Stop, Start, Continue the Hard Way

The stop, start, continue method (SSC) is a simple, yet powerful, way to plan your day, week and year. And though it’s simple, it’s not simplistic. And though it looks straightforward, it’s onion-like in its layers.

Stop, start, continue (SSC) is interesting in that it’s forward-looking, present-looking, and rearward-looking at the same time. And its power comes from the requirement that the three time perspectives must be reconciled with each other. Stopping is easy, but what will start? Starting is easy, unless nothing is stopped. Continuing is easy, but it’s not the right thing if the rules have changed. And starting can’t start if everything continues.

Stop. With SSC, stopping is the most important part. That’s why it’s first in the sequence. When everyone’s plates are full and every meeting is an all-you-can-eat buffet, without stopping, all the new action items slathered on top simply slip off the plate and fall to the floor. And this is double trouble because while it’s clear new action items are assigned, there’s no admission that the carpet is soiled with all those recently added action items.

Here’s a rule: If you don’t stop, you can’t start.

And here’s another: Pros stop, and rookies start.

With continuous improvement, you should stop what didn’t work. But with innovation, you should stop what was successful. Let others fan the flames of success while you invent the new thing that will start a bigger blaze.

Start. With SSC, starting is the easy part, but it shouldn’t be. Resources are finite, but we conveniently ignore this reality so we can start starting. The trouble with starting is that no one wants to let go of continuing. Do everything you did last year and start three new initiatives. Continue with your current role, but start doing the new job so you can get the promotion in three years.

Here’s a rule: Starting must come at the expense of continuing.

And here’s another: Pros do stop, start, continue, and rookies do start, start, start.

Continue. With SSC, continue is underrated. If you’re always starting, it’s because you have nothing good to continue. And if you’ve got a lot of continuing to do, it’s because you’ve got a lot of good things going on. And continuing is efficient because you’re not doing something for the first time. And everyone knows how to do the work and it goes smoothly.

But there’s a dark side to continue – it’s called the status quo. The status quo is a powerful, one-trick pony that only knows how to continue. It hates stopping and blocks all starting. Continuing is the mortal enemy of innovation.

Here’s a rule: Continuing must stop, or starting can’t start.

And here’s another: Pros continue and stop before they start, and rookies start.

SSC is like juggling three balls at once. Just as it’s not juggling unless it’s three balls at the same time, it’s not SSC unless it’s stop, start, continue all done at the same time. And just as juggling two balls at once isn’t juggling, it’s not SSC if it’s just two out of the three. And just as dropping two of the three balls on the floor isn’t juggling, it’s not SSC if it’s starting, starting, starting.

Image credit – kosmolaut

A Recipe to Grow Talent

Do it for them, then explain. When the work is new for them, they don’t know how to do it. You’ve got to show them how to do it and explain everything. Tell them about your top-level approach; tell them why you focus on the new elements; show them how to make the chart that demonstrates the new one is better than the old one. Let them ask questions at every step. And tell them their questions are good ones.  Praise them for their curiosity. And tell them the answers to the questions they should have asked you. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Do it with them, and let them hose it up. Let them do the work they know how to do, you do all the new work except for one new element, and let them do that one bit of new work. They won’t know how to do it, and they’ll get it wrong. And you’ve got to let them.  Pretend you’re not paying attention so they think they’re doing it on their own, but pay deep attention.  Know what they’re going to do before they do it, and protect them from catastrophic failure.  Let them fail safely.  And when then hose it up, explain how you’d do it differently and why you’d do it that way.  Then, let them do it with your help. Praise them for taking on the new work. Praise them for trying. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Let them do it, and help them when they need it. Let them lead the project, but stay close to the work.  Pretend to be busy doing another project, but stay one step ahead of them. Know what they plan to do before they do it.  If they’re on the right track, leave them alone.  If they’re going to make a small mistake, let them. And be there to pick up the pieces.  If they’re going to make a big mistake, casually check in with them and ask about the project. And, with a light touch, explain why this situation is different than it seems.  Help them take a different approach and avoid the big mistake. Praise them for their good work. Praise them for their professionalism. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Let them do it, and help only when they ask. Take off the training wheels and let them run the project on their own. Work on something else, and don’t keep track of their work. And when they ask for help, drop what you are doing and run to help them. Don’t walk. Run. Help them like they’re your family. Praise them for doing the work on their own. Praise them for asking for help. And tell them they’re ready for the next level.

Do the new work for them, then repeat. Repeat the whole recipe for the next level of new work you’ll help them master.

