  Maybe the most compelling reason for experience is the result of converting intellectual visualization into an habitual endearment to the means of achieving designs that work.  We sometimes make the mistake of thinking about the end and not about the means of achieving it.  In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works.”.   Maybe this is why Steve Jobs worked so so well with his long time friend Steve Wozniak.


ImageSo how well is the world doing?  Are we in a state of chaos or emerging from it?  These are all valid and vitally important pieces of information because our feelings and impressions have been conditioned to take in lots and lots of information.  At one time the news could be viewed as a reliable source.  Based upon facts and not opinions.  Credible sources were the order of the day, the mandate of management in order to provide credibility to viewers, listeners and readers.  Today I’m not so sure.  Obviously I suffer from the opinion that anything and everything you get exposed to must be filtered, studied, measured and analyzed against what you know, feel or have knowledge about.  For that reason one cannot being accepting but it also means that you are responsible none the less to use this information in a proper way.

Predictions are the last thing we need in business.  While it might give us promise that we are on track (possibly because we are the track to which the predictions are being made) we have to consider it in the much large category of ‘information’.  To the extreme this might be used to promote and elevate our agenda, but certainly it should never be used to justify the commitment.  We need definitive and concrete information that can then examined and evaluate for the possibilities that it contains.  Even then we adopt an element of risk because we are conjecturing about what might happen.  If we are able to leverage the ‘happen’ element then we are more apt to have information that can be used to lay strategy groundwork.   Be cautious however, the best laid plans do not always materialize size your range of control is limited to what you do and not that of the consuming public.

A fundamental rule is the order of control.  Control over analytics should follow the Prevention, Detection and Correction paradigm.  I would that only after these steps have been followed Predictions can occur.  We must,

  • Prevent predictive analytics being used beyond their level of authentication.  Will useful in making public announcements and sparking curiosity that can be examined further they simply too unreliable to bet your entire business on.  If you think I’m blowing smoke on this take any if not all of the analytic company predictions and see for yourself what the reliability factor has been based on actual historical outcomes.   then predict with improved reliability.
  • Detect the level of use and the need for added study or possibly collaborative comparisons.  Blind acceptance is again not an option for rational things.  You are risking allot to possible gain allot but don’t be fool hearty.  Don’t bet on a high pair in your hand if you haven’t seen what cards get shown on the table.
  • Correction is probably the most time consuming aspect.  Correction is about making change to the predictions but adapting the conclusions drawn into a strategic approach to follow in a ‘guarded’ way.  Never go all in when there remains some significant unknowns that make all of your ambitions a waste.
  • The preceding three points can then lead you to a point where predictive predictions can occur.  Taking what you have, what you know, what actions might be taken and melding them all together you arrive at actions plans and adaptive predictions that serve to guide your business.  These provide the necessary bullet proof protection necessary to make ‘right’ movements in ‘right’ directions with ‘right’ measures of control.

Predictions are guesses.  Like the news they were to be based on facts.  But as we have seen the complexity and the number of factors grow we have seen a similar response in limiting the sources for analytic purposes.  Some would ask why do this in the age of technology?  Couldn’t we just amalgamate this all and come up with more accurate results?  The answer is yes… we could, however we face the economics of analytics.  I am tempted to call it as a lean approach but would prefer to call it brand leverage lean.  Companies rely upon their name to care the information, absent of sufficient analytic depth but opportunistic enough to sell for a hearty sum.   I’m not really certain how long the charade will last.  The economic reason for it retains popularity is that its sold at the top of organizations whereby the analytics can be used for the purpose supporting a public campaign they cannot not, should not and must not be relied upon at face value.  Reckless abandonment puts business at risk.  You might have nothing to loose professionally, maybe the golden parachute will do you just fine but my gosh give consideration to the role that you have and the impact of your decisions on others.  When I look at real leaders their righteous role is defined by the consideration of the entire community that surrounds them.  They often place themselves well down on who gets pleased,  As leaders I plead with you to be responsible (some of you may blow this off or quickly discount this request because you feel  you are… but please-please-please reflect for just a moment as to whether you or not).  Behavioral redemption is possible even at the late hour in your career.

