Guidelines are Good but Fluidity is Better
I interviewed Brian Wagner, an entrepreneurial business and technical leader with over 20 years experience. He discussed how simple process solutions are often the best. If innovations are too complicated, they can actually be self-defeating. He advises against rigid and/or detailed long term plans and instead advocates a more flexible approach driven by goals and collaborative visualization complemented by the sharing of ideas. According to Wagner, the companies that benefit in the long-run are the ones that can evolve. Their approach to process innovation incorporates as many functions, resources and inputs as possible, from a broad range of individuals, departments and companies.
“Overall, the companies who really benefit in the long-run relative to process innovation are the ones that evolve. They incorporate as many functions and resources from as broad a range of individuals, departments and companies as possible.”
How Clients Approach Business Processes
Brian Wagner’s wealth of experience has made him an expert in achieving strategic results through innovative business processes. He believes that business processes are a source of competitive advantage, and his answer was pragmatic. “It can go both ways,” said Wagner. “We’ve seen companies build complex processes that really aren’t practical. It can work against you if processes aren’t simplified to the point where they’re understandable and easy to implement.”
As principal at Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions (PTIS), Brain Wagner shares his insights into developing innovative business processes. He explains how, in 2001, one of PTIS’ clients invested in having them perform benchmarking across approximately fifty companies, which database has now expanded to over 100 companies. Due to their focus on best practices within innovation, they were able to identify the processes that worked well with that first company and use those, with permission, to benefit subsequent clients.
Some companies have preexisting processes; for example, most companies have some form of stage-gate process, says Wagner, even though they might refer to it as something else. If stage-gate processes are used properly and kept simple or not over-complicated, Wagner believes that they can be very beneficial to companies. For instance, some major companies have trouble prioritizing and stage-gate processes can be very helpful in that respect. They can help ensure that resources are allocated to the correct opportunities rather than being spread too thin, which is often the case. The stage-gate process is well-known and formalized. “People get it,” emphasizes Wagner. So, it’s a good starting point for creating initiatives that adapt to specific needs.
On the other hand, Wagner explains how its equally common for clients to approach them and demand ‘process’ or the ability to quantify the value of a new concept or opportunity. In these cases, often times PTIS begins from scratch, since there is no preexisting process model in place. They start by creating a simple template, which purpose is to assess the value of a given opportunity whether it be in relation to consumer, channel or technology trends, or to operations, manufacturing or product-development strategies, such as multi-year marketing and brand development, or even in regards to supply chain management.
Flexible Process Capabilities in the Real World
Brian Wagner believes that the key to any kind of process, whether it’s stage-gate or some other kind, is to establish guidelines and ground rules that allow for flexibility. He emphasizes that process innovation is not a rigid procedure; it needs to remain fluid. Even though some people in the industry would like things to be black and white, that’s not necessarily the best approach. “In the real world, flexibility is critical,” says Wagner. He continues to say that some companies attempt to create strategies or business plans that forecast three years into the future. Even that is risky, since what is known is that the world is going to change. Instead of mapping out a detailed three plus year plan, Wagner advises settling on a goal or conceptualizing a vision that extends into the next three years, and including a few key points that will help make it happen. He says that typically, that’s enough and, better yet, those are the kind of guidelines that everyone can understand, so each member of the team can personally do their best to go from point A to point B. How they get there is less critical then actually getting there.
Evolution with Benefits
The companies that really benefit in the long-run and achieve the successes that they aspire towards are the ones that evolve. Their approach to process innovation incorporates as many functions, resources and inputs as possible, from a broad range of individuals, departments and companies.
“What we’ve found,” says Wagner, “is that if you put the right people in a room, those with a certain level of expertise, then their judgment is enough. You could probably spent years researching to get 100%, but with the right people assessing the right things, you can probably get 80% on a regular basis, and 80% is very good.” Ten people is a good start, but Wagner thinks it would be beneficial to include, for instance, the suppliers. “To be global, to allow other inputs to a process really creates the greatest opportunity.” Wagner finds that leveraging information technology is helpful when working in a collaborative environment.
About Brian Wagner
Brian Wagner is an entrepreneurial business and technical leader with over 20 years experience across Kellogg's, Sara Lee, Multiform Desiccants,Carton-Craft Corp., Burger King and General Foods. He is currently principal at Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions (PTIS). Since 2000, PTIS has helped over 180 global clients achieve strategic results through developing innovative processes. The majority of their clients have been Fortune 500, but they have also worked with NGOs, academia, government agencies, trade associations, brand owners and retailers. In 2008,
Wagner was inducted into the Michigan State University School of Packaging Hall of Fame and was recognized in the Western Michigan Business Review as a Thought Leader. Packaging Strategies named PTIS to their Most Influentials in Packaging for 2008. Brian is on the advisory board of Advanced Global Sourcing, and cofounded AGS Packaging in 2009. Also in 2009, Wagner cofounded the ARK Angel Network, a fundraising charity focused on helping needy and At Risk Kids around the world. He, his wife and their three children currently reside in Kalamazoo, Michigan and are actively involved in the ARK Angel Network. He is also involved in student mentoring and gives lectures at both MSU and Western Michigan University’s packaging and food marketing program for which he co-developed an on-line masters course, Value Relationships in Packaging.
From Packaging World,
“Too many national brands don’t value packaging as much and focus on squeezing costs out of packaging,” says Brian Wagner, vice president at PTIS. “For both retailers and CPG companies, the ones who wake up and understand packaging’s value as a brand differentiator, and as an investment, will win.”