By James Adams
My early in career training was within a fortune 200 U.S. company. I spent months working within a team of 22, from a talent pool of over 40,000 learning the corporate culture, methods and applying them to real business situations. When you are that entrenched in corporate life, there are a tonne of buzzwords that you hear, digest and, ultimately assimilate into your vocabulary.
At times, you couldn’t move to not be awash with people ‘reaching out’ to ‘touch base.’ We were ‘leveraging’ every opportunity to make our vocabulary improvements ‘scalable’ and part of our ‘core competencies.’ Never forgetting, you were only a few sentences away from someone ‘just playing devil’s advocate here.’
Did I use the language? Yes. Do I still use some of it? Yes. Is some of it cringeworthy? Yes. All of these are absolutely true, so it is no wonder when people here more buzzwords, they think to themselves. Oh no. Not again. That’s when Scale and Pace has entered the market. With it’s corporate buzzword front, that actually delivers a powerful message… ‘under the hood.’
To set the scene of where I first heard this buzzword, it is through working with the UK public sector, where consultancy and management consultants have to always, seemingly, move with said ‘scale and pace.’ When we break down what it means, it is no surprise. Scale, means to deliver a large quantity of whatever, very quickly. Businesses are looking to scale all the time. Generally in revenue terms, but occasionally in other areas. One may argue that Amazon were always looking to scale everything but revenue, focussing on customer service, delivery, product lines. That worked out pretty well.
The second element, pace, comes as no surprise when we revert to the context of this buzzword. The public sector. The public sector, it is of no surprise, are constantly pre-occupied with reducing their costs, or certainly demonstrating that cost mitigation has been at the epicenter of any contract award, even if it is weighted against competencies, be they ‘core competencies’ or not. As management consultants regularly price a job by the days, the public sector want their scale, at pace, to reduce the costs of the engagement of the consultant.
This being said, scale and pace are something that the private sector can, and should take note of. Whilst the market conditions and objectives that the public sector find themselves in may vary to that of the private sector. We should review what scale and pace through the lenses of a private business really means.
In a private context, competition coming from competitors in our arena is constant, added to that there are the threat of new entrants and the threat of substitutes for what we are looking to deliver. When we have a business improvement project, We should be looking to implement a solution that diminishes the power of any of these external threats. In turn, increasing our value proposition.
Here’s What Happens When You Ignore the Buzzwords Scale and Pace
When we don’t move at scale, or at pace, some interesting and rarely positive things can happen to a business.
We Lose Momentum
Large projects are hard work. Often they can include project teams, large CAPEX sign-offs and real focus to land. This can mean one of two things. We try to implement with little scale, lots of testing, lots of stage gate approaches, and this can sap momentum. Allowing fatigue to set in. Alternatively, we keep the scale, but lose the pace. With ongoing, continuous training, re-honing, re-attempting before implementation. I am not saying implement a business breaking ERP system with no testing, that would be madness. However if the project delivers true innovation, it doesn’t have to be perfect from day one. It does, however need momentum.
We Lose the First Mover Advantage
Bringing a certain product, service or improvement to market has great benefits. However, if competition gets wind of an improvement, or if we slowly roll out a low scale improvement, it isn’t long before a business with scale and pace puts forward 2.0.. Sure there may be nuanced differences. It might not be as polished. However, with scale and pace – a 2.0 that hits the market full, may be seen as the first mover, or certainly gain any advantage to be had.
We Lose Entrepreneurial Flair
Great business people have an entrepreneurial spark. There is no denying it. That spark leads them to try innovative things with greatly publicized success. Especially when it works. In a business, generally, we want to promote that entrepreneurial flair and delivering projects in such a manner, promotes a culture that accepts us trying something different. Long, lumbering bureaucratic processes can stifle that flair, and given enough time, snuff it out.
We Lose the Improvement
In extreme cases, where we have lost all of the above, a great project may turn out to fall flat. If there is no momentum, no first mover advantage and no entrepreneurial flair to see it through. All that we are left with is an opportunity cost of what we could have done with our time, instead of investing in a poor project.
The issue with opportunity cost is, of course, not only have you forgone the opportunity for the improvement that you could have delivered. You have also lost the opportunity for what you could have done with that time, perhaps to a much higher standard. Measuring opportunity cost is always near impossible. It is, however, one of those elements we as business owners look and think to ourselves. What if?
Of course, I am not suggesting here that stage gate approaches should be ditched and hold no value. Nor that businesses should rush through every project simply to land it at the earliest possible opportunity. Moreover, to highlight the pitfalls of staggering projects for that little bit too long.
The next time you and your business considers a project that requires manpower and can deliver a significant opportunity to improve your business, ask yourself if it can be delivered with scale and pace, and if it can’t what risks that may pose to any benefits the project is aiming to deliver.