Solution Sets 

Schedule & budget are also determining factors in a solution set and in providing problem solving and deliverables to clients. It’s not “provide solutions at any cost and for as much time as they take.” Also speed of response, speed of performance, and prompt project delivery almost always win, and are typically the top or near the top priority for clients.

It’s hard as technical professionals sometimes to consider budget and schedule as equal variables or boundary conditions with other more direct technical issues.

We’ve got to ask ourselves “how can I get this done in the allotted time frame and budget” and use that as part of the boundary conditions around the solution and deliverable.

When we do this on every project and task within the project, it mitigates loss, makes the potentially marginal job profitable, and makes the good one really great.

Every person, on every team, at every level should have this reality in mind. They should be accountable, and also empowered, to call timeout and to take action with the project leaders and principals.

And it means not being a slave to the defined technical and software processes when there’s an issue slowing us down. Remember, procedure and technical tools are supposed to serve us, not the opposite. These days that often gets reversed, spending more time on the process and software functionality than we spend on the problem or creative aspect of the solution.

Provide serviceable solutions while staying in business.

Hats

When we started our company in 1994 my partner and I were the employees, technicians, marketers, officers, and owners. We both wore all of the sales, marketing, administration, and operational “hats.” At one time I was a project engineer, engineer of record, marketing VP, building envelope engineering VP, and President. If we liken roles and job description to hats, I wore five different hats depending on the day or hour of the week.  I actually did this for quite some time. It’s necessary for most of us in business start-up, boot-strap, entrepreneurial mode. I can be exciting and fun for a short time, but the problem is that it’s unsustainable for the long-term. It works well only if we want to kill ourselves and go to an early grave, or as a minimum, become disenchanted with owning a business and not make it. The goal for all of us as business owners should be to wear only one hat, the one that fits the best according to our most unique ability, to shed the extra hats, and hire others to wear them.

Educated and trained as an engineer, in the early days, I was a classic micro-manager and control freak. This works well when everything is dependent on  me alone. However, I recognized quickly that we needed to write job descriptions, build and organizational chart, and structure the company so that others could wear the additional hats we had to take on and off daily. I remember writing job descriptions (defining hats) on planes, at my kid’s piano lessons, and during the work day between urgent project work. Slowly, each role and realm began to take shape.

As the business has grown to five offices, two divisions, and many times the initial number of employees, I’ve worked myself slowly out of wearing all but one or two hats, mostly. I wear one primary hat as the leader and President of the organization, and then put on specific operational, developmental or sales hats depending on a project need, a unique ability I can apply in a specific realm or issue, or to support my colleagues. I say emphatically that if you are a business owner and are growing a business, it a disservice to yourself and your colleagues to not work yourself out of multiple roles and to find other hat wearers as quickly as possible. Our role is to be the owner, leader, facilitator, supporter. People are counting on us. You and I have a primary unique ability or two that we do really well. So do others working for us. They wear many hats better than we do. Our businesses will benefit the most by applying our unique ability, while also letting others do what they do best around us. If we do anything less, we are eroding the future stability and sustainability of our organization. We’ve got to build strategically all the time while working on the urgent matters of the day and still moving forward. Otherwise things stay status quo and can remain that way for a long time. This is not of any value in building and growing a business.

Often times what we experience in a business and life is due to our own lack of awareness of these issues. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve grown and gotten inputs, the more the business has improved. While it may be a big challenge as a small business owner to have a 100% sustainable business without our presence 100% of the time other than for financing, leading, and providing strategic direction, that should be the goal. The people who work for us, our staff, our colleagues, all the clients, constituents and collaborators that are attached to and support the business, will all benefit.

Do yourself a favor and build in this manner. Give colleagues, and all those in your charge, the confidence that we are charting a course to allow for long-term growth with as little necessary input as possible from us as an owners. The less an owner has to be involved in day-to-day decisions, the more valuable the business. The more and owner can stay out while having their staff executing the sales and operations of the business, the more valuable the business to the staff, the world, and future acquirers. It may look good on the outside that we are involved all the time and working mega-hours, but in the end it’s counter-productive. Visualize yourself not in the business and reverse-engineer it. Figure out how to put others in the right positions and build something of value. Build the business. Build up the people. Share hats. Give away hats. See how good others look in them. The picture will look much better and the future will be much brighter.

