Monday, June 30, 2008

Process Precedes Technology (2)

@ Collaboration360, we rarely get a clutter of e-mail. We devised a specific Tangible Vision that prioritized our e-mails we get.

If you are interested in knowing about what is a Tangible Vision. Click on the "Tangible Vision" tag.


June 29, 2008
I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip

EARLIER this year, I became tired of my usual morning ritual of spending hours catching up on e-mail. So I did something drastic to take back control of my productivity.

I stopped using e-mail most of the time. I quickly realized that the more messages you answer, the more messages you generate in return. It becomes a vicious cycle. By trying hard to stop the cycle, I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week.

It’s not that I stopped communicating; I just communicated in different and more productive ways. Instead of responding individually to messages that arrived in my in-box, I started to use more social networking tools, like instant messaging, blogs and wikis, among many others. I also started to use the telephone much more than I did before, which has the added advantage of being a more personal form of interaction.

I never gave up my work e-mail address, because I still need it for some work-related activities — for example, for one-on-one discussions that are too private and confidential to discuss publicly.

I was in a good position to give up most of my other e-mail because I’m a “social computing evangelist” for I.B.M. and have used social software tools for years to collaborate on projects and to share knowledge. I live in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain and report to managers in the United States and the Netherlands. Between time differences and participation in various projects, it’s important that I spend my time efficiently.

I have had continuing support from my management in this effort, because I’ve been able to prove how much more I can accomplish by answering a question, and posting it on a blog, for example, than I can by answering the same question over and over. I still help people, but in a more open and collaborative fashion. Other people can join in the discussions — maybe they will have a better idea than mine.

I started this experiment by announcing my intention on a couple of blogs, like my personal one and blogs inside I.B.M.’s firewall. The postings in response were overwhelmingly positive — but I also encountered some skepticism. Many people wondered how I would manage to communicate and collaborate with my peers without using e-mail.

The first step was to decide which social software tools were available for me to use much more extensively. The second was to encourage people to stop using e-mail themselves and to start using some of these same social software tools as well, to share their knowledge and collaborate with one another.

Most social networking tools I use are pretty standard. Instant messaging is my preferred method of collaboration and knowledge sharing while at work because it allows real-time interaction. If an instant-message exchange lasts more than three minutes, I usually move the discussion to the telephone.

Other software used at I.B.M. helps me collaborate in various areas: blogs, social bookmarking and tagging, participation in online communities to which I belong, and an alert system for to-do items.

I.B.M. uses a Facebook-like site called Beehive and a personalized internal directory called Profiles. These help build trust levels with peers in order to get a job done much faster, and they easily locate experts in a particular subject. I share and update big files with a file sharing system that cuts down on the back-and-forth of sending big presentations and video files.

Say someone asks to view a presentation you have done recently, and you decide to share it via an open “file sharing” space. Then, before you know it, strangers thank you for sharing that presentation, which they will be reusing themselves within their own projects. That kind of immediate impact would be unlikely through e-mail.

I use a couple of R.S.S./Atom feed readers, which have become not just another in-box, but my primary method of receiving notifications of content relevant to my work. They give me control of what I receive and when, something I couldn’t say when I was relying much more heavily on e-mail.

I am lucky to have the chance to be exposed to such a wide range of social software and collaborative tools at work. But what if your business does not have blogs or wikis or whatever else? What can you do to help repurpose the way you process your e-mail?

You can do something as simple as calling people instead of e-mailing them. If you work on the same floor, you can even walk over to their desks and talk to them!

You may have some other tools that could host some of those conversations. Mainly, it is about a change of habits, about finding new ways to be much more productive with less effort, so that we can focus on more complex tasks.

Anyone can create a blog or a wiki, or a Twitter account. Almost everyone can use instant-messaging tools at work to get things going. So why not start exploring the possibilities and figure out which conversations you can move out of your e-mail system?

THINK about whether my experience could work for you. Think about how to use social networking tools to eliminate spam and to avoid repeatedly answering the same question from many different people. These tools can also save you from an accumulation of online newsletters that never get read, and from those incessant project status reports that clutter many in-boxes.

E-mail can become extinct, if not repurposed altogether, even at big

companies like I.B.M. An e-mail in-box no longer needs to be like Pandora’s box.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


Most people know how to perform and produce as an individual. Not many knows how to collaborate as a team.

