Saturday, April 25, 2009

Without Wind

Launching a new range of products is like going through the entire process of making a baby, expecting one, labouring for one and finally looking after the baby during its infancy. It is almost as if you were playing the part of the expecting parent, as a he or she where applicable.

Before launching a product, you have to sit down with the key stakeholders of your company to discuss the prospect and feasibility of this launch and the planning involved in all related functions. Topics that are commonly touched are the launch timing, market positioning, competitors, financials, demand and supply planning. It is just like the forethought that a couple has before deciding to make a baby - the timing, financial aspects and supportability of this endeavour all comes into consideration. It is what we like to call prudent thinking.

Once all plans are finalized and management has given the project a go-ahead, the execution begins. Demands are forecasted, supply planning begins, marketing initiatives are conceptualized and new product development is initiated. Very much like the conception of the baby in the womb of the mother.

When pregnancy is confirmed a couple of months later, preparation for the birth of the baby begins. This is reminiscent of what happens when trade plans are confirmed, the artwork and formulation of the product finalized and approved and production planning begins. It is like what we do in anticipation of the baby coming into our life - seeking professional counsel in clinics or hospitals for mothers-to-be, shopping for the baby cot or the clothings, and preparing that heavenly baby room in the house.

Strange enough, the entire process of a new product launch spans approximately 9 months as well just like the pregnancy of a mother. What is even more uncanny is that the nearer the timeline of the launch approaches, the more complexity in the project arrises just like the more frequent contraction of the mother's womb when her expecting date looms nearer.

Finally when the baby is due, Murphy's Law kicks into full swing and anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The baby's expected dates are never exact and sometimes they are born earlier or later. In severe cases, giving birth may be a problem and the mother has to opt for a caesarian instead. In some instances, the place where the labouring takes place is not even planned. Similarly with the launch timing of a new product where sometimes it has to be deferred to a later date due to supply issues or moved forward due to business needs related to competition. Sometimes it is so critical that the products itself has to be airfreight from the sourcing site to meet the timeline - this to me is what I call 'pulling a caesarian' on a new product launch.

But after all the months and months of hardwork and planning, the product is finally launched and everyone in the team can breathe a sigh of relief, but only temporarily. It is like the calm before the next storm. You still have to monitor the sales and the market offtake. Perform a litmus test on the project to see if the demand captured was correct, how is the product doing at the consumer level and whether the launch is going according to plan. It is like that first moment when you hold the new born baby in your arms, checking if he/she has all 10 fingers and toes, ensuring if the baby can see and hear and cry.

Some weeks and months later, you still have to go back to the clinic for a follow-up check on the health of the baby. If there are any problems detected, the doctor will give advice and treatment accordingly for those less-fortunate babies to ensure every fighting chance of survival is given to the baby. It is no different with the new product. Every month the management will review its performance. Forecasts are adjusted accordingly until it reflects the true demand, consumer behaviour towards the product are still monitored and supplies are managed diligently to maintain an optimum level of inventory.

The rest, they say is history...

The milestones of the launch are like the milestones of the birth. We always look at the sales target achieved, market share obtained, brand equity developed and customer service level maintained but little do we realize it is like looking at our baby taking the first step, uttering the first word, going to school and so forth.

Be it a successful launch or not, it will always be our baby and it is love unconditional. It is what we all here go through day-in and day-out. When I look at it again, I see the irony of what we already do in our work with that of our lives, in the backdrop of a baby company. It is priceless.

It is never easy what we do as we are all very different people with different background and different mandate in the company. But we all strive to achieve the same goals. For me, it is about learning to adapt and meet everyone halfway. Deep down inside, I think the failure to launch maybe the single most valuable experience I can take away from this when it all finally comes to an end.

I cannot change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. I am almost there now finally...

But a constant question remains at the back of my mind - what if there was no wind to begin with?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Intricacy Without Delicacy

Jamie folded her arms across her chest. The mood in the meeting room was becoming thick with tension, “We have been tolerating this immature behavior for some time now”.

“I totally agree. I think we can use this incident as an opportunity to make the change,” replied Terence. Already feeling a trail of sweat trickling down the back of his head, he continued, “I do see your point but it’s not like we can control our customers”.

All this is good finding but can we go on with the training? It’s almost 5pm…

“Yes, we don’t control the customers but we can teach them, educate them and share with them the problems we face when they do not co-operate with us,” interjected Lynn who suddenly became animated with life.

Suddenly Carrie felt the need to cut in as well, “It is so ridiculous when we have to reject back the orders just because their order is short of 1 or 2 pieces”.

Terence’s hands were both on the table now, “I see your point but who are we to educate our customers, we cannot just tell them what to do”. He chanced a glancing look to his side at Amber and continued, “Besides, we need to also try to understand their ordering system. They consolidate the total quantity from all outlets into one single order and more often than not, these numbers are not round figures and they do not have a system or program to round up the numbers”.

Great! This is going to take longer than expected. I thought this was supposed to be a training, how did it become a discussion now? When will this end?

“But can’t you tell them that for us, we have a minimum order quantity and everytime the order is short of 1 or 2 pieces, it gets rejected and this affects our customer service”, added Michelle with a scoff.