Predictive power is driven by the means/methods, data, source, age/timing and motives.  We  have all heard of creative statistics the permit just the right pieces to shine through to achieve a purpose.  Real truth based analytics are near real-time (event based and is current as possible), defined by appropriate methods including both mathematical and population selection, and must articulate the limitations.  If these steps are not being followed then the numbers are just the numbers.  They are unreliable and essentially unusable in any form.   What would you say that 99 out of 100 CEOs wore socks would you agree?  Would  you ask what was the 1 that didn’t, what country or region was this information taken from?   But more importantly would  you go about making socks for CEOs without understanding that the climate in which they live or even travel to.  This will and should impact the way you use analytics.  On the predictive side of the house, if I was to say that 3 million out of 25 million graduates will not have a job upon graduation in 2017 would this compel you to create jobs or would you see this as an opportunity to serve this unemployed population with career entry preparation before reaching graduation (to drive the 3 million jobless down)?   These are examples that help to illustrate the power of numbers but also the risk when blindly using them.

Their precision is grounded upon the means/methods, data, sources, age and motives.  We have all heard of creative statistics.  These can and often create suggestive answers that pander to goals but fail to sufficiently reflect complete truth.  Applied to strategic and tactical missions they run a deplorable high risk of failure.

ImageFor more than 2 decades companies have sought help ranging from sales to software engineering.  The proposal enriched with ‘potential’ but absent of the basic support required to set the course for potentially amazing success.  In those years past it wasn’t all that unusual to accept such an offer, after all the ability to create outcomes was for the taking.  Services were in demand, software could be created nearly instantaneously (possibly even using some prior non-proprietary work performed) and it could all be done at the bat of an eye.  Since those early years allot has changed and not for the betterment of those asked if they wish to be involved in a pay for performance contract.

I think just about anyone can appreciate the fact that when we pay someone based on delivering a service this is a very favorable position.  If I contract to paint a house and perform the work then I expect to get paid.  But here are some of the issues with the ‘pay for performance agreements’.   First of all you have to purchase materials, hire workers, perform the work and possibly even have to rent some of the speciality equipment to do the job.  You perform this work to an exacting standard that is limited to choice of paint color for the property.  Now the day of payment comes along and either the property owner doesn’t have the money, doesn’t like the work because they were expecting something different (which they hadn’t specified) and has now told you that they will pay as soon as they sell the property.  While this may be the tactic used by those who are trying to take advantage of your services its often the case that the property owner is in fact financially inept.   Almost all contracts driven by the ‘pay for performance’ paradigm sit in this very state.  They find it a convenient way to get work done and you the contractor assume all of the relationship risk.   Reflected below are some of the real issues,

  • weak, inadequate and non-existing operating investment, by the contractor, spill over to those that may engage to perform ‘pay for performance work’,
  • ‘pay for performance’ contracts overlook fundamental time and cost investments needed by those doing the work,
  • ‘pay for performance’ often presents a glorious future but fail to show the rocky path to get to that point.  Such matters as pay to be received after customer payment to the contractor and contractor delivery performance itself can put your payment at risk.  You did  your part… but now you are deprived because of matters outside of your control.
  • To further sweeten the deal is renewals and what you will get paid without any real additional work.  This is a shot in the dark… it again depends on service delivery and outcomes both of which may be a bit misguided and represented by the contractor.

As a person or company considering ‘pay for performance’ its best to use these as a fill in when you have a lead as a part of your normal business that might provide value to the particular client.  But its the result of cast off opportunities and not proactive pursuits.   For all others the concept of ‘pay for performance’ simply doesn’t make sense because you are taking all of the risk that isn’t being shared by the direct beneficiary of the work performed.

