Posts

How We Prioritize at Sticker Mule

StrategyDriven Managing Your Business Article | How We Prioritize at Sticker MuleOrganizations are the sum of their decisions. Those that prioritize well prosper and those that don’t falter. At Sticker Mule, prioritization is the most important thing we do. Our growth accelerates as we prioritized better, but there’s always room to improve.

What prioritization is not

Most literature on prioritization is terrible. It leads you to believe prioritization is about time management or how to use to-do lists. This way of thinking neglects that priorities are what make or break businesses.

Consider that Amazon started as a bookstore in 1994 and grew to $147 million within 3 years. Today they employ 500,000 people who handle $200 billion in revenue. They picked the right projects and grew at an extraordinary pace.

Other retailers had different priorities and either failed or are much smaller. Walmart could be Amazon, but they did not prioritize the Internet and now they are worth half as much.

What prioritization is

Prioritization is picking the right tasks to maximize impact. That means finding high impact tasks and avoiding low impact ones. Usually the highest impact tasks are elusive. We don’t know the highest impact projects we could pursue right now.

Prioritization might sound stressful, but it’s not. Most tasks won’t affect us. Consequently, we shouldn’t stress about the backlog of tasks we “need” to do. We need to keep our minds free to pursue high impact ideas, when they present themselves, by neglecting low impact ones.

Prioritization categories

It’s unproductive to precisely categorize every task, but it’s useful to roughly classify them in your mind. Prioritization improves with practice and thinking about these categories helps us improve.

  • Growth vs. costs – It’s generally better to use our time to grow revenue than reduce costs. Time is finite. Cash isn’t.
  • High vs. low impact – High impact is better, but completing lots of low impact tasks can be worthwhile if we complete them quickly.
  • Enduring vs. temporary – Tasks that provide enduring value are preferable to those that deliver value temporarily.
  • Definite vs. potential – It’s better to pursue improvements with definite benefits than those with potential.
  • Short vs. long term results – Quick wins are preferable, but you can build competitive advantage pursuing ideas that yield results in the long term since others tend to neglect them.
  • Related vs. unrelated tasks – Sometimes related tasks are completed more efficiently when grouped together. For this reason, we often do low impact tasks that pair well with high impact ones.
  • Estimated time to complete – All else equal, tasks that can be completed faster are preferable.

Questions

Ask yourself these questions periodically to improve your ability to prioritize:

  1. What’s the most impactful thing you can work on?
  2. Did you correctly identify the problems you are facing?
  3. Do you know the most important problem to solve next?
  4. Can you replace any planned tasks with better ones?
  5. Can you delete any especially low impact tasks entirely?

Conclusion

We aim to embed a passion for prioritization into our culture. If you think similarly and want to join our global team, we are hiring.


About the Author

Anthony Constantino is the cofounder and CEO of Sticker Mule. A factory guy at heart, Anthony oversees an operation that spans 16 countries in 4 continents with customers including Google, Facebook, Twitter and many of the world’s best brands. He’s determined to make Sticker Mule, already the Internet’s favorite printing company, the absolute best place to work and shop.

The Nine Building Blocks of Innovating New Strategic Alternatives

When organizations consider stepping outside of their traditional boundaries to engage with other players in new types of business innovations, they are often a bit lost in how to go about developing such a strategy process. And indeed, multi-stakeholder collaborations often don’t have the luxury of a traditional leader, as there is no formal hierarchy or power structure. They frequently emerge from a conversation between different players and may have an informal initiator who does not hold a formal position of power. When different participants of different organizations participate in a co-creation event, it is indeed supposed to be a meeting of equals.

However, without that leadership function, it can get confusing who is in charge of what and who makes what decisions. Clarity about ownership and process help in such situations that are unusual for most participants who come from hierarchical structures or have grown up in them before. In our experience, it is helpful to have a facilitator present when holding such sessions in order to ensure that decision-making clarity is present. Such a facilitator allows the initiator to participate with his perspective like any other member of the group.

Not every such strategy process looks the same and it is useful to differentiate between nine basic building blocks of co-creation. These can be grouped into five phases: getting started, gaining momentum, the small innovation cycle, scaling out, and rounding off. With exception of the last phase, each phase consists of two building blocks, see Figure 1.

The book “Five Superpowers for Co-creators” outlines the nine building blocks of co-creation in the context of what it takes to successfully work with external stakeholders to develop new business models and strategies (www.5superpowers.org). The book also looks at the challenges at the individual, group and facilitation levels and suggests practical pathways to progress when the process get stuck.

