Making Business Systems Remediation-Resistant

When business systems aren’t working, or when there’s a different expectation of them (like changing regulations and standards), you may need to remediate. Remediation can be a tough experience. Sometimes you just want to scrap the whole thing and start fresh. But, if you have years of data and an already-established system, is that really wise? Is it really necessary to start from scratch every time you need to adapt? 

I’ve seen and lived through the scrap-it method. Large consulting firms are hired (or a C-level executive is hired that then brings along his team), re-do it all, and then leave. Then, 5 to 10 years later, it all happens, again. The established employees learn to grin and bear it, knowing the disruption is temporary, try to work within the system for a few years, then brace for the next remediation. That is a way to remediate. But, there are things you can do for yourself to avoid that pain in the future, and ways you can remediate that may be less disruptive and more strategic. 

Build an adaptable system from the start and know that it’s never too late to do so.

To avoid a future overhaul, try to build adaptability into your business systems before it becomes a problem. I say try, but that’s only because you need to make an educated guess of where your industry is headed. You are allowed (really, I encourage you) to make predictions about the future. You can manage and build systems for your business or department, even if you’re not in the B or C-level suite of decision making in a large business. If you’re an entrepreneur or in management in any way, it would be wise to incorporate this future-thinking into your responsibilities. You work to understand your internal and external customers, make predictions about what their needs will be, imagine the future, and then prepare today’s systems to be able to adapt to that future. Communicate with your business partners (or other managers) and ask for their input. Don’t act as a victim of trickle-down policies; take charge and manage your resources and your system so it is robust to the problems of tomorrow. And, consistently monitor and update your system.

Systems need to be for your business.

Heading into any remediation, you must understand that there is no one right answer. Beware of anyone that says they’ve used this business system before, it works great, and you can just scrap what you have and replace it with their system: no or little customization needed! It worked for Trinkets, Inc., it should work for you, too, right? I disagree. If you can, you should look at what Trinkets did, and then you can choose to adopt portions of it for your business. But, your business is not Trinkets, Inc. You have different employees, a different culture, and your own business vision. Even if your industry is the same or similar, you’re not selling the same product or service; you’re selling your own! Business systems can be complicated, too; your interfaces and inputs/outputs are likely not the same as Trinkets. Inc. These are reasons why plug-and-play systems don’t work long-term.

Invite outside input, but rely on yourself and your resources to decide on the appropriate remediation.

Recognize that your internal talent knows stuff about your business systems that others cannot know. Use auditors to help you understand your current state. Use external experts to show you new ideas, teach you about best practices, help facilitate changes, train your people for gaps, and help run the remediation as a project. However, don’t let external folks convince you that whoever built your system in the first place was an idiot and didn’t know what they were doing, that you should pass all control over to the experts who know better. Think about it: do you have a system now that has been working, but now needs an update? The creators of that system (and it could be you) DID know what they were doing because it WAS working. Just because your system isn’t working perfectly, anymore, doesn’t mean you should dismiss the idea-makers that built it. Have confidence in yourself and your people to own the systems that drive your business and use external resources to fill the gaps.

Build upon what you already have.

In most cases, you don’t have to scrap-and-replace and can instead build upon what you already have. To explain how I’ll share a lesson from the performing arts and a creative example.

When my youngest kid was in preschool, she and I watched a show together on Netflix called  “Julie’s Greenroom”, starring Julie Andrews. It was children’s programming about performing arts. One of my favorite episodes was about improvisation (improv). The key to good improv, I learned, was to continue to build off of what someone else already did before you. “Yes, and…”, never “But, then she decided not to do that and did this, instead…”. It’s good improv to continue the story and add to it. It’s bad improv to contradict what came before or to take the story on a totally weird, unrelated tangent.

For your system that needs to be remediated, adopt a Yes, and… approach to your remediation. Let’s step through an example. Bill is traveling the road of success and encounters a series of problems. He and his improv-minded team develop systems to solve his problems, like this:

ProblemImprov-minded answer
Yes, and…
Bill needs to get from points A to B
along a paved road.
…so he built a car,
Now, Bill needs to haul more stuff.…and added a trailer to the car,
Now, Bill needs to leave the road
and ride a river.
…and built a raft for the car.

Imagine that our current business system is Bill’s car. And, a totally new system that can replace the one we now have is a shiny, new submarine. To travel the river, we can trash the car and buy a shiny, new submarine (scrap-and-replace). Or, we can adapt what we already have, like adding a trailer and raft (Yes, and…). If we choose the submarine, Bill will have to design and wait for it to be ready, transfer all of his stuff to it, and then learn a totally new system. Plus, it will have performance kinks and leaks he doesn’t know about. However, if we choose the additions to the car, it’s less to build, we don’t have to transfer much of anything, and Bill already knows how to run it. Additionally, if we add functionality, it may be more adaptable for the future, too. Maybe we foresee that we’ll need to exit the river and get back on the road, downstream. What would be better for Bill when he gets to that point: having an adaptable car that will still be able to drive on the road or trashing the submarine and building another new car from scratch?

Remediate your way.

Only you and your internal team truly know your business and its potential future scenarios. And in most cases, with some outside help to guide, facilitate, share options, and train, you and your team can build upon the business systems you have today to get what you need to achieve the next level of performance tomorrow.