If you are interested in knowing about how to collaborate anywhere as a team regardless of the distance, the technology and the project culture. Please contact us at service [at] collaboration360 [dot] com. We have a white paper ready for your reading.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Compass AE as an Collaborative Enabler

The great enabler

By Rod Newing

Published: June 29 2007 17:38 | Last updated: June 29 2007 17:38

No single technology can accommodate the complex processes and cultural ramifications of collaborative interactions. Successful collaboration results from using the right balance of face-to-face meetings and technology. Furthermore the technology, or combination of technologies, must be appropriate to each kind of interaction.

/// Conceptually, collaboration results from proper teamwork first.

But trying to work together remotely goes against our natural human instincts. "We are optimally evolved to talk at a range of about 5 feet in groups of no more than 90 people," says Ceri Roderick, a partner in Pearn Kandola, an occupational psychologist practice. "We respond to a rich stream of information and judge nuances, such as pronunciation or slight facial expressions." This enables us to assess people's motives, trustworthiness and reliability.

Take all that away and the bald words on the page can be over-interpreted or misunderstood. "As organisations become larger, more global and more dispersed," Mr Roderick warns, "we stretch the parameters and make life difficult for ourselves." The objective of technology is to replicate that rich stream of information when the communication is particularly important – for example, when building relationships and trust, solving problems or reviewing progress. This means operating in real-time and combining as many forms of communication as possible, such as images, voice and text. This process is called "unified communications" and it is made possible by the latest internet-based technologies. These combine to give much more information to provide more context to the exchange.

"Successful collaboration starts with the people," says Graham Oakes, a technology consultant. "They need to establish contact with each other and agree lines of communication, which is a lot easier to do face to face."

Mr Roderick recommends that people working in virtual teams should make time to meet occasionally. This allows them to understand more about the personal and cultural context of other individuals, which helps when they subsequently telephone or e-mail each other.

/// The team starts by building the Tangible Vision as a team. When they builds their Tangible Vision, they begin to learn something about their counterpart. ... For example, how does he/she think? How does he/she expresses their ideas? etc.

The need to get the balance right is shown by "Congested Lives", a research study of over 1,200 UK businesses employees carried out by YouGov for Polycom, a collaborative communications vendor. This showed that unnecessary face-to-face meetings cost businesses £17bn each year and 82 per cent of respondents who had travelled to meetings in the last year believed many of them were unnecessary.

If people want to build trust and relationships without the time and cost of travel, then video conferencing is the most effective tool. "The purpose of many video conferences is not necessarily to get things done but to build trust and contacts in the relationship," says Jeffrey Mann, vice-president of research at Gartner, the technology analyst. "Video and web conferencing are really relationship building, and not necessarily information passing or for agenda point processing, because people want to know who they are dealing with."

Growth in video conferencing has been forecast for many years, but so far it has failed to materialise. Professor Peter Cochrane, a futurologist and founder of ConceptLabs, puts its failure to date down to poor video and sound quality, no eye contact, no gaze awareness, no body language, small people images and no depth of field.

"Most of this can now be fixed," he says, "notably by Cisco Telepresence, which uses life-size high definition screens, audio straight out of the speaker's mouth from the right direction, eye contact and all in good quality. Hollywood discovered the value of emotions, for which good audio and video are the essential."

Asynchronous communication, where people interact over a period of time, is also a valuable tool. "If you are dealing with someone in another part of the world in another language, it gives them more time to think and react," says Mr Mann. "It is a real disadvantage if they have to think in real-time."

But there is a danger of sharing too much information. Microsoft's Enterprise IQ Survey 2007, in partnership with Henley Management College, found that an average workgroup of 25 people shares information 1,500 times a week and intensive information users share over 5,000 times a week. Even then, 22 per cent of documents are considered to be out of date.

"People are drowning in data and feel overwhelmed by information," says Jean-Anne Stewart, director of corporate programmes at Henley Management College. "There are issues of reliability and accuracy, which may be contributing to calling meetings to gather and share information."

/// When a Compass team leads with their Tangible Vision, they focus on the standards that are listed in their Tangible Vision. The Tangible Vision gives the Compass team a strategic overview of direction, connections and anticipation.

Although a wide range of corporate technologies exists to overcome some of the cultural issues surrounding collaborative working, a new range of consumer-based technologies is beginning to establish itself in the enterprise. Often referred to collectively as "Web 2.0", the technologies include social networks, wikis and blogs.

"The teenagers of today are using technology to communicate and collaborate like never before but the business world is struggling to figure out how to use them," says Neil Sutton, general manager for information technology services at BT.

When today's teenagers start their careers in the commercial world, it will have an impact on the way we communicate. They will prefer different ways of communicating, and this will affect collaboration within, and between businesses – but the business world is not ready for it."

Stewart Mader, wiki evangelist at Atlassian, a software systems company, points out that the generation now entering the workforce are experts in social media and are already collaborating with each other. One of the reasons for the success of Web 2.0 tools is that they blur the line between pure business productivity and the building of an emotional connection, a sense of ownership and involvement, which allows people to interact directly with other people to build their knowledge.

"They approach knowledge as the product of that organic, non-linear human connection and collaboration," he says. "Imagine unleashing that potential in the professional world."

People's individual web profiles are the foundation of social networks, allowing them to connect to each other and to information. These profiles add the necessary "context" to the collaboration.

IBM has been using the same approach for eight years with its 475,000 "Blue Pages" employee and partner profiles. These include an individual's experience, skills, projects they have worked on, their patents and publications, the content they have created, the activities they are involved in and the communities in which they participate.

"They are accessed 6m times a day to find more about the people you know and to find the people you don't know," says Jeff Schick, worldwide vice-president for social software at the company. "You really get a better understanding of who the individual is, what they do and what they know."

The CIX electronic conferencing system has been using the personal information of its users to make connections since before the internet became pervasive. "They are essential for building a mental picture of your remote colleagues," says Graham Davies, the company's managing director. "It helps us to predict how a person will interpret and react to our ideas and suggestions, in the same way their facial emotions and body language would in a face-to-face situation."

Clearly, technology can help to address a number of cultural problems associated with collaboration – but not if they are used exclusively. As Prof Cochrane concludes: "Collaboration still works best if it is supported by human contact that cements trust and familiarity on a regular basis."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


When the Compass team collaboratively builds and connects with their Tangible Vision, they become familiarized with the priorities and the approaches to completing their goal and the circumstances that can occur. ... They know their role and responsibilities in certain situations while learning something about each other. ... The members of the team collaboratively trust each other and know that everyone is accountable. The team is always decisive in their actions as a team and continually trusts their Tangible Vision.


"One who excels at warfare will await events in the situation without making any movements. When he sees he can be victorious he will arise; if he see he cannot be victorious he will desist. Thus it is said he doesn’t have any fear, he doesn’t vacillate. Of many harms that can beset any army, vacillations is the greatest. Of disasters that can befall an army, none surpasses doubt.”
– Six Secret Teachings, 26

By connecting with their Tangible Vision, a Compass team always know what are their priorities and the approaches regardless of the circumstances. There is no doubt in the mind of the Compass Implementors.

If you are interested in knowing more about how Compass AE works, please contact us at service [at] collaboration360 [dot] com. We have a white paper ready for your reading.

Copyright © 2008 Collaboration360 Consultants (and All rights reserved. Copying, posting and reproduction in any form (without prior consent) is an infringement of copyright


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Essence of the Tangible Vision

"Skate to where the puck is going, Not to where it has been." --- Wayne Gretzky

Whether it is a sporting event or managing a project, my focus is on the current moment while determining what will happen next. It is a skill that people can master. Whether they want to do it is a different story.

Regardless of the competitive arena, the professionals focus on their objectives while minding the big picture. They usually follow where the momentum of trends is heading to. Depending on the skill level and the resources of the strategist, he goes with it or intercepts it. Sometimes, he reverses it. This skill level is what distinguish the professionals from the masses of amateurs.

(fyi- The
Chinese strategic classics emphasizes this point with clarity.)


A well-written Tangible Vision focuses on where the goal is going to take the implementers to. It delineates the direction,
the values, the risk and rewards, etc. If the specifics of the goal are right, the foundation for delineating the operational side is established.

The more tangible the specifics of the goal are, the more predictable the operation will be coming. Do you know what those specifics are?

The Tangible Vision is more than an endpoint. It is a strategic overview. The team collaboratively uses it to decide on strategic matters and long term objectives.

Building the Tangible Vision
The client and I would usually establish the ideal outcome, the
direction and the connections from outcome to milestones. The next step is building the specifics for each milestone. The final step is building the operational steps that matches the operating specifics for each milestone.

The guidelines stated in the Tangible Vision become the strategic standard for the team to make decisions with. They know the positives and the negatives based on anticipated situations. The Tangible Vision also guides the team on when and how to adapt the changes, who is the consensus, etc.

After estimating the advantages in accord with what you have heard, put it into effect with strategic power supplemented by field tactics that respond to external factors. As for strategic power, it is controlling the tactical imbalance of power in accord with the gains to be realized. --- The Art of War, 1

Connecting with The Tangible Vision
The team connects with their Tangible Vision when they understand the connections between each milestones from start to finish.

