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Mastering project selection – which project should I choose?

June 14th, 2018

Which project is ‘best’?

A key challenge in any innovation programme – be it creating a pipeline of new product proposals, selecting service/process re-engineering projects or deciding how best to allocate budget across multiple project proposals – is how to determine which projects are ‘best’ and therefore which to select. Managers are often faced with several possible projects and have to choose which to back, long before there is enough information to build a conventional business plan.

Once a project proposal is sufficiently developed to include details of planned implementation, financial evaluation methods such as Net Present Value (NPV) can be applied. But for projects at earlier concept stages, over-reliance on strictly financial criteria may lead to wrong decisions, simply because financial data are often wrong” – the words of Bob Cooper, who developed the stage-gate model for new product development. At this stage it can be tempting to simply fall back on intuition and previous experience but a better approach is to assess projects against a number of criteria which are pointers to likely success.

Read the full paper by Rick Mitchell & Alastair Ross:

Mastering project selection – Codexx whitepaper – June 2018

Disruption in your hand

June 13th, 2018

You are carrying a device that has been responsible for the decimation of industries, the loss of millions of jobs and has subjected billions of people to an increased risk of fraud and bullying. This same device is also responsible for enriching our lives, bringing information and money to the billions of people living in remote and less developed regions of the world and enabling thousands of new businesses. This device is of course your Smartphone. It is a prime example of disruptive innovation.

What is disruptive innovation?

The term ‘disruptive innovation’ was coined by the academic, Clayton Christensen in 1997 to describe innovations that, at their inception, pose no threat to established businesses, due to their limited functionality. But over time, as they develop their functionality/price, they begin to nibble away at the established market, taking customers who are looking for ‘good enough’ solutions. The loss of these customers may not necessarily be seen as negative by established businesses who may well regard them as less attractive lower margin customers. But as time goes on, the disruptor takes more and more market share as its proposition grows in capability and acceptance. The result is that the incumbent, and once dominant, providers are squeezed ever more upmarket and ultimately into niche markets (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Disruptive innovation (based on work by Clayton Christensen)

Christensen argues that disruptive innovations can hurt all companies – especially the successful, well managed companies that are responsive to their customers and open to new technologies and methods (see his book ‘The innovator’s dilemma’). For these companies tend to focus on meeting the needs of their existing customers. They ignore the market segments most susceptible to disruptive innovations, because these segments often have very tight profit margins and are too small to provide a good enough growth rate to attract established firms. The result is that these ‘less attractive’ market segments become the ‘beach heads’ for new value propositions that grow and develop in these segments before invading the ‘more attractive’ more profitable segments in the market – the ones that are the preserve of the established and dominant competitors.

The Smartphone as a disruptor

The smartphone is one of the most disruptive products to have appeared in the last two decades. It has disrupted a number of markets, including digital cameras, music and video players, portable satellite navigation, e-book readers, voice recorders, paper diaries and personal organizers and even the humble wristwatch. The subsequent growth in phone screen size is creating further disruption in the tablet and laptop markets.

The smartphone is a good illustration of the process of disruption. Consider but one of its functions, its ability to take digital photographs. The first mobile phone with a built-in camera was manufactured by Samsung and released in South Korea in June 2000. It had a 1.5-inch LCD screen, and the built-in digital camera was capable of taking only 20 photos each at 0.35-megapixels in size, but the user had to connect it to a computer to share their photos. Sharp launched an improvement on this concept in November 2000 – the J-SH04 could take photos at 0.11-megapixels, a lower resolution than the Samsung, but importantly photos could be shared using mobile data transmission. This phone therefore combined the key elements of today’s smartphone cameras – picture capture and immediate distribution.

By the end of 2004 the camera phone was riding high. It was reported that over half of the phones sold worldwide in the first 9 months of 2004 had cameras in them, and two-thirds of all the phones shipped in the third quarter were camera phones. Leading the way was Finnish manufacturer, Nokia.

The arrival of mobile phone cameras at the functional level of ‘good enough’ was illustrated in 2013 when the Chicago Sun-Times sacked its entire staff of 28 full-time photographers and replaced them with reporters using smartphones. As well as significantly reducing the newspaper’s costs, the paper was able to increase its video content. The paper released a statement saying: “The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.” It was reported that reporters were to be trained in ‘iPhone photography basics’.

Figure 2: Digital camera sales volumes  (Source: IC Insights)

The impact of the disruption caused by camera phones on traditional cameras was clear to see with the market leaders being squeezed into the smaller more specialist and profitable, niches such as digital SLRs.

