Ready, Fire, Aim and some lessons learned along the way

30th Jul 2007

“Ready, Fire, Aim” is a hackneyed expression but I cannot think of a better way to describe incomplete or improper planning.  During my career I have been guilty of this error…and I have seen companies with great ideas struggle and even fail because of a lack of planning.  Transition Capital Management, West Des Moines, IA, has asked me to deliver a presentation on this topic next month to a group of Des Moines small and start-up businesses.  Planning is a discipline that my management teams and I have spent a lot of time and effort on.  Planning is really a simple exercise that small businesses often ignore…and many large businesses spend too much time on!  The key is balance.

“Ready, Fire, Aim” mentality is most prevalent in small cap, start-up and turnaround companies but occurs in large operations as well, even in those who over-plan.  Smaller operations can react so quickly that tight resources may be expended too rapidly.  And start-up and turnaround operations may jump at what appears to be a good opportunity…only to find out that they jumped too quickly. 

Here is an example:  I was part of a technology start-up that has a wonderful product.  The company was under-funded and its product was well ahead of its time.  The target customer group did not recognize the value, did not know they needed the product and, as such, the product got an early black eye despite the benefits it could deliver.  We were guilty of developing incorrect distribution channels and believing that guerrilla marketing could overcome what was really poor planning.  The initial pricing was an obstacle to success and the potential customers were resistant to technological advance.  We modified the product, reduced its cost and capabilities, focused on a different market segment, and were able to successfully re-launch the product.  But the cost in time, money and energy was enormous.  Clearly, a few months of market research and planning would have preserved capital, re-directed product development and put us in the market much more rapidly.  Today (four years from the initial launch) the product is accepted and drawing rave reviews.  Who knows what success we may have enjoyed by now if we had just done a little more marketing and sales planning. 

All of you know the PLOC’s of leadership…the P being planning.  It is vital that all of you in leadership, marketing and sales positions in smaller operations make a conscious effort to force planning and strategic thinking time into all of your new product or process launches.  And all of you in those over-planning larger operations…keep that planning activity in your process but reduce the time frames.  Ensure your competitors don’t beat you to the punch!

Ready.  Aim.  Fire.  Plan and win.