This week I attended the University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium and listened to the keynote speech by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Mayor Leppert made one key point for today’s business: If you want to be successful in business, you need to build flexibility into your organization.
He expanded on the premise. Five or six years ago you may have been able to perform a SWOT analysis, determine your opportunity, and create a plan to enter that market. Not so today. Why?
The rate of change has become so fast, so deadly... that by the time you spend 12 to 18 months executing and delivering your plan, the target market has moved or is now nonexistent. Think of Detroit and the car business. These 100-year-old organizations are now on the cusp of extinction.
Of course, I agree that building flexibility into an organization is important and I would suggest that it’s even more important to build options into your products from the ground up, because your products create the greatest value for your customers.
Let’s look at an example. In 1996, NeXT Inc. had executed and exhausted all of its strategic plans. The company’s foggy future had many people guessing about its fate, until two NeXT software engineers took advantage of an option built into the NeXT operating system (OS). They modified the OS so it ran on an Apple computer, then called a couple engineers at Apple and said, “Hi, do you want to see NeXT run on an Apple?”
The rest is hardly a mystery. Apple bought NeXT and started to deliver cats like clockwork — Every 12 - 18 months, Jaguar, or Tiger or Leopard pounced on the market.
Just for a moment, think about the root cause of the opportunity that fell into NeXT's lap. Someone within NeXT made a design decision to build flexibility into the NeXT OS from the start, pulverizing speed bumps and empowering the team’s imagination to respond to changing conditions. For when imagination is unbound, it takes flight and lifts us to destinations unknown.
You gotta love options. I mean... when a company uses options in a disciplined fashion, it’s like wearing ice skates to play a hockey game while your competition wears tennis shoes. You gotta love those odds.
By now, I wonder if you’ve realized that design options create an advantage that long-term planning is unable to match. When the only option that remains is building options into your products and services, it’s high time to stow away the spreadsheets and set sail with design.