Solving 90%

Solving 90%

How not solving every problem and possibility can benefit in agile environments


UX is very similar to business operations in lot of senses; the need to identify user goals, behaviours, barriers, engagement, emotions, and providing a simple way to increase the likelihood of a user completing the business’ desired flow in order to reach their own goals. Coming from a UX background, I hold simplicity as a key cornerstone to crafting an experience, or indeed a process, that is transformative. In order to make something that works well, first simplify it.

Indeed, good Operations System Management embraces the same principles; the concept of simplifying the complex. In the workplace, there is a tendency to do the exact opposite…dive into the finer points, technical specifications, and minute-by-minute timelines. Details have their place, especially for those who perform some of the front-line work, but they may not be required in every communication or conversation.

Why should you be concerned about this? Your colleagues, team members, and senior leaders will struggle to understand you if you are overly complicated. It will be difficult to gain their support or collaboration if they do not understand you. It will be difficult to achieve business objectives for employees, customers, or shareholders without their cooperation.

Focusing on the 90%

Processes that work for the 100% of instances will often be weaker than those which cover 90%. In order to cover 100% they have to include increased amounts of flows and possibilities for if/then circumstances. In working in an industry that both delivers products (website) and service (the process of delivering the product and gradual enhancement to it) there is an infinite amount of possible scenarios appear, as we are humans dealing directly with other humans. It complicates educating team members, distracting them from the core focus of the majority of efforts and time.

Instead, getting your team to being really clear and defined on what the expectation, methods and delivery of the 90% are will allow for rapid business growth and team confidence. It becomes easier to train, optimise the 90% (and in fact increase it to cover beyond 90%) and measure it.

It’s also a lot easier to manage customers when aiming for the 90%. We understand that we can educate clients thoroughly on working methods and recommendations, but every client comes to us with different levels of understanding, accepting, aims, and wanting different relationships. We can’t aim to forge 100% of these to follow an exact stream of service, for all our clients work differently. We also have to respect their own time. We are possibly just one of several service providers they work with, alongside a lot of other fulfilment, marketing and sales objectives they have to maintain. Their requests may be slightly scattered to reflect this. Focusing on educating our team on how to respond and deal with different requests for the 90% will allow us to instead flag the 10% to deal with on a case by case basis.

Indeed, it’s more important to allow the team to be able to recognise anomalies and have them flag them, than it is to teach them of each anomaly to expect and how to deal with each instance. This way, the 90% of the processes can run with minimal input from the senior team, or from the Project Manager. The Project Manager’s time is then optimised in being able to focus on the 10%, and of monitoring and reporting on the 90%.

Increased operational complexity – where does it come from?

Operational complexity is a result of internal and external factors impacting company’s ways to manage operations to produce products and services. Complexity can stem from the following, for example:

  1. Unstructured working methods, as a result of failing to adapt to a more agile business environment.
  2. Market demands on shorter project lifecycles or rush to market
  3. Client expectations not being set correctly
  4. Service expectations and deliverables not being set correctly
  5. Lack of auditing and streamlining of offerings (offering too many services or deliverables)
  6. Lack of auditing and streamlining of methodologies
  7. Lack of auditing and streamlining of team skillsets
  8. Lack of auditing and streamlining of technologies
  9. Client demands on increased flexibility or customisation
  10. Increased bespoke offerings
  11. Lack of cohesive inbound marketing structures supporting business objectives
  12. Lack of client education
  13. Larger amounts of smaller projects

Companies must carefully handle this matter because there are a variety of sources that can drive operational complexity and its significant impact on company efficiency. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to drastically reduce complexity once it’s occurred; as a result, businesses must devote more time and energy to figuring out how to manage it. If it has already occurred, auditing and understanding where the large majority of revenue does or could come from, and delivering a core set of project lifecycles is the first step to redirecting from chaos. Doing so with live projects in the pipeline is a tricky one to handle, but taking the approach of ‘cleaning old projects out’ before beginning a new method is often easier than changing tact on existing projects which are nearly complete.

Indeed, once you’ve streamlined a process and deliverable, it only bolsters into the hands of meeting sales objectives. With clear definition on how and what will be delivered, focusing marketing and sales efforts on that one objective becomes a lot easier to achieve. This all the while weeds out potentially unsuitable and unqualified clients. This is something I’m keen to research further and write about – the simplification of offerings. Often a hard one to push in organisations that fear loosing out on some clients, but in cutting off time-sapping or bespoke offerings, this typically allows us to further feed into the 90% method.

Why is this important?

As operations become more complex, it’s more important than ever for businesses to plan, execute, and operate with greater consistency.

It is becoming increasingly important to have clearly defined roles, apportioned accountability, and expectations for how the company will be managed. The greater the distance between senior leadership and day-to-day operations, the greater the responsibility for communicating core objectives.

This is where the Operational Management System (OMS) is supposed to come in, suturing and marrying together the various processes, expectations, and requirements for successful and holistic business management.



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