Category Archives: Process Life Cycle

Six Months Out

I was watching TV the other day, which in itself is not too interesting or inspiring. I find it actually kind of numbing as I am not too much into the police procedural shows that seem to be constipating the multiplicity of channels that are now available. However, I did see a new commercial that got me to thinking. It was by an electronics manufacturing company (which I won’t name here) that I had heard of in the past, but who I had never seen advertize on TV before. Their concept was interesting and their catchphrase was different. They were urging people to be “five years out”.

The focus of the ad was on innovators who created products and inventions that were ahead of their time. I didn’t quite catch the connection between Nicola Tesla (and others) and a modern day electronics manufacturer, but I guess that is what literary license is all about. It was however far more interesting and entertaining than the prime time video pabulum that was sandwiched around it.

What it did convey to me was that thought leaders depicted in the ad were thinking far ahead of the standard process. While being “five years out” might be a little excessive for a business leader (I am hard pressed to recall what our five year strategy was five years ago, but I am pretty sure it is not what we are doing now) I don’t think that it is excessive for a business leader to be “six months out”.

Six months out is that uncomfortable gray area between what we are doing right now in this quarter to make our numbers and what we are expecting to be going a year from now. It is the area between the immediate and tactical, and the long term and strategic. It is the area that a successful business leader can either see or anticipate what will need to be done today to align with the goals of the next year.

As we approach the end of another third quarter we should all begin preparing for the annual planning process. This is the process where we set the goals and objectives for the business for the next year. We also usually try and set a three year strategic plan for which the next year is the first year in the three year plan. We seem to do this every year without referring to either of the previous two years’ strategic plans. This in essence means that you are setting an annual plan and hoping that the sum of your last three annual plans is at least in the direction you need to move the business.

Profiling is something that American Civil Liberties Union quite accurately points out is an unacceptable policy for those with authority. However it is a necessary part of any planning process. Having a sales order target for the year is a good thing; however closing all of those orders in the last week of December will leave little time for the business to translate them into revenue, and beyond that into cash, which will be needed to pay all the sales commissions.

A business leader needs to be able to profile the timing of events across the planning period in order to anticipate the needs of the business. In the planning process an annual goal has been set. Instead of trying to plan and profile an entire year I have found that it is easier to break the year into two, six month sections. I can more readily visualize and anticipate what I will need and where I will need to be six months from now based on where I am and the trajectory that I have today.

Failing to take a six month out approach to profiling a business’ year usually results in what is commonly referred to as a “hockey stick”. This is where a business sets three quarters worth of relatively modest objectives and growth only to run head first into a significant and usually unattainable spike in desired performance in the fourth quarter.

I think we have all either been party to, or victims of the dreaded “year end push”.

Nothing happens immediately in business, unless you unexpectedly announce bad financial performance. Then your stock price immediately drops. Aside from that type of event, it takes time to affect change. Adjusting staff size either up or down to meet business needs takes time. Adjusting production capabilities to meet demand also takes time. Increasing sales doesn’t just occur because it is in a plan. Suspected new customers need to be identified, then qualified into prospects, have their issues addressed and their solutions proposed, contracts agreed and then closed.

That’s a sales order. There is then the time associated with the process to deliver on the contract and turn that order into revenue. Then there is the time it takes to get paid and turn the revenue into cash.

While “five years out” is a great concept for a commercial, it is a difficult idea to run a business on. It’s too far out. However a good business leader should have the ability to be at least “six months out” in order to connect the tactical activities of today to the strategic objectives of tomorrow. Being six months out enables to the business leader to anticipate and avoid many of the business issues and pitfalls that seem to plague the standard business manager.

Einstein said: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” While I am absolutely nobody to question a mind like that, I think that hoping for tomorrow will not be the appropriate approach to business.

I think I would more agree with Benjamin Franklin, who said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”


When I was an undergraduate I studied Physics. Don’t ask me why. I am not sure I know.

This study of hard science taught me a couple of concepts that also seem to apply to business. The first of these concepts was that of Momentum.

A simple scientific definition of momentum is the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest, and a body in motion to continue in motion. The way to change momentum is to apply a force.

In business in many cases it seems to be easier or less risky to continue to do what has been done before, or to continue moving in the direction that things have been moving before, instead of doing something new. This is momentum. In a business’ momentum is the reason that marketing programs continue beyond their designated times (and stop affecting customer or competitor behaviors), and why products linger for longer than they should (and attract more and more costs associated with continuing to sustain them verses the revenue they generate) and why you are still getting reports on the value of your yellow pages adds instead of information on the number of hits on your web site.

In looking at a business it is always good to look at what type of work that is being done. Why are certain things being done or continuing to be done, and others not. Invariably the answer tends to be “momentum”. Things are being done a certain way because that’s how they were being done before. There was no external action or force that was applied to change things, so they just continued on in the same way.

The market (and the world) continually changes. Businesses must continually take action to meet this change. The most obvious example of this is the development and introduction of new products and services to meet this change. However, momentum usually rears its head in the form of using older or “tried and true” processes and methods of doing the associated work.

Just like product life cycles dictate that older products need to eventually be discontinued in order to make room for new ones, the processes and work within a business must also be continually reviewed. In this way outdated processes and what is usually referred to as “busy work” can be discontinued to free up the resources to do new things and create new processes to meet the changing market. Without this type of work review, the momentum (the tendency to continue motion in the direction it had been going) of business will eventually have moved it to the point where work is being done that no longer serves the purpose and provides the value it once did.

A good leader must be the force that is applied to a business that changes its momentum. Stop doing work that no longer needs to be done, and start doing the new things that the changing environment requires.