Scaling

Scaling in Life & Business: The Big Levers to Save Time, Money, and Effort

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Do you want to know the biggest levers to save and gain time/money/resources/effort in your business and life?  These are the levers or controls in any system in which you’re making an effort towards ANY goal be it a garden project, moving your home to a new location, downsizing, or scaling your widget making manufacturing operation, in your streams of activities, processes, and value creation, these levers are the keys to unlock greater potential and minimizing your headaches and hardships.  These levers might seem abstract but they are the foundational elements to consider.  As you grow your business and life to do more with less, maintain your sanity, and get the most out of your time, these concepts and levers are what you need to pay attention to and focus on for greatest benefit.  If you get to know them intimately, see them in your life and business, and learn how to control them strategically, you can produce significant positive results.  That equals more time, more energy, more money, and more results!

Stick to What's Essential

I’ve talked to it before and Peter Drucker speaks quite well to it in The Essential Executive, but making sure you’re doing the “right thing, at the right time” is most critical first and foremost.  After that “in the right way” i.e. efficiently, becomes key. Most work that isn’t repetitive but rather creative work with much more unknown about the “how” at the start than other repetitive types of tasks, require forethought, research, and planning to identify “what’s really essential” about it.  We’ve all had that time in a home project where you went down a particular path only to realize “dangit! I didn’t have to do all that!” Or when someone outside your situation with a little perspective or someone that’s a little more adept or informed comes along and says “have you thought about doing it like this? You could sure save a lot of time and headache because I don’t think you’ll get to where you want you go from here” In other words, you’re wasting your time because you’re not doing what’s “right” or “essential” to begin with!  This happens all too often in business as well. This is one of the toughest parts of self-lead, creative work where you or your employees have to craft what the right things to do from the start are.  Start here and you'll be much better off!  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is also a great read in this area as well.

Simplify and Standardize Everything You Do On A Regular Basis

Start with any repetitive activities you do in your life or work.  Anything that you do on a regular basis, that is fairly transactional and can be broken down into simple steps in sequence.  The next step here is to standardize these repetitive tasks and simplify them so that they’re are take as little time and effort required to complete them.  These can be something as simple as a process for taking in mail in your home (not all that uncommon) or  a new client intake process for your home carpeting outfit.  The object is to get these processes and tasks down to the minimum required steps so you have maximum time to be spent on value, income, or enjoyment generating activities.  You can get a lot of savings in time and money out of merely standardizing and simplifying these repetitive tasks.  The idea is to do these steps in the same way, in the same amount of time, with the same resources (equipment, machines, tools, aids, etc.) each and every time.  A good book to help on processes or tasks that are fairly complicated, that you want to train others in (including your kids!), and need to be done in order and correctly each time, is Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

Work in Process

Everyone by and large knows what multi-tasking is.  That’s more synonymous with a single individuals attention and effort, at any given time, being divided amongst several “in work” tasks.  I’m speaking in the larger sense of having several projects (a sequence/set of tasks/events required to produce a desired outcome) or units of production like your widgets we talked about earlier.  Having SOME WIP is essential to be doing anything and producing or accomplishing anything.  But the reality, and the math works out as such, that the more of this WIP you have that isn’t “essential” to getting things done, the more time is wasted, errors occur, and ultimately a non-optimal amount of results are being produced, i.e. lost money, time, effort, and attention.  At home, this means having a lot of projects getting all done at the same time. We all know what we’re talking about here, that door frame that’s required repair for so long and you’re halfway through but keep running into issues or need other materials, that new bunk bed you’re building for your kids, and that raised bed gardens that just needs the dirt and finishing touches.  There’s a serious cost here, especially on mental burden, when there is so much in work and not being accomplished.  In life, I feel like this is another one of those “unintended consequences” of an abundant life where we have lots of resources, time, and attention that can be allocated and if we’re not careful, we can overwhelm ourselves and have some level of mental anguish occur as a result.  Some people can have serious mental consequences result from feeling overwhelmed by all they have going on at the same time.  The mental space is the first place that benefits from minimizing the work in process I’m talking about but your pocket book is the next most significant place.  It takes preparation, forethought, coordination, and planning to be able to get to a minimum WIP and get work done from start to finish in as short a time as possible.  However, the math involved in situations like these always plays out such that having a small number of projects and units in production to keep the maximum output required, will greatly benefit your home life and business.

