Pressure drives progress. In the right context, and handled well, it’s immensely powerful. In the right hands, deliberately creating and then controlling pressure can enable giant leaps forward. Compression, consciously using pressure to achieve results, can be liberating.
The steam engine is a classic example, both for travel and for industry. Large scale industrialisation, in the weaving and knitting industries for example, brought revolutionary results. In the 18th and 19th centuries, slow, small-scale production changed to fast, mass production. Pent-up demand was met and new markets were created as well. And for the modern world? What better way to cook quickly and cheaply than with a pressure cooker?
It’s inevitable – and good – that today we additional ways to harness pressure. Two good examples are Agile Working and Sprint Planning. In both, a faster and more responsive pattern of working results from creating strategic pressures which define choices and direct actions.
Agile working developed in the 1990s software industry to bypass the ‘traditional’ linear style of project development. Too often the old model failed to respond to fast moving technical developments and changing markets. Using a more flexible and dynamic approach – agile, in fact –businesses have been able to develop and launch new products without cumbersome reviews and time-consuming development schedules.
Agile teams can re-design products and get them to market quickly. They do so in the knowledge that they can renew and refresh the products constantly in this way. While this strategy had its roots in the world of software, the way it uses short term pressures creatively has global application. It’s especially useful for adaptive and responsive production lines.
Hand in hand with this outcomes model is the concept of Sprint Planning. Again, common in the software and computing sector, it has wider uses and most readers will be familiar with the basic idea: regular meetings provide a forum for all stakeholders to plan strategic actions that will deliver a project, or part of it, in a given period – usually 7 or 14 days. Some businesses use longer periods, although doing so creates the risk of losing the sprint’s dynamic nature.
In the Sprint model, the entire team agree how to allocate resources to given tasks and agree deadlines for milestones or completion. Complexity is reflected in resourcing but often only indirectly via the perceived ‘size’ of the job. A more nuanced approach is to allocate resources (people, time, money) explicitly by complexity. It can be done very neatly using numbers in a Fibonacci sequence, for example 2,3,5,8,13,21. The advantage here is that by describing a task as an 8, say, it can be split further between team members into 3 and 5. Shared understanding is improved and there are likely to be fewer surprises. Everything gets done more efficiently and more quickly. Processes are compressed; better outcomes are achieved faster.
Key to success is tracking and accountability. One of the team, ideally someone apart from the main process but who understands it well, must frequently monitor progress and outcomes. They must understand what has been asked of individuals, but they must also be fearless in confronting delays and understanding the causes. When everybody buys into the process, the compression - the quick evaluation and a new plan - becomes a powerful tool for progress.
And because planning takes place weekly or fortnightly, there’s an inbuilt review too. Done well, there is always likely to be a slight backlog. If everything is finished, the initial plans may not have been sufficiently ambitious; if too much remains incomplete, the plan was unrealistic. Just like controlling a pressure cooker or steam engine, getting it right is a fine art. When it works well, it’s dynamic and liberating.
Compressed goods and creative packaging
Compression – the deliberate choice to use pressure – is familiar in many modern business practices. From planning, to production and to marketing, intelligent and deliberate use of pressure means that there is real focus on producing great results. Compression makes its mark quite literally in packaging. Shrink wrapping is a common practice but compressing goods into specific shapes with branded packaging is also a powerful way to make an impact.
What better way to make your brand memorable than to send your customer a T-shirt or towel compressed and packed to look like their favourite pizza, a well-known book or a bottle of the world’s most famous soft drink? Not only can these goods be sent by post, but the pleasure of unwrapping (and unshrinking) these amazing gifts is second only to using them. Compression is great. Use it to help make your business stronger.
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