Discoveries

Volume 12, 
#6, 
September, 2014

Tags: 

Is Your Company Directionally Challenged?
Alignment For Long-Term Success

by 

Wayne Mackey

Any good auto mechanic can enumerate the necessity of making sure your car’s wheels are properly aligned. Symptoms of improper alignment include the steering wheel pulling to one side or serious problems in emergencies such as hard braking.

Businesses, too, can be out of alignment—and with consequences almost as serious as unsafe driving. 

Has your company produced products that missed launch dates or come in over budget? Or products that launched with technology that missed the mark? If you can answer “never,” then we offer congratulations. Chances are that three key parts of your business—strategy, resources, and product/technology roadmaps—are aligned.

If not, read on to learn why the relationship between these is so important and why aligning them may not be as difficult as you think.

Time alignment: Why being in “execution mode” signals trouble

The phrase “right now we’re in execution mode” might conjure an image of staff members working hard on high priority projects. But if “high priority” always equals “today’s projects and problems,” your company is in trouble. This is exactly the kind of short-term thinking that brings once-dominant companies to their knees. The product pipeline dries up; by the time you get out of execution mode and invest in R&D, you won’t have products ready to go.

It seems reasonable to say that your priorities must include long-, mid-, and short-term. So why doesn’t this happen? Perhaps it’s human nature to focus more on the near term, or maybe it’s because nobody ever got fired for not working today on a project due years from now. But that’s not an excuse, that’s a failure of leadership—one that often reaches all the way up to an overly tactical board of directors that protects quarterly growth over long-term shareholder value.

Beyond the board and the leaders, a company’s cultural capacity for embracing risk plays a key role; more risk-averse company cultures may perceive sticking to current projects as less risky. Still, someone must recognize that if the company is not working on tomorrow’s projects, there won’t be a tomorrow.

Resource alignment: What gets funded gets done

Leadership also must understand that resources commit strategy. This is the epitome of the aphorism “put your money where your mouth is.” All the talk in the world about your masterful strategy for achieving market dominance won’t go anywhere unless you put resources—actual dollars and staff—into the actions that make it happen.

The first step is to understand what resources you have available, an analysis typically referred to as a skills inventory. Then you need to map your resources to your strategy. 

A gross example of a strategy/resource mismatch occurred with a company we helped a few years ago. The company wanted to streamline its supply chain and discovered that it was spending 70 percent of its resources buying piece parts. However, it was enabling only ten percent of its revenue from this investment. In the product development arena, you might see a mismatch with testing or design resources. For example, if your strategy calls for an iterative design process that relies on testing but you have lots of designers and few testers, you have a resource/strategy mismatch.

Resource to Strategy Match

How will you know? A symptom of this problem might be that everyone seems overworked. It may not be as a result of too much work, but rather people assigned to the wrong jobs.

This is where a detailed skills inventory can be tremendously useful. Maybe your senior engineers are not doing senior-level work. Or maybe your interns are being asked to manage projects. You may have the right skill set, but the wrong level of experience. To solve this, you can’t just throw more people at the problem. 

Roadmap alignment: Avoid the serial slowdown

Roadmapping is all the rage these days. And it makes perfect sense to create a map to tell you where you’re going with your product and technology. But—again, rather obviously—technology needs to be ready when the product is ready to use it. This leads to the—sometimes less obvious—idea that you need to keep your technology and product roadmaps separate. The two efforts need to take place in parallel and, of course, need to be aligned. 

A client we worked with recently was interested in improving its technology readiness. Its R&D department was getting word from marketing that the technology was not ready when the product required it, meaning that development staff were in perpetual panic mode. This resulted in many occasions when launch was delayed to wait for the technology.

Early in the planning stages, you need to understand and define the technologies that will enable the product. This is called technology readiness. It can’t be helped along by sophisticated roadmapping software or fancy diagrams. It comes down to a pretty straightforward process of deciding what technologies you’ll need and when you’ll need it, and aligning the technology roadmap with those needs. Risk management plays a key role here.

“So what do I do on Monday?”

To get started, ensure that your strategy is meaningful. Making lots of money and growing the business sounds great, but that’s not a competent strategy. What do you stand for in the marketplace looking forward? Flexibility, performance, quality, customer service, “cool” factor? None of these are wrong or right, but your strategic choice among them determines much of what you need to do.

Next, get a handle on your resources from both a capability and capacity perspective. If you don’t know exactly what your company’s skillsets are or don’t have an accurate picture of how they are deployed, then you need to find out now. Skills inventories, education, hiring and firing, and value mapping should all play a role.

Finally, make your technology and product roadmaps useful instead of just decorative. Start with the problems that need to be solved, then choose the projects and technologies you’ll need to meet those problems. Add in the element of time and manage aggressively to those goals.

As with a car, your business will travel more safely, smoothly, and efficiently when the key elements of strategy, resources, and product/technology roadmaps are aligned.

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