Dissent

Allow dissenting voice in meetings, especially around strategic discussions and direction. If  dissent doesn’t define this idea clearly, call it “allowing opposing viewpoints.” Some will say “I’m playing the devil’s advocate for a moment.” Phrasing aside, I find it good to appoint someone to state the “cons”, to point out the roadblocks, to take the opposite view, to articulate the worst case scenario. I’m not always excited about the opposing view. In fact for many years I didn’t think it necessary to hear, nor did I advocate for it. It made me uncomfortable. It still does at times. This is good. It allows freedom for all to vent their perspective and be heard. Collaboration in decision making wins. I’ve made many mistakes alone or in isolated decisions. Again, collaboration wins. Dissent and opposing viewpoints are one key part of that process. All stakeholders must voice input. In the end, the leader makes the decision, but  it’s harder to make the wrong one when all the facts are on the table and we are fully informed.

Shared Reality

Track with me on this…

My business or domain, my reality

Your business or domain, your reality

Our mutual (together) business (work), our “shared” reality

Businesses working together (B2B) need to work in a SHARED REALITY space

If everything is done on one or the others terms, then there’s a one-sided reality. That can create tension, or worse, set up an opportunity for failure.

This has a strong impact on the working relationship

That’s why CONTRACTS MATTER.

We want to drive toward as mutual of a space as we possibly can, and it should be represented in the contract terms and conditions

As much as possible, we should seek agreements that set up for a win-win scenario.

I am to provide the client value in accordance with certain defined terms and deliverables or products. The client provides me with reasonable terms and conditions for value received

And if there’s a relationship, this should be easy. If there’s value expressed, it should be easy.

The shared reality space, the space in the overlapping circles, the closing of the gap, the intersection of the lines, that’s the space to seek. In that space lies the best opportunity for success. There’s potential for the stuff of greatness in that space.

 

Until You Shift Your Focus

There are those days or times in our companies when we realize something needs to change. A paradigm shift needs to take place; a re-prioritization of time and leadership focus; another person to take over a role that is not being accommodated in an appropriate manner. It’s a conviction, a nagging thought, a recurring issue, a pain-point, that is becoming more and more obvious. Yet often we are not aligned with the need or issue. This is particularly true in a growth oriented environment because we will typically will find ourselves in a situation that we’ve never been before. Either our schedule, our focus, our skill set, or sheer force of habit will find us delaying the inevitable, or not really knowing exactly what to do. Sometimes those around us see it more plainly than we do. Clients often see it in first (and worst) as they are the recipient of our services or products. In these times we need to resist passivity, resist the past, resist fear or doubt, and we need to make a change; shift our focus. How do we do it? What does this look like? It can take multiple or various forms. Let me provide a few thoughts and examples from my experience as a start-up founder, and professional services company manager and leader.

1. Promote someone you trust. Hand over responsibilities to them and then coach them, rather than doing the work yourself. Do it today.

2. Develop a new job description or modify an existing one to accommodate the need.

3. Develop a process. Do it with those affected by the situation. Do it on your feet. Don’t delay. Confront every problem as an operational exercise to improve or refine a process. Revise as you proceed. Shift as necessary

4. Change your focus; shift your focus; re-allocate your time and priorities. Manage schedule aggressively. Force yourself to decide what you are “NOT GOING TO DO”

5. Get inputs from peers, from a mentor, books, resources, whatever it takes. There is a wealth of information to pull from

6. Develop an advisory board or board of directors. Meet with them. Be accountable to them. This may the best thing you can possibly do to promote continuous improvement.

7. Find a mentor. Someone who’s been there and done that (or done similar)

8. Meet with your team and work together to identify and define the situation. Work out a solution together.

9. Get out of the office; work remotely; think. Write. Monitor activity from a new perspective. Gaps and issues will be come more obvious.

10. Trust your people. Get out-of-the-way. Facilitate and support them. Stop meddling. Go do the work only you can do and stop doing the work of others

Look in the mirror, plant your feet firmly in the ground, and resolve to yourself that you are going to make a change TODAY. One thing. Until we change our focus, adjust our schedule, re-prioritize our time, re-direct our energy, nothing will change. Move forward. Fail quickly, fail cheaply. Adjust immediately. Learn. Grow. Monitor, Listen. Start shifting the focus today and make a change; advance something forward.