Image credit — John Flannery

Strategy, Tactics, and Action

When it comes to strategy and tactics, there are a lot of definitions, a lot of disagreement, and a whole lot of confusion. When is it strategy? When is it tactics? Which is more important? How do they inform each other?

Instead of definitions and disagreement, I want to start with agreement.  Everyone agrees that both strategy AND tactics are required. If you have one without the other, it’s just not the same. It’s like with shoes and socks: Without shoes, your feet get wet; without socks, you get blisters; and when you have both, things go a lot better.  Strategy and tactics work best when they’re done together.

The objective of strategy and tactics is to help everyone take the right action.  Done well, everyone from the board room to the trenches knows how to take action. In that way, here are some questions to ask to help decide if your strategy and tactics are actionable.

What will we do? This gets to the heart of it.  You’ve got to be able to make a list of things that will get done. Real things. Real actions. Don’t be fooled by babble like “We will provide customer value” and “Will grow the company by X%.” Providing customer value may be a good idea, but it’s not actionable. And growing the company by an arbitrary percentage is aspirational, but not actionable.

Why will we do it? This one helps people know what’s powering the work and helps them judge whether their actions are in line with that forcing function. Here’s a powerful answer: Competitors now have products and services that are better than ours, and we can’t have that. This answer conveys the importance of the work and helps everyone put the right amount of energy into their actions. [Note: this question can be asked before the first one.]

Who will do it? Here’s a rule: if no one is freed up to do the new work, the new work won’t get done. Make a list of the teams that will stop their existing projects before they can take action on the new work. Make a list of the new positions that are in the budget to support the strategy and tactics. Make a list of the new companies you’ll partner with. Make a list of all the incremental funding that has been put in the budget to help all the new people complete all these new actions.  If your lists are short or you can make any, you don’t have what it takes to get the work done.  You don’t have a strategy and you don’t have tactics.  You have an unfunded mandate.  Run away.

When will it be done? All actions must have completion dates.  The dates will be set without consideration of the work content, so they’ll be wrong.  Even still, you should have them. And once you have the dates, double all the task durations and push out the dates in your mind.  No need to change the schedule now (you can’t change it anyway) because it will get updated when the work doesn’t get done on time. Now, using your lists of incremental headcount and budget, assign the incremental resources to all the actions with completion dates. Look for actions and budgets as those are objective evidence of the unfunded mandate character of your strategy and tactics. And for actions without completion dates, disregard them because they can never be late.

How will we know it’s done? All actions must call out a definition of success (DOS) that defines when the action has been accomplished. Without a measurable DOS, no one is sure when they’re done so they’ll keep working until you stop them.  And you don’t want that.  You want them to know when they’re done so they can quickly move on to the next action without oversight. If there’s no time to create a DOS, the action isn’t all that important and neither is the completion date.

When the wheels fall off, and they will, how will we update the strategy and tactics? Strategy and tactics are forward-looking and looking forward is rife with uncertainty.  You’ll be wrong.  What actions will you take to see if everything is going as planned? What actions will you take when progress doesn’t meet the plan? What actions will you take when you learn your tactics aren’t working and your strategy needs a band-aid? What will you do? Who will do it? When will it be done? And how will you know it’s done?

Image credit: Eric Minbiole

What it Takes to Do New Work

 

What it takes to do new work.

 

Confidence to get it wrong and confidence to do it early and often.

Purposeful misuse of worst practices in a way that makes them the right practices.

Tolerance for not knowing what to do next and tolerance for those uncomfortable with that.

Certainty that they’ll ask for a hard completion date and certainty you won’t hit it.

Knowledge that the context is different and knowledge that everyone still wants to behave like it’s not.

Disdain for best practices.

Discomfort with success because it creates discomfort when it’s time for new work.

Certainty you’ll miss the mark and certainty you’ll laugh about it next week.

Trust in others’ bias to do what worked last time and trust that it’s a recipe for disaster.

Belief that successful business models have half-lives and belief that no one else does.

Trust that others will think nothing will come of the work and trust that they’re likely right.

Image credit — japanexpertna.se

The Toughest Word to Say

As the world becomes more connected, it becomes smaller.  And as it becomes smaller, competition becomes more severe. And as competition increases, work becomes more stressful.  We live in a world where workloads increase, timelines get pulled in, metrics multiply and “accountability” is always the word of the day. And in these trying times, the most important word to say is also the toughest.

When your plate is full and someone tries to pile on more work, what’s the toughest word to say?

When the project is late and you’re told to pull in the schedule and you don’t get any more resources, what’s the toughest word to say?

When the technology you’re trying to develop is new-to-world and you’re told you must have it ready in three months, what’s the toughest word to say?

