The secret behind 90 day transition windows

In many industries (definitely across CRE), you will find yourself needing to transition something. It may be an outsource provider, moving from one vendor to another, implementing a technology system or simply testing a new tool. If you are talking to a third party to assist you, you will likely come across the generic 90 day transition period.

It’s funny how often transitions of very different things always take exactly 90 days. It’s almost as if people got together to agree to 90 days as the perfect standard. In many ways, that is exactly what happened. (Not that people physically got together and defined this from the shadows, just that they came to the same conclusion through independent paths.)

90 days is the perfect amount of time to make it seem like real effort is being put in but it’s also quick enough to seem aggressive. If I were to say go today, 3 months to implement something feels like it could be realistic. Psychologically, a non-expert is unlikely to question this period of time. If you were to advertise 60 days people will immediately think of all the little things that can delay the solution by that long without batting an eye. If you say 120 days, it crosses that triple digit barrier and starts to look long.

The other variable in the equation is what “transition” really means. Many organizations take a very fuzzy definition of transition. Often it may be something along the lines of:

Transition: the sequence of activities that ends in 90 days that allows us to show how good we are at listing things on gantt charts.

That’s very tongue-in-cheek but not terribly far from the truth in many cases. The actual “transition” (defined as everything needed to actually reach a new Business-as-Usual state) is difficult, painful and can take a very long-term. Often you can’t even clearly define where the transition ends and BAU begins in larger projects.

The 90 day transition is just another marketing ploy but designed as an operational reality. Remember that marketing doesn’t stop just because the sales process has.

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Retail is not dying, it is simply changing.

There are many doom and gloom articles about the pending death of retail. It’s a vastly overstated premise. Much like how Apple and Android disrupted Nokia and Blackberry in the mobile phone industry, Amazon and other e-commerce companies are disrupting traditional brick and mortar retailers. This does not mean that retail is dying, but it does mean some traditional retailers will continue to fade.

Take a look at the retail process of yesterday and it looks very similar to what it is today.

  1. A customer goes looking for something that they want. Use to be in a store, now it occurs in a browser.
  2. The customer either purchases the item the first place they find it or price matches at competitors.
  3. Item is transported to the customer’s final destination. Use to be by the consumer direct, now often through parcel/post.

The retail process is unchanged to what shoppers want, the only difference is that technology has disintermediated the process from where it used to take place. Big box retailers used to have a monopoly on shopper attention and information. If you wanted to purchase a TV you had to go to Wal-Mart or Best Buy to compare them. Now you can go to any number of websites that compare the newest models in depth and even have fairly robust images, videos, and reviews of them. You actually get more information about what you want to buy by NOT going to a brick and mortar store.

For groceries, the brick and mortar store still remains king for now but even that is starting to change. The key differentiator for the grocery store is the ability to guarantee the freshness of hot/baked goods and produce. However, as supply chains further mature and advance even this starts to change. How much further do we need to go before shipping fresh food to a customers front door is more efficient than shipping to the store?

Retail is a great example of the poor of the information age disrupting legacy industries. The fundamentals haven’t really changed once you dig in but it certainly appears to be fundamentally different to the traditional players.

Technology should influence your internal processes but it should never dictate what you must do.

There is a lot of technology in this world that tries to get you to do things its way. You know the systems – the ones that talk about how you don’t need to customize or configure them and in 90 days you’ll achieve millions in operational savings. Let’s call them “Miracle Systems.”

Miracle Systems can almost always be spotted with one easy test: they promise tremendous value with a very short implementation window.

They usually start with a statement about how they have been designed by industry leaders that understand the process better than anyone ever has before. They’ve done the hard work of building your requirements in so that you don’t need any changes for them to implement quickly.

Here’s the secret: no technology will ever work unless you do the hard work first of understanding your processes and ensuring you can fit the technology into your workflow.

Most technology fails because users don’t use it correctly or at all. It’s usually not intentional neglect either. If a user is required to submit a monthly report to the COO showing the change in square footage but the new system doesn’t allow them to track the change in square footage, you likely aren’t going to get good adoption of the system. If the CFO requires a specific NPV calculation to be used by the new system doesn’t run it correctly, the analysis will likely happen outside of the system.

90 days is never enough time to implement any new process. It takes 90 days just to understand the current process. It can take a year to implement a new one. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t forget steps 1 through 3.

When working on something you feel comfortable with, it can be easy to look into the future at what you expect the final outcome to be. If you are simply trying to get through the process as quickly as possible it can be easy to just jump straight to what you think the final answer will be. There is danger here.

People are always a variable in a change process. People you aren’t familiar with will likely bring ideas with them you don’t have quick answers to. If you have a large team, you will have a large set of requirements and goals. If your team hasn’t worked together before, there will be a significant element around figuring out roles and responsibilities.

When projects go VERY wrong, it’s often because they forgot to do Steps 1 through 3 in the process plan.

  1. Figure out what you are really trying to achieve.
  2. Define the team, roles, and responsibilities for how you will get there and get buy-in from each.
  3. Define what success will look like at the end.

These may seem really basic (because they are) but the basics are what usually win the day. In sports, the players with the strongest fundamentals have the longest careers even if their upside isn’t the greatest. If you get the fundamentals right every time, your speed to a solution will go way up.

Note that this also applies even when working with teams you are familiar with on projects you’ve done a thousand times. People change and their goals change. At some point, people feel ready to take on more responsibility or have a life event which limits the time they can invest in this new one. Doing the blocking and tackling up front ensures you are focused on everyone you need to be.

Process drives Technology drives Controls drives Process

So much of the work that we all do is recursive. When you do Thing A, it causes you to do Action B. Action B dictates that you generate Report C which indicates that you need to do Thing A differently.

The trick to the entire process is to realize the truth in the above cycle. There is no process meant to remain the same forever. Processes are meant to change. Patterns in data start to shift. Growth curves eventually stop. Eventually, New York real estate will reach a peak (but who knows when?). Anytime we think that we have finally found a process that can just keep going we will find a surprise.

Once you understand the feedback nature of various tasks and outcomes, you can start to streamline and speed up the overall timeline.

Your network is worth more than just a quick sale or the ability to find a future job.

Networking is a very difficult thing for many. Taking time to join evening groups, grabbing the local lunch or dinner with someone they don’t really know, and making calls to simply keep in touch can be hell for those people. For a long time, it was really difficult for me as well.

Eventually, I learned to include it in my schedule. It’s simply part of my workflow now. Every month I try and keep in touch with the people who make me think and do better. It’s not about selling or getting a job. It’s about improving myself.

I believe strongly in the power of mentorship. I also strongly believe that mentorship is not something formal, it’s a desire by two (or more) people to collaboratively improve. Sure, one of them may have more experience and knowledge than the other. But any mentorship that is only one way is doomed to failure.

Ideas are not bounded by experience, age or knowledge. There’s a reason that many of the greatest advances in math, economics, and physics were made by relatively young people: a spark of imagination is required for the really big ideas to take hold. It requires someone to think audacious thoughts and seek to prove those thoughts to be right. It is harder to do in your fifties than your twenties.