I think it was Ben Franklin who wisely advised that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For sure, I've yet to encounter a problem whose cure was less expensive than what it would have cost to avoid it in the first place. Some organizations consciously choose not to invest in that "ounce of prevention," believing their resources are better directed elsewhere. Others neglect to invest because they are unaware of either potential problems or preventative measures. Whatever the reason, problems ultimately result, and we then have to invest in a cure.
Or do we?
One of the unique values my firm provides in serving the distinctive needs of the "main street" entrepreneur and small business owner lies with providing our clients that proverbial "ounce of prevention" across several functional areas of their operations. One of the areas to which we devote a fair amount of attention is the structuring of workflow and institutional knowledge. Where there's workflow and knowledge, technology is not far behind.
I recently read an article directed to project management professionals in the world of information technology (IT). For the uninitiated, IT folks are the guys and gals at work who get excited about technology and data. We like doing things to improve the quality of information. We like doing things to improve access to that information. We get especially excited about creating tools and processes that manipulate and analyze that information to provide useful insights.
The article mentioned above was apparently one of several the author had written on the subject of "information silos." For us geeks (and some executives), these silos represent significant obstacles to achieving the things we are passionate about (see previous paragraph). In pursuit of our raison d'etre, it's easy to lose perspective. We're not alone here. What I liked about this author's perspective, however, was her admitted transformation into adopting a more holistic approach to her particular role:
"Whether it's information integration or automation, companies too often start bulldozing to build a new solution when they should first... learn more about the existing solution... [then] they might realize that while the current approach might not be eloquent or perfect; it works – and that's no small thing."
In essence, she has recognized that what represents a monumental problem for one business role (IT) , does not equate to a monumental problem for the business as a whole. This takes real perspective, and is one flavor of how good business folks maximize impact and minimize risk.
When it comes to positioning new ventures and small businesses for success, there is little margin for error. Put simply, these organizations cease to exist if they invest time, money and energy in efforts that fail to produce swift and substantial results for their operations. If you're going to succeed, you quickly learn which problems need to be solved and which don't.
So the next time you're facing a "monumental" problem, think like an entrepreneur or small business owner. Though this problem may loom large for you, is a solution really critical to achieving the bigger picture? Yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That ounce may only be of value, however, if the cure is truly necessary.
Good engineers plan for failure. So do good attorneys. Perhaps this is why "disaster planning" is an area I tend to spend a lot of time on. One planning approach I utilize to start businesses thinking about this topic involves an imaginary "hit by a bus" scenario. Basically, the question asked is "how well positioned will the organization be if [insert name here] is hit by a bus tomorrow and everything they carry around inside their head is suddenly lost to the business?" The real answer to this question can have a tremendous impact upon family members, employees, customers, investors, and many others.
Business owners and entrepreneurs work with us because they want to build and grow their business. Disaster planning is rarely high on their priority list -- especially when most answer the "hit by a bus" question with platitudes such as "we'd be fine" or "all our key info is written down somewhere." The more a business grows, however, the more important such planning becomes. The earlier you can make "disaster planning" a part of normal operations, the better positioned you will be for sustainable success (not to mention the added value it provides should you ever wish to raise outside capital or sell your business -- good planning across all aspects of your business reflects overall competence and stability, both of which will positively influence prospective deals).
Technology is at the core of most critical business operations for just about every company (think point of sale system, accounting system, company website, customer contact information, work product, etc.). It also tends to be taken for granted. For this reason, it is a prime candidate for my "hit by a bus" list. I know the headline promises the top 5 questions. To paraphrase Captain Barbosa from "Pirates of the Caribbean," however, they're really more like guidelines. It's all about embracing the process 🙂
As I recently mused on another topic, successful business leaders manage risk. Each business needs to recognize and assess its key touch points in order to make intelligent choices about how to best manage risk within the context of available resources (time and money). Hopefully, this short list can help move you further down that path.