Bob the management consultant is called in to UK Futures Ltd. He’s meeting Bill, head of Business development to give an external sign off on a new business proposal – “Project Break Free”.
Hello, I’m Bob. Thanks for calling me in. So can you give me some background? What exactly is “Project Break Free”?
Well, its a very ambitious and ground breaking project, we’re all very excited about it. We’re looking to revolutionize our Sales operation.
Sounds interesting. What’s involved?
Well, we have a number of sales agreements in place with 27 primary partners/customers and 50 odd sales agreements with secondary partners. We want to radically change these Sales agreements in order to increase our sales.
Why? Have sales been disappointing?
Yes, we’re only the 5th largest company worldwide. Well, we were.
What, are you 4th now?
No, 6th. Unfortunately the markets got wind of our plans and reacted quite badly.
You were 5th under the existing partnership but now you’re 6th? Why? How important are these sales agreements to the company?
Quite important. The Sales agreements with the primary partners make up about 50% of our sales and the secondary agreements about 35%.
OK, that’s a big chunk. I assume you’re planning a pilot of some sort, to test the waters?
Well, we’d like to but we can’t. You see we created these agreements such that all 28 partners have to agree to any changes, otherwise individual partners could just work around the agreements and the whole thing would fall apart. Plus the 50 odd secondary sales contracts depend on being in the original 28 way partnership. So we have to rewrite all of them at the same time.
What, all of them? That’s 85% of your market.
I know, I said it was groundbreaking. It’s all very exciting.
And what growth rate are you projecting for additional sales once you complete all this?
Quite a lot, we think. It should be quite a lot.
“Quite a lot”? Don’t you have forecasts? Projections? You must have defined some success factors?
No, not exactly. We don’t really know.
I see, no actual targets. OK what exactly is “project Break Free”, what are you actually trying to achieve?
Well, its a bit complicated. There’s kind of a plan A and plan B. Plan A involves an update in our sales contracts with our 27 partners, to become a kind of “satellite partner”, whereas plan B involves ripping up all existing sales contracts and writing new ones.
Plan B sounds a bit drastic.
It is – we call it “the Hard plan”. Plan A is “the Soft plan”. There’s also about 3 variations between the two.
3 variations? OK I’ll let that go for now, anyway, do you have detailed project plans for “Hard” and “Soft”?
Not really, to be honest I think we all underestimated the detail needed, and the variations, and the sheer number of moving parts in fact. But I say that’s what makes it exciting and groundbreaking.
It sounds very high risk, did you seek expert opinion?
We did, but feedback was mixed to be honest. One expert was very much in favour though.
One? Out of how many?
About 10. But you know I think we’ve had enough of experts, sometimes in sales you have to go with your gut, after all, we know our business.
Yes…. that’s an interesting way of managing risk, but I suppose if you have the support of your management team…
We do, 2 of the senior Sales managers are extremely keen. We have their full support.
2? What do the rest say?
Oh, almost all the rest are against it as well. However we do have a new CIO who is very much behind the initiative. She’s actually defined our mission statement..
“Break Free means Break Free”
What does that mean?
What it says.
But it doesn’t say anything.
It does, you have to emphasis the last two words, “Break Free means BREAK FREE!”, and then it makes sense.
It really doesn’t.
Oh, ok, we thought it was quite snappy.
OK, so these 2 plans, A & B, “Hard” & “Soft”? Who drove them? Who were the thought leaders?
Oh we had an excellent Executive team, real blue sky visionaries. They put the whole thing together and put it to the board.
And were the board impressed? What did they say?
Oh of course. They approved it, well, just about.
Yes, 10 for, 9 against.
That’s a close vote.
Yes, I think the executive team were quite surprised to get approval to be honest.
I can imagine. Can I meet them by the way, as they are the “visionaries” behind this they can probably give me additional background information.
Oh they’re not on the project now.
Yes, they’re better suited to the blue sky thinking rather than the actual delivery. They’re all off on “special projects”. But we have a new Executive management team now, very fired up, very enthusiastic.
Yes, well…the Executive Manager has over 20 years experience, he did a similar role in the 1990s.
OK, and since then.
Oh, not much. To be honest he’s kind of learning on the hoof, its all far more complicated than he thought. But the Trade Development manager is off to a great start. He’s a real straight talker, he tells it like it is.
In what way?
Well, he’s sent out a robust no-nonsense memo to the Senior Sales Managers. Well, not sent, exactly, it kind of slipped out.
And what did this robust memo say?
He called them all fat and lazy. But that’s just his style, like I said he’s no nonsense.
So is he experienced in this area, he must be surely.
No, not really, he’s at about the same level as the Executive manager. But they’re both very enthusiastic.
