It isn’t so much the stuff good business software does, as the effect it has on other areas of your enterprise. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of trim-tabbing.
The Chesapeake Bay contains just about every kind of condition a sailor could want, and plenty of the other kind. In some places, the water seems to stretch to the edge of the Earth. The shore facing this horizon is often wooded and beautiful, but being so open to the weather, it is fortified by piles of large boulders, known as “rip-rap.”
Some time ago, as I sailed an old wooden boat along such a shore, the afternoon got more perfect each minute, but I failed to notice how the wind also picked up, until it dawned on me there might be just a little too much sail up. Then I noticed the direction of the wind had me pointing right along the rocky shore.
A sail works like an airplane wing. As air moves around the belly of the sail, it creates a low-pressure area that pulls the boat forward. But, like a plane, when the nose hits a certain angle to the wind, this low-pressure area disappears, leaving the plane in a “stall” — or the boat dead in the water. Not a good thing.
The wind was now at just such an angle that the only way open was parallel to the rocky shore. If I did anything, if I reduced sail or changed direction away from the shore, I would lose control and get dumped on the rocks. At such a time, it seems like the only thing to do is keep going the only way you can, and hope things don’t get worse. Sound familiar?
A lot of small business owners tell me they feel the same way as they try to navigate today’s economy. One tiny slip of attention, a small equipment failure, a disgruntled customer, and it’s game over.
Sometimes in life there is no margin for error. But there might be small, simple adjustments that can affect your situation very significantly for the better. In a boat, you can shift weight and tune the sails, and pay more attention to slight variations, gaining a little here and a little there, enough to escape danger.
Small businesses have always had to navigate between forces beyond our control. Rising costs or falling demand or other competitive conditions are much like the weather. In times of financial stress, we can’t waste time and energy on anything that does not address the real challenges we face. And it may be a mistake to make gross changes when the feedback comes in the form of real losses. At such times tiny changes can be far more effective.
A fabrication shop’s inter-dependent components, office, sales and marketing, and production, like the sails and rudder on a boat, each offer opportunities to assess precisely where waste or inefficiencies occur. At the same time we must watch the effect of changes on the other components, and identify remedies that do not impose additional, unforeseen costs on the system, as when changing the sail may make steering the boat much harder.