Business Owners are Busy People!
So we have developed a routine for getting more done faster using the “Work Smarter, not Harder” mantra.
This is our rapid introduction to what to do and how to do it to get you working smarter straight away.
Sections link off to more advanced discussions as you get better at using the routine.
This material is based on best practice from people and companies that are expert at getting things done.
We have re-packaged this material for smaller businesses.
Table of Contents
Consider Dumping Unworkable 3 Year Business Plans!
Many small business owners are hard pressed to know where they will be in 3 to 6 months; let alone in three years time!
But professional advisors and conventional wisdom often push the owner to “develop a 3 year Plan”.
This may work for well settled and somewhat constrained businesses that can’t, or don’t, change very much. By way of example, a hairdresser or a restaurant. But then, they probably don’t need a detailed plan anyway because they work on the “more of the same” principal.
Why bother to build a 3 year plan when the one thing you can be sure of is that you will not hit your (totally guesswork) planned target.
We have developed an alternative planning process based on our years of experience at the coalface and feedback from owners using it.
This article introduces the concept and links to many of our supporting resources. This will provide more information on the details.
Clarify What Success Means to You
As the business owner, your business exists to deliver to YOU what you desire from running your business.
But, it won’t be able to do that very well while your idea of ‘success’ is not crystal clear in your mind.
Until it is, you run the risk of ‘chasing the next bright shiny object’ in an often futile attempt to be ‘successful’. Without having a clear image of what that means in your mind. Consequently, you won’t know if you reach “success”; and even then, you only get there by accident.
This is the first, and necessary, part of any “work smarter, not harder” strategy.
Picture Success in 3 Year's Time
Your idea of “success” will change over time. Business owners typically go through a cycle of:
- Solopreneur / Start-up where success is survival.
- Micro Business (1-4 staff) where success is affording new staff.
- Small Business (5-19 staff) where success is hiring the first middle managers and learning more about hands-off management.
- Lifestyle/ Investor where success is stepping back from a well functioning business and enjoying life more.
- Exit where success is selling your business successfully.
As you can see, each stage has quite a different focus. For you to successfully steer your business now, you need a good idea of where you want to be in (say) 3 years time. That way all your decisions have to pass the test “is this the best way to get me closer to my destination”.
Your Three Year Destination
We use the term Destination to refer to what would constitute “success” in your mind at the end of 3 years.
This can change (say) annually when you reappraise your business direction.
Your Destination is your ‘north star’, which always brings you back to the direction you should be taking to realise the outcome of your planning. It helps to avoid the pitfalls of multitasking which, all too often, business owners fall into.
Pause and Reflect
In our experience, these steps will gel better in your mind if you stop at this point.
Quickly jot down what your first impressions are of what “success” will look like for you in three years time.
Consider the desirable levels of:
- Rewards: salary + benefits +profit and any “toys” like cars that you want.
- Acceptable workload.
- Acceptable stress.
This might be a bit harder than you first imagined, eh! Can you see that without a definition of success:
- You have no real idea of what you are aiming for.
- What will get you there.
- Or even knowing if you have been successful!
Now take the time to write down your 3 Year Destination outcome in a place you can refer to it often to keep you focused. If your circumstances change, your Destination can change as well. It might be a good idea to review the 3 Year Destination each financial quarter. This is because you will have the experience from each improvement cycle (discussed below) to see if it remains your preferred destination.
More information on the characteristics of Sustainable Business Success is available on this link.
Building a Wall Brick by Brick
Now that you have your 3 Year Destination in mind (your brick wall), it is clear that we have a number of stages between now and its completion:
- A foundation.
- Laying brick by brick and eventually
- A capping.
It is the same with building your business.
It is very difficult for anyone to remain focused on something 3 years out. The time-frame is just too long. So you need other, shorter term, mini plans that you can focus on. This also gives you a sense of achievement more frequently than once every 3 years!
We suggest you have a mini plan for each financial quarter. Our reasoning is:
- Given that you have a business to run, you need enough time to fit in meaningful, additional, improvement work in your short term mini plan.
- A financial quarter fits in with your accounting cycle so that you can measure results in financial terms.
- This time frame allows you to make 4 meaningful improvements to your business a year.
