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Why Speed Trumps Management

- Oliver Yarbrough, PMP

Let's face it.  We live in a customer-driven world.

Business success is predicated on your ability to rapidly meet (and exceed) your customer's wants, needs, and expectations.  In other words –

Your entire company must be built for speed.

This is just as true for Fortune 100 corporations as it is for small to medium sized businesses.  Take for example the telecommunications giant, AT&T.  Several years ago, to remain competitive, they decided to retrain 250,000 of their employees.

A New York Times article stated –

“AT&T's competitors are not just Verizon and Sprint, but also tech giants like Amazon and Google. For the company to survive in this environment, Mr. Stephenson needs to retrain its 280,000 employees so they can improve their coding skills, or learn them, and make quick business decisions based on a fire hose of data coming into the company.”

AT&T needed its employees to make quick decisions, so they could build products and services as fast as their competitors.  Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive of AT&T, emphasized, “We value people who are learning machines and are highly adaptable (anti-fragile) over people who only bring experience…. We realized a long time ago that you can't fight technology change and win.”

The days of large incumbents resting on their laurels are over.  Either you quickly adapt or face imminent extinction.

Do you remember Palm, Inc., the company that once put out the popular Palm Treo line of smartphones?  Well, they ascended to smartphone heaven.  But in 2007, when Apple devices were introduced, the company couldn't adapt quickly enough and everyone knows where Palm Inc went since then..

So can we avoid being reduced to irrelevancy?  Here are 3 trends that are driving the need for speed.

Why Speed Trumps Management

Relentless Competition

Traditionally, agility has been associated with small, emerging competitors.  Nowadays, large companies such as Amazon and Netflix are just as nimble as some of the most agile startups.

How is this?

By their very nature, high-growth companies are disruptive.  Speed isn't just a nice-to-have for them.  It's one of their primary competitive advantages.

I'm talking about the S-P-E-E-D necessary to –

…hire and fire.

…produce and market.

…sell and deliver.

…even EXIST.

There will be winners.  And, of course, there will be losers.  When the dust settles, make sure you're one of the winners.

Rapid Innovation

Leading in a world of uncertainty is daunting.  It's not easy for large organizations to update systems, methodologies, and protocols that have been in place for decades.  Strong leaders must guide organizations through this change by focusing stakeholders' attention on innovation and process improvements.

Customers expect you to anticipate what they need before they even know they need it.  This is where innovation and agility meet. 

Steve Jobs (Apple), once said –

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.  By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.”

The quicker you connect your product to your customer's current AND future needs, the better.  This is how you become a market leader and stay there.

Impatient Customers

The relationship between buyer and seller has fundamentally changed.  We live in a day and age of instant communications, short attention spans, and limited patience. 

Time is a luxury you simply don't have.  In a customer-driven world, whoever releases products that meet customers' needs and gets to them first… wins.

Keep in mind, you'll never be able to onboard the customer who never bought from you and you'll never be able to grow the customer who doesn't continue buying from you.  So it's best to show value early and often by releasing functional products that you can iterate and improve over time.

Speed to market is essential!

The Solution:

No one likes to be managed, however, everyone needs direction. 

Management is all about control.  In fast-paced environments, the challenge is for organizations to loosen their control in favor of agility.

Believe it or not, in the future, businesses will optimize their projects for speed and operate with LESS management.  This begs the question –  

Do we manage projects or do we facilitate agreed upon outcomes?  Better yet, is the goal to manage projects or deliver value?

Disruptive forces are already making traditional forms of management irrelevant. Competitive industries such as IT are embracing 'management lite' and self-directed methodologies such as Scrum and Holacracy.

Less management allows for transformative breakthroughs, technological innovations, and agile teams.

Rather than compartmentalize decision-making like a Henry Ford assembly line and force decisions down a hierarchical management structure, today's growth organizations de-compartmentalize the way they approach projects.

As organizations go lean, they must unlock the hidden value of their most valuable resources – project teams. This can be initiated by letting them know how their projects fit into the bigger picture. In this way, future project teams are better positioned to quickly act and innovate. 

In other words, they'll be encouraged to think of the business implications of their decisions and take an ownership stake in projects instead of delivering crafted outcomes meted out by dispassionate technology.   

Project teams should be less concerned about controlling outcomes and more focused on producing value.  Ultimately, the value that's produced should warrant the effort that's expended. 

Since the customer determines value, project teams should be free to rapidly adapt deliverables as they work towards the end goal.  This doesn't negate the high-level constraints.  Instead, it empowers teams to address industry transformation and technology improvements in real time.

At the end of the day, the effort is justified because –

“Speed is compensated by value.”

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