The pain of taking the leap to that next stage of growth can be enormous. But as small businesses continue to dominate the UK economy, can we ease the strain of growth and accelerate it by taking a lighter hearted approach to business expansion? PMSI explains the rules of the growth game.
There are 5 stages of growth for small businesses, according to the Harvard Business Review. These include a drive towards greater delegation, co-ordination and collaboration. All of which require a focus on reporting and improving the analytical capabilities of leaders in small businesses.
Business is fun
PMSI Consulting works with organisations of all sizes to help develop these skills. For the past two years it has facilitated a business intelligence (BI) game for Kingston University’s Strategic Project Management masters programme – helping students to understand more of how business and technology need to work together to achieve growth.
Pamela Edmond, associate director at PMSI, says that the impact of the game is the same no matter whether the player is a post-graduate with business experience or an undergraduate. “Realising that there is fluidity in the supply of information; how you need to harness that; and ultimately ask the right questions about your business; all seems to lead to a competitive challenge that everyone enjoys,” she says.
“There’s also a realisation of just how many different perspectives there are to consider when looking at business performance. Asking the right questions of the business and market data often differentiates those who simply survive as businesses and those which outperform their peers to grow.”
Doctor Serhiy Kovela, course director for Business Information Technology at Kingston University, talks about the practical learning the PMSI game provides.
“It has been great to be able to turn the classroom into a boardroom. I like to think we aren’t like the BBC’s Apprentice. Our students collaborate and work together rather than fighting for attention, however, it was still great fun to see them enjoying a competitive experience in an environment that is more forgiving than the real world.”
BI & business growth
Often the first signs of the journey towards growth are the first steps towards a fledgling BI infrastructure. This includes installing an ERP system, with basic monthly reporting, but it can also begin when leadership starts asking the right questions about the future and the business vision develops a need for answers to complex questions and for more formalised business process development.
So where’s the fun? Business process development can be hard, frustrating and daunting.
In PMSI’s experience, a common fear for small business leaders is a loss of control or ability to delegate responsibility for such valuable data about their business. By easing into business process development and the building BI capability using games it is possible to broaden the skills of the management team and highlight skills or understanding gaps painlessly.
As Plato said: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
PMSI has therefore started running smaller scale versions of its BI game with management teams in order to bring fast-track leadership development and build confidences in business for their next steps to growth.
“Leadership is vital,” she says. “Having that commitment from the visionary and the wider management team working together, is the key to a solid foundation for BI implementation. If you get the team to understand all the different agendas and objectives; how they impact one another; and the overall effect on the greater good of the organisation’s growth agenda; you can get consensus on what’s required.”
This is no easy task, admits Edmond. But putting pressure on a team within a fictitious competitive environment helps to drive behaviours which produce results in challenging circumstances.
Asking the right questions
This is one of the hardest steps in achieving growth and establishing a useful BI infrastructure. But team work makes the process easier.
Edmond relates this team perspective to the 2011 film Moneyball about a struggling baseball team who face relegation. “The character Billy Beane, the club general manager, is the visionary who commits to what he was sees in his team performance analytics. But only a new perspective from the character of Peter Brand, allows the team’s management to start asking the right questions and building a process towards success.”
Grady Fuson: We’re trying to solve a problem here.
Billy Beane: Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem.
Grady Fuson: We’re very aware of the problem.
Billy Beane: Okay, good. What’s the problem?
Grady Fuson: Okay, Billy. We all understand what the problem is. We have to replace…
Billy Beane: Good. What’s the problem?
Grady Fuson: The problem is we have to replace three key players.
Billy Beane: No. What’s the problem?
John Poloni: Same as it’s ever been. We’ve gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.
Billy Beane: No! What’s the problem, Barry?
Scout Barry: We need three eight home runs, a hundred twenty RBI’s and forty seven…
Billy Beane: Aaahhh! The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game…We got to think differently.
Perspectives on growth
So each business is at a different stage, or level it would seem and more organisations now find themselves suddenly thrust into larger reporting structures, through either acquisition or merger. Understanding how this affects growth plans can also become a game with the right pragmatic approach. And the right software.
Choosing the right BI software should consider the users, the data and the vision – both of parent companies and acquired business units. Are you looking at a top-down strategy? What are your reporting requirements, now and in the future? Who needs to be using it and why?
“Games such as SimCity and Theme Park jump out at me as being similar to top-down strategy,” says Angus Urquhart, manager and senior data scientist at PMSI. “You’d have a map of your area of interest – whether it was building a city, running a theme park or conquering the world – you’d deal with scarce resources, make decisions based on these restrictions and await the outcomes. Sound familiar? Maybe the people developing BI software are from the generation that grew up playing these games, but the point is that it never stops.”
An ongoing level of change in the data is obvious and, in business it is largely driven by the complexity of markets, company growth and new processes. When these data sets are brought together in a single view it is easier to see where the next stage of growth is.
But getting the right BI software to support this needs to be well thought-through, tested and not approached lightly. Urquhart urges investors to makes sure that the technical capability is there, but also that the interface inspires users to make the most of it.
“The complication that BI software has in comparison to basic gaming, for instance, is that the underlying datasets are often much more complex so much more attention is paid to the back end crunching of data, as to the front-end interfaces,” he says. “Yet the front-end is where the fun can be for those enjoying seeing a small business change and grow.”