Introducing 12Faces GamePlans
We have named these mini-plans GamePlans.
A Game Plan is defined as:
“Definition of GAME PLAN (noun): plan for winning competition or achieving goal” Macmillan Dictionary
The 12Faces GamePlans are a custom-build planning strategy for small business owners that takes into account your realities when navigating the direction of your businesses.
All GamePlans are designed around our Mission of your Sustainable Business Success.
GamePlans build a repeatable routine using the same principals that made Toyota great.
- You decide what is important to improve in the next Financial Quarter.
- Then you orchestrate a series of short sprints to bring home that improvement.
- If you can’t reach the original Quarterly destination, you pivot off to something more achievable .
That way, you move forward as quickly as possible on what is most important at that point in time. But, remain flexible to shoot off in a different direction with minimal lost time and money if circumstances change; as they all too often do in the small business world.
Be Successful with a Ratchet Cycle
We like the concept represented in this graphic. A Ratchet is a cycle of events that are always moving forward and are prevented from moving backwards.
Our Mission for your Sustainable Business Success aims to help you achieve just that. Moving ever forward to your next “Success” Destination by working smarter; not harder. At the same time, taking care not to overdo progress and run the risk of falling backwards.
Reliable progress is best achieved by developing a routine that works for you. Then following that routine through each cycle to minimise the chances of a mis-step.
This approach of having a cycle of reliable routines, is not new or unique to 12Faces. It is a well established process in very successful companies. Early implementers include Toyota and it contributed to their outstanding success against western car manufacturers.
One very useful and standardised approach to what to do during each GamePlan ratchet cycle is to implement a Plan Do Check Adapt (PDCA) Cycle. This will ensure each part of the GamePlan execution is well thought out in advance and that the results can be measured and evaluated.
Basically, the PDCA Cycle comprises:
- Plan: what to do and who to do what. Means any implementation problems are considered in advance.
- Do: is the actual execution of the tasks in the project
- Check: means measuring the actual outcome against the expected outcome set in the Plan stage.
- Adapt: refers to considering the task outcomes and deciding what to do next. Normal work practices need to be “Adapted” for any successful task outcomes. Particularly if they need to be retained so that the improvements are cemented into normal operating procedures.
The PDCA Cycle is all about “Work Smarter, not Harder”
You can read more about How the PDCA Cycle Builds Important Routines on this link
PLAN Your Next Quarterly GamePlan
Once you are familiar with using GamePlans, you can design your own system. For now, we suggest the following:
- Design the GamePlan as something to be done over one financial quarter. This gives a reasonable period to achieve what you want. It also allows you to compare this, and the previous quarter’s, results to see if you have to make any course corrections to reach your 3 year GamePlan.
- Decide on what you want to achieve in the quarter, and how you will know if you have been successful.
For example, a GamePlan to “reduce overhead costs by 10%” is much better than simply “reduce costs”. This is because it gives you a focus and a test of success.
- Early on, just aim for one GamePlan per quarter. Having several risks tipping you into the misery of multitasking. In a larger business, you might progress to divisional / departmental GamePlans within the department’s specialisation.
- Write the GamePlan down and, where relevant, share it with your whole team. This is so that they are aware of the main innovation thrust for the quarter. Even workers in routine work slots like to feel things are progressing.
Assemble the Candidate List
Most business owners have no shortage of things they want to do!
Rather than pick the first thing that turns up in your mind, we encourage you to take a few minutes to jot down a list of things you would like to resolve in a forthcoming Quarterly GamePlan; even if it is not the next one.
Once you get into the swing of the ratchet PDCA cycle you will probably keep a list of candidate GamePlans that you add to when something occurs to you as a candidate. For reasons we discuss shortly, this list might be a spreadsheet.
Candidates should be designed with the following in mind:
- What you think that you can achieve as an outcome within a quarter, using what time and other resources you have available to execute.
- Setting a more ambitious GamePlan, than you can finalise within a quarter, just leaves a host of unfinished business.
- It is better to have a GamePlan that you finish early in the quarter than one that does not get completed.
By way of example only, candidate GamePlans might be:
- Work out how to move from Solopreneur to hiring your first staff.
- Consider how to reposition a failing business for success.
