“The only players who survive in the pros are the ones able to manage all their responsibilities.” – Tom Brady, Quarterback of the New England Patriots
Football, rugby, or any other sport organized around a finely-tuned playbook, requires players to understand roles and execute plays in both familiar or unplanned situations. Each player has defined roles and responsibilities based on his skills; that player is fully aware of his role, the roles of others and has studied the plays. A solid playbook enables a cohesive team to maintain control of the ball and win.
Does your company’s playbook have:
- unclear roles and responsibilities (Stuck in the Slow Lane)
- players with missing skills (Stuck in the Slow Lane)
- undefined or unfollowed business processes (Stuck in the Rough)
This all too common, weak people/process combination creates lots of broken plays. Basic things like roles, skills, processes really should be a given in any organization.
But if that’s what’s ‘supposed to be’, then why have I regularly seen many corporate fumbles, pigpiles, tangled situations and outright conflict over ‘who does what and how’?
Many organizations are driven (dominated?) by a particular function such as engineering, sales, production, or in the case of professional service firms, project delivery. In my consulting and coaching work, I’ve worked with strong CEOs that are able to push the business forward by being grounded in one of these personal skill sets. This functional strength can be a real asset, and in many cases, it was the driving force that launched the company and enabled it to grow.
In initial group meetings with company teams, to break the ice I often ask a variation of the question: “Who runs the company, sales, manufacturing or engineering.” After I ask the question, I wait to hear the noise from the pin dropping…:)
As a company’s overall operations increase in complexity, great execution only happens if all the business functions work together seamlessly. However, some of the same CEOs that are grounded in one strong functional skill set don’t make needed changes to their process/operational playbook as the company evolves. The CEO may ignore or trivialize the importance of looking at the overall business ‘horizontally’.
The Line of Scrimmage
Most of the confusion I’ve experienced related to process playbooks has been in organizations that have a complex sales process that involves:
- custom or semi-custom products
- customer orders with product/service specifications that could change from order to order
- contracts/proposals that have unique conditions
- high customer expectations related to quality, testing, product acceptance
Examples of a some of types of organizations that fit these order profiles are:
- specialty boxmakers
- magazine printers
- specialty window, door manufacturers
- precision machining
- chemical formulations
- custom industrial equipment
- IT consulting
- various professional service firms
- lots of others you could name
Piling On –> Breakdowns in Key Processes = Trouble
What happens when the process playbook doesn’t exist, is getting dusty on the shelf, or needs a complete overhaul?
Piling on happens when: a) sales doesn’t get the order specs correct…there are flaws in design, scope, terms; b) estimating creates an inaccurately costed order with incorrect pricing; c) engineering designs what sales specified but not what the customer ordered; d) manufacturing builds what engineering designed; e) the product fails customer tests; f) rework is needed; g) you get the idea…
What are some of the negative impacts on the business performance when a company doesn’t have a clear playbook or deviates from the process playbook? Here’s a sample:
- dissatisfied customers (Stuck in the Rut)
- lost customers
- poor financial performance – losses, cash flow hurt
- quality deficiencies
- production mistakes
- internal conflict over cross functional issues and personalities
- demoralized employees
Solutions: How to prevent pigpiles, fumbled balls, and losing the game
Fixing process problems like those noted above is not a complicated task. It’s actually pretty simple to implement the necesssary changes, but the basics often get lost in the the day-to-day shuffle.
1) Establish process flows for unique as well as routine projects and stick to them
Breaking down the process into well-defined pieces facilitates successful execution – once processes are clearly articulated, people need to study their playook, understand their particular functions and own them.
2) Based on the particular process, define clear roles and responsibilities
I do this. You do that. (Why does this have to be hard?)
People need to do their job and be accountable for performance.
“That which is owned by all is cared for by no one”. (Unknown)
3) Establish a clear communication system horizontally across the process chain and vertically through management so that glitches are caught early
For example, if a key person in the chain will be on vacation or is ill during production, who needs to step up and carry the ball?
4) Management, through training, repetition, and even incentives, needs to reinforce the use of the process playbook
In organizations that tend to operate in a seat-of-the-pants mode, this may be the most difficult problem to solve. This is particularly true if there are employees who have difficulty sticking to their own functions. Commit to a cultural change program.
For incentives, why not reward the excellent winning ways of using the playbook? When the team(s) deliver excellent products, on time, don’t forget to recognize it.
5) Revisit processes on a regular basis
What’s working? What needs tweaking? Do we have the resources we need to keep our customers satisfied? What about the team? Changes in personnel, especially when the products involve technical expertise, might invite revisions to the playbook.
Does your company have control of the ball? If not, are you ready to ‘think horizontally’ and get your playbook in order?
Illustration by Drew Litton