I know allot of companies use this model to remove uncertainty and to force performance.  But keep in mind that if you are asking someone to float your business pursuit on their backs it will seldom work.  People and companies can only be so benevolent and when doing so they wish a bit of leeway in terms of payment certainty.   Recently I was asked to do a ‘pay for performance’ engagement.  My first inkling came from the fact that an opportunity was offered but no financial terms discussed.  Its sweet tone, driven by responsibility and title, was set as a bait for me to take (but too many years, despite friendships, have taught me to be cautious).  When I presented the question directly was when I was first told that it was a commission only, another name for ‘pay for performance’, arrangement.  To soften the negativity accolades were given about my talents, abilities, experience and client connections.  Again I refrained for falling for these appeals to my ego, after all if all this was so special then why wasn’t some stipend paid to cover a portion of my out of pocket expenses and a wee bit of my time?  It is once again… a part of the ‘pay for performance’ dance.   One has to make a decision whether to say NO or whether to ACCEPT.  In my case I chose to strike a solution in between which pointed to an inadequacy in the success formula of the contracting company…. that is lead generation.  They had no lead generation, market promotion or even specific focus on who they were wishing to specifically attack.  Aside from the most general of general field views one could not possibly consider it any shape or form a plan for success.  I suggested that if they would generate leads I would followup and sell into these organizations for a straight fee to cover my time and expenses.  You only pay for what you use and create.  As an additional suggestion I proposed a monthly stipend that would entitle them to a fixed number of contacts, again generated by them, but would also include serving as a regional representative for their entrepreneurial enterprise.   In short, both were rejected.   I don’t think that the numbers were out of line and in fact they were quite reasonable in the face of local labor standards.  It seems that their ambitions are captivated around a model that doesn’t work and they can’t see their way to consider alternatives in which they take on a portion of risk to their own benefit potential.

So, where does this all leave us??

  1. Companies must realize that fundamental capitalization is required for ALL endeavors.  If you don’t have the funds obtain them, generate them or avoid the pursuit (regardless of the merits).  I suspect that the pursuit, while being a great idea, still has some doubts in their mind that the markets will accept them.
  2. Individuals must understand the degree of risk they wish to undertake.  In doing so also be willing to take on the costs, which in real terms are the out-of-pocket expenses.  Your time… well you have to decide whether you wish to put that at risk or not.  For me if I have the choice of working for nothing and spending money that I may not be able to recover I just as soon do something that will put food on the table.
  3. Pay for Performance isn’t all bad.  Its only bad when conditions are such that readily available cash flow can not be achieved to recover personal investment risk.   Rapid turnaround, ready market, and commodity sales are all types that may be suitable for ‘Pay for Performance’.  Even then you still need to ascertain the extent of risk and personal self investment that will be required.
  4. The value of Pay for Performance is not with skilled, experience and professional resource candidates.  The disconnection between the question of performance and the elevated performance potential carried by professionals is significantly different and must give way to model concessions.

In short, am I in favor of ‘Pay for Performance’?  I would have to say no, even as an entrepreneur who might wish to defer risk to the candidate.  It is my feeling that even when done that it doesn’t create a climate that will optimize potential.  Robbing innovation, creativity and ambition the candidate becomes fixated on survival and personal cost recovery.  This does very little to creating a durable pipeline of opportunities or to endear a lasting relationship that affords experience development.

ImageLiving life isn’t easy.  We look fondly upon those that have achieved and seek their wisdom as to how they gone to this pinnacle of success.  These often state the most obvious of obvious rules…. work hard, be ahead of the game, be creative and so on.  But these are simply pointing to rules of conduct and fail to dig to that next level of detail which unlocks what really makes a difference.  Tony Robbins probable comes the closest to unlocking the Da Vinci code of success or should I say “healthy conduct” precipitators. He suggests such rules as;

  • Success Leaves Clues
  • What is the Purpose (some might consider this to be VALUE)
  • If committed there’s always a way
  • The more rules the less happy you will be
  • The past does not equal the future
  • Reasons come first, answers come second
  • At the moment of decision your destiny is shaped
  • Most people fail not for a lack of plan but as a result of a lack of advice
  • Demand more of yourself than for anyone else

All of these Tony Robbins’ quotes speak to you as a person how to achieve comfort in yourImage life (and not a guarantee as to the outcome but at minimum you will be at peace).

