How to Scale Up a New Innovation


Sometimes, good ideas for new products and services include the seeds of their own destruction. How can this problem be discovered and prevented, thereby ensuring the success of your latest, greatest idea?

As a company innovator you are excited. Your original concept has taken off with higher-than-expected sales or conversions. Customers are buying because you uncovered an unmet need before anyone else.

While congratulations are in order, it’s also a dangerous moment because you are entering uncharted waters filled with new obstacles.

They are not coincidental. Your success has bred them. Being ready for them takes real ingenuity, and you must use your imagination to deal with this unique situation. Here is a useful framework.

The Five-Part Model

The Balanced Scorecard is built on the notion that a company’s strategy can be viewed through four distinct perspectives: Financial, Customer, Process and People. While your firm is actually an interconnected
whole, there’s value in viewing it in-depth from these separate angles.

In addition, the PESTER Model offers a fifth “External” perspective. It’s shorthand for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory/Legal forces which affect every company.

Here’s a way for your planners to use all five dimensions to examine your company’s existing state, and future dangers.

Step 1 – Create a current day snapshot

Together the team develops a joint view of the performance of the business via the five perspectives. This involves far more than looking at a few numbers. It means finding the drivers of today’s successes and failures in a group discussion which includes every stakeholder.

While it’s a challenge to bring all members of your team to common agreement, the effort is necessary for subsequent steps and shouldn’t be rushed. In both technical and emotional dimensions, there must be a meeting
of the minds.

Tip: use layman’s language.

Step 2 – Simulate Future Growth Scenarios

Here, you imagine different kinds of success. For example, contrast hyper and moderate sales increases and their impact. What if the market were to grow in response to your product as it did when Digicel first offered mobile phone service?

As you detail these scenarios find one you are most willing to realize. Then, carefully assign it a future year which takes you just beyond the moment when the current burst of sales is projected to end.

Step 3 – Look for Hurdles in the 5 Dimensions

Now for the creative part. As customers respond where is your system likely to fail first within the five perspectives?

– Financial: Will cash-flow problems develop? Many companies who experience rapid growth wind up with high receivables that run them straight into bankruptcy.

– Customer: Can success bring new competitors into the market offering fresh discounts or features?

– Process: Where would you run into a lack of capacity? Will ad hoc processes begin to break down once volumes increase? The fact is, most new products and services are developed by small, informal teams. They work well in the early days, putting in extra hours at little cost to them and their families. It’s a sacrifice that’s not sustainable.

– People: Where will you see a lack of talent? To develop the initial offering, you probably used well qualified, trusted individuals with a depth of experience. Now, to match new sales volumes, you must hire from the second and third tiers. By definition, they aren’t as productive and need to be trained.

– External: In a highly regulated industry, is it likely that the regulatory rules may change in response to your product? Could the authorities react by limiting the market, reducing your profit-making potential?

While taking these five perspectives are a beginning, my experience tells me that the most difficult topic to discuss is that of leadership. Founders, CEO’s and Chairpersons are often reluctant to craft plans for succession, putting off such uncomfortable issues for others to suffer through. They neither train their replacements, nor make provisions for catastrophes which may render them unable to lead.

There’s also an unwillingness for companies which belong to conglomerates to consider changes driven by their ownership. It’s easy to overlook the fact that in these groups, other people can decide to use a company’s profits (or surpluses in the public sector.) The owners, in the absence of compelling counter-arguments, may simply choose to invest elsewhere, pay dividends or reimburse the group office for the original risk.

Companies which don’t properly consider all these factors expose themselves to rude surprises, thereby jeopardising the enterprise. Fortunately, it’s not expensive to make plans to meet these challenges – they
represent a critical investment that’s well worth the value.





How New Managers Prevent Email Overwhelm


When the excitement of a promotion wears off, newly elevated managers sometimes struggle. Often, they blame their new responsibilities, but this limited view dooms them to failure. Instead, success comes from expanding specific skills which were once suitable but are now inadequate.

Email is a case in point. All of a sudden, as a newly promoted manager, you need to stay late or work on weekends just to keep up with a mountain of discussion threads. When you don’t stay on top of them all, your competence and readiness are quietly questioned.

Given the fact that email takes up 20% of the average manager’s day, the sad truth is that you weren’t trained to analyse your email practices with a view to making improvements. Today, the prevailing notion is that you can learn just as fast as Millennials. They change apps faster than they change their clothing.

However, even these twenty-somethings struggle when they experience a boom in email volume. Like everyone else, they blame their circumstances, a grave mistake.

It leads companies to launch projects to cut the number of messages people are receiving. Unfortunately, this rarely makes a difference as two recent, counter-intuitive studies explain: overwhelm isn’t caused by the number of messages we receive.

The first research, by Mary Czerwinski and her team at Microsoft show that the more time you spend checking messages, the less productive and more stressed you feel. Some firms have noticed this effect, leading them to curtail email in favour of other channels such as Instant Messaging or Whatsapp.

The second study shows why these efforts are in vain.

A paper by Victoria Bellotti and her XEROX research colleagues shows that it’s not the volume of email that makes us anxious and ineffective, but the number of unresolved tasks that are buried in these messages.  For example, if you routinely receive 1000 messages per day and a high percentage are newsletters or spam which require no action on your part, your peace of mind isn’t affected. On the other hand, if you receive five high-impact emails per day which spur 30 new tasks, you are more likely to feel pressured.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Zeigarnik Effect: the mental weight of these incomplete tasks. You can’t complete them all at once – that would be impossible to do as a newly promoted manager. Instead, you must manage them effectively, thereby relieving your subconscious mind of its role as Reminder-in-Chief, disrupting sleep, conversations, and quiet moments of prayer or meditation.

How do you take care of these unwanted disruptions, keep your peace of mind and avoid overwhelm in your new position?

  1. Handle email as an all-out sprint

In this paradigm, you must think of email differently. Instead of fitting it in between meetings or other activities at your leisure, do the opposite. Schedule two or three times each day to get through your Inbox as fast as possible in standalone, focused efforts. These sprints need total concentration. Execute them ruthlessly, punting protracted responses until later – you are in “emptying mode”, not “execution mode”.

This is also no space for distractions. Cut them all out and ignore the smartphone. Treat this time slot as the single most important recurring activity you perform each day that should only be interrupted if there’s a bonafide emergency.

  1. Get your own training

Unfortunately, few Human Resource departments are bastions of high tech efficiency. Most have little to do with employee productivity in its modern sense and therefore don’t offer new managers the kind of training required to manage email overwhelm.

On your own, cobble together the fresh skills you need, using a combination of resources such my past columns.

  1. Manage other people’s deliverables as your own

Complicated email threads involving several people, plus weeks of going back and forth, reveal that you are totally dependent on others to do their part. Unfortunately, some of them can’t be trusted.

While most new managers continue to store email in their Inbox, highlighting important ones for later, you shouldn’t. Eventually, you will be buried by unresolved tasks which require a follow-up, but get lost in these threads.

Instead, you must strip out these tasks and manage them elsewhere. This usually means picking up a task management software and learning the self-taught behaviours required to make them work.

The good news is that if you follow these prescriptions, your subconscious mind may reward you. Its endless pinging should stop and overwhelm will disappear.

But be vigilant: your next promotion may cause you to revisit all your methods just to maintain your peace of mind. Consider it to be the price of success in the modern workplace.