Other victims of smartphone disruption were closer to home

Apple has benefitted from the disruptive impact of its iPhone smartphone product on the mobile phone market since it was launched in 2007. The immediate loser was Nokia which was the market leader at the time, with handsets that focused primarily on mobile telephony and secondarily on mobile computing and entertainment. But another major player, BlackBerry (originally called Research in Motion) was also hit by the move away from the traditional keyboard to touchscreens.

It is also interesting to consider why it was Apple that was the disruptor of the mobile-phone market and not IBM, whose Simon Personal Communicator introduced in 1994, was effectively the first Smartphone or Nokia, the market leader, whose Communicator series of Smartphones were successfully sold into business markets for several years before the iPhone was launched.

One key factor in Apple’s successful disruption of the mobile phone and smartphone sectors was that the company primarily targeted consumers and not businesses with its smartphone offering, unlike both IBM and Nokia. This enabled it to quickly build volume and sizeable market share. It cemented this success with its complementary ecosystem built around the iTunes App store and its partners’ offerings. This enabled it to then enter the business market taking advantage of the BYOD (‘bring your own device’) movement with its customers using their phones at work and helping to convince purchasing decision-makers of their benefits.

Dealing with disruption?

Disruptive Innovation can threaten any business. It also offers the opportunity for innovative businesses to enter new markets with the strategic potential for overcoming the existing dominant competitors. So any forward-looking organization today should have approaches and mechanisms that try and spot such potential disruptive innovations when they are still ‘over the horizon’. Indeed such disruptive innovation, used proactively, can form the core element of a powerful business transformation strategy.

Unfortunately there is no one approach that can be used to identify potential disruptions early. Businesses need to select a range of complementary approaches for ‘scanning’ the business environment for potential disruptions. They also need to develop and assess scenarios of technology, competition and market changes to determine when and how they should best respond to potential disruption. Whatever approaches they choose to adopt, it is important that they are proactive, rather than planning to react when disruptions become visible – for by then it is likely to be too late.

The one approach that business leaders should most definitely not adopt – is unfortunately the most common: to take a dominant market position for granted or to consider it has some degree of permanence. The business history books are full of companies that have made that mistake.

This article is an extract from ‘Sowing the seeds of business transformation’ by Alastair Ross,available as paperback or e-book on Amazon. It was originally published on LinkedIn on 13-6-18.

 

Professional development in an age of uncertainty

March 13th, 2018

Yesterday the University of Exeter Business School presented its report on professional development and the needs of Executive Education in a seminar at the Business School.

‘Executive education in an age of uncertainty’ shared the findings of a study involving nearly 50 business and public sector organisations in the South of England.

Codexx was pleased to be involved in the study as the lead research partner and build on its existing relationship with the Business School by supporting Bill Russell, the Director of Executive Education in this project. 

The report provides insights into the challenges and approaches organisations are taking for professional development in these ‘uncertain’ times – with a combination of Brexit, economic challenges, accelerating technology and new business models. It also identifies key requirements for the providers of Executive Education based on the feedback from organisations in the study interviews and questionnaire.

The report also shares the new degree and executive education services the Business School will be launching from 2018, enabling organisations to make use of the Apprenticeship Levy for Level 6 and Level 7 personnel development.

You can read the report here.

Executive Education in an age of uncertainty

For more information on the Executive Education programmes, contact the University of Exeter Business School here.

 

How’s your innovation health?

January 11th, 2018

Innovation is increasingly a critical competency for all businesses – in today’s global, dynamic markets. But many businesses lack effective capabilities in innovation. Our latest video on our YouTube channel looks at innovation challenges and the use of ‘best practice’ assessment to drive innovation improvement. We also overview the use of the Codexx ‘Foundations for Innovation’ (F4i) assessment solution – developed in 2006 with the support of John Bessant, then Professor for Innovation at Imperial College Business School in London. And we do all this with a light sprinkling of humour…. and why not?

Take a look:

Why great products are not enough – the story of Nokia

January 4th, 2018

The second video in our series ‘Why great products are not enough’ covers Nokia and its fall from market dominance in mobile phones in 2005 to market exit less than 10 years later. There are key lessons to be learned from Nokia’s experience. In this video Alastair Ross reviews Nokia’s fall and analyses why and how it happened and the key weaknesses in Nokia’s business model and capabilities.

 

Lean in law firms – five key lessons

December 4th, 2017

by Alastair Ross

I’ve been working with many major UK law firms since 2005, helping them to improve both the value and the efficiency of their services. A key philosophy I have used in this work has been Lean thinking. I thought it would be useful to reflect on that experience and capture five key lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 years about applying Lean in law firms.

