Why You Should Embrace Shorter Lead Times
Tom Stimson
November 4, 2022
A chalkboard graph showing progressively shorter lead times as time goes on.

Ah, long lead times. They’re so much easier. They give you all the time you need for everything you need to do.

Proposal development? Check.

Equipment sourcing? Check.

Finding great crew? Check.

We’re in an urgent industry, but long lead times are one of the few ways we ever get to experience some non-urgency.

Short lead times take that away from us. They force us back into the scramble, rushing around to deliver a great product in half the time we used to.

But short lead times are prevalent, at least for now. Extra time has become a luxury. So what are some things you can do to make those short lead times work for you, not against you?

Radical Reframe: Embrace Short Lead Times

It’s easy (and not wholly unreasonable) to complain about short lead times, but the fact is you can’t do anything about them.

They’re like the weather. Rain at your kid’s football game may stink, but shaking your fist at it won’t dry up the sky.

What you can do to tackle bad weather is change what you’re wearing.

Short lead times are just a circumstance you can’t change, like the weather. But there’s tremendous upside to “changing your clothes” — embracing short lead times and learning how to master the process.

It won’t change the weather. But it will make you more comfortable in the storm.

Move on From the Old Response to Short Lead Times

Let’s take a quick look at what usually happens with short lead times.

A call comes in when your company is already really busy. You like the client, you like the job, and you think you should do it. The problem is, it’s just a couple of weeks away.

As soon as you let that information out into the world of your business, you get hammered with objections.

Operations team: “No way, we’re too busy. We don’t have the time.”

Sub-rental guy: “Can’t do it. We’re out of that equipment.”

Labor coordinator: “Hold up, we’re out of people.”

So you shut it down. And you miss the opportunity to potentially develop a very good customer because your team had an emotional reaction to the short lead time. When emotional responses have the freedom to win, they always win.

But once people work through the emotion and start looking at this as business and as something they have to do, they start to consider solutions. If we had to do this, what would happen? How would we pull it off? Then you start getting a better, more measured response.

Embracing short lead times means you’re taking away the knee-jerk reaction to say no, which forces you to use a higher level of thinking to find the value in an opportunity.

How to Say ‘Yes’ to Short Lead Times Without Exhausting Your Resources

First, the way to avoid exhausting your resources with short lead times is this: quit exhausting your resources in the first place. Instead, elevate your capacity.

Build a deeper bench. Plan on outsourcing. Reserve capacity. Only exhaust your resources for the right reasons at the right time.

5 Tips on Elevating Capacity

Infographic: ISL - 11/7

Have a weekly capacity discussion. Make capacity part of a weekly discussion. How much capacity do you really have in the upcoming weeks?

This discussion is a reminder that you’re constantly managing capacity — sometimes capacity disappears, and sometimes it comes back. So you have to constantly look at capacity and make that part of your mindset. Capacity is fluid, and you need to stay plugged into what you’ve got.

Learn to reserve capacity. It’s important to get into the habit of reserving capacity. This ties in with learning to say no at the right times. If you’re going to sell the last job you could possibly do, make sure it’s for the right customer, and it’s the right job. Always have some capacity held back for strategically important opportunities.

Use a short-lead protocol. When you have a last-minute job, have a protocol in place that you follow whether you’re busy or not. If a customer calls you two weeks out for a major project and you have all the capacity in the world, you still don’t want to lounge into that job. If you do, you’ll miss the opportunity to create value.

Instead, think of it like a two-minute drill. Any time you bang against a short lead time — whatever that means for you — use your short-lead protocol, regardless of how busy you are at that moment.

Pre-build the last show you can sell. At home, I always have my last meal planned. I know I have three certain ingredients, and I can open up the fridge and make that meal with very little thought. (If we have company coming over, it’s a different story.)

During your capacity discussions, identify what ingredients you have. “We could handle one more banquet for 500 people with lights and video on these dates.” Talk about it in those terms because that’s familiar to everyone.

Now that you’ve pre-built the last show you can sell, reserve those ingredients. Don’t start thinking, “Since this isn’t going out on a show, we may as well send it on another one.” That’s the wrong way of thinking. Hang on to it for when you need to get cooking.

Centralize outsourcing. You shouldn’t have to look at every single job on your books to figure out what your capacity is. If you don’t have your labor, sub-rental, and logistics resources centralized, then it’s going to be very difficult to implement that quick-response protocol because you have to look in too many places for information.

Get Confident With Your Two-Minute Drill

Once you’ve created your two-minute drill for processing last-minute opportunities, you want to be able to work through that process without obstacles and failures.

The way to avoid obstacles and failures is to:

  • Have open conversations about capacity.
  • Save some capacity for last-minute jobs.
  • Use your short-lead protocol even when it’s not necessary — because you need the practice.
  • Pre-build those last shows because it’s a much shorter road to turn a pre-built show into the show you need than to start from scratch.
  • Centralize your outsourcing to make it easier to run your two-minute drill and feel confident you can get through it.

Nobody likes to be rushed. But short lead times don’t have to ruin your schedule. Try embracing short lead times, along with the tips on elevating capacity, and make short lead times work to your advantage.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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