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PPPPMy greenhouse is a mess.

There is no getting away from it, I have neglected it over the winter and it looks terrible. I am convinced that there is a huge spiders nest in the corner and frankly the very thought of that scares me witless.

The trouble is that I’m getting grief from the other half. I mistakenly told her that I wanted to grow tomatoes in the greenhouse and now she’s looking at me like I’m a bit useless.

I keep putting it off, but there is going to be a stage where I will need to wrap myself up in full face gear, a Tyvek suit and use gaffer tape to seal my gloves onto my overall sleeves and face the greenhouse. Specifically, the huge nest of flesh eating spiders in the greenhouse.

I asked her for some help, after all this is a team effort. She laughed, said it was all down to me and carried on with whatever she was doing.

Screw it. I’m going to just go hell for leather and get the job done.

As trivial as that sounds I’ve seen a lot of small businesses approach their biggest challenges this way.

Recognition of Issue, a degree of sleepless nights thinking it through, attack the problem, get a result, retrospectively call it a success.

Here on Twisted Copper Pair we’re about half way through a short series on how to approach margin improvement within a small telecoms reseller, so I thought it would be a good point to recap a process that works well and is repeatable.

It’s a simple approach that is really useful to apply to many change management programmes, and what’s more it’s entirely logical.

The five steps are;

Situation – Where are we? What is the current deal?

Objective – Where do we want to be? What does this look like when compared to the situation?

Strategy – How are we going to achieve moving from where we are now to where we want to be?

Tactics or Implementation – What are the steps needed to achieve the objectives?

Timescales – How long will it take to get there?

This is a really simple breakdown of a project plan. This is not intended to replace the many fine project management processes available, but if you can ask and answer those five questions and communicate them so that everyone involved in the programme can articulate them as well as you do, then you are well on the way.

So, back to the greenhouse, what is the situation?

I have a dilapidated greenhouse that needs cleaning out, it might contain spiders, I cannot grow tomatoes in it as it stands. We have no tomatoes.

Now the objective is where you get to the real question. Do I want a clear greenhouse to grow tomatoes, or do I want tomatoes? It is not that stupid a question. Many times I have seen people trying to solve the wrong problem. Now in this naïve example, you might already have jumped to the punchline, but honestly, if I don’t ask this, the most important question, where I work out what I am trying to achieve, I could go down entirely the wrong track.

Do I want a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, or do I just want tomatoes? This is going to dictate the strategy, how we approach the problem, how long it will take and how much it will cost.

For this example, I have decided that my objective is that I want a clear greenhouse so that I can grow tomatoes and later on chillies and cucumbers.

So now my strategy has a strong foundation. I will clear the greenhouse over the weekend and then get it in shape to grow tomatoes and other soft fruits. Cool.

The tactical plan is now easy to identify;

  1. Take stock of all the stuff I need, (bin liners, clippers, trowel, balaclava (guaranteed spider protection), spider powder, next doors cat (maybe)
  2. Get up early on Saturday
  3. Get all of the protective gear on
  4. Entice cat
  5. Clear out all of the big stuff to make space
  6. Have a cup of tea, give up on cat. Turncoat
  7. Clear out the corner with the spiders in it
  8. Have lunch and calm down
  9. Sweep and rebuild all of the plastic shelving (destroyed during the great spider purge of 2016)
  10. Have a cup of tea
  11. Run all of the mess to the recycling centre
  12. Get drunk, try not to think of the spiders.

Timescales in this instance – One-day preparation and Black Saturday (as it will now forever be known).

The reason to go through all of this is that identifying all of the steps in the plan allows me to map out the people, plant, premises and process needed. If I started and realised that I didn’t have any bin liners for example, then the plan would need amending.

If, however, during the objective setting I had decided that all I really wanted was tomatoes, then the plan could have looked entirely different.

  1. Sell greenhouse on eBay (“buyer collects, sold as seen”, chuckle to self about spiders)
  2. Buy tomatoes with proceeds.

Following this very simple model to set out and communicate the situation, objectives, strategy, tactics and timescale will serve you well in most change situations.

Spiders, though, what’s up with that?