“It’s true you know, Terence. We are talking about our KPIs here. This is something that can be easily controlled and solved,” uttered Erica in the most innocent manner.

At this point, Terence was hoping that Amber would add a few words here and there to support him. Isn’t she part of his team anyway? But to his dismay, she continued to sit silently beside him.

“But I don’t see why we can’t solve the problem from our end. We can easily manipulate the orders upon receiving to round up to the nearest number as well”, retorted Terence.

Guys, guys! Stop it please, it’s past 5pm now and we are still going nowhere with this. I think I have to take this into my own hands. Should I intervene? Use subtlety? How do I make this end?

Jamie began again and this time with less aggressiveness in her tone, “We can manage it on our end but it is too much unnecessary work”.

“Non-value added as well”, said Lynn.

“Imagine you have to manually edit the orders line by line in the system. How many orders we have in one day from this customer?” queried Michelle.

“About 20 orders for one region…” declared Nina.

“So that is about 100 orders in total!” stated Jamie.

“That is why it’s so much work. Daily, do you want to key in 100 data points?” challenged Rachel.

That’s it. I know what to do now. I’ll just throw them off in a different direction that will lead to the conclusion I want. I can’t take this anymore. This will work.

“I guess that is a lot of work,” Terence conceded.

I saw my chance and started, “I think this is a good discussion. This is definitely an opportunity we can explore for both sides. We need to solve this, so will we be organizing a separate meeting for this?”

Immediately, everyone stopped the discussion and realized the time is past due and we have severely moved off topic. “Let’s follow up with this another time, we need to get on with the training first”, announced Jamie.

Ahh, the power of subtlety and sincerity!

The rest was history. How simple it was. Sometimes it is in front of us but we missed it. Sometimes we must recognize a problem for what it is and act on it but do so with the right state of mind, the right resources, the right commitment and the right timing. If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Portals of Discovery

More often than not we live through our lives as a series of connecting dots interweaving it with defining and profound events intertwined within the conundrum of possibilities.

Sometimes we are on a collision course and we just do not know it, whether it is by accident or by design. Either eventuality presents the same degree of futility. There is not a thing we can do about it.

A new man on the job changed the frequency and amount of work being sent each time to a group of workers in the suburbs. The first few shipments were inefficient due to this change which resulted in lesser work actually shipped out.

A few days later, a woman in the suburbs was on her way for her morning grocery shopping. But she had forgotten her basket and went back to get it. When she had gotten the basket, the phone had rang. So she stopped to answer it and talked for a couple of minutes.

While the woman was on the phone, Naveen was preparing lunch at home for his wife at work.

While he was cooking, the woman was off the phone now and had gone outside to her waiting husband in the car. But while she was momentarily distracted in locking the gate which took a handful of seconds more than usual, her husband hurriedly decided to drive their other smaller car instead.

Now while her husband was getting the smaller car ready, the woman got into the car just in time. The husband, who had been waiting for a long while, decided it best to take the smaller car to save on petrol, anticipating a long day doing groceries with his wife since the woman had been pretty slow so far.

All the while, Naveen was cooking.

The couple drove and had to stop for a boy crossing the street who left for his football game 15 minutes later than he normally did because he forgot to set his alarm. While that boy, late for his game was crossing the street, Naveen had finished cooking and was getting ready to do some house chores until noon before sending the lunch to his wife.

And while Naveen was taking out the garbage, the house phone rang. He picked up the call and his wife informed that work would end before lunch; a lot earlier than it normally would that day because there was not enough of work to go around from the new change in shipments. Her supervisor had sent all his workers home early because they were on hourly wages.

Naveen was already on his bike to pick up his wife home.

The husband earlier was waiting outside a bakery for the woman to pick up a cake which had not been packaged yet because the girl who was supposed to do it had broken up with her boyfriend the night before, and forgot. When the cake was packaged, the woman was back in the car, which was blocked by a delivery truck.

All the while Naveen was driving.

Then the delivery truck pulled away and the couple in the car was able to move. While Naveen, the last to queue up behind some motorcycles at the traffic light, waited patiently for the bike in front to restart its engine when it suddenly died off during the wait for the green light.

Nearby was the couple approaching the traffic light as Naveen finally moved along.

And if only one thing had happened differently, if the bike's engine had not died off; or that delivery truck had moved moments earlier; or that cake had been packaged and ready because the girl had not broken up with her boyfriend; or the new man on the job had ensured the workers had enough work to go by; or the boy had set his alarm and got up 15 minutes earlier; or the husband had not decided to change cars; or that woman had remembered her basket and locked the gate faster; Naveen would have crossed the street and the couple would have driven by.

But life being what it is - a series of intercepting lives and incidents out of anyone's control. The couple did not go by and the husband was momentarily distracted as Naveen unknowingly followed the bike in front across the street when the lights just turned red. And that couple hit Naveen.

He died on the way to the hospital but his wife was informed that he was in a critical condition at the hospital. Close family members withheld the truth until she was safely there for fear of her emotions affecting her judgment.

Naveen left behind a faithful wife - Prema, and four loving, and bright daughters with the youngest being six and the oldest at sixteen.

About a month ago, I discovered that a man's errors are his portals of discovery.