By the 15th day of the New Year, my MD was heavy on my case.

“Solomon, how many SSDs have been placed?”

“We have placed 4 units”

“4% of the year is gone and you have placed only 4 units? 4% of the year is gone! You should have placed at least 30 units. This is appalling and unacceptable performance!”.

“MT, we are putting the building blocks in place. We need to recruit the right partners, make sure that the location is right, get the right kind of ‘right of use’ for the land. We had planned for only 100 units”. We are carefully scaling up to deliver 600”

“You and TA (my partner on the project) are playing God. Why must everything pass through you? Allocate SSDs to each Sales Territory. Send them the guidelines and let them drive the implementation locally”.

TA and I, knowing the possible pitfalls had put some very sensible guidelines in place. For example, I had to approve every placement. We gave guidelines for recommendations from the team (Qualