New Year, Better Us: a Service Business’ Resolution
Not only did we celebrate a new year when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2020, but also a new decade (depending on who you ask)! What is it about a new year that causes us to take stock and vow to make improvements? As I stepped on the scale this morning, I noted that one of my high ranking resolutions is in serious jeopardy. But then, I was able to rationalize my lackluster progress by remembering that all the holiday cookies, candy, caramel coated popcorn, etc. have been consumed, and the plan to lose a few pounds should self-correct (skeptics need not reply).
I think our resolve to make improvements as we usher in a fresh calendar stems for our desire to redeem ourselves. For most of the obvious things in our lives that we know aren’t optimal (like our weight, or maybe lifestyle choices) we know as well as anyone that we could do better. The new year becomes a reminder that a fresh start, or maybe a restart, is at hand, and we should take advantage.
The question I then asked myself was, what would a meaningful business New Year’s resolution look like? As we look back on the year that has passed, and we evaluate how we as a service provider performed in 2019, what are some things that we could do better, that a high level improvement goal might address?
I have in previous blogs talked about the map, or methodology, we at Optimation use to deliver capital projects for our clients. The playbook we follow (which we refer to as our Project Process) to take a customer’s problem statement or opportunity, and pursue it through engineering, procurement, construction, and commissioning has prescribed phases and gates. As I reflected on selecting a meaningful corporate resolution, my thoughts went to this process execution play script. What is it that we as a service provider could improve in our project methods so as to drive a significantly better outcome for our customers? I realized that the most impactful improvements we might implement would likely involve the early phases and gates of our process. So, that is where I began to focus.
The phases I began to examine were the first two we call out in our map: “Requirements” and “Proposal”. These two defining portions of the project life are targeted at understanding what our customer is trying to accomplish or achieve, and then our recommended solution, which embodies the technologies we have selected, and that we believe meet the requirements set down by our client. These initial steps form the basis for the subsequent execution of detailed design, procurement and fabrication, etc. and thus become the defining work for the eventual installed system that the client will use to achieve his goals. It is therefor accurate to state that these two steps in the overall project life, if done poorly, or incompletely, will yield an outcome that likely will not meet our customer’s needs or expectations.
After contemplating the significance of establishing thorough and accurate user Requirements, and then responding back to our partner with a well thought out solution that captures a cost effective solution to satisfy all stated business, operational, maintenance, and safety needs (and wants), the Resolution I would make to have the most positive effect on these phases would be “Communication”. I realized that as a service provider, a sure way we could see improvement in our product offering would be to be sure we clearly understand everything our client needs, wants or expects from his project investment. We should then follow up with a process of discovery, technology evaluation, and Concept Design that clearly demonstrates to our customer a solution of high value that has taken into account everything he has articulated to us. Doing a better job with these two project phases will involve more active listening, more clarifying questioning, more rigor in documenting and seeking customer input and approvals. It may also involve an attitude of being patient and willing to cycle back if we detect any uncertainty or reluctance on the part of our customer contacts. We must learn not to push what we think will work, but to capture and reflect what our customer truly needs and can afford and justify.
Maybe a simple way to summarize this resolution would be to remember that early in a project life, we as the system integrator and solution provider are responsible for assisting our clients in managing cost risk. The cost risk is evidenced in 2 different ways: The uncertainty and impact of doing the wrong project, and the uncertainty and impact of doing the right project wrong. At these early project phases, we should resolve to work hard through better communication to ensure that the risk of doing the wrong project has been eliminated.