Lesson 1 – A law firm is not a factory (not quite anyway)

I first applied Lean back in 1990 as a manufacturing manager in IBM. It was not known as Lean then – but as ‘Continuous Flow Manufacturing, ‘Just in time’ or Kaizen. Later I used it in improvement projects in chemicals, automotive and aerospace companies. In the late 1990s the term ‘Lean’ was coined by Womack and Jones to cover this improvement philosophy and tools. In 2005 I began working with major law firms in the UK that were feeling the heat of increasing competition and market deregulation. It quickly became clear that Lean thinking could be readily applied to help these firms improve their service value and delivery efficiency. But it was also clear that the culture in a law firm, the ‘craft’ based working methods and the terminology meant that Lean needed to be communicated and tailored differently. Partners did not readily relate to case studies of car factories – they needed to understand how lean could be applied to knowledge-intensive services such as law. And equally lean approaches that worked on the factory floor did not always work quite so readily in a legal team!

Lesson 2 – Process thinking does not come naturally to lawyers

Lean thinking is naturally focused on how work activities and resources are applied to the flow of value from the business to the customer – the so-called ‘value stream’. This value stream is realised in a business process that delivers products or services to the customer. So lean thinking is used to assess and improve these processes. This approach comes naturally in a manufacturing environment where there is a common understanding of work being codified into production processes. But this is not the case in a law firm – ‘process thinking’ is an alien concept especially for work types where one fee earner may currently perform all of the work. This is where process mapping is very effective in getting a team of fee earners to draw up the activities that are required to deliver a service – thus producing a visual map of the process. This can then be used to highlight wastes and begin the journey to improvement. Doing this in a collaborative way with fee earners in a change team is the best approach in my experience – getting lawyer buy-in to the improvements and also creating a cadre of ‘process improvement advocates’ within the firm. (And by the way this is why I am not a fan of Six Sigma for law firms – it’s overkill and not as easily deployed as Lean).

Lesson 3 – There is a lot of waste in legal services

A core element of the Lean philosophy is a ruthless focus on the identification and elimination of waste. But what can be considered as waste? It is any activity or resource that does not add value to what is provided to the customer. Waste accumulates in businesses just like dust and debris in a house. Regular hoovering and the occasional major ‘spring clean’ is the solution in a house. And something similar is required in a business to keep its business processes effective and efficient. But what if a business doesn’t feel the need to do this? If the competitive and market pressures are not sufficiently tough that they need to do such ‘process housekeeping’? This was pretty much the situation in the legal sector for many years – times were good and margins were high. But since the financial crash in 2008, the dramatic impact of the internet and other information technologies and in the UK the deregulation of the sector – things have changed. Law firms are feeling the pressure from budget-squeezed clients, new entrants and new business models. So now firms are looking at their how they deliver their services – and they are finding much waste: Poorly defined, inefficient working methods, inefficient use of people (so much legal work is performed at too high a skill level), errors, rework and poor use of IT, for example.

There is a positive message: With this high level of waste, there is much improvement possible.

So firms can significantly improve their competitive position by using lean to identify and radically reduce this waste (see Lesson 5).

Lesson 4 – Start with a partner champion and a fixed fee service

Making change in partnerships is tough – much more so than in a corporate where the ‘it’s my way or the highway’ diktat can more readily be applied… The other major challenge is that ‘the billable’ hour discourages law firms from improving efficiency – as it results in reduced revenue. Great for the client, but not so compelling for the partnership. But the fee regime is changing with more clients in the UK looking for budget certainty and so enforcing reduced and fixed fees for many transactions. This has created financial pain for firms – much of my work has been with firms who have been forced to move to a fixed fee for a service and are making little or no profit for each matter.

To effectively harness this ‘burning platform’ for improvement, a Partner ‘champion’ is needed – one who is positive and committed to driving major improvement in the service. They are critical in being the business partner to an external change agent, in leading a change team of fee earners and removing road-blocks to change within the firm. From my experience, the presence of such a partner champion is a key ‘Go/No Go’ for a Lean improvement project.

 Lesson 5 – More for less is an achievable outcome

There is a common believe in professional services firms that cost reduction will inevitably lead to a reduction in service quality. In other words something has to give – you either have a high quality or low cost service, you can’t have both.

 This is simply not true.

My work with multiple law firms covering 20 legal services has enabled direct cost reductions of between 25 and 75% – whilst improving value to the client, with more consistency and responsiveness. Why is this possible? Because firms can reduce service cost by reducing or eliminating the waste inherent in legal service delivery (see Lesson 3). This waste adds no value to clients and indeed consumes lawyer resources and time – so removing it will not have any negative effects on client value. Only positive ones.