There are a few rules that I believe are important also in your personal and work life.  While not as famous as Tony Robbins they have none the less but instrumental to my work and throughout my life.  Most of these are principals applied in a much different context but in true form I have applied them to other more practical events.

  • “For Every Action There is a Reaction”:  This concept repeats itself over and over again.  Whether you build a software solution in which there is a problem, other problems will flourish around it.  If excellence exists the probability of error is nearly zero.
  • Pareto Principal (80/20 Rule):  Almost without exception this occurs time and time again.  Mainly this is caused by two factors:  it is unlikely that 100% will occur or that none will occur.  One would think that it would be more than 50/50 but because people or conditions are such that uniform distributions do not occur regularly (possible because we want to be different or we simply like to agree to disagree) it creates a shift in the midpoint.  Thus we can assume that if we aren’t going to get 0%, 50/50% or 100% that the result will be into the territory of the 80/20 rule (even when its 60/40 or 70/30… its considered Pareto!).
  • Yin-Yang:  Life and business seeks equilibrium and balance.  While we recognize that Pareto is a bit skewed in this respect we none the less seek balance.  A concept introduced in China its a bit ironic that for a concept introduced in China that they haven’t come to appreciate that their quest for world dominance.  Polarizing views and attitudes that work quite well within a centrally controlled nation create an enormous imbalance when it comes to economic dominance (thus the lack of Yin-Yang).
  • No Good Comes from Anger/Violence:  First of all if there was any good that comes from it, it would be change.  More often than not anger/violence precipitates more anger and violence.  Should this not be the case it often results in some loss. Therefore peaceful and more honorable measure create a stronger success likelihood than to vent anger.
  • Protection Means Defensive:  Whether this be your family or protecting the sovereign rights of a nation protection measures equate to being on the defensive.  More often than not protectionism results in problems.  Over protect the child they will rebel or become dependent, employ protectionism policies on a nation you will deprive economic growth and create isolation, and utilize protection practices in a business you will inhibit creativity.
  • Holism: Holistic thinking is the new imperative.  Industry of the 1800s and early 1900s were founded on craftsmanship.  The birth of the industrial age introduced commodity practices and placed craftsmanship as a niche, specialty group.  Craftsmanship remains higher value and higher cost, but lower volume.  Commodity thinking produces volume, lower cost and lower value.  Consumer demand drives us towards commodities and only occasionally to seek out craftsmen.  The backdrop to both of these modes is holism.  While the craftsman may focus on their trade the depth and breath of knowledge makes him/her a master and second to none.  At the sametime those industrialists who created and implemented commodity thinking had to be ‘big thinkers’.  When looking at people we can’t just look at them and say that we want a craftsman without insuring ourselves of their holistic abilities.  All too often we associate positions with craftsmen, like programmers, but fail to see that their thinking remains too narrow.
  • Hold Yourself With Dignity, Honor and Respect:  Giving in to unbridled misguide behavior (usually the result of anger or fear) will produce no good.

Be righteous in your endeavors, committed to your cause, seek the advise of others and know when to make a decision.  These are all are the principals from which success is made.



No strategy can ever be accomplished with specific details on HOW they will be undertaken.  As many know this is what you call tactics.  Its the tricks, approach, resources and measures taken to achieve specific strategic objective(s).  Yes, tactics can and often contribute to the benefit of multiple strategic objectives.  Crafted by experts from various segments of the business they put together a program that will in combination move the chess piece one square forward in accomplishing goals.  You would think that something produced by experts, tied to goals and supported by the most senior of management would achieve success with a high degree of certainty (even despite influences outside of your direct control).  Yet time and time again the tactics being used  have issues.  Let us explore some of these in the upcoming sections.

