Delay is the enemy of innovation. And if the goal of innovation is to create and scale novel solutions quickly, every cycle wasted takes us farther from that goal.
I think of delay in two ways:
- Not understanding the needs of an organization
- Not planning or estimating well
And here’s a scoop. Number one usually leads to number two.
Why do delays happen?
If you hate stories, I’ll shortcut it for you.
When a team doesn’t share a common understanding of why an initiative is important and what the need is, they work on the wrong things in the wrong priority.
Here’s a real-life story of why a delay happened and what that ended up costing an organization.
My friend J was telling me about a time in her career where the company she worked at landed a whale of a client. Dream come true!
The CEO was jazzed about not only the value of the contract, but also the fact that this was just the type of contract that could get the company to a Series B funding round. And the idea for the solution was designed, prototyped, and tested by his Innovation Team. Double dream come true.
He felt confident that his executive team could find a way to pull together to “take the dress rehearsal into a Broadway run”.
Not providing context up front
They scheduled a meeting with all the executive team and functional leads.
The title of the meeting? Kick-off for Client X.
Length of the meeting? 1 hour.
The company had never had a kick-off meeting with all of senior leadership. Ever. And this was a big-name client.
Before the meeting, some knowledge was shared around the halls and over Slack, but no one really had any idea what to expect.
The day of the meeting, folks showed up to the biggest conference room the company had. 15 chairs.
28 people were invited. 24 showed up in person. Most of them showed up early.
Poor Meeting Planning
Folks were standing around, gripping laptops and notepads and coffees. Someone would show up to the conference room, not see any chairs, go back to their desk to drag their chair back to the room, see no space for their chair, so go back to their office down the hall to call in from there.
5 minutes after the scheduled start, the CEO shows up with high energy and a big smile welcoming everyone. He announces the contract with great enthusiasm and praises the Innovation Team and Account Exec and asks them to present on the client.
Poor Knowledge and Needs Transfer
They present a skeleton deck (not on video, just on the overhead) with basic facts about the client and the solution that was sold. The Innovation Team raced through a Figma demo of their prototype in 2 minutes.
The last slide in the deck they presented was the real kicker of the kick-off: First meeting with client in two weeks, Roll-out in 3 months.
The rest of the hour went something like this: People smiled and nodded, repeated things for people on the phone, asked safe questions about milestones when prompted, and ended 15 minutes early when no one caught that the client was expecting products and services that currently didn’t technically exist outside of a sandbox.
Poor Next Step Planning
The CEO thinks they had a kick-off meeting and everyone knows exactly how to mobilize for action.
The Account Exec gets busy on the phone with the client and reinforces the commitment, checks off the last task in her workflow before she gets credited for the SOW execution, and goes on vacation. Her assistant plans the next meeting with the client for a day after she gets back from vacation.
Poor Communication between Functional Lanes
For the next 2 weeks, the functional leads go assemble their teams based on the kick-off deck.
They realize they don’t have bandwidth or the right mix of skills to duplicate the prototype in their legacy processes and systems. They have to hire and train people. They have to build IT solutions.
They have to send data to and from places where data doesn’t currently go.
They come back and provide estimates individually on what it will take for the prototype to scale to the CEO.
Teams felt pressure to meet the dates asked, so they adjusted their understanding of the need to meet the dates…which meant the team started building something the client didn’t buy.
Which leads me to that other part of delay.
Poor planning and estimating.
When a team doesn’t have a confident understanding of the business need and the solution, how can they possibly be expected to accurately estimate the amount of work required to build and deliver the solution? How can they commit to a date if they don’t know what they are building?
Poor estimating happens all the time, and usually it’s not that big of a deal. But what if the estimates are based on a poor understanding of the need?
This is when things start to get EXPENSIVE.
In our story above, the contract had to be terminated after 6 weeks of both client and internal teams struggling. It was a multi-million-dollar deal gone. Both client and company invested significant time and money, and diverted resources from other opportunities to execute on the deal. After the deal went belly up, both sides completely restructured management. It was pretty gruesome.
Not all endings are that dramatic.
But, even if teams find a way to rally and deliver, delay is still costly.
The Obvious Cost
Solutions are delayed in shipping to clients, that’s money on the table.
Not So Obvious
Now imagine that you can’t implement a prototype at scale after you sold a client on it because the team can’t mobilize quickly on stack, talent, or equipment. Not only is that lost revenue, you’ve wasted hard dollars paying people to build something that maybe won’t turn on.
Even Less Obvious
And now you have to make another decision…throw more money at the problem and hope a miracle happens or go back to the client and ask for a different agreement. That’s costly to your reputation as a leader and a brand.
Maybe Not Obvious At All
And if you have a high-performing team, you have a soft cost to deal with as well. Disengagement. Not to sound all Yoda about it, but disengagement leads to not caring which leads to toxic behaviors which leads to flight of talent. You hired and invested in producers. They’re not happy if they’re not producing or producing the wrong thing.
What’s the Solution?