As the third in this series, I could also call this post “How to bore your friends and be alone at parties.” If you are unaware of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), leanproduction.com provides a good overview to get you started. If you just followed that link, read that page, and are back for more, then you are not normal. You are probably an SE Manager, deeply committed to your SE team, trying to figure out how to increase sales without asking for more sacrifice from your team. Or, you might be an SE looking for a way to respond better (meaning quicker and with better accuracy) to your customer’s needs. I hope you find some useful ways to think about your work and interact with your manager.
As its core, TOC is focused on increasing the overall throughput of a production system by identifying the one constraint in the system and applying a systemic process to address it. Notice the focus is improving overall throughput of the system, not increasing the individual efficiency of its components. While this distinction existed in The Phoenix Project, it wasn’t until I read The Goal that this became clear. It’s an important distinction.
“Eliyahu M. Goldratt, who created the Theory of Constraints, showed us how any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion. Astonishing, but true!”
Before we continue this series and apply the Theory of Constraints to Presales Teams, we need to understand the concept of workstations as applied to Technical Sales. For our purposes, workstations represent the major activity groups that are required for a healthy Sales Campaign. I choose the term “healthy” very intentionally. While some may view a healthy deal as a won deal, we in technical sales do not (or at least we shouldn’t). Our goal is the Technical Win – producing customers for the long term, not just the current quarter. The Presales Workstations describe the major steps in achieving that.
The Phoenix Project describes four components to every workstation: man, machine, method, and measures. The “man” part of this equation is simple – it is the Presales SE and any other resources in the organization that support the SE. The “machine” component is any system or tool that the Presales SE uses to manage or execute that step in the process. For example, a sizing tool or quote generation tool would be part of the machine for the Design and Propose workstations respectively. “Method” is any process or technique the Presales SE follows when completing each workstation. A defined Demo process or Proof of Concept process would be methods the Presales SE follows.
Let me give a quick word of caution: many mangers are immediately drawn to the term “measures” – this is especially true the higher the manager is in the organization – and become focussed on that one component. Measures are important but collecting them is not the goal of the workstation or the organization. Managers need to focus on the least amount of measures needed to gauge effectiveness and success.
Let’s start this series of posts by looking at the Categories of Work Kim, Behr, and Spafford describe in The Phoenix Project for the world of IT Operations: Business Projects, IT Projects, Changes, and Unplanned.
Category 1: Business Projects
Business Projects are those projects that produce value external to the company. This is where the organization touches the customer and where revenue is generated. In manufacturing this is the manufacturing plant producing products; in IT Ops it is the development and release of customer (revenue generating) applications. In the world of Technical Sales it is the execution of the Technical Sales Process.
The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford, had generated a lot of discussion in my circles and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. For anyone who has spent time in IT, it was like reading an autobiography! For those of us in Presales, it is valuable in two ways. First, it gives us a great view of the environment we are selling into – all of our customers are on the journey described – and second, it challenges us to examine how we work. The principles of working effectively apply not only to IT Operations, but to our work in Technical Sales as well.
There are a few concepts in The Phoenix Project that I would like explore as applied to Technical Sales:
Going Deeper …
I enjoyed the source material from which the authors developed their concepts and ideas. This material included The Goal, Toyota Kata, and Personal Kanban, and I highly encourage you to read at least Toyota Kata and Personal Kanban.
I’d love to hear feedback from those of you that live in the world of Technical Sales.
Enjoy the posts!