We all have obstacles to overcome. Every day we run into blocks with the projects we work on. These blocks do not have to be stops! Turn your roadblocks into detours by using strategic planning.

Obstacles Typically Have a Purpose

In my experience these obstacles have had two main purposes. The first is to help me determine if I really want whatever it was I was going after. The second has been that they have presented an opportunity to take another look at the path I was on. Often, the original path was not even the best solution. The obstacle presented me with an opportunity to improve on the original idea or plan of action. Sure there are times when the obstacle is there to tell me I am flat out wrong. While that third option is possible it usually has not been the case.

What Would You Do?

Suppose you had a vacation to Costa Rica planned. Two weeks of sun and surf, rest and relaxation. You have planned out your trip, what airline you will take, how to get to the airport on time. You have made reservations at the right hotels and even planned the excursions you will go on. Everything is perfect. You plan on waking up at 6am, showering, packing the last minute items, having a cup of coffee, and heading to the airport by 6:45. It is a Saturday morning so you are not worried about traffic, yet you leave yourself a bit of a buffer to make it for the 10:15 take off. While your coffee is brewing, you turn on the TV. This is, after all, the last local news you will be seeing for the next couple of weeks. Then it happens. Big news, the freeway you were going to take to get to the airport is completely shut down. There was an overturned tanker truck halfway between your home and the airport and the freeway is closed. What do you do? Do you cancel your trip? Of course not. This vacation is too important. You find another way. Take a different road. Sure this path is a bit longer, but there is no way you are going to miss this flight. You have turned the roadblock into a detour.

How Bad do I Want it?

Why? It goes back to the first purpose, which was to make a determination to the importance of the value of the trip. Do I really want it? If so, I will find a way to make it happen. The issue does not have to be a vacation, obstacles present themselves in business all of the time. In fact, one of our clients had a situation at their office recently. This client has a very good and very large customer that was forced to take two bids on a particular job. This is a reliable customer, and they have done similar jobs for them regularly, so to our client this was just routine. Their buyer was forced to take a second bid, but it seemed like no big deal, this client was the incumbent, they knew the work and had a great relationship with their customer. The company who provided the second bid came in lower and the job was awarded to them. Our client was devastated. How could they take this work from them? They now had a competitor in with their customer, this was going to change everything in the future. This customer might now challenge every bid the client would make.

Detour time

While this job was lost, there some insight they were able to make. The client found out that the supplier they had been using for materials had not passed on a price decrease the industry had received on its largest commodity. The competitor was purchasing from another supplier and their costs of materials was 25% less than our client was paying. This obviously made a huge difference in the bid to the customer, and all other customers for that matter. They had been doing business as usual and would not have noticed the commodity decrease if it were not for this obstacle. This fact could have jeopardized every job with every customer in the near future. The outcome was that new policies and procedures would be put in place.

Two in particular:

  1. All large bids the client would make in the future would require the project manager to secure at least two bids for materials. This change kept the suppliers on their toes, just as the customer bid process is now keeping our client on their toes.
  2. The project manager is now required to meet face to face with his top suppliers on a monthly basis. These meetings are designed to keep the relationship fresh, and to allow for him to gather supplier industry information regularly.

This obstacle allowed for, or forced our client to change their procedures. These changes will benefit the company in the long term. I am sure it hurt to lose the original job, but these procedures will insure the client stays competitive in the future. Obstacles can be a blessing. They make us ask questions, and challenge our assumptions. These are important factors in running a business as well as living your life. What questions should we be asking? What assumptions should we be challenging? Every business would benefit with some strategic planning and creative inquiry. Don’t wait for the customer, spouse or whoever to force these questions. Ask them now, ask them often.

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