Strategic Buffers

There are really 3 fundamental components to a system to accomplishing anything and creating something out of “stuff” that otherwise wouldn’t become your “stuff” on it’s own.  Those are time, inventory or your “stuff” in production, and resources (resources can be further broken down but I won’t get into that here).  Everyone’s pretty familiar with the concept of leaving a “little extra time” for traveling a long distance so you’re sure you’ll get to that appointment on time or a little earlier, and leaving that extra room in your time allows for absorbing those unforeseen events as happening (traffic, an accident, having to stop for a kid potty break, etc.).  Well, Strategic buffers are essentially that but bigger and applied across these 3 inputs to any project or production.  These buffers go hand in hand with WIP as well. Thinking ahead on a project you’re trying to get done and thinking about where you might need some extra time, or perhaps double up on possible contractors for that remodel in case one doesn’t pan out or get to the job when needed, or having a backup machine to handle excess production volumes that are needed.  All of these need to be placed “strategically” and by that I mean with a sense for the high level, systems view of what you’re trying to get done and placing these buffers where the maximum payoff can occur or where the riskiest and most critical steps are occurring that MUST be accomplished on time and as expected.  A really fantastic book for anyone running a product or service business is Factory Physics for Managers .  While it contains some technical review and information, it is quite approachable and will drastically improve your handling of the fundamental "physics" operating in your business.

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Once your life or business gets going and you have several streams of processes, transactions, information, and other units of "stuff" moving through a project or system, all of the 4 characteristics of scaling up become CRITICAL.  They're all already happening but what I've tried to illustrate here is the fact that either you can be throwing away time, money, effort, and attention by NOT controlling them or you can master them and thus stop the bleeding and maximize the positive benefits to your life and business.  Contact Me for a consultation if you need more help.

Resources

Scaling Your Life and Business: Part Duex

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In my previous post (2 weeks ago, I know, I'm sorry for the gap! We went on vacation and the weeks flew by!) I started out a 3 part series talking about this concept called "scaling". I focused on business scaling in the first post in the series and now I'm going to talk about what Scaling in your life can mean.

Scaling literally means "to uniformly reduce or enlarge." In life, I find this to mean flexibly and with planned intention, meet the demands on you and your families life in an efficient and effective manner and all that, with minimal self-imposed stress and strain (rather, that which can be avoided!).  Our lives are in some ways similar to a business but really, in many of the ways that matter, nothing like a business.  We often have implicit goals, agendas, strategies and outlooks and perhaps sometimes even explicit and defined.  We also have ways and means by which we achieve these goals and outcomes and produce the results we desire. This can be as simple as how we cook dinner for the family or more multifaceted like how we accomplish all the various life demands of a given week like making it to those soccer games, medical appointments, and spending much needed quality time with the family.

I think it's important to look at life through this "scaling" lens because I see many folks out there struggling with the demands of modern life, growing families, changing career and lifestyles, among other things.  I also see many people who are successful and quite satisfied with how they flexibly meet the demands on them.  I think an important distinction between "productivity" and "scaling" is that to be more productive means to use the resources you currently have in a more efficient and/or effective manner, i.e. more about decreasing inputs to maintain the same outputs.  Scaling, on the other hand, means investing in resources (time, energy, tools, methods, support personnel, etc.) to ensure that when more demands come you're capacity and capability can maintain stability and sustainability as things change. I think there are a few key ideas that can help people smoothly adjust to the changing demands in life and do so with ease, cost effectiveness, and ultimately successful outcomes.

