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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fail fast or suffer slow

Telstra recently released its Connecting Countries thought leadership report, which was based on a survey of some 4,100 executives across Asia capturing their views on best practices, challenges and overall business performance in the region. It was exciting to read that there were a number of management lessons that businesses can take with them as they seek to invest into Asia as well as an insight into the profile of an Asia Business Champion – one who doesn't only recognize best practices but also lives and breathes them.  While there were a number of takeaways from the report,  there was one which jumps out at me particularly as it relates to driving success in an Asia market place. One of the key management lessons for success in Asia was looking at the need to move forward with multiple growth strategies concurrently.

Now I have always believed that a person cannot multi-task (despite my numerous attempts to try!) hence this strategy could only ever exist for a large size business and not an individual or SMB. But the need to look at multiple strategies is important for international businesses to consider in order to balance the potential risk of one failing due to internal or market challenges. I must make clear though there are limits to running multiple strategies. A couple of years ago for example, one vendor shared with me their plans to run 25 new initiatives in parallel. Now I don’t care how big you think you are or how mature your strategy execution process is, but when you talk about multiple strategies to this degree it is simply a death warrant for the strategy itself and puts the business at risk of losing its way. I am glad to see that San Francisco based vendor has since realized this and re-evaluated how many initiatives it takes on at the one time.

Now when a business is looking at multiple strategies it needs to understand the levers it can use, for example how quickly a strategy decision can be moved into action and equally, how quickly it can be shut down. These days it is increasingly common place that a strategy is dependent on people, systems and communication. Now, we know we have the ability to redeploy people to other projects and – as hard as it can be at times – sometimes people choose or must move on , however for Systems and communication platforms we often have to make investments that tend to have a pay back only after 3-5 years,. This can cause a challenge as businesses then need to assess how they can mitigate risks to drive a strategy to a positive outcome. For this reason it is important for businesses to adopt what is increasingly being known as a “Fail Fast” principle. The Fail Fast principle looks at prioritizing initiatives that need an investment based on requiring limited capex and leveraging platforms that can be turned up quickly and equally turned off with very little delay post a decision, if it is not working.

Take for example the idea of replicating a solution into a new vertical, which  might require assigning people temporarily, adding  system capacity for marketing campaigns, tracking opportunities and managing customer deployed solutions. But what if all of this could be set up within weeks and taken down even quicker? Would that make you rethink your prioritization of business strategies and equally consider additional initiatives, knowing your investment risk is significantly reduced and not committing the business to years of investment? Well hopefully the answers to both are yes, if not then perhaps a multi path strategy is not for you (either that or you have money and resource to burn).

Historically this would have been a challenge; however the virtualization of IT and communications means that businesses are now more empowered than ever to introduce the Fail Fast principle into their strategy decisions. Now considering the feedback from the Connected Countries survey that businesses need to consider multiple strategies in order to achieve success – at the beginning of this article it would be perfectly normal to think this is only achievable by either very large businesses or for those who have learned through expensive or painful experiences of what strategies work and equally which don’t. However hopefully now you are thinking about how your business could introduce a multiple path strategy by leveraging the advancements of technology that exist today, combined with the key principle in defining which strategies to go after based on their ability to align to a fail fast approach.

We are not talking about transformation or changing the way your business operates. This is very much about understanding how a business can be successful in a market like Asia where the only constant is change. But there are clearly multiple market opportunities and with the right approach –  as demonstrated by the Asia Business Champions – combined with the right principles, businesses can create the environment needed to succeed by failing fast, which ultimately has to be a better approach than suffering slow and not reaping the rewards of a multi path strategy.

You can find the Connected Countries report at the attached link -