If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
We all know that planning well is important at any stage of our business life, whether we drive a startup or a mature business. Most of us take the time to write a plan, but how well-prepared are we for the operational reality of tomorrow?Congratulations If you have made a plan that looks “rock solid” and if your team is enthusiastically behind it. But, market conditions change, unplanned operational issues surface.What if something derails your plan? Have you identified the main risks? Have you considered that risk and are you prepared for it?
‘boer maak ‘n plan’ means a ‘farmer makes a plan’ in Afrikaans, the language spoken by the mainly Dutch immigrant descendants living in South Africa. The saying inferred the need to plan and get around or solve the problems of deprivation and harshness of settling and farming in a foreign land far from Europe. Having traveled in Southern Africa two years ago I came across another similar saying in Zimbabwe (formally Rhodesia) where the people often spoke about ‘making a plan’. This saying was probably a derivation of ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ and has its roots in the former Rhodesia, the white minority ruled country during the vicious civil war and then the later hyper-inflation days when Zimbabwean economy collapsed after 2000.
The ‘hidden’ meaning was that you needed to have an alternative plan (a Plan B) if your first plan fails or is impossible to implement. Therefore, you need to be flexible and adaptable to solve a problem. It is not just true for farmers in Southern Africa, that is true for business anywhere. Rigid planning is not going to get us where we want to go. Nothing stays still, we can not predict accurately everything; problems arise, and fortunately, opportunities also appear. Rarely do we truly have everything under control. Yet it is amazing how many small business leaders, department managers believe their plan will get them wherever they want to take their business or their part of a bigger business.As business owners or managers, not only do we need to plan, we need to be flexible enough and prepared to adapt to the real conditions, to keep our eyes firmly on the objectives and adapt our plan. We are in a far stronger position when we can be less emotionally attached to plan A and proactively identify the critical risks and build a creative alternative plan as exciting as our plan A.
Many years ago in our third party logistics business we were having difficulty in getting our trucks unloaded on time at a distribution centre. This was despite meeting their strict time slots. If you failed to arrive at the designated time slot you were ‘fined’, although the distribution centre could unload your trucks late! With early morning delivery time slots, trucks had to battle peak hour traffic both to and from the distribution centre as well as the loading delays. Instead of 3 hours it was taking 6 hours to deliver and unload. Not very efficient! The problem was further compounded by our fixed price delivery charge.Despite meetings with distribution centre management and assurances that the situation would improve, it did not. Our original planning logic and traditional thinking were not going to work. How could we solve our problem and have a ‘win’ for both ourselves and the distribution centre?
Following careful observations and discussions with the receiving team at the distribution centre a Plan B emerged. All loads were hand unloaded (rather than on pallets) onto a conveyor with the individual cartons being scanned as they traveled up the conveyor belt. A prime mover was used by the distribution centre for moving trailers around the receiving compound.We asked distribution centre management whether we could trial hand loading tautliner semi-trailer. We would bring the trailer in early in the morning before peak hour, leave it in the receiving area for the distribution centre prime mover to move onto the unloading conveyor when it suited the receiving team. The trailer would then be picked up on the next early morning delivery. It was was a win/win for both us and the distribution centre. Delivery time halved with a massive increase in margin for us and the distribution centre was able to utilise their receiving area far more efficiently. The waiting time problem and the peak hour travel problem which initially appeared to be unresolvable were solved. The success of the trial enabled us to purchase two second hand and obsolete semi-trailers for 10% of their replacement value and establish a unique closed loop delivery system that was extremely profitable. Profits were significantly increased by having a Plan B
In any situation, you should always have a Plan B like the farmer (the Boer) faced with the unpredictability of the harsh environment of Southern Africa…….There are so many variables that can and do change all the time! Planning is best when it includes frequent reviews and a revision process to iron out wrinkles and optimise the path to success. It is about having a clear big picture and set of goals, and then building the future step-by-step with out teams.
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