 So service quality can be improved and cost reduced at the same time.

So what’s the key message for law firms?

It’s a simple one, if a firm is not yet using Lean thinking as part of its transformation work it’s failing to grasp a major opportunity. For Lean can deliver significant business improvements with little capital investment (IT can help, but it’s not mandatory) and provide a foundation for ongoing improvement. And if a firm is looking to exploit new technologies such as AI, it had better make sure it’s building on solid foundations – automating a poor process may simply deliver the proverbial ‘pig with lipstick’….

 

This article was first published by Alastair Ross on LinkedIn on 1st December 2017.

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

November 29th, 2017

Innovation is increasingly critical to business survival

We live in times of major change driven by a combination of globalisation, rapid technology development, the accelerating impact of the internet as a platform for social and business collaboration, security threats and changes in the power balance between the East and West.

The result is a turbulent environment where businesses continually need to adapt their business models and value propositions to meet new competitive conditions. In this challenging environment the ability to effectively innovate is becoming a core competence for businesses seeking to prosper in the short term and survive in the longer term.

How do you ensure that your innovation system is up to the job?

And and if it isn’t, how do you improve it?

Our latest whitepaper tells you how – you can read it here:

Why’s your innovation engine misfiring?

How healthy are your legal services?

November 20th, 2017

Business challenges are driving services thinking in law firms

Today law firms must compete on the basis of their legal services – not just their lawyers.  Clients buy legal services to get problems solved and these services are typically delivered by lawyers – but with increasing competition, the impact of IT and the internet and deregulation in some markets, this is changing. With the aim of meeting client demands of ‘more for less’ and doing so profitably, progressive firms are giving increased focus to improving the value of their services and the efficiency with which they are delivered.

The legal service paradigm has changed

Twenty years ago ‘legal services’ were simply the aggregate outcome of the work of a number of lawyers with a specific set of skills. The way the work was performed and delivered varied by office, by partner, by fee earner and over time. There was little consistency in how the service was performed or delivered.

The legal world is very different today. To find out more and how you can assess and improve your legal services read our new whitepaper: How healthy are your legal services?

If you would like to know more about Codexx experience or services in this area, please contact us.

 

 

Transformation in a mid-sized law firm – Whitepaper

September 11th, 2017

Major law firms are operating in a time of great change with significant pressures on their core business model, driven by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors:

  • Digitisation of legal service delivery, using the internet & mobile
  • More sophisticated and price-focused clients demanding ‘more for less’
  • Continuing austerity – impacting public and private sector legal budgets
  • Deregulation to enable new entrants and new business models

The UK legal press primarily gives coverage to the large law firms – particularly the so-called ‘magic’ and ‘silver circle’ firms licensed in England and Wales – and how they are responding to market, regulatory and technology challenges.

But how are mid-sized regional firms dealing with these challenges? These firms are typically competing for work where rates and indeed margins are significantly lower than for the large firms competing for M&A and complex litigation work – and these are being further squeezed in this challenging environment.

To better understand the challenges and effective approaches for making major transformation in such a mid-sized law firm we returned to one of our legal clients with whom we worked in 2011-12 on a Lean programme. At that stage, ASB Law, a progressive south coast firm, was just starting out on a programme of major transformation. We interviewed Andrew Clinton, who has been the Managing Partner of the firm since 2006. He has been championing and leading the firm’s programme of transformation.

Andrew was open and frank about the firm’s approach to transformation, its challenges on this journey and its achievements so far. He agreed to the documentation of this interview in a Codexx whitepaper and sharing it in the public domain. We have done so and also added a commentary based on our re-engineering and innovation experience with multiple firms in the legal sector since 2005.

This paper provides a practical and detailed review on the approaches, challenges and lessons learned in making and sustaining major transformation in a mid-sized law firm. We have also included a framework for the effective design and management of transformation programmes. To read the paper click on the link below.

Driving transformation in a mid-sized law firm – ASB Law Case Study – September 2017

International SAP Conference for Professional Services – October 2017

September 11th, 2017

How can Enterprise Systems like SAP enhance the performance of professional service firms? To help answer this question, SAP will be hosting their first international conference for Professional Services in Amsterdam on the 10-1th October 2017.

Alastair Ross, Director of Codexx, will be presenting on the 11th October in a special forum on ‘Driving Successful Innovation in Professional Service Firms’. His presentation will address key aspects such as:

  • Forces for and against change within professional services
  • The need for an holistic approach – People, process and IT
  • Establishing an environment for innovation
  • Re-engineering & automating services delivery – Key success factors.

Further information on the conference and presenters.

Energizing Change

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