When another team can’t fill an open position and they ask you to fill in temporarily while you do your regular job, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re asked to do something that will increase sales numbers this quarter at the expense of someone else’s sales next quarter, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re told to use a best practice that isn’t best for the situation at hand, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re told to do something and how to do it, what’s the toughest word to say?

When your boss asks you something that you know is clearly their responsibility, what’s the toughest word to say?

Sometimes the toughest word is the right word.

Image credit –Noirathse’s Eye

28 Things I Learned the Hard Way

  • If you want to have an IoT (Internet of Things) program, you’ve got to connect your products.
  • If you want to build trust, give without getting.
  • If you need someone with experience in manufacturing automation, hire a pro.
  • If the engineering team wants to spend a year playing with a new technology, before the bell rings for recess ask them what solution they’ll provide and then go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have the resources, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, let someone else do it.
  • If you want to make a friend, help them.

 

  • If your products are not connected, you may think you have an IoT program, but you have something else.
  • If you don’t have trust, you have just what you earned.
  • If you hire a pro in manufacturing automation, listen to them.
  • If Marketing has an optimistic sales forecast for the yet-to-be-launched product, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have a project manager, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, teach someone else how to do it.
  • If a friend needs help, help them.

 

  • If you want to connect your products at a rate faster than you sell them, connect the products you’ve already sold.
  • If you haven’t started building trust, you started too late.
  • If you want to pull in the delivery date for your new manufacturing automation, instead, tell your customers you’ve pushed out the launch date.
  • If the VP knows it’s a great idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you can’t commercialize, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, do something else.
  • If a friend asks you twice for help, drop what you’re doing and help them immediately.

 

  • If you can’t figure out how to make money with IoT, it’s because you’re focusing on how to make money at the expense of delivering value to customers.
  • If you don’t have trust, you don’t have much
  • If you don’t like extreme lead times and exorbitant capital costs, manufacturing automation is not for you.
  • If the management team doesn’t like the idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you’re not willing to finish a project, you shouldn’t be willing to start.
  • If you know how it will turn out, it’s not innovation.
  • If you see a friend that needs help, help them ask you for help.

Image credit — openDemocracy

When The Wheels Fall Off

When your most important product development project is a year behind schedule (and the schedule has been revved three times), who would you call to get the project back on track?

When the project’s unrealistic cost constraints wall of the design space where the solution resides, who would you call to open up the higher-cost design space?

When the project team has tried and failed to figure out the root cause of the problem, who would you call to get to the bottom of it?

And when you bring in the regular experts and they, too, try and fail to fix the problem, who would you call to get to the bottom of getting to the bottom of it?

When marketing won’t relax the specification and engineering doesn’t know how to meet it, who would you call to end the sword fight?

When engineering requires geometry that can only be made by a process that manufacturing doesn’t like and neither side will give ground, who would you call to converge on a solution?

When all your best practices haven’t worked, who would you call to invent a novel practice to right the ship?

When the wheels fall off, you need to know who to call.

If you have someone to call, don’t wait until the wheels fall off to call them. And if you have no one to call, call me.

Image credit — Jason Lawrence

Two Questions to Grow Your Business

Two important questions to help you grow your business:

  1. Is the problem worth solving?
  2. When do you want to learn it’s not worth solving?

No one in your company can tell you if the problem is worth solving, not even the CEO. Only the customer can tell you if the problem is worth solving. If potential customers don’t think they have the problem you want to solve, they won’t pay you if you solve it. And if potential customers do have the problem but it’s not that important, they won’t pay you enough to make your solution profitable.

A problem is worth solving only when customers are willing to pay more than the cost of your solution.

Solving a problem requires a good team and the time and money to run the project. Project teams can be large and projects can run for months or years. And projects require budgets to buy the necessary supplies, tools, and infrastructure. In short, solving problems is expensive business.

It’s pretty clear that it’s far more profitable to learn a problem is not worth solving BEFORE incurring the expense to solve it.  But, that’s not what we do.  In a ready-fire-aim way, we solve the problem of our choosing and try to sell the solution.

If there’s one thing to learn, it’s how to verify the customer is willing to pay for your solution before incurring the cost to create it.

Image credit — Milos Milosevic

Use less, make more.

If you use fewer natural resources, your product costs less.

If you use recycled materials, your product costs less.

If you use less electricity, your product costs less.

If you use less water to make your product, your product costs less.

If you use less fuel to ship your product, your product costs less.

If you make your product lighter, your product costs less.

If you use less packaging, your product costs less.