Really……OK, anyway, back to the board meeting. Which plan did the board approve, “hard” or “soft”?
Err, both, neither, it’s quite complicated
Well, we knew they wouldn’t like parts of plan A and they definitely wouldn’t like parts of plan B, so we kind of took the best bits of both and avoided the details.
Yes, it seemed to be the best way to get them to go for it.
Go for what exactly?
Plan A, or Plan B – you see we couldn’t decide either which one to go for either. The trouble is Plan B is quite a lot harder than we thought. Quite fortunate that we termed it “Hard” to be honest.
Well, why not go with Plan A?
Ah well, you see part of the problem is that Plan A involves carrying on the practice of “Free movement of Employees”. Each Sales Partner is allowed to send employees to other sales partners for work experience.
Oh, I see – and these employees that you get aren’t very good.
No, they’re very good, hard workers on the whole.
Oh, OK, so there’s too many coming to your company.
No, not really, it’s about 1% of our workforce
So I assume that its a one way thing, you never end up sending your employers to the other companies?
No, we send about the same amount historically. We’ve taken a few more recently but overall the balance is about even.
So what’s the problem?
Well, some of our workers don’t like the other workers coming over.
They say they work for less money and everyone ends up getting paid less. And they say that they put our workers out of work. And they say there’s too many of them.
Well 1% doesn’t sound a lot, I can’t really see an issue with that but I can see how the other items would be a problem, can’t you address those?
Well, not really.
Why not? Seems pretty straightforward.
Yes but they’re not actually issues either. The incoming workers don’t actually lower wages or take jobs to any great extent. Any effects are minimal and tend to balance out . It’s just that some of our workers think they do.
Why do they think that?
Well, we told them it was true. Sort of. We really needed the work force’s support to get these radical changes through, it’ll all be for the best in the end.
So, you’re saying you can’t do the “Soft” plan because of a non existent problem that you actually helped create?
Yes, its very tricky. But radical change is never easy.
Well why did you suggest you would stop this “Free movement of Employees” in the first place if it wasn’t really a issue?
We didn’t actually say we would, we just kind of hinted, but now the workforce think we promised.
There’s a surprise. So you’re choosing the “hard” plan partly because people think you promised, even you didn’t, to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist, which you helped create? Well, you’re in a bit of a pickle – I’d advise that you take it back to the board.
Oh we can’t do that, they’ve voted, we have to respect the vote.
But they didn’t vote on anything that made sense?
I know, it’s very tricky, but those are the rules, the board’s vote is final.
Hmm, OK, so how do you plan to proceed?
Well we’re not sure. It’s a bit of a minefield to be honest.
Can’t you just follow industry best practices?
There aren’t any, no-ones done this before.
No, its very exciting. We’re at the bleeding edge.
Exciting? OK, lets try something else. Is the project properly resourced?
How do you mean?
Well do you have experienced staff in the proper numbers?
No, not really, we’re hiring in junior people and external contractors at £5000 a day, but to be honest we don’t really have any experience in this.
OK….how about budget?
We’re not sure. We did think we’d make savings of £350 Million a week through this process…
£350 Million? That’s a lot of savings.
Yes…unfortunately it turns out that was a made up figure, there probably won’t be any savings.
A “made up figure”?
Yes, it sounded realistic, but apparently it was made up of money that we don’t actually pay out and commitments that we have to carry on paying for, and in any case we will have a loss of sales until the project is delivered so we’ll probably have to borrow from the bank to pay for the project and to keep the company going until it finishes.
And when do you plan to deliver the project?
Well, at first we were planning on 2 years. But then it went out to 3 years. Now we’re thinking 5-10 years. There’s a lot to do.
So let me get this straight. You’re betting 85% of your business on a process that no-one has tried before, ever, but you don’t have clear objectives or a plan, you don’t have enough staff, you aren’t sure how long it will take though it will be at least 5 years and probably 10, you don’t have any budget because all the projected savings were based on made up numbers and disappeared before the project even started so you’ll have to take on more debt to finance the project and keep the company going. You’ve also misled the board by mixing up 2 completely different plans and your workforce by appearing to promise to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Your original Executive team who drove this are all off on “special projects”, the new Executive team don’t understand the problem, and most of your senior sales managers and almost all external experts don’t support the direction. Is that about right?
Yes, what do you think?
Well, that depends.
Depends on what?
Well if you are asking me for a one off opinion I’d say the project hasn’t got a hope in hell of succeeding and you should all be fired for dishonesty, incompetence or both.
Well, actually, we were hoping to retain you for the project
Oh, Really? Well in that case I’d say it sounds very ambitious, challenging and visionary, so put me down for £5,000,
for 2 years.
Don’t worry. You can option the other 8 years.