Leading with The Tangible Vision
Once a team properly built and connected with their Tangible Vision, they lead with it. With their Tangible Vision, the team members focuses on their own objectives while minding the big picture.

They also do the following:
  1. Understand the critical path;
  2. Avoid the negatives, focus on positives;
  3. Anticipate opportunities;
  4. Adjust strategically;
  5. Shape the Tangible Vision; and
  6. Lead by strategic collaboration

If your strategic process does not enable your team to do the above, it is time for you to review your approach.

Those who know the big picture and the fundamentals that leads to the big picture, are ahead of the game.


By using our Compass AE process, you and your project team are able to out-do your competition in terms of faster execution, minimize costs, mitigate risks, etc. We will touch on these important points later.

If you are interested in knowing more about Compass AE, please contact us at contactus(aatt)collaboration360(ddott)com.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

C360 View on Virtual Teams and Collaboration

Tactics and technology are good for limited tactical situations. The question is ... how does a virtual team (Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) collaborate anywhere as a team regardless of the technology, the distance and the project culture?


Tactical Tips for Virtual Teams

Andrew Makar, PMP

May 27, 2008

Less than five years ago, the typical system implementation required the project team to be onsite at the client’s location. With the increased use of outsourcing, Software As A Service (SAAS) and the improvement in collaboration technologies like Cisco’s WebEx conferencing and Microsoft Sharepoint, system implementations can be supported with virtual teams. A virtual team is composed of geographically dispersed team members who primarily interact and collaborate with the collaboration software and telecommunications technology.

Performing tasks offsite provides companies with the flexibility to leverage remote resources without incurring travel expenses. However, according to the December 2007 Black Enterprise magazine, “virtual teams also provide challenges including miscommunication, breaches in security, and lack of worker productivity.” The challenges with virtual teams need to be balanced with their benefits.

/// When a Compass team builds a Tangible Vision, they decide on the specific wording of the goals and objectives. Mutual agreement of specific terms prevents miscommunication.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to manage three virtual software implementations including a compensation planning tool, an incident management system and a new suite of HR applications. The first two projects were comprised entirely of virtual teams, while the third implementation consisted of a hybrid approach of onsite and virtual resources.

During these implementations, the interactions with the project teams for the compensation and incident management systems were conducted through teleconferences and Web conferencing. The larger HR project consisted of onsite and remote teams. I only met the infrastructure manager responsible architecture once, but had consistent contact with him every day during the eight-month system implementation. These experiences yielded several tactical tips to remember when working with virtual teams:

Tactical Tip No. 1: Define the management processes and project guidelines upfront.
The project control and execution processes used to manage virtual teams are no different than with onsite teams. The execution of issue management, schedule management or change management may be supported with project portfolio management software or collaboration solutions. Effective projects, both virtual and onsite, ensure the project management expectations are communicated early and project teams understand how to follow the processes.
In the HR systems implementation, the PMO conducted project orientation sessions with each vendor so they understood the project expectations, status reporting procedures, meeting cadence and project norms.

/// With the Tangible Vision, the Compass team knows the specific priorities, the specific approaches and the circumstances for each milestone.

Tactical Tip No. 2: Establish and communicate the project’s meeting cadence.
Even though status reports, issue tracking and generating project metrics are viewed as mundane administrative procedures, they are critical to managing and controlling virtual projects. A meeting cadence needs to be communicated to each virtual team so they understand the process to review status on a weekly basis. Managing projects with virtual teams runs a risk that key team members may not attend status meetings or communicate as frequently. Just like an onsite project, if key team members are not attending or communicating, follow the appropriate escalation path to include the reluctant team members.

/// With the Tangible Vision, the Compass team knows when to meet and how to communicate.

The HR implementation had multiple vendors located throughout the
Europe, North America, South America and Asia. The project had multiple work streams and a common project calendar was implemented to communicate key meetings to effectively control the project and communicate status. Project teams leveraged a calendar built in Microsoft Sharepoint to keep informed of schedule and meeting changes.

Establishing these procedures upfront ensured the project team reported status by close of business on Friday and submitted a weekly status report to the PMO on Monday. Status calls were held virtually with team members representing the various countries and business units. Regardless of the presence of virtual or onsite teams, projects need to communicate the meeting cadence to ensure smooth execution.