Evil Tactics

ImageBusiness is both externally as well as internally competitive.  I once made the comment to a Fortune 50 company that his competition wasn’t really the guy across the street but the internal turmoil that was within the company itself.  People vieing for stature, stability, upward mobility will go to great lengths to achieve their goals, often at the expense of others.  This is quite dismissed as the normal course of business.  But should it be tolerated or should a change in the direction of cohesiveness occur?  I’m sure we have all seen the destructive nature of this behavior where back office support is dismissed as a contributor and the front line marketing publicity efforts are considered the savior of all.  The fact…. you need a complete cohesive solution and not worry or measure contributory value.  The mouth and the brain will fail to be of value, although they are the most prominent, if something as simple as the pancreas fails to produce enzymes.

In similar ways tactical plans and programs suffer from an affliction like strategies, the are too dependent upon form and lack in sufficient content.  But in addition tactics tend to have the potential for misunderstanding what the strategic goals are.  So imagine, if you will, a goal of building a viral social following and having a tactical plan that depends only on social networks.  Yet the social following that is being sought does not use social networks as the medium for connecting with your business.  While it achieved its own tactical purpose it failed to fulfill the ambitions of the strategy.  Also as mentioned earlier tactics have the potential of serving multiple strategic goals but this can also be a problem.  This is especially true when clarity, consistency and stakeholder cohesion is not taking place.  A great tactic, with the right timing and supported with proper resources can fail despite having sufficient capabilities.

The Skinny

ImageLike Russian nesting dolls there may be many levels of tactical details.  Each reaching out to another level of the organization in order to create the machinery necessary to achieve goals.  Tactics involve operations, administrative and promotional segments of the business  and must be coordinated and actively monitored for cohesion.  Just like a well oiled machine how well these mesh together will determine both durability and efficiency.  Beware however that some believe that tactical plans are something that you implement on top of your business and not embed into it.  This is wrong, should be avoided and will result in more costs and higher risks.  In large part this is the result of creating a vaneer of tactic focused behavior on top of a business which is already operating with a modest amount of efficiency.  An example that is quite similar is the addition of new taxes which then have to be either embedded on top of existing tax handling mechanics or a separate process be implemented to address the new additional tax.

Tactical plans often align with the various structures of the business.  Marketing, sales, operations, administration, procurement and so forth. Its easier that way because governance ownership is much easier to implement.  But its also easier to provide oversight monitoring and make appropriate alterations to the tactics then to be bound to ones in which a legion of cross business sections need to give their blessing to.  So in lies yet another issue to be aware of, despite tactical plan independence one must coordinate changes and observations to their fellow tactical administrators.  If you observe a difference in customer behavior then it should be communicated across the organization.  Barriers should be removed as much as practical and possible to foster the free flow of information.

Tactical plans involve resources, funding, measures (aka metrics) and contributory connection.  No tactic is and of itself an island, it must be of business value AND must without exception coordinate with two or more other tactical plans.

In most organizations the process of tactical planning isn’t all that new.  In fact we have seen a consistent and continued improvement in the development of tactics of businesses (both big and small).  What we have not seen is tactics that are aggressively monitored, pre-tested (or at minimum reviewed impartially), barriers that remain in place and a bit of confusion about its connected

Vogue Authentication

ImageAs mentioned previously almost all organizations have some rudimentary experience in crafting tactical plans.  In doing so there is a temptation to employ vogue technologies and while they may be beneficial there is also the strong possibility that they be ill times, not applicable and possible introduce failure risk potential because we lack experience in utilizing them.  Some present day examples include cloud computing, social network engineering, big data analysis repositories, advance logistics handling and statistical quality control measures.  These are all valid, appropriate and potentially useful but like any technology tools they must be applied as a controllable solution and not an adoption based on popularity.  It a bit of a no brainer but if it was that straight forward companies would not be gambling the attainment of strategic goals in favor of being one of the early adopters into an environment that hasn’t the capacity to properly administer them.  Lets consider that we plan to take the leap of faith we must be prepared with capabilities and capacity to carry out the tactics and support these elements.  While one can always go outside the company to utilize skilled talent we need, as a secondary measure, to be able to carry the baton for ourselves.  It is of no value to lay blame on a contractor who fails when it was, and always is, our decision on how matters will be carried out.  Dependency based tactics with a heavy reliance on external services is dangerous.  The number of risks goes up considerably and despite the blame being placed on the contractor the fact remains… the tactic has failed and so has the potential for the strategic goals to fail as well.  Failure isn’t an option that we can accept if measures can be taken to avoid them in the first place by using appropriate measures of precaution.