StrategyDriven Alternative Development Article | Strategic Initiatives | The nine building blocks of innovating new strategic alternatives

Figure 1: The nine building blocks of co-creation

A successful multi-stakeholder process consists of a number of building blocks. These cover three specific activities: those of the initiator of the project, those related to co-creation event and those related to scaling and engagement activities. Each of these can be divided into three building blocks for a total of nine.

The facilitator is mostly involved in the co-creation events and may help the initiator in the activities specific to his role. There is a small innovation cycle consisting of a repetition of co-creation events and prototyping. Combining all nine building blocks is define as the large innovation cycle.

A typical co-creation event consists of a multitude of stakeholder engagement and interaction exercises and workshops designed to balance listening, sharing, visioning, brainstorming, ideation and early prototyping.

A more detailed overview of the objectives of each building block is provided in Figure 2. The building blocks serve as a way to render the process transparent and clear in terms of what needs to happen along the co-creation journey. Clearly, there is no need to use all nine steps. We have indeed provided a pragmatic short-cut of these building blocks as a concise business strategy tool we call SDGXCHANGE (www.SDGX.org) which use only the most essential elements required for business to innovative new strategic alternatives.

StrategyDriven Alternative Development Article | Strategic Initiatives | The nine building blocks of innovating new strategic alternatives

Figure 2: The objectives of each of the nine building blocks

The article builds on extracts of the Book “Five Superpowers for Co-creators”


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Katrin MuffDr. Katrin Muff (www.KatrinMuff.com) is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility. She is Director at the Institute for Business Sustainability and holds a position as Professor of Practice at the LUISS Business School. She works with leaders, their teams and their boards in the area business transformation towards sustainability. She co-developed the Competency Assessment for Responsible Leadership (). Most recently, Katrin published Five Superpowers for Co-creators (www.5superpowers.org), which features the nine building blocks of co-creation including a pragmatic solution for business organization with the applied strategy tool SDGXCHANGE (www.SDGx.org).

Strategy Is a Process

StrategyDriven Strategic Planning Article | Strategy Is a ProcessFor as long as the word “strategy” has been in use it has been represented as something mythical. Many seminal articles have been written that describe what business strategy is, what it’s not, how to know if you have a strategy, how to test your strategy – and the list goes on. Even for those companies that understand the process, some do it very well and some do it very poorly.

Why has the process of developing and implementing a business strategy been so hard for businesses to utilize? Foremost is that, because the concept has been so misunderstood, many companies believe they have a strategy or — even more dangerously — they’re implementing a strategy by relying on erroneous ideas about what constitutes strategy. These include such persistent myths as:

  • Our people are our strategy
  • Customer service is our strategy
  • Our brand is our strategy
  • International growth is our strategy

None of these is a strategy! Some represent unfocused hopes, while others are just platitudes.

For example, having employees implement a strategy to provide customer service is simply the orthodox (table stakes) element that organizations must deliver to remain viable. Providing standard customer service doesn’t separate an organization from its competitors in the eyes of the customers. Furthermore, absent very carefully designed guardrails, each employee will decide what constitutes ‘good’ customer service.

Strategy is a process that, at its core, consists of designing and implementing elements of the organization that will draw customers past your competitors, allow you to charge more than your competitors and/or provide you with a cost advantage.

Regardless of how you decide to approach strategy in your organization, do it with an understanding of what really works. This means taking a logical, research- and practice-based approach to defining, crafting and executing organizational strategy.

Strategy is still mostly art, but by remaining disciplined and analytical about the elements, your company will be far ahead of your competitors.

Apply these guidelines in your process-oriented approach to strategy:

1. Strategy starts external to the organization. A winning business strategy must focus on why customers really buy a product or service from an organization, and what distinguishes that purchase in the eye of the customer. This requires taking the perspective of the customer.

2. Bring conventional operations up to the median expectation. Assess what is orthodox, or the table stakes, for the organization in the eyes of the customer. Focus on those parts of the organization that are below the median expectations and are frustrating to customers. This may involve ensuring that employees are doing their jobs and doing them well. Exceeding the median expectation for standard elements of business is simply wasted money.

3. Identify the organization’s competitive advantages. While half of business strategy is maintaining conventional operations at or slightly above the median customer expectations, the other half is focusing the entire organization around true competitive advantages. To identify your competitive advantages, list all current and potential elements of the business that will encourage customers to go past your competitors and buy from you. Analyze each of them with some version of Resource-Based Analysis to determine those that constitute a true advantage. A business needs to have two or three true competitive advantages.