Tactical Tip No. 3: Leverage Web-based conferencing to avoid dial-in dysfunction.
If project teams are collaborating virtually, leverage Web conferencing tools as much as possible to avoid confusion. Even if the presentation is distributed before the meeting, it helps to see the slides presented with a Webex, GoToMeeting or similar Web conferencing solution.
In the compensation implementation, every requirement session, configuration, system testing and project status leveraged a Web conference solution. The business customer liked this approach since they were able to see the solution evolve weekly, despite having the development and project management staff located in California and Florida. Without effective collaboration technologies, dial-in dysfunction can set in as virtual team members lose track of the meeting and they focus on something else until they are called back into the conference call.

Tactical Tip No. 4: Initiate in-person and manage virtually.
The global nature of projects today requires project teams to collaborate over phone, e-mail and the Internet. Before starting a project with virtual teams, project managers should encourage a project kickoff with representatives from each team attending in person. By initiating the project with representation in the room, the project team members will meet the key people who will be delivering the project over phone lines over the next few months or years. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, additional in-person meetings may be required.

Don’t underestimate the power of looking someone in the eye and establishing that bond of trust.

Large IT implementations often involve implementing a solution in multiple countries. Visiting each country and meeting with the team members affected by the new solution will help with communication barriers and put a face on the project team that is often heard through conference calls. Once the project is initiated with in-person contact, it becomes easier to manage virtually. However, when in doubt, fly on out.

/// When a new Compass team builds their Tangible Vision, they get the opportunity to learn about each other. Trust must be established with each other before they can connect to the Tangible Vision as a team

Andrew Makar is an IT program manager who is focused on effectively translating project management theory into actual practice. Additional articles and musings on project management technique can be found on his website at
Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved.


Definition of Collaboration
1. the act or process of collaborating.
2. a product resulting from collaboration: This dictionary is a collaboration of many minds.

As a noun, collaboration means that it is an "act of working jointly; "they worked either in collaboration or independently"

As a "intransitive verb", it means "... To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort. ..."

Our C360 view on Collaboration

Collaboration is about cooperative teamwork toward the completion of the goal. It is not about technology that enables the sharing of resources and data.

Everyone wants the silver bullet or the golden ring that enables a team to collaborate. But most people are not willing to work for it or pay for it.

Collaboration is a team interaction. How does one get a group of people to collaborate as a team? The answer is a strategic process first, not technology. Technology is not the answer. It is a tool with limitations.

The future is having a project team using a strategic process that enables them to collaborate anywhere as a team regardless of the distance, the technology and the project culture.


Collabortion Is Still a Singular, Personal Experience By David Strom


By using our Compass AE process, you and your project team are able to out-do your competition in terms of faster execution, minimize costs, mitigate risks, etc. We will touch on these important points later.

If you are interested in the specifics in using Compass AE, please contact us at contactus(aatt)collaboration360(ddott)com.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Tangibility of the Tangible Vision

When a young project team builds a project plan, the expectations are usually high. Without a well-defined strategic overview, there are usually setbacks that cause the following: higher implementation costs, amplified risks, slow delivery time, uninsured quality, and unused opportunities.

There is usually frustration and waste.

From each setback, the quantity and quality of project team's wisdom usually increases.

The actual outcome rarely corresponds with the expectations of the goal.

fyi- The "indexed card" prints are from

When a Compass team builds their Tangible Vision, they get a specific "top down" overview that enables them to find technical problems and answers about their goal and the connecting objectives. When the specifics of the goals and the objectives do not complement and connect to each other, problems arises (i.e., rising operating costs, risks, slow delivery of outcome, etc.)

They also discovered answers of innovation through the "
complementary" connections of the specific objectives to the grand goal.

We will discuss the "Return on Investments" aspect of the Compass AE process in a later entry.

The lesson that we have learned from building, connecting and leading with the Tangible Vision is: "The expectations of the initial plan never exceeds the expectations of the implementing team"

With the Tangible Vision, the project team always know the tangibility of their goal and objectives.

If you are interested in learning more about our Compass AE process, please contact us through contactus[tat]collaboration[dott]com. Replace [tat] with "@" and [dot] with ".". We will send you a white paper on our Compass AE methodology.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

C360 View on Why Good Strategies Fail (Part 2)

When your project team implements their plan, do they know how tangible is it?

If their plan is not tangible, the team will disbelieve it. In most
cases, they will not complete it to the best of their ability!? ... What do you think the chances of that project ever becoming a success? ... What is the probability of their project being completed on time, on budget and on target?