- Optimise a business by removing inefficiencies accumulated over several years of operations.
- Set up a scalable, reliable, sales funnel etc.
Picking The Most Important Area for Next GamePlan
Looking at the above list, it is clear that some might be a higher priority than others. It might be wise to reposition a failing business before you think of hiring more staff, for example. Also, not every feasible GamePlan will produce the same improvement in the business. Therefore, our system has a prioritising process (see link below) to help you chose the GamePlan with the “best” outcome.
- In this introductory stage, we encourage you to just pick one that addresses what ever your greatest “pain” is presently. Once you spend a few minutes thinking about it, your gut will tell you what is your biggest problem.
- Don’t be overly ambitious and complex in your choice as you don’t want to fail on the first pass. This is particularly true if you have staff involved as this might put them off future quarterly GamePlans.
- On the other hand don’t set the hurdle too low. Succeeding at a low hurdle won’t give you the buzz you will get from a harder one. Also, you might finish the GamePlan before the time allowed, which wastes time and can lead to a loss of direction.
When uncertain, it is better to set a GamePlan goal you can reach with, say, 70% confidence and the rest is a “stretch” goal.
Choosing the most important area to work on first is “work smarter, not harder” at its best.
We discuss more on How to Prioritise Work on this link
The next step outlines how to execute your GamePlan in a series of sprints, ratcheting you towards your GamePlan Destination.
The priorities in many businesses are often similar.
To save you using a lot of time doing research on how to execute your chosen GamePlan, we have assembled the framework for a solution to a number of common GamePlans.
By starting with our Prefab GamePlans, you can reduce the amount of research and planning you have to do. You can still modify the GamePlan as you wish to meet your own circumstances. These are just a timesaving starting point.
They also serve to alert you to things that “you don’t know, you don’t know” so they can save you from missing out on important issues.
Pause and Reflect
Before moving on, and for practice purposes, take a few minutes to ponder on what your candidate GamePlans might be, and how you would prioritise them, to choose your first quarterly GamePlan.
This will help crystallise the concept of the quarterly GamePlan, and its design, in your mind.
It might also demonstrate that picking the “right” GamePlan to do needs you to juggle a lot of balls at once; and hence our prioritising process.
DOING: getting the work done in your GamePlan
The second step in the PDCA cycle is the DO stage.
This is where you carry out whatever tasks are necessary to make your quarterly GamePlan dreams come true.
In our system, there are three issues to conquer:
- How to manage the workload.
- What are the steps that need to be covered to get a complete and working solution to the GamePlan.
- How do we do, or achieve, those steps that have to be completed for the GamePlan to be completed.
Sprinting Through the PDCA DOING Cycle
At this point, you have a 90 day GamePlan and associated PDCA Cycle. Although much shorter than the 3 year Destination, the 12 weeks in a financial quarter is still a long time to work out what to do in advance. It’s also hard to know the outcomes of your efforts as they progress so setting down tasks 90 days into the future almost certainly means they will not be entirely necessary by the time you get to them.
Set 1-2 week sprints:
Rather than such a rigorously designed 90 day program of work, it is far easier to just choose “what’s next” that you can do in a short period – say 1-2 weeks. This 1-2 weeks is often referred to as a “sprint”. This technique has spun out of the IT sector where speed and flexibility are critical; just like they are for your business’s development.
Use sprints and look forward in detail for 1-2 weeks:
At the end of each sprint, you can decide what is the most important task for the next sprint. That might be to continue down the same path, if everything is going OK, or to “pivot” in a new direction if some other priority has come up.
The length of the sprint is up to you:
It will be affected by how much time you can work on the sprint – given your routine workload – and so progress the sprint. Sprints in smaller business may tend to be shorter than in larger, more stable, slower changing, businesses.
Sprints should also use a PDCA Cycle as that is our adopted method of doing things systematically. The Sprint PDCA cycle does not need to be too complex as your sprints are fairly short. Not much time will be lost even if the sprint does not work out as hoped.
You can read more about sprints in these articles:
Pause and Reflect
Before moving on, take a few minutes to outline the PDCA Cycle for the Sprint you selected above.
You don’t need to do this in great detail. Early on, it is enough for you to put down some dot points on:
- What you Plan to do.
