The articles in this book are a result of collecting over 980 observations and mistakes that I have made or seen or from comments made by others. I have been doing this since 1990. I have summarized many of those notes with short, catchy phrases. I have created most of them, but have also taken the liberty to use many that were created by others. With almost 1,000 to choose from, I have only one of them on a plaque on my desk. It is not my creation. There are many variations that can be found through a simple Google search. The quote is: “If time is not working for you, it is working against you.”
Quite often, the feeling of anxiousness is associated with time. You may recall saying when you were a youngster or you probably have heard it from your children: “Are we there yet?” In business, we may feel this same uneasiness every day. Often when we are waiting for others to respond, we feel a sense of vulnerability or helplessness. When will they release the purchase order; when will the term sheet arrive; how much longer do we have to wait for the decision; when will those critical parts arrive to allow us to finish the product build? These are questions that many of us face every day. On the other hand, there are time related issues that are in our favor such as we have a six month lead on the closest competitor; we have a three year non-cancellable contract; our newly issued patent will protect us for seventeen years; or the funding we received will take us well past our cash flow breakeven point.
In the former case, the feeling of non-control may not be appropriate or can be eliminated with some upfront planning. Quite often, we think of tasks being required to take place in a serial fashion, with one activity starting only after something else has been concluded. Left alone and unchallenged, the serial, time consuming series of events will extend the path to the finish line. However, often there are tasks that can be undertaken out of sync with the norm.
The article in this collection “Cycle Time: A Universal Metric” discuses the concept of minimizing the overall length of time that it takes from start to finish of an activity. In that article, the comment was made that there are very few things like fine wine that get better with age. Instead, with more elapsed time, the opportunity for failures increases. This is in essence, the notion behind time working against you and not for you.
One illustrative example that has proven to be effective in the past is the parallel pursuit of activities involved in finalizing a contract. Normally, when pursuing an order, we wait until a business person has made the decision to purchase a product or a service. Then, the operational aspects of the impacts of the purchase are planned and finally the resulting contract is given to the prospect’s legal department for review. All of these steps take time. Perhaps a better approach might be to begin discussions with operational personnel before the final decision is made. Not only could this save time, but it also may be an effective way of making a presumptive close changing the dialogue from “if you do this” to “when you do this”. An exhibit driven contract document with the “legalese” contained in the body of the contract and the business particulars (equipment list, pricing, delivery, etc) in exhibits, allows parallel reviews to occur. The lawyers need not be bothered with the product or service details while at the same time, the business/operations people need not be bothered with the required legal boiler plate. There is only upside to this approach. If a roadblock occurs in the parallel processing effort, it most assuredly would have also occurred later in the serial process. On the other hand, parallel processing can significantly reduce the overall cycle time.
The same technique can be applied to many other activities as well. In the article in this series “Don’t Have Your First Meeting”, the point was made that you should not have your first meeting unless you are ready for the second. In general, simply by anticipating what is next and then again, what is next can dramatically reduce the overall time. As another real world example, an entrepreneur actively involved in raising money will experience many periods of down time, waiting to hear back from potential investors or waiting for the day of the presentation. During these periods, by looking ahead, the entrepreneur can begin to prepare the due diligence documents that will be needed, identify references that the investor can contact, identify the attorney or firm that will be involved, outline the terms of the deal selected and the extremes that they will consider, think through the projected use of funds and hiring plan, plus many more similar activities.
By thinking through the logical “what is the next set of issues”, it is easy to turn time into a commodity that is working for you rather than one that is working against you. Think about this approach in everything that you do every day. A simple little plaque on your desk or a sticky note on your monitor will help. It has helped me for many years since I learned this lesson from Bob Goodman at Bessemer Venture Partners.