It would be remiss to not mention internal controls, those checks and balances, used to foster operational integrity.  Whether its for coordination of efforts or the management of reporting internal controls are essential BUT they come at a cost in terms of operational efficiency and monetarily.

Vertical Tactics

ImageWhen we think of tactics we must give consideration to their cycle of change.  While revisited on a regular ongoing basis they often have overall durability in the neighborhood of 12-18 months.  The consistency of tactical plans strongly encourages a 12 month rolling cycle in order that we don’t have that bit of jerky stop-and-start taking place.  I think most would agree that in the context of the present day business cycle that would be just about as long as one might tolerate before a reshaping needs to occur.  It will be more often the case that tactical adjustment will be imposed not through self-awareness but as a result of strategic adjustments coming from above.  But should the tactic require change it must be communicated horizontally across the other tactical participants and vertically to those governing the company’s strategy.

The complexity of tactical planning should not be underestimated.  Factors involving,

  • cultural silos,
  • cross organizational structure,
  • international divisions,
  • product/service line integration and
  • turf governance

are all major substantial influences on the development, delivery, implementation, monitoring and adjustment to tactical plans (along with modifications made to the tapestry of strategic goals).


ImageMuch more can be said about tactical planning.  Some that is directly related to innovative tactical development while others that are more driven my external influences coming from the market (and possibly regulatory bodies).  It is my hope that this has provided a foundational starting point and that further discussions will help increase ones awareness that tactical plans are essential for strategic business success.

ImageI have had a number of my clients ask, “what is my captivation with strategies?”.  What sparks my interest is the sheer power of strategies.  Apply the right mix of experience, study and goal setting and you have magic.  Make it an exercise driven by ego, historical opinion and convoluted expectations the results will speak for themselves.

Nearly three decades ago, and four successful startups, I base what I am about to say on the results that I have personally felt.  Whether the enterprise was acquired, parted out (sold in pieces of intellectual property) or served as a catalyst of change the strategy was my God send time and time again.  I also learned that a man is not an island to have a strategy that has even the slightest chance for success requires many external inputs.  Whether these come from people or from studies or from even simple legitimacy tests it is an essential part of developing sound strategic thinking.

The Wall of Resistance

ImageThere are allot of reasons why barriers get created.  In the context of strategic thinking its the general impression that they have to be closely guarded secrets.  Normally this is the result of having shallow expectations.  Evidence of this is carried out when your competition operates with the opinion that they command the market and that your presence is inconsequential.  What they maybe don’t know is that your strategic positioning is exactly why you have chosen an approach which creates separation.  Separation is important to avoid comparison and to generate curiosity.  So while they go about thumping their chest and expounding on their invaluable virtues you are rapidly capturing market.  How can this happen?  Think about the cycle of inquiries from would-be clients.  They start out talking to the brand leaders (yes, some stop here because they only want to relate on the basis of brand equality of them vs. you) but soon discover that the fit may not be exactly right, the price may be a bit more than you view the value to be and honestly you are still left with far too many questions.

Strategy Value

ImageA strategy forces us to think, writing it down demands more questions and opportunities to be revealed.  The real objective behind a strategy is to achieve a goal and for most businesses that about revenue generation (benevolent institutions measure it slightly different with it based on social impact).  Temptation will want us to start talking about “how” we think this can be done before we have determined “what” we want to have happen.


ImageIt is partial correct in thinking that history will shape the strategy illustration.  We can overlook past history, successes, failures and the key elements that precipitated the behavior.  HOWEVER, strategies are naturally flawed by human behavior.  The strategic team is high powered, ego driven, experienced and at times quite self-righteous.  You can’t and should not think that this can be abolished…. I assure you it can’t.  So what needs to be done is to channel this energy in such a way that it will produce excellence in results.  Some have tried to relate the strategy to outcome rewards and unfortunately a chaotic self-defeating environment gets created.  This energy needs to be directed, it needs a means by which that plausible consideration is generated and a means to reduce the over use of old policy to generate new outcomes.  Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over again and expecting different results” yet this has become a false belief that we in business make time and time again.

