Technology, in particular software, has made so many things “possible” today; it is really amazing what we could do with our businesses given the software tools that are at our disposal. Almost daily, I see a new example of how technology companies are trying to address business process challenges and create new products and services by leveraging software. Thinking about what these technologies could potentially do for your business, what I call the “dream stage” is compelling, fun, exciting, and addictive.

And then you hit the gap.

You can dream big, but you can only execute within your constraints.

The gap is the space between what we can dream (unlimited potential) and what we can execute on within the constraints of our business (time, resources, budget, customer, and market).

We need both. We need to dream and we need to execute. But let’s be honest, dreaming is way more fun and there are a lot of people in sales who are willing to make that dream phase as comfortable as possible (drinks, dinner, travel, and undivided attention). You need to dream. You need to think beyond your current realities because the rate of change in your market, in the general business environment, and with your customers is accelerating. Dreaming is about stepping outside of the daily fire hose of running your business to think about where it could be in two, five, or ten years. The future of all business in every market, is a greater reliance on technology, therefore all your dreams should have a technology theme to them. Dreaming is envisioning a new reality, e.g. more than 50% of your business coming from an online channel, or 25% of your revenues generated from non-print sales, or your offset business dropping off completely because it’s been completely replaced by high-value digital solutions.

The gap; that space between what is theoretically possible and what your company can achieve is where most projects fail and where dreams turn into nightmares. You buy the dream; you fail to make the tough transition between the dream and the reality of what you can accomplish with your resources, your budget and in your market. There is a name for this kind of decision making, it’s called “confirmation bias”. We get caught up in the dream and then we only look for evidence that supports our beliefs. The solution seems complex, so you assume you’ll be able to find a talented, motivated, brilliant resource to learn the system and deploy it on behalf of your customers who will of course be open to training on this new complex system. That sentence should make you cringe! It’s hard to find good people and when was the last time any of your customers agreed to spend their valuable time being trained on your systems?

Creating technology that can do every feature/function imaginable in a sales demonstration or explained in a PowerPoint presentation is a dream. Making that technology operationally functional by your team, in your business, for your customers is reality; otherwise known as executing within your constraints.

Nobody talks about your constraints in the sales process, why would they? You are the only one who knows the constraints of your business. You know your staff, you know how busy they are, you know how technical they are, and you know your customers. In a sales process, the vendor helps you dream – it is your job to understand how you will navigate the crossing of that gap and make business decisions based on your real constraints.

Web-to-Print Constraints:

  1. Do you have a resource that is open to learning new things, has a solution bias vs. a why this won’t work bias? (A negative attitude – looking for what’s wrong vs. succeeding in spite of challenges is the number one killer of software projects).   
  2. Do you have sales people who can be convinced of the value of opening up new online channels with their customers?
  3. Do you and your team believe in the value of offering customers the convenience of self-service online ordering?
  4. Are you embracing the online world or resisting it? Your people will follow your lead.
  5. Have you taken the time to think through an online strategy for your business? What are your goals for embracing the fastest growing business channel humans have ever created?

Print MIS Constraints:

  1. Do you have a resource that has enough internal respect and confidence to drive a new Print MIS implementation that impacts every corner of your business?
  2. Do you have the internal fortitude to encourage your team to take on a project that forces everyone to look at how they do things today and be open to evolving to a more systems-based approach which involves technology instead of manual steps?
  3. Are you ready to face the inevitable internal resistance?
  4. Do you have the time in your day to lead the organization from a vision standpoint so that they understand why so much change is necessary to remain competitive?
  5. Do you have the budget to invest in technology and the associated services to fully implement the solution?

The transition from dream to reality can be a little disheartening. Don’t let it bring you down. So many people get trapped into thinking we either have to accomplish the entire dream or nothing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Executing is the differentiation.

Everyone dreams, few execute.

The printers who are successful online today aren’t better dreamers, they don’t have better technology, they are better at executing. They do what I think is the most important skill in business today “brutal prioritization”. Why do you have to be brutal in your prioritization? Everything is important but you cannot do everything. Steve Jobs famously guided his top people through a white board session to determine what directions they would consider moving forward; the final declaration in this exercise was brutal prioritization “we can only do two”. Brutal prioritization is hard.

Dream and execute. Dream big, execute really well on a few things that are possible within your constraints. Know your limits. Most of us are trying to do too many things at once and that sets us up to fail across the board. One year from now what do you want to be able to say about your business evolution? Work backwards from there. Executing is about focus. Successful print software projects create sustained focus on a clearly defined goal. Dreaming is sexy and fun. Executing is where all the magic happens - the magic of producing sustainable business results.