“Make no small plans,” said Daniel Burnham, “for they have no magic to stir men's souls.” That sage advice from more than a century ago still has the ring of truth to it. The major premise of this month’s column is that no maintenance department will be able to save its way to corporate prosperity. Instead, you’ve got to spend money to make money. The trick is finding a way to get the maintenance funding that you and other enlightened people know your plant needs.
With all the cutbacks we’ve seen lately, with maintenance departments being pruned like so much deadwood, with so many asset care functions being outsourced, it might seem difficult to simply ignore naysayers who present the darker side of the maintenance profession. If you ignore the commentaries that say the whole field is going downhill, that younger workers aren’t taking up the mantle of excellence and that bemoan all manner of perceived ills, you can do something positive to make things happen. Mounting an effective rebuttal to counter such dire predictions at the local level probably requires funding. But, keep in mind that few, if any, of the gatekeepers have risen to management ranks out of the maintenance department.
Consider venture capitalists for a moment. Funding a start-up business requires them to be rather selective, basing their investment choices on the entrepreneur’s strategic plan and business plan. The obvious parallel is that you might have better luck getting funding for what you know the plant needs by following the VC’s approach. A solidly written plan is an effective way to get the guardians of the corporate treasury to go along with your plans, ideas and ambitions.
So, let’s take another dive into that morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that’ll help you wow them with words and be rewarded with project funding. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.
Make no mistake about it; because nonprofit organizations can only generate limited profits by selling goods or services, they have a definite need for strategic planning if they are to survive. To help them, Action Without Borders, based in New York, was founded in 1995 to connect the people, organizations and resources in the nonprofit sector. Action Without Borders is independent of government, political ideology and religious creed. Among the material posted to the organization’s Web site is an article titled “What is strategic planning?” After explaining what it is, the article ends with comments on what it is not. That’s where your mouse will find the gold if you send it to scrounge up a good read at www.nonprofits.org/npofaq/03/22.html.
It’s like the chicken and the egg. Does a business plan precede the strategy or is it the other way around? Arguments can support both sides of the question. In any case, getting your funding will be easier if you can demonstrate a solid strategy for using whatever it is you’re trying to get through the approval process. Alan Tatel from BusinessTown.com LLC in Avon, Mass., posts some material about strategy on his Web site, but it appears under planning. Go to www.businesstown.com and click on “Business Planning,” one of the entries found on the left side of the screen. The link to strategy appears at the top and bottom of the next screen.
Strategy writ large
At the corporate level, the perceived value of strategic planning peaked and fell out of favor when the immediate realities of competition from unexpected quarters forced large companies to rethink their approaches to business success. Then it came back in vogue and is probably destined to repeat the cycle [i]ad infinitum[i]. My point in mentioning “Strategic Planning,” an article by John A. Byrne that appeared in the August 26, 1996 issue of [i]Business Week[i] magazine, is his suggestion that the process ought to be democratized instead of being dictated from on high. Byrne gives instances of companies that included feedback and collaboration from adjacent elements of the supply chain into the planning process to achieve better results. Read his article at www.businessweek.com/1996/35/b34901.htm. For the purposes of getting funding for your maintenance initiative, think conceptually and remember that your customer is the operating department you serve.
The reason an entrepreneur develops a business plan in the first place is generally two-fold. First, the document serves as a roadmap to guide the business as it develops and, second, to provide the information a venture capitalist demands when deciding whether to fund the business.
So, think like an entrepreneur when you need funding and pull together something that looks like a stripped down business plan. The place to begin your research is at Palo Alto Software in Eugene, Ore. The software developer claims to have the largest single free, online collection of sample business plans (there were 91 available at the time this was written). The site, www.bplans.com, also offers planning tips and interactive calculators that might be of value when speaking money-ese with the executives who clutch the keys to the till.
The giant speaks
The idea of inventing software to mediate between a user’s natural language and the binary machine language that an integrated circuit needs was absolutely brilliant. Although Bill Gates and his friends might have written a business plan when they launched Microsoft, their concept was so good that I doubt they ever used it. So, when the big guy talks about business plans, you might want to listen. For example, “How to write a business plan” by C.E. Yandle, group manager of worldwide small-business Web marketing operations at Microsoft, offers you a nine-step guide to constructing a plan that attracts money. By far, the most important step is the last one –- have an exit strategy. It’s something everyone could use periodically. Anyway, mouse on over to www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/resources/
startups/business_plans_entities/how_to_write_a_business_plan.mspx. If you would prefer the Spanish edition, go to www.negocio.us/internet_business/
Combing the stacks
When faced with a new project, most people visit a library and perform a literature search to avoid reinventing the inner tube. The online equivalent, The Free Management Library, is a collection of zero-cost, online resources about management, including the planning, organizing, leading and coordinating activities in an organization. This [i]magnum opus[i] is the brainchild of Carter McNamara, who operates Authenticity Consulting, LLC in St. Paul, Minn. and, wouldn’t you know, it has information about business plans and strategic plans. This site is intended to be a community asset that accepts content from the people who use it. Navigate your way to www.managementhelp.org/aboutnml.htm and click “First Timers” in the fourth line of text to get an introduction to the general arrangement of the material there. Be sure to scroll down to read the bit about overcoming management myths. That’s material you might use in justifying the money your initiative will require. Then, at the end of the page you’ll find suggestions for using the site. With that business completed, go back to the opening page and click on “Business Planning” or “Strategic Planning” to begin your research.
When you think about it, the maintenance function in a manufacturing plant would be called a service firm if it had more than one customer to satisfy. As soon as it has two customers, the work turns into contract maintenance that other manufacturing firms can use for outsourcing their own maintenance function. But, I digress.
Small service firms, captive or otherwise, must budget and plan for success. Most small firms don’t have enough resources to do this efficiently, so our hired hands in Washington might be able to help you. Consider the U.S. Small Business Administration, which tries to maintain and strengthen the nation's economy by aiding, counseling, assisting and protecting the interests of small businesses. At least, that’s part of what the mission statement says they do. The SBA Web site, www.sba.gov is crowded. The best way to get the goods is to click on “Library,” and when the new page opens, click on “E-Books and Publications.” For the purposes of this column, I’d guess that the three most relevant SBA publications to be found here are:
- Budgeting In A Small Service Firm (FM-8)
- How to Write a Business Plan (MP-32)
- Business Plan for Small Service Firms (MP-11)
Scroll down a bit and you should have no trouble finding these entries on the right side of the screen.
The luck of the Irish
The research for this column turned up a rich source of relevant freeware, but a significant fraction of it requires you to register your identity. With that caveat, I present for your enjoyment www.planware.org, the home of PlanWare, a production of Invest-Tech Limited from Blackrock in County Dublin, Ireland. The free software isn’t supported, but the download includes the manuals. The offerings include cashflow and financial templates, white papers that offer advice on a variety of topics, and at least two business plan templates. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find something to help with your funding request at this site. If nothing else, investigate the quotes about money and finance under the “Special Features” option.
So, with all these arrows in your quiver, a clean pad of paper on your desk and a sharp pencil in your hand, you can start making those plans Burnham mentioned. Go forth, get your crew together and produce a darned good funding plan. Even if it isn’t successful in prying open the till, everyone involved will have gotten some good experience that might prove useful someday, somewhere.