I heard about a personal chef the other day, who provides a prepared meal delivery service for a clientele. They had observed that their goal was not to grow their business and branch out, but instead to stay with their passion for artisanal cooking. When I heard this, it reminded me of the story in the business book The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. The concept in this book is that as a small business owner you should be working on the business, not in the business. So from Mr. Gerber’s perspective, this personal chef should not be focused on the artisanal art of cooking, but instead focusing on how to streamline and standardize the recipes and preparation, thus allowing for scalability and productization.
What’s interesting to me is how both of these approaches are perfectly valid but require a very intentional, up-front strategic decision. Am I doing this business because I want to make a lot of money, or am I doing the business because I want to be involved in the day-to-day operations of whatever the product or service is?
The problem, of course, is when someone wants one strategic goal but executes towards the other. I’ve met and worked with entrepreneurs on startups whose goal was to make money, but they insisted on being personally involved with all of the operational aspects. So the growth was limited by the person’s time and would eventually meet the outer limits of their availability, and the startup was never able to grow past that point.
So how does this relate to the enterprise? The same strategic decision still applies, as does the execution approach. If you are in an organization that produces a product or provides a service, what is your strategic goal? Is it growth and revenue? If so, then you need to use the same idea of working on your productization, automation, and repeatability. But if your goal instead is to produce world-class quality, then you need to instead shift your focus on craftsmanship and individual quality.
Let’s take an example: you want to make and sell paintings. What is your goal?
Is it to sell one million paintings and sell via large brick-and-mortar and online retailers, thus maximizing revenue? Then you work on building an approach to make one million paintings as quickly and simply as possible. You define a template (a tree, a flower, and a bird), then rotate through producing those paintings in a defined pattern (here are 10 tree species, 10 flower species, 10 bird species, and 10 color pallets, and rotate through those combinations). You make the creation of paintings as streamlined and automated as possible.
Is it instead to create world-class quality paintings that will be hung in the lobbies of the most prestigious hotels and business lobbies? Well then you don’t worry about the “templates”, instead, you want to hire the finest painters, make sure they have all the art supplies they need, and then leave them alone with the time they need to work their craft. You make the creation of paintings be an artisanal quality-driven approach.
It is important to note the tradeoffs that will occur for these approaches. If you take the first approach, then quality becomes more challenging to maintain. You can’t expect an automated assembly-line process to create world-class works of art; you have to accept the fact that it takes time and money. So you have to decide whether you design for maximizing profit, which probably means sacrificing some quality, or design for top-tier quality, which greatly adds to the cost and time. These are not absolutes. You can adjust somewhere in between for your organization, but to do this effectively you need to define your goals and metrics and be intentional and aligned with the approach your organization is taking.
How do you think this concept could apply to your industry? Are you able to identify what your strategic goal is, and how your execution approach aligns? In future blog posts I will be talking about how to fine-tune your operations to align with the goals you’ve defined.