—Sun Tsu, Ancient Chinese Military strategist
As a project or change manager, the more information you have about a planned change, the better. Knowing the rationale for the change, the strategic relationships and the milieu within which the change will be delivered are essential. Getting that insight at the start amplifies your ability to help the stakeholders and their clients achieve a timely and successful outcome.
Unfortunately, most projects start out with vast voids and expansive shades of grey on a multitude of key factors. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a practice that could help you illuminate and eliminate those unknowns expeditiously, right up front. Well, there is! This case is about a boutique consulting firm based in Winnipeg named Certio Group. Their aim was to help organizations and projects understand and address the potholes and pitfalls that litter the road to success.
Thanks to Andres Holm for the details on this story.
A successful welding company had been operating in the local and regional community for a number of years. It offered steel fabrication and installation for commercial, industrial and residential projects as well as on site welding. Part of their business involved the repair and modification of shipping containers, those big steel boxes that are used for shipboard, road and rail shipping. This started with the creation of pools for particular clients and morphed into providing full-scale customization of the containers.
The company owners, Andrew and Jaclyn Rhodes, saw an opportunity to expand their business. They were aware of a growing market for custom homes using the shipping containers like Lego blocks. The blocks were being connected side-by-side and end-on-end and stacked in a multitude of creative ways to deliver homes that adapted to unique physical sites and addressed customers’ desires.
The Rhodes, in considering the expansion opportunities, decided to seek outside expertise to accelerate the process. They contacted Andres Holm at Certio Group, a business consulting firm based in Winnipeg, Canada for advice. Certio offered a variety of services including assistance with funding acquisition, developing business plans and proposals, market research, strategic planning and business development.
The Rhodes had a vision: to build their container home business leveraging the skills and processes from their welding operations to create a profitable, sustainable company. They dreamt of a high quality, highly productive, just-in-time manufacturing process with a core of cost-effective standard practices and mass customization capability to satisfy a wide range of clients. They formed Northern Green Homes to pursue their dreams and brought Certio on board to help them achieve their goals.
Andres Holm, Certio Group’s Managing Partner, met with the Rhodes and proposed a rapid response plan to get them started on a solid foundation. There were a number of key components:
- The Rhodes had to be actively involved every step of the way. They had to know as much about the plan as Certio Group’s staff. Ultimately, they had to own it.
- Certio proposed using their standard business plan framework. The Rhodes agreed.
- Andres proposed a ten week target for the completion of the plan, with subsequent increments as needed. Again the Rhodes agreed.
The framework that drove the work is shown below:
Over the next ten weeks, Certio Group’s staff designed and drove the plan while engaging with and providing incremental updates for the Rhodes to review.
On completion, the Certio Group produced a plan that the Rhodes could embrace wholeheartedly. The plan included a number of key recommendations that varied somewhat from the Rhodes’ original thoughts.
- The plan recommended focusing on housing for indigenous and remote communities. The high end market was well served and very competitive. The recommended market was poorly served, often with inadequate housing.
- A standard two shipping container unit with two bedrooms, fully framed, glazed, insulated, plumbed and wired could be supplied to the target market for approximately $160,000 (or less in some instances). The homeowner needed to provide the lot, road access and electrical, water and septic system services plus furniture and appliances.
- A variety of customizations were possible using the planned standard practices, skills and facilities including additional bedrooms and utility rooms. That would allow the company to be responsive to a variety of market needs.
- The research found numerous sources of funding and financing from both the public and private sectors. There was also unexpected interest from outside investors.
- The target market and target pricing could provide reasonable profit margins for the company while enabling future growth and expansion.
- Many of the processes and skills used by the welding company would be perfectly suitable to the new venture’s needs, reducing costs and risks and accelerating the start-up process.
With the Rhodes at the helm, Northern Green Homes is now working that plan. Power planning indeed!
What a Great Leader Learned
Northern Green Homes leveraged the Certio Group’s strengths to accelerate its start-up effort. The following factors were crucial to that process:
- Frameworks – Certio leveraged their standard framework for business plan development and refined it on a client by client basis as needed. The framework ensured that all vital information was captured and considered. As a result, the business plans developed from the framework were robust, comprehensive and responsive.
- Targeted research – Driven by the framework, Certio examined, among other things, the competitive landscape, financial and funding needs and offerings and the regulatory climate. The findings surgically shaped the resulting business plan contents and directions.
- Relationships – While Certio Group’s relationship with the client was paramount, it also maintained ongoing relationships with all levels of government, with banks and potential funding organizations and outside investment organizations. Those in-place contacts and the insights they provided allowed them to respond rapidly to their client’s interests.
- Vision – Creating an appropriate and compelling vision isn’t waiting for serendipity to strike. It requires an iterative exploration that blends the client’s needs, expectations and dreams with the research findings and constant collaboration. As a result, the aspirational met the possible.
- Change management – Certio was not just about one business plan and done. They recognized that well executed tactics are the glue that makes strategies and plans a reality. To enhance ongoing operational performance, they also offered the “Virtual Board Member” role to provide an independent voice to help keep things on track or revisit findings if the market changed.
These five best practices helped Certio Group provide the insights and guidance the Rhodes and Northern Green Homes were looking for. In fact, I think these best practices are relevant to any kind of project. I can recall several new product launches that would have been helped immeasurably by people in the know wading through the Certio Group’s business plan template to reveal hidden pitfalls and brilliant insights.
So, be a Great Leader. Put these points on your checklist of things to consider so you too can be assured that you and your team have covered the bases. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and Decision Framework best practices right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. In fact, add those factors in Certio Group’s Business Plan Template to your own Decision Framework.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, good, bad and everything in between, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, we will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks.
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at