- How you will Do it.
- What measurable outcomes to Check that will tell you how the sprint went.
- Once finished the sprint, Adapt your standard work practices for what you learnt during the sprint’s PDCA Cycle.
By the way, we like to use a Mindmap for this as it allows you to quickly ‘sketch’ out the plan then move bits around as it evolves. We use (initially free) Mindomo for this as it works on every device and can be shared with others to work collaboratively; in real time if desired.
The next step outlines working out “what” to do.
Our "What to Do" Resources
In the sections above, we outlined how to identify the next quarterly GamePlan and we talked about breaking that into Sprints.
However, the GamePlan is a comparatively vague desirable outcome. We still need to know what to do, specifically, in each sprint. Sometimes you will know what needs to be done to achieve this focus. Other times, you may not be sure.
We provide several means of working out “What to Do” in your Sprints.
Issue Diagnosis & Treatment
The main contributor is our Diagnostics System.
Just like a doctor takes the challenge to improve your health and does a Diagnosis and provides Treatment options, so does our Diagnostics System.
Sometimes, you have “Symptoms” in your business’s health but don’t know what is causing them. For example, Profit is dropping but it is not clear to you why it is dropping. The Symptoms component of Diagnostics will suggest possible reasons and you can choose the ones most likely. It will then take you to the second aspect of the Diagnostic System where you can find a set of possible Treatments for what ails your business.
Once you believe you know what must be remedied, you can run the problem through the Diagnostics System, which may suggest other treatments that could be used instead; or as well as.
For example, Income can be increased by at least 5 single and combined approaches:
- More sales – obvious but the following will also achieve increased Income but are less obvious.
- Higher prices – in fact, the likely biggest and fastest way to increase Income.
- Adding different products to your mix.
- Acquiring other businesses.
- Adding marketing channels, like e-commerce – and so on.
Our Diagnostic System shows possible reasons for your Symptoms and provides a reality check on possible solutions in case you have overlooked some alternatives.
- Learn more about the Diagnostic System on this link
- Start using our Diagnostics System on this link
Articles on Specific Topics
We are continually adding articles on specific topics of interest to our clients. These are added to the library of materials in 12Faces.
They are categorised, therefore, you can click the categorisation tag for a particular article of interest to find similar articles. See Category List and contents
You can also use the Search function to find articles by specific words.
Pause and Reflect
Before moving on, take a few minutes to to test drive the drill down Diagnostics System. Use some of the real-world problems you arrived at in the homework on Ratchets and sprints above.
This will help you flesh out the general nature of your sprint and indicate specific areas to address your issues.
CHECK on Progress and Outcome
The intent of the CHECK phase of the PDCA Cycle is to see what worked and what didn’t and what progress was achieved towards the particular goal of this cycle.
The tools you use here are likely to be rather specific to your business and industry. That tends to govern what data is best for you to collect and monitor.
As you get more advanced, you can decide to use one of the host of Dashboard tools commercially available to bring all your data together in one place. See the Zoho Analytics tool for an example of this functionality.
We have several tools, like TrendBoard and its siblings, that accept your historical financial and sales information. They warn of unfavourable trends that might not yet be obvious in the workplace.
By monitoring these trends on a regular (monthly, quarterly and annual) basis you can see at a glance when unfavourable trends are appearing. You can then have a sprint or GamePlan to rectify the issue before your business deteriorates.
This historical information can be used for predictive, “what if”, type questions. Use ChangeBoard and its siblings. You can ask, for example:
- How much does Revenue need to increase to afford a new staff member.
- What impact does a Price change have on Profit etc.
Predictions like this make it easier to decide what to focus on in a sprint. And, also to get better estimates of the outcomes of the sprints focused on such changes.
We discuss the CHECK phase in more detail in this PDCA article.
ADAPT: Review and Consolidate Progress
With PDCA, each sprint and GamePlan concludes with an “ADAPT” task.
This means at least two things:
- See what was learnt in the sprint / GamePlan and what that indicates should be done in the next sprint / GamePlan. This way you are regularly “adapting” to the events unfolding.