Before a team defines their project plan, they must know what are their goals and objectives. This planned outcome enables a team to know what their grand goal is. Many project plans fails because of the misunderstanding of the specifics behind the goaIs.

The Compass team establishes the Tangible Vision ("the big picture") by defining their goals and objectives in terms of their needs, their time line, their effort. their viability, their value, and the sustainability of the goal. The next step is the transformation of those project specifics in simple guidelines.

Once the Compass team has built and connected with their Tangible Vision, they will have strategic overview of their goals, their objectives and the approach to completing it.
(More data on building the Tangible Vision later.)

Does your team know how to do it?

If you are interested in learning more about our Compass AE process, please contact us through contactus[tatt]collaboration[dott]com. Replace [tatt] with "@" and [dott] with ".". We will send you a white paper on our Compass AE methodology.

Monday, June 2, 2008

C360 View on Why Good Strategies Fail (Part 1)

Strategy fails for many reasons. A lack of leadership. ... Bad strategy. ... Poor execution. ... Sometimes it is two out of those three reasons.

# # #

Three Reasons Why Good Strategies Fail: Execution, Execution...

Published: August 10, 2005 in Knowledge@Wharton

From Vivendi to Webvan, the shortcomings of a bad strategy are usually painfully obvious -- at least in retrospect. But good strategies fail too, and when that happens, it's often harder to pinpoint the reasons. Yet despite the obvious importance of good planning and execution, relatively few management thinkers have focused on what kinds of processes and leadership are best for turning a strategy into results.

/// Chinese strategic classics emphasized that individual team leadership is overrated. Mission definition (and presentation) is what counts. This view is found in chapter 1 and 2 of Jiang Tai Gong's Six Strategies essay.

As a result, says Wharton management professor Lawrence G. Hrebiniak, MBA-trained managers know a lot about how to decide a plan and very little about how to carry it out. " Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change (Wharton School Publishing). "Even though they are good managers, over time they really have to learn through the school of hard knocks, through experience, which means they make a lot of mistakes."

This lack of expertise in execution can have serious consequences. In a recent survey of senior executives at 197 companies conducted by management consulting firm Marakon Associates and the Economist Intelligence Unit, respondents said their firms achieved only 63% of the expected results of their strategic plans. Michael Mankins, a managing partner in Marakon's San Francisco office, says he believes much of that gap between expectation and performance is a failure to execute the company's strategy effectively.

But can better execution be taught? "I think you can at least make people aware of the key variables," says Hrebiniak. "You can develop a model.... If people know what the key variables are, they know what to look for and what questions to ask."

/// *** Our C360 research told us that most uncompleted goals were rarely tangible. Without detailed specifics, the chances of a project being completed "on time, on budget and on target" are rare.

The Pitfalls of Poor Synchronization

While execution can go wrong for a variety of reasons, one of the most basic may be allowing the focus of the strategy to shift over time. The attempt by Hewlett-Packard, after it acquired Compaq, to compete with Dell in PCs through scale is a classic example of goal-shifting -- competing on price one week, service the next, while trying to sell through often conflicting, high-cost channels. The result: CEO Carly Fiorina lost her job and HP still must resolve some key strategic issues.

/// *** The specific connections from the initial milestone to the final milestone is one of the many keys to a successful Tangible Vision. This "top view connection" characteristic of the Tangible Vision enables the team to adjust strategically while maintaining the focus toward the goal.

The first step is to define the challenge. Ultimately, argues Richard Steele, a partner in Marakon's New York office, the challenge of execution is mostly a matter of synchronization -- getting the right product to the right customer at the right time. Synchronization is hard for a variety of reasons, including the fact that "any large company these days sells multiple products to multiple customers in multiple geographies. In order to pursue the scale benefits of size -- those benefits of scale through consolidation -- you now have more and more complexity across the matrix." For example, Steele says, a regional manufacturing initiative in Europe may involve reconfiguring 15 different supply chains and understanding the markets of 15 different countries. "It's really tough to do."

///*** The building of the Tangible Vision starts with the understanding of the outcome.

Another classic example of mis-synchronization: United Air Lines' TED, which attempted to set up a competitive subsidiary to compete against upstarts such as Southwest. This was a good idea as far as it went, but United tried to compete using its same old cost structure -- the main reason it was losing markets to the low-cost airlines in the first place.

/// The Compass AE process emphasizes that each stage of the tangible vision must be connected from top down, start to finish.

At other times, plans fail simply because they don't get communicated to all the people involved. "I've done consulting where a major strategic thrust has been developed, and a month or two later I go down four or five levels and ask people how they're doing. They haven't even heard of the program," Hrebiniak says.

