No matter what type of corporate transformation /business improvement initiative; no matter what size, scale, grandeur, cost, criticality or potential ROI; no matter what the reason or rationale… it is all but certain that whatever you wanted to do to improve the business did not meet expectations.

Along with whatever mediocre results, if any, that were actually delivered; you were probably inundated by a veritable deluge of cost overruns, delays, quality issues, business rebellions, vendor / consultant abandonment, stakeholder threats and sundry other issues and problems.   

Take heart, you are not alone! Fully 75% of all efforts to improve the business fail to meet expectations. Cold comfort in your hour of frustration perhaps; however, since you are probably prepared to do whatever it takes to find out why what was otherwise a neat, good and slick idea to improve the business blew up, take a few moments to consider Shooting at the Moon! 

Imagine you are left outside, in the dark and wondering what to do… Yes, yes, I know this occurs frequently given that improvement problems that arise time and time again; however, I need you to imagine you really are outside, at night.  

You have a super powerful gun. Aim the imaginary weapon at the Moon. Fire the weapon. Watch patiently with your eye glued to a telescope while you wait for the impact. You will have a very, very long time to wait. By the time your bullet gets to where you aimed, the Moon will be long gone!  

A simple metaphor perhaps but one that points to a key reason why so many corporate transformation / business improvement efforts fail to hit the target. An issue or opportunity presents itself today; an action plan is put in motion today to fix today’s problem at some point in the future (not today!).  Time passes, by the time the improvement is about ready to improve the business; the business is no longer as it was when the original need for the improvement arose. The reason why the improvement was necessary may still be out there but the business the improvement was meant to improve is not there now! 

Since most businesses do not fly in an orbit, why did the business move? Simple! The dynamics of the marketplace, economic or competitive pressures, new regulations and many other imperatives to change the business means that you are not the only person who aims a weapon at the Moon. Many other people across the business will be looking to change things, improve things, eliminate things, expand things, etc. according to their perception of what needs to be improved and they go off and do it.  

Herein, lies the problem (read the next bit slowly)… If these other people (one, some or all) manage to do what they want to do to improve the business before what you wanted to do to improve the business gets done – it is very likely that what you wanted to do will not fit, will not work or the piece(s) of the business you wanted to improve may even not exist anymore! Hence cost overruns, delays, business turmoil, etc, etc, etc.

The solution is very, very simple. Think like NASA! Aim where the Moon will be, not where it is! In other words, think about what will or might possibly cause the business to change between the moment when you launch an improvement (NOW) and the time when the improvement actually arrives at the target (THEN).  Ensure that the baseline assumptions of your initiative are framed in terms of what the business will be or will probably or may look like by the time your improvement is ready to improve the business.  

Yes, I know much will be unknown but the more you know about what others plan to do, are doing or have done and accommodate it in your planning, the better off your initiative and the business will be.  

If you incorporate pre-emptive thinking into how you envision, plan and execute improvements; you will lessen the frequency and severity of issues and problems that arise from shooting directly at the Moon to manageable even acceptable levels.  

Ooop’s! In suggesting you think like NASA, let me qualify the suggestion. I am suggesting you aim like NASA, nothing more. Thinking like NASA with respect to its procurement and spending practices should never, ever enter your thinking.  

If you would like to learn more about the research that underpins my thinking, feel free to browse my web presence at  

John Bolden