Principles of Scaling in Life

  1. State Your Vision and Principles Explicitly - as in business so in life, whether you state it out load or not, you have a "way of being" in the world and outcomes or a vision that you're tending towards.  Whether it's "status quo and how it's always been" is your view or something provided to you by outside influences, it's there.  One way to approach this is with simply asking yourself "If I'm "being" this way or that, what questions would I have to ask myself for this way of being and my circumstances to be the answer?"  This is sort of switching the viewpoint and looking your life and principles in reverse.  Sort of, deriving them from what's already there.  That can then be a launching point to critical examine the vision and principles and discard those that aren't aligned to your values and perhaps add in some that are more in tune with who you really are and want to be in the future.  I believe this step is critical, especially in life, because the question is "To what end am I living this life, in this way, with the people I love and care about (or maybe not as the case may be!)?"
  2. Prioritize - this is really important.  As I've written about in other posts, modern society and life bring so much joy and abundance to our lives that there are unintended and ugly consequences.  One of them is an abundance of choices, options, and demands on our time, attention, money, and other resources.  This is another place that "life will happen to you" whether you want it to or not.  Deliberate action is key here. You can prioritize your time, attention, and action to align to your principles and vision in many different ways.  Steven Covey's "Urgent and Important" four square is one way (Urgent and Important, Urgent and Unimportant, Non-Urgent and Important, and Not Urgent and Unimportant).  Taking a critical view in this way can help to eliminate those repetitive activities and resource sucks that are unimportant.  Essentially all of those should be completely eliminated from your life. Another way to help prioritize your time is future oriented where you look at What's Easy/Hard to take action on and what's Low/High Payoff.  The payoff can certainly be monetary but I also mean it things like "highest quality time spent with family" and "the best use of my time" sort of considerations.  These are just two simple ways to categorize and eliminate the low priorities.  Another approach is to write down all the weekly/monthly activities and attention/time/money grabbers in your life (an inventory of sorts) and do the 80/20 analysis I've spoke of often.  Take the top 20 items that you get the most satisfaction and desired outcomes from and critically examine the other 80% to eliminate, delegate, or automate in some way.
  3. Eliminate, Delegate, Automate, Streamline, Retain - this deserves more consideration.  We so often take on new activities, projects, attention grabbers,  and resource consuming streams in life that they deserve a periodic examination and reformation.  Again, this all might sound overblown and unnecessary but I know many people out there may be feeling as though "life happens to me, I'm not deliberately living...I feel as though my life is being lived for me" or some other version of that thought process.  Taking that inventory of you and your families time and resource consuming activities and streams and eliminating where possible is a really big step. The rest could potentially be delegated or automated.  Perhaps you'll retain as is and that's fine.  Alignment is really key here.  Automating means finding ways to reduce your "touch time" on these things where you can reduce or even eliminate your need to conduct this work or activities "hand's on".  Maybe it's balancing your checkbook (plenty of online tools to help get to an automated state with this) or paying your bills (almost all regularly paid bills can be auto paid now).  Caution: I always believe in human in the loop on most things financial so make sure to periodically audit your automated systems!  Delegating means to share the load in your family perhaps.  That can take time but training your kids in much that it takes to run a household can pay huge dividends in the long run.  I feel that this is either forgotten, avoided, or detested in our day in age and so much is lost because of it.  In "How Will You Measure Your Life" author Clay Christensen describes the outsourcing of many activities in the household that taught work ethic, self-reliance, and critical skills to the long term detriment of the kids ability to function well in society.  That's why I start (if you have kids) with first delegating and sharing the work of your life across your family.  Second to that, I am a whole hearted proponent of a Dream Team of Accountants, Certified Financial Advisors, Attorney's, General Physicians, and Health and Wellness Coaches.  These are key dimensions in our lives that we under appreciate or avoid all together and we struggle accordingly.  This Dream Team takes time to build but they provide SO much more than what appears obvious if you develop the relationships and respect their unique capabilities.  I've been able to accomplish so much more in our lives as we've experienced deaths, career transitions, health related events, among other things with having a close at hand dream team of professionals to delegate the tasks associated with their work and professions.  They're worth more than every penny you spend to work with them.  There is much to be said about streamlining your time and resource consuming facets of your life.  This is that dreaded "personal productivity" area of life but if you focus in on tasks and projects that are essential and repetitive in nature and figure out how to "trim the fat" from them, they'll open up time, attention, and resources to be devoted to other critical areas in your life.
  4. Create Systems to Thrive - processes are great, but systems will really enable you to accept the demands on your life with grace and ease.  By systems I mean a set of decision heuristics, physical solutions, computer based solutions, etc. that most importantly remove demands you don't want before they even come to your attention, in the best case!  This is as simple as spending the time to set up filters on your email clients, or physical mail sorting tools, or so far as a set of questions your family (or you and your partner) ask yourselves when a new opportunity surfaces to spend time, money, or attention on.  Something like "is this aligned to our priorities we've set out for ourselves? Does this further our vision or take us farther away from it? Would a "no" or "do nothing" alternative be harmful or catastrophic to a relationship? Does this maximize the benefit of our money expenditure?"  Again, I'm not promoting perfection here, but asking some level of questions and having a growing set of systems in place in your life can help tremendously with increasingly unavoidable demands on your life.
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In this post I suggested that our lives could take some lessons from business to look through the lenses of "uniformly reducing or enlarging" our ability to meet demands in life: on time, money, attention, effort, or other resources.  This, I believe, is one of the true unintended consequences of a modern, market based life of abundance in which we live.  It's time we take the bull by the horns and do some bit of work and design to live fully and in purposeful ways and stop letting so much of our lives "happen to us".  Contact me if you'd like to continue the conversation or for an initial consultation on "scaling your life" for the better!