- Consolidate progress. You may have discovered new methods of executing your business. The best of these might be used to “Adapt” your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that your staff can follow. This ratchets you forward based on your learnings. It also reduces the risk of backsliding by adding to SOPs that staff follow. Not updating SOPs, or thinking you will “do later” (which is code for never), means you will not benefit from the outcome of the sprint.
The same reflection process should happen in the last couple of weeks of the quarterly GamePlan. It may also inform your thinking about what the next quarter GamePlan should be.
We discuss the ADAPT phase in more detail in this PDCA article.
A Routine Makes it Work
If you think for a moment about the routines in your life that make it work:
- Cleaning your teeth every morning.
- Exercise every weekday.
- Taking out the rubbish on Wednesday.
These work because you have turned them into a routine or habit.
The same thing is important with your GamePlanning.
If you don’t make it a habit / routine, you will tend to forget or postpone (often indefinitely) the next step in the GamePlan Cycle.
Ideally, you set a specific time for the various decision-making steps in GamePlans including the following.
A good practice is to begin the set up of the next Gameplan in the last 2 weeks of the current GamePlan.
By then you know the outcome of the current GamePlan and know if you want more of the same. Or, if some other aspect of your business has moved into priority position.
Perhaps, start by updating the list of candidates for game planning and then apply the What’s Next methodology to choose the important one.
Sprints should be around 1-2 weeks to be most effective.
Each sprint has a cycle; what to do, doing it, what was the outcome, rinse and repeat.
You should turn this into a routine so that (for example) first thing every Monday you review what parts of the sprint should be done in the coming week. You will inevitably under, or overestimate, what you can do. So, list the Sprint tasks by priority order and then work through them during the week as far as you can progress.
Perhaps, allocate a little time at the end of the week, when your personal batteries are getting flat, to consider if your progress in this sprint is producing outcomes. Alternatively, consider if you should switch to another sprint or sprint task. That gives you the weekend for your background mental processes to ruminate about what to do; then you plan it the next Monday morning.
Remember Darwin; Adapt or Die!
GamePlans are not set in concrete.
Intentionally, they are a fluid process that responds to whatever is currently top of your priorities. If that changes, or if you come to the conclusion the GamePlan is not worth progressing, then feel free to change them.
But take a moment to consider why the GamePlan turned out to be the wrong one, in case your prioritising process has some flaws and led you to pick the wrong one.
Make reviewing the appropriateness of the GamePlan part of the routine review at the end of each sprint.
You certainly don’t want to mindlessly follow a plan that is not achieving what you want!
Make GamePlans a Team Sport
If you develop your GamePlans alone, you are likely missing out on getting valuable inputs from others.
You may be pleasantly surprised at how much your staff enjoy contributing ideas to your quarterly GamePlans and each of the Sprints within them. They are at the ‘coalface’ of your business and may see opportunities that you are just not aware of. It also gives you the opportunity to have a bit of a celebration at the end of cycles to jointly share the results.
If you network your staff for brainstorming sessions, you start to benefit from the “network effect”. Two people have 1 connection, five people have 10 interconnections and 12 have 68 interconnections. So, involving others quickly increases the number of opportunities to get good ideas.
Understandably, you might be less keen to share your 3 year Destination with staff because it could impact on their careers. But you can look for outside mentors and/or your professionals like accountants to brainstorm with them.
Our Mission Control tool helps to co-ordinate your entire team’s efforts on your GamePlans.
If you have KPI and/or OKR for the staff in your business, they can be tuned at the outset of a GamePlan to reflect its goals. At the end of the GamePlan, staff can be individually and collectively assessed. Staff are likely to respond better when they know there is a personal goal for them!
Our GamePlan System, outlined above, is based on best practice evolved by many leading management experts.
We have bundled it into a set of routines applicable, and useful, to small business. This is so that you can progress with your Sustainable Business Success plans as expeditiously as possible.
Ideally, you have done the “Pause and Reflect” exercises as you read this article.
Now, take a moment to consider:
- How much easier and realistic your preferred 3 year Destination is than a more specific and “exact” 3 year ‘business plan’.
- That quarterly GamePlans focus on what is the most important immediate issue.
- 1-2 week Sprints give a regular sense of achievement, and a quick exit, when a current line of endeavour is not working out as expected.
Adapting this work flow to suit you and your business is learning to “work smarter, not harder”.