Rethinking the “go, no go” decision-making process: Thinking earlier about strategic directions

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If all goes well, I’ll be attending the SMPS national convention in San Antonio this August, and, when there, will listen to Matthew Frankel’s presentation: “Should I stay or should I go?  Getting the most from your evaluation process,” where he I expect he will describe how Gersham, Smith and Partners in Nashville, TN has developed what appears to be an intriguing and systematic (yet allowing for important subjective considerations) model to manage the decision on when and why to proceed with some RFP opportunities, and pass on others.

His practice’s go-no go system, a question-aided tool correlated with feedback and “potential red flag” commenting, may provide some answers for AEC businesses and practices seeking a rational solution to prioritizing/costing pursuits. Yet, thinking about these decisions invites a more challenging question: How or when should we decide to go for strategic changes or make decisions that don’t match hard and specific RFPs or contract tendering opportunities?

The challenge: The obvious opportunity both invites and sets the stage for potentially brutal competition, and overlies the reality expressed in many go/no go matrixes. If you only have learned about the project at the public or invited bid stage, you should pass on it (no-go) because your chances of success are so remote as to make the pursuit effort a total waste.

This suggests that you need to set your strategic pursuit decisions well out of the public or obvious RFP/tender spotlight, and here things are murky, especially when you don’t have any firm opportunities, the payback appears remote and long-range if at all possible, and you are in what appears to be a lonely environment without support or validation.

I wish I could suggest a sure-thing solution to this issue, especially if the new direction requires significant changes internally and allocation of financial resources for uncertain rewards.

The solution, I expect, combines respect for your passion, unique history/strengths, and perhaps glimmers of intelligence about what you know what may be happening in the future. It is easy to give hard-and-fast suggestions with hindsight’s advantages, but these ideas may provide some clues.

Can you capture your specialized knowledge to see a trend/opportunity that might not be widely visible?

In my case, after graduating from university, most of my student newspaper peers stayed home, but a significant contingent went to Hong Kong and staked out their future there. I decided instead to travel to Africa. After returning from an eight-month commercial trans-African expedition, I took a job at a small Alberta newspaper, where I observed news stories about the Rhodesian civil war unravelling. I decided to return — setting the stage for my life-changing 18-month experience observing the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. But this experience wasn’t so radical for me. I had been to Africa already, and knew some things that others didn’t (including how to avoid being put on the next plane out, as at the time the Rhodesian government was wary of left-leaning foreign journalists, and rightfully so.)

Can you see leading-edge opportunities on the periphery, especially in related (but distinct) communities and industries?

Capturing and adapting ideas developed elsewhere in non-competitive markets I think is one of the safest ways to innovate. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and others have shown some pioneering spirit. You can adapt the concepts and achieve first-moving advantage. The challenge is you won’t succeed at this if you wait too long. I remember when LEED became popular, and one contractor after another bragged about their initiative. But the only “winner” locally had already developed a national reputation for sustainable construction — and had been already achieved  environmentally sustainable design/construction recognition about two years before the rest of the crowd.

Are your current customers driving a change that you can follow and accept?

This may be the safest option to reach into new directions and initiatives. If one or more of your current clients has innovated or decided to try a new direction, can you follow? Or can you meet a need that your current clients have expressed, but where you haven’t yet developed a track-record. You may find they are co-operative in working with you on experimental projects and (subject to your understanding their risk comfort zones) they would probably be more likely to tolerate errors and accidents as you learn the ropes.

Do you have your own experiences? Please feel free to express them by commenting.

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