A Hammer Is Not A Screwdriver

ImageMy dad was a great man.  He taught me allot in many unknowing ways.  His love for tools and carpentry was beyond description but unfortunately his mastery was rudimentary at best.  What made his crude works so wonderful was the passion and ability to produce an outcome.  He learned from his mistakes, understood his limitations and was committed to producing despite his inability to achieve excellence.  Some might say he should have given up, others might suggest skill training and very few suggested that he should continue to enjoy his hobby.  I always think of my dad when he would say that any screw can be put into a piece of wood using a hammer but it unlikely that it can be removed with one.

Strategies have become allot like a hammer.  We bash objectives into the organization and force them into compliant submission.  Yet our ability to adjust and adapt to changing conditions sets us on a path that creates governance, compliance and achievement.

As mentioned earlier a strategy in the simplest sense is about achieve financial (or benevolence) performance.  Everything that the strategy involves works towards this overarching goal.  So what are the drivers that a strategy has.   Here is the secret sauce behind achieving this lead goal.

  1. Offerings
  2. Markets
  3. Customer Care (loyalty management)
  4. Infrastructure (supporting strategic initiatives)
  5. Social Contribution

Each thing we decide upon must address these five fundamental conditions.  If we decide on introducing an offering we must address the other four conditions.  If we focus on creating a relationship with a specific segment of the consumer society we need to invoke the other aspects as well, and so on.  To add reality to each of these five areas is where the elements of experience, opinion, analysis and even debate come into play.  Sequestered strategy development may be productive but is often challenged by the lack of objectivity.  Whether this be the result of egos, position dominance or simply being too close to everyday business dealings an objective and unbiased sounding board should not be overlooked.  No, this isn’t about pitching business this is about creating value benefit.  I learned all too well that great ideas in your mind aren’t necessarily the will of the market.  Thus the ability to generate revenues will fall short of expectations, even with a wonderful offering.

We mustn’t overlook risks, outside influences and inhibitors as we contemplate and develop strategies.  These will profoundly influence what gets moved into our goals and what remain back on the bucket list of potential future goal setting ideas.  For example, a specific offering might be ideal for a particular market but present regulations (or public sentiment about your company) may make the timing less than ideal.  While it might be viewed as ‘dead’ at this juncture it may be an area for future consideration (possibly after an aggressive publicity campaign) or simply the approach that is borne out in a tactic may be a safer albeit longer route that needs to be followed.

Not For Everyone?

ImageOver the last four decades I have deal with numerous companies in all shapes, sizes, and with varying global footprints.  Some are into the whole strategy development and ongoing evaluation modeling (some even using us to monitor both the strategy and changing conditions so they can focus on operational delivery) while others feel that the strategy simply means selling.  Unfortunately without vision, without a modest amount of formalization a simplistic vision may never be realized.  Should it become so, if by chance, then the lack of vision inhibits the development of the business.  Some write this off to growing pains and mid-life crisis, its really because of a lack of strategic visioning.  Every enterprise that is serious about what they do, what they simplistically wish to achieve needs to debate the question about strategy and do so in a formal, determined and pragmatic fashion.

Why oh Why???

ImageSo as you read these points we ask ourselves the question as to why strategic thinking and development is apt to change?  I attribute it to the participants.  Because of position, experience and success record there is a pervasive belief that its not required for them.  They believe that their personal virtues will carry them through and this makes them business leaders.  In all fairness they are partially correct, they can and will be the catalyst behind results.  At the sametime they are also have to respect that they are the benefactors for failures and oversights that occur as a result not being fully equipped for the task of strategy development.  Let’s face it a strategy is not done everyday and therefore the ability to take the task and make it a craft becomes a problem.  The problem is however affordably solvable based on one simple premise, “Right strategic thinking afford the greatest potential for success”.


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