If you don’t want to be environmentally responsible because you think it’s right, at least do it to be more profitable.

Image credit — Sandrine Néel

The Five Hardships of Success

Everything has a half-life, but we don’t behave that way.  Especially when it comes to success.  The thinking goes – if it was successful last time, it will be successful next time.  So, do it again. And again.  It’s an efficient strategy – the heavy resources to bring it to life have already been spent. And it’s predictable – the same customers, the same value proposition, the same supply base, the same distribution channel, and the same technology. And it’s dangerous.

Success is successful right up until it isn’t. It will go away. But it will take time.  A successful product line won’t fall off the face of the earth overnight. It will deliver profits year-over-year and your company will come to expect them.  And your company will get hooked on the lifestyle enabled by those profits. And because of the addiction, when they start to drop off the company will do whatever it takes to convince itself all is well.  No need to change.  If anything, it’s time to double-down on the successful formula.

Here’s a rule: When your successful recipe no longer brings success, it’s not time to double-down.

Success’s decline will be slow, so you have time.  But creating a new recipe takes a long time, so it’s time to declare that the decline has already started. And it’s time to learn how to start work on the new recipe.

Hardship 1 – Allocate resources differently. The whole company wants to spend resources on the same old recipes, even when told not to.  It’s time to create a funding stream that’s independent of the normal yearly planning cycle.  Simply put, the people at the top have to reallocate a part of the operating budget to projects that will create the next successful platform.

Hardship 2 – Work differently. The company is used to polishing the old products and they don’t know how to create new ones. You need to hire someone who can partner with outside companies (likely startups), build internal teams with a healthy disrespect for previous success, create mechanisms to support those teams and teach them how to work in domains of high uncertainty.

Hardship 3 – See value differently. How do you provide value today? How will you provide value when you can’t do it that way? What is your business model? Are you sure that’s your business model? Which elements of your business model are immature? Are you sure? What is the next logical evolution of how you go about your business? Hire someone to help you answer those questions and create projects to bring the solutions to life.

Hardship 4 – Measure differently. When there’s no customer, no technology and no product, there’s no revenue.  You’ve got to learn how to measure the value of the work (and the progress) with something other than revenue.  Good luck with that.

Hardship 5 – Compensate differently. People that create something from nothing want different compensation than people that do continuous improvement. And you want to move quickly, violate the status quo, push through constraints and create whole new markets. Figure out the compensation schemes that give them what they want and helps them deliver what you want.

This work is hard, but it’s not impossible. But your company doesn’t have all the pieces to make it happen.  Don’t be afraid to look outside your company for help and partnership.

Image credit — Insider Monkey

Where is petroleum consumed?

In last week’s post, I provided a chart that describes the sources of electricity for the United States.  Coal is the largest source of electricity (38%) and natural gas is the next largest (25%).  The largest non-carbon source is nuclear (22%) and the largest renewable sources are wind (6%) and solar (5%). The data from the chart came from Otherlab who was contracted by the Advanced Research Project Agency of the Department of Energy (ARPA-e) to review all available energy data sources and create an ultra-high resolution picture of the U.S. energy economy.

Using the same data set, I created a chart to break out the top ten categories for petroleum consumption for the United States.

 

The category Light-Duty Vehicles (cars, light trucks) is the largest consumer at 20% and is more than the sum of the next two categories – Single-Family Homes (10%) and Chemicals (9%).

When Light-Duty Vehicles at 20% are combined with Freight Trucks (think eighteen-wheelers) at 7%, they make up 27% of the country’s total consumption, making the Transportation sector the thirstiest. The most effective way to reduce petroleum consumption is to replace vehicles powered by internal combustion engines with electric vehicles (EVs). But there’s a catch.

As internal combustion engines diminish and EVs come online, petroleum consumption will drop and will help the planet. But, as EVs come online the demand for electricity will increase, making it even more important to replace coal and natural gas with zero-carbon sources of electricity: nuclear, hydro, wind and solar.

To save the planet, here’s what you can do.  Vote for political candidates who will end federal subsidies for coal and natural gas.  That single change will accelerate the adoption of wind and solar, as it will increase the existing cost advantage of wind and solar.  And if that freed-up money can be reallocated to federally-funded R&D to improve the controllability of electrical grids, the change will come even sooner.

And at the state and local level, you can vote for candidates that want to make it easier for wind and solar projects to be funded.

And, lastly, you can buy an EV. You will see a much larger selection of new electric vehicles over the next year and the driving range continues to improve. Over the next year, most new EV models will be high performance and high cost, lower-cost EVs should follow soon after.

Image credit – NASA Goodard Flight Center

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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