Resources

Scaling Your Life and Business: Common Scaling Principles, Doing More With Less, and Crafting Your Dream Team

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"Scaling"...These day's it's probably in the "buzzword" lexicon but it didn't used to be.  It was just another one of the major stages of business (and life for that matter!) growth, evolution, and maturity.  The Goal of Scaling any system, be it life or business, is to meet projected or actual growing demand for your product or service by adapting said system to produce to that demand.  Whether it's a product or service system or just regular conduct in your life, scaling up your capacity and capabilities will allow you to win in business and life.  The paradox of the scaling stage is that the volume of activity and "busy-ness" is so high that it's REALLY hard to scale strategically and with a methodical plan.  Perfect world, right? Not so with a few key ideas and actions in mind.  To scale ineffectively or inefficiently can spell certain doom or at a minimum stagnation.  This also begs the question that your product/service process/system is scalable in the first place but we'll talk about that later.

Before I get into it, I wanted to talk about scaling in general.  Scaling isn't the same as being more productive.  Productivity is most generally about the ratio of inputs to outputs in any given system/process (I'll use process from now on for simplicities sake, there is a difference though).  Basically, if you keep outputs the same or constant but decrease the inputs required (labor, raw materials, energy, money, etc.) you're now more productive!  Simple as that!  Now, scaling is much bigger in breadth and depth.  Scaling means you must rapidly expand your capacities and capabilities to meet growing demand for your product or service (or even attention in some cases).  This means your outputs must increase rapidly, sometimes even exponentially, and you need to increase inputs in critically important ways to be successful in meeting the new changes in demand with increased outputs.  See the difference?

This post will be completed in a 3 part series to come out over the next 3 weeks.  In all 3 I'll discuss constraints for the goal of scaling, critical analyses and actions to take, hazards to avoid, and peppered throughout will be useful resources I think could benefit my readers.  These posts by no means will be 100% comprehensive for this stage in business devleopment, that would take writing a pretty thorough book on the subject (someday maybe), but they'll contain what I think are the essential ingredients for success in this exciting but hazardous transition in life & business.  If you need help scaling up, in life or business, please don't hesitate to Contact Me directly.  The 3 part series will be: 1) Scaling a business, 2) Scaling Your Life, and 3) Common Ingredients for both.

In business, the distinct difference between starting up and scaling is that 1) you have a product or service that now meets or exceed customer requirements and 2) customers are now paying you for that product or service (i.e. you have revenue).  There are plenty of nuances to what the identifying markers are for this business transition and even some technical methods for more complex processes but for now, this is the distinction we'll be sticking with.  Scaling happens, whether you plan for it or not, when customer demand exceeds your ability to produce to that demand.  The "potential demand" can be considered an upper limit to what the needed output is.  Finding that figure can be pretty difficult so if you need some in-depth market analyses, please contact me for more help.  I'll now get to the key tangible details for scaling your business.

Critical Analyses and Actions for Scaling Your Business

  1. Clearly describe your process (or processes) for delivering value (product or service) to your customer.  Edward Deming, the father of statistical process analysis, once said "If you can't describe what you're doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing".  This is oh so true.  I believe you MUST not only describe it verbally, which for most people is relatively easy, but it should be written down, in SOME form to clearly understand the transfer of value through the process.
  2. Understand Your Process Capacity - this means the total volume of goods or services you can produce for a given time period or put another way, the maximum amount of work that can be accomplished with a given set of inputs.  This somewhat abstract number is THE determining factor in your current production abilities (again, whether a product or a service) and is the number to plan to grow, which leads me to #3.
  3. Identify Your Capacity Constraints and Continuously Break & Improve Them - this is straight out of the Goal by Eli GoldrattEvery process has a limiting task or process step that constrains the processes ability to produce faster or to a higher rate.  This constraint can be a piece of equipment in the process, physical floor space limiting movement, or something more intangible like information flowing through your process.  The idea is to identify them, get everything else tuned to this constraints rate, then break the constraint by adding capacity (or improving the process associated with the constraint) and then repeating the cycle over and over.  This is probably one of the KEY missing ideas I see out there for small and large scale manufacturers and service providers.
  4. Understand Your Current and Future Capability Requirements - this is about unique capabilities required to produce your product or service and deliver it to the customers who want it.  It's quite often an employee skills based things (see my post on Training) but can also be about the fundamental ways your production of value needs to change in the future to be more efficient and effective.  You may need to develop a comprehensive training plan, talent acquisition plan, or plan for strategic and systematic purchase of new capabilities for what might be needed in the future.  You ought to know what your strengths are, your employees current strengths are, and the business strengths in general so that you can leverage/amplify those and augment the weaknesses in capabilities in other ways.
    1. Also, this is where a lot of business owners start to put on a LOT more hats than they really should.  Capabilities like general marketing (not skills based like social media or digital design) where you need to grow customer awareness, develop continuous and effective feedback loops for value improvement between your customers and your internal processes, identify new market sizes, etc..  It could also be that you need direct sales expertise as well in this stage.
    2. You can address capability constraints or needs by:
      1. Learning more yourself as an owner, but in so doing only make yourself MORE of a bottleneck or constraint on the detailed processes in the business
      2. Outsource for a specific period of time - this might seem like a big expense and not worth it but it can get a great deal of quality work done in a short period of time and return much more than your investment if done correctly.
      3. Hire internally - this most often happens when you're certain you can afford in-house capabilities like a Marketing and Sales Manager, Operations Manager, etc.
      4. General Management Capabilities - I see this in a lot of cases where hiring a supervisor or manager is seen as a waste of money and/or unwarranted.  However, with a skilled and flexible manager/supervisor, an owner can maintain a longer term, strategic view of the business and focus more on working ON the business rather than IN the business so much.
  5. Continuously Plan and Adapt as You Scale - this stage of business development is hazardous for many reasons that require you as a business owner to address on a continuous basis. Planning can be done in small, tangible, and highly controlled "chunks" such as using the Agile Project Management approach while blending longer term views of the business and market with a longer term plan.  Some capacity/capabilities take time to nurture, grow, or purchase so you'll need near AND long term planning to stay ahead and be effective and efficient in your scaling.
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Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Funding Scaling Primarily with Sales Revenues - some businesses rely much too heavily on scaling by using customer revenues directly.  This is quite tempting and can be done but often takes much longer than other means of funding.  I'm not saying partially funding scaling with revenues is a bad thing but relying on it will induce a lot of hardship.  This is due to erratic and fluctuating demand = erratic revenues, much harder to plan effectively, hard to take into account planned process disruptions for training, retooling, facilities moves, delayed payments on contracts, etc..
    1. Obvious other sources of funding are investors or debt based leveraging.  These have their own challenges (if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!) but a thorough trade off analysis can help to select the right funding sources to scale with the best odds of success with lowest downside risks.
  2. Scaling Your Operation More Rapidly Than Demand - as you scale, you'll need to ensure you have the customer demand and revenue to pay the increasing variable costs associated with the scaling.  You'll need to do things as mentioned above like get the right marketing & sales support, supervisors, maintenance, etc. to lift the whole system up to meet the demand.  Many startups and new businesses get REALLY energized by getting funding and making purchases to setup the business without having the right plan in place to steadily grow demand ahead of the costs of doing business.  Hiring too many people for your demand or cash flow is some of the biggest hardship I see with business owners, no one likes to be the hand that is hiring and laying off good employees because of imbalances in production and demand.
  3. Ad Hoc Scaling - I see a lot of burnout happen here from small business owners all the way to Aerospace manufacturing.  Some scaling is conducted almost completely ad hoc while other times it is done with improper planning methods.  I really hate to see burnout happen, for ANY reason, but feeling customer demands from one side and the challenges with process scaling on the other can become unbearable for almost anyone.  Plan ahead, seek Operations help, or Contact Me directly if you need help!

Scaling a business is hard, multi-dimensional, and takes a lot to plan for and execute effectively.  Many businesses get into the scaling stage only to hit many (and others) of the hazards I've spoken about here.  I hope this post has at least provided my readers with some awareness of where to look and how to do some of the scaling in a systematic and strategic way.  For inspiring stories about scaling but not focusing on growth alone, a fantastic book by Bo Burlingham is Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big.  For more technical but approachable reading look at Factory Physics for Managers.