/// The Compass stakeholders who build and connect with their Tangible Vision, are accountable to communicate the detailed specifics of their milestone to the expediters.

Strategies also flop because individuals resist the change. For example, headquarters might want more standardization in a product, but a local marketing executive disagrees with the idea. "He might say, 'I need more nuts in my chocolate bar' or 'I need a different pack size,'" Steele says. "You can only get the cost benefit and you can only consolidate if everybody agrees that we are actually going to execute the strategy."

/// Compass AE emphasizes that each stage of the tangible vision must have standards relating to dates and metrics. It contains a criteria that enables them to adjust strategically.

Many times, there can be sound reasons for resistance. Sometimes a strategy might make sense at the highest level, but its full impact on the whole organization has not been fully considered, according to Steele. For example, imagine that the general strategy calls for promoting one brand throughout the company while taking resources away from another brand. That might make sense in one market, yet be completely counterproductive elsewhere. Faced with the choice to promote a product that's considered an advantaged brand in one market but lags in his own, a country manager is likely to try to fight or circumvent the strategy. "Human nature will say, 'I'm not going to synchronize with you. I'm not going to spend the money where you want me to spend it. And I'm going to fight it,'" Steele says. "And that's what he does."

/// The Compass AE process emphasizes that each stage of the tangible vision is connected from start to finish.

Cultural factors can also hinder execution. Companies sometimes try to apply a tried-and-true strategy without realizing that they are operating in markets that require a different approach. Even such a world-beater at execution as Wal-Mart, for instance, has sometimes made some missteps because of culture. One example: When Wal-Mart first moved in to Brazil, it tried to lay down terms with suppliers in the same way it does in the U.S., where it carries huge weight in the market. Suppliers simply refused to play, and the company was forced to reevaluate its strategy.

/// The Compass AE process emphasizes the collaborative building of the goals and the objectives. This point enables the team to learn something about each other.

Internal cultural factors may also present problems. Steele points out that marketers typically move from brand to brand over two-year cycles. At the same time, operations executives advance at a slower, steadier five-year pace, which gives each of them very different perspectives both about the organization's past and its future. Employee incentives may create friction as well. "We hope for A but reward B. We say, 'Do this under the strategy,' but the incentives have been around for 25 years and they reward something else totally," Hrebiniak says.

/// Will comment on this point of "time-lining" later.

Yet the biggest factor of all may be executive inattention. Once a plan is decided upon, there is often surprisingly little follow-through to ensure that it is executed, the experts at Wharton and Marakon note.

One culprit: "Less than 15% of companies routinely track how they perform over how they thought they were going to perform," says Mankins. Instead, only the first year's goals are measured -- and executives often set first-year goals deliberately low in order to meet a threshold for a bonus. He argues that this lack of introspection makes it easier for companies to ignore failed plans. And ignoring failure makes it that much harder to identify execution bottlenecks and take corrective action.

According to Mike Perigo, a partner in Marakon's San Francisco office, frequent communication is essential if plans are to be executed well. "We have found that very effective companies have regular dialogues between the leadership team and unit managers," he says.

People versus Process

What should be done? Mankins says that there are two schools of thought about the best way to improve execution.

One school emphasizes people: Just put the right people in place and the right things will get done. However, within the people school, there are also divisions. Some experts insist that the right people are hired, not made. "The idea is you get A players, you pay them a lot of money, and you pay them for the performance they generate -- irrespective of what may be happening in some other business or region," Mankins says. Others within the people camp think that the key is to improve executive performance through training, and improve the average employee's performance through the creation of a culture of accountability. For example, W. James McNerney, Jr., the chairman and CEO of 3M, argues that by improving the average performance of every individual by 15%, irrespective of what his or her role is, a company can achieve and sustain consistently superior performance.

/// Some ppl believes that having the right people in place is the key to winning. It does not always means that they will collaborate as a team . A collaborative team usually succeeds over a uncompetitive team.

In professional sports, having a team of superstars doesn't always mean a championship team.

A second school emphasizes process rather than people, Mankins says. Larry Bossidy, the CEO of Honeywell and co-author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, is one of the leading proponents of this school. Hrebiniak is also a firm advocate of better processes. "If you have bad people, sure, you're not going to do anything well. But how many organizations go out and hire bad people? They all hire good people. So something else must get in the way," he argues. Mankins, however, believes both propositions have merit. "I don't believe those two schools of thought are competing. I think they're just two sides of the same coin," he says.

/// Process works when there is a set of standards that everyone collaboratively connects to it

Marakon's research suggests that companies that have delivered the best results to shareholders combine both approaches. Looking at stock performance going back to 1990, Mankins says, they found that the majority of companies in the top quartile of performance combine attention to process with attention to executive development. Cisco, 3M, and GE are all companies that have emphasized both. Bossidy's Honeywell, on the other hand, has focused principally on process -- and has achieved only average performance.

/// Compass AE process emphasizes that each stage of the tangible vision is connected from start to finish.

Five Keys to Getting the Job Done

Whatever perspective is ultimately seen as the most helpful, there seem to be some tangible things companies can do to improve the chances of success. Experts at Wharton and Marakon agree that, like everything else in business management, improving execution is an ongoing process. However, they say there are steps any company can take that should provide some incremental gains. For example:

Develop a model for execution.

Strategic yardsticks are plentiful. Michael Porter's theory of comparative advantage, for instance, gives strategists a way to conceptualize market leadership goals. In the evaluation of narrower plans, William Sharpe's capital asset pricing model, or more recent schema such as real options theory, can play a similar role. But when it comes to managing change, there are few such guidelines.

Hrebiniak, who offers such guidelines in his book, notes that it's important for managers to "have a model [identifying] the critical variables that define -- at least for the manager -- the things they have to worry about when they put together an implementation plan. Without that, managers will say something like, 'We just hand the ball off to someone and let them run with it,' and that's the execution plan. That isn't going to go anywhere."

/// Will comment on this point of identifying the critical variables later.

Choose the right metrics.

While sales and market share are always going to be the dominant metrics of business, Mankins says that more and more of the best companies are choosing metrics that help them evaluate not only their financial performance, but whether a plan is succeeding. For example, when a large cable company realized that the speed at which it penetrated a new market correlated directly with the number of service representatives it had in the field, executives began tracking the progress of how quickly representatives were being added in particular territories.

/// Each Tangible Vision includes detailed metrics at each milestone.

But Hrebiniak warns that it's important to choose metrics in a package so that they can change if market conditions change. For example, sales of cars might be a good metric for a car manufacturer, but if interest rates rise, sales will likely suffer. A good set of metrics takes that into account.

What should business units that don't touch customers use as a metric? Hrebiniak says he is often told by lawyers, human resource officers or information officers that the success of what they do can't be measured in numbers. His advice: Ask internal clients what would change for them if your department were good or bad -- or didn't exist? Sometimes questions like that can lead to good ideas for performance metrics.

/// To build and connect with the Tangible Vision, qualified stakeholders must be involved.

Don't forget the plan.

As noted above, plans are often simply agreed to and then forgotten. One way advocated by Mankins to keep the plan on center stage is to separate executive meetings about operations from those focused on strategy. While Hrebiniak holds that strategy only succeeds when it is integrated into operations, Mankins and his colleagues argue that day-to-day concerns often so overwhelm the executive team that such an agenda management process is the only way to keep executive attention focused on the organization's progress.

/// Will comment on the topic of connecting the Tangible Vision to a plan later.

Assess performance frequently.

Performance monitoring is still an annual affair at most companies. However, according to Mankins, plan assessments at many of the leading companies happen at much more frequent intervals than they did in the past. "The reason why Wal-Mart is so good at execution is it knows daily if what it is doing in each of its stores gets results or not," Mankins says. For example, when Wal-Mart learned this year that its Christmas sales strategy hadn't worked just eight days after the close of the season, it was able to mitigate the damage in a way it wouldn't have if results had been slower in coming. By shortening the performance monitoring cycle -- from quarter-by-quarter to month-by-month or week-by-week -- top management can get more "real-time" feedback on the quality of execution down the line.

/// Will comment on this point of "performance monitoring" later.


Hrebiniak says that companies often go wrong by creating a cultural distinction between the executives who design a strategy and people lower down in the corporate hierarchy who carry it out. Asking ongoing questions about the status of a plan is a good way to ensure that it will continue to be a priority.

Meetings between the executive team and unit managers should be regular and ongoing, advises Perigo. It's that kind of "direct, demonstrated leadership," he says, that convinces an organization that commitment to a plan is real and that there will be consequences if the plan is not followed through. "It's a signal of commitment from the top that there's an expectation of commitment from below."

/// Will comment on this point later.

By using our strategic collaboration process, you will be able to out-do your competition in terms of faster execution, minimize costs, mitigate risks, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about our Compass AE process, please e-mail us at contactus(aatt)collaboration360(ddott)com.