4. Optimize organizational structure. The next step is to develop operational plans that address every element that survives your resource-based analysis, along with every orthodox element that’s determined to be below median expectations. Implementation of strategy is difficult and often frustrating, particularly when employees don’t understand why a structure has been put in place or how it will work. Strategy can only be implemented by the employees of the organization, therefore it’s best to have employee participation in the process so that they embrace the approach.

5. Rework the mission around the strategy. Aligning the entire company around the strategy requires a unifying mission. An effective mission statement must be short, simple, specific to the organization and able to focus everyone’s energy. A great check on the quality of the mission statement is the leadership’s ability to design metrics that measure each part.

Strategy is not magic, it’s not wishful thinking and it’s not platitudes. Strategy is hard work that requires significant thought by organizational leaders. Utilizing a real process to craft strategy allows the organization to win over new customers and more easily retain current ones.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Chuck BamfordChuck Bamford, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Bamford Associates, LLC, a strategy consulting firm that has worked with hundreds of organizations as they develop and implement a compelling strategy. He is an Adjunct Professor of Strategy at Duke University (Fuqua) and the University of Notre Dame (Mendoza), and was previously a professor at Texas Christian University and the University of Richmond among others. He has written seven books. His latest book is The Strategy Mindset 2.0: A Practical Guide to the Design and Implementation of Strategy. Learn more at bamfordassociates.com.

How To Create An Effective Business Strategy

StrategyDriven Strategic Planning Article | How To Create An Effective Business Strategy | Entrepreneurship

You wouldn’t make a cake without a recipe, you wouldn’t drive somewhere you’ve never been before without looking at the map, and you shouldn’t run a business without a strategy. Some people underestimate the importance of a business strategy and particularly writing it. Many think that they know where they want to go and what they want to achieve, and that’s enough, but is it? Writing a business strategy will help you to learn if it is actually possible and what roadblocks might be in your way, meaning that you can fix them and work out how to get around them before you have to. It is an action plan that details the concrete steps needed to attain your goals—usually covering the coming year—a timetable for each task, a description of who will do what, and a follow-up process. So, what do you need to make sure that your business strategy is effective and keeps you going in the right direction?

Facts

To know where you’re heading, you have to know where you are right now. So before you start looking ahead, you should look back at past performance and at the current situation. Focus on each area of the business and determine what worked well, what could have been better, and what opportunities lie ahead.

Look at your strengths and weaknesses, look for opportunities and threats, and then look at external factors as well. Don’t do this alone either; it’s important to have the right people to make sure you’re collecting the most relevant information.

Your team

You’ll get the most team support on the trajectory of the business if as many employees as possible are involved in creating the action plan. They can give you invaluable input on what steps are needed to achieve your objectives and how best to implement them and realistically how they’re going to do it and how long it will take. They are also more likely to work diligently on the implementation if they are involved in the process from the start.

A Vision

It’s important to know where you want to go, so write it down, give your business a vision statement that describes the future direction of the business and its aims in the medium to long term. Describe the organization’s purpose and values.

A Mission

Just like the vision, having a mission defines the organization’s purpose, but it also outlines its primary objectives. Write a mission statement that focuses on what needs to be done in the short term to realize the long term vision. So, for the vision statement, you may want to answer the question: “Where do we want to be in five years?”. For the mission statement, you’ll want to ask the questions: What do we do? How do we do it? Who do we do it for? What value do we bring?

Strategic Objectives

You then need to develop a set of high-level objectives for all areas of the business. They need to highlight the priorities and inform the plans that will ensure the delivery of the company’s vision and mission. Look back and incorporate any strengths and weaknesses into your objectives. Your objectives should also include factors such as KPIs, resource allocation, budget requirements and whatever else is specific to your business, this could be estimate Amazon sales, traffic to your website or Facebook likes.

Tactical Plans

Now you need to translate your strategic objectives into more detailed short-term plans. These plans will contain actions for departments and functions in your organization. You may even want to include suppliers. Focus on results are measurable and communicate these to stakeholders so that they know what they need to do and when. Think of these tactical plans as short sprints to execute the strategy in practice.

Actions

You need to break it all down into a basic list of tasks for achieving your objectives. Your actions can include everything from arranging the finance to buying equipment, hiring staff, writing a blog, or developing a website – whatever it is that you need to do to achieve your goals. You should, however, clearly describe each action to make sure you avoid confusion later on.

A Timeline

Stay on track and establish a timeframe for achieving each action.

Designated Resources

It’s important to know who is responsible for each action. So, outline this and also put what other resources such as money, equipment, personnel each person will need to carry out each action.

Performance Management

All the planning and hard work may have been done, but it’s vital to continually review all objectives and action plans to make sure you’re still on track to achieve that overall goal. Managing and monitoring a whole strategy is a complex task, which is why many directors, managers, and business leaders are looking to alternative methods of handling strategies. Creating, managing, and reviewing a strategy requires you to capture the relevant information, break down large chunks of information, plan, prioritize, capture the relevant information, and have a clear strategic vision.

Communication

Make sure all of your employees are aware of the action plan that they know their role in implementing it, and they are aware of how it fits into your overall business strategy.

Perseverance

When you start implementing your action plan, you need to be disciplined about sticking to the follow-up and measurement process that you have outlined. It’s also a good idea to make sure you recognize employees for meeting or surpassing their responsibilities and hold them accountable if they fail to do so.

Keep the plan alive by discussing it internally on a regular basis, thus keeping it at the forefront of employees’ attention. Ask for employee feedback on how the implementation is going, and in follow-up meetings to discuss the progress, always revisit your action plan regularly and to continually update it. This will mean that your strategy won’t be surpassed by developments in your company or external factors, which could cause your entire business strategy to unravel.

After 12 months, it’s time to create a new plan for the following year, drawing on your overall business strategy and lessons you’ve learned so far

4 Principles Guiding My Company’s Mission to Make Fresh Organic Meals Accessible for Everyone

StrategyDriven Strategic Planning Article | 4 Principles Guiding My Company’s Mission to Make Fresh Organic Meals Accessible for EveryoneA healthy diet doesn’t need to be expensive and taste bland.

Since I launched Fresh n’ Lean in 2010, I’ve been committed to breaking those stereotypes while getting affordable, pre-made organic meals to as many people as possible.

Those who need healthy meals the most, whether for medical issues or convenience, are too often left with heavily processed and unhealthy food choices. More than 50 million Americans live in food deserts, areas without access to high-quality or affordable fresh food, according to USDA research. But better knowledge about healthy eating has sparked national discourse about what we put into our bodies, and evolving consumer habits are making people less beholden to insufficient local food options.

Four principles have helped me lead my company forward: family, discipline, humility and vision.

My mission began with family in mind.

My father was facing life-threatening health issues — we didn’t know if he would be around in six months or a year. He made drastic changes to his diet and lifestyle, and his health rebounded. Seeing his success was proof that it could work for others, and that there was a greater need for fresh, healthy food options.

Discipline fueled the company’s growth.

I started Fresh n’ Lean when I was 18 years old. While my friends were out partying, I was waking up at 4 a.m. and working 16, 17, 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

That discipline carried over to the company’s financial wellbeing, where we sustained steady growth without relying on outside capital. We’ve always run a pretty lean operation, in part because we didn’t have a lot of excess funds to fuel unrestrained expansion. We had to be thoughtful in how to approach growth opportunities, because one mistake or one wrong decision could derail the whole company.

A dream since Day 1 was building our own kitchen and manufacturing area, a custom space to fit our needs. It wasn’t feasible during our early years, but in time it became a necessity. I never dealt with such a big construction project before, and it was a huge learning experience — I worked with contractors, city officials and architects throughout the permit process. There were setbacks, but we had to keep powering forward. Failure wasn’t an option.

Humility means respect for everyone’s role and impact.

I’ve worked every job the employees work, so I understand where they’re coming from and recognize the obstacles they face. I used to wash dishes and pack boxes. I’d go into the warehouse and pack boxes tomorrow if needed. We’re each a piece in a puzzle that fit together to reveal the mission and character of this company.

My vision for the future

As horrible and disappointing as it is that millions of people don’t have regular access to healthy food, I’m encouraged that our society is paying more attention to what we eat and that the rise of direct-to-consumer shipping provides additional options for people living in food deserts.

Ultimately, we want everyone in the United States to have access to a fresh organic meal within five miles of where they are. While direct-to-consumer is a big part of our business, we’re also looking to increase our offerings in grocery and retail on-the-go stores and getting our vending machines a wider release. We’ve targeted corporate wellness programs with the vending machines, but we plan to take a more mainstream approach in the coming years.

Convenience is a key to continued growth. A healthy diet doesn’t need to be expensive and taste bland — and it should be within reach no matter where you live.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Laureen AsseoLaureen Asseo is only 27-years-old, yet she has become a pioneer in leading the nation’s organic food craze. She’s the CEO and founder of LA-based Fresh n’ Lean, the largest nationwide organic meal delivery service in the country. It’s her mission to make eating organic easy, affordable and accessible – reclaiming the phrase “fast food”. She was inspired by her father’s ailing health due to his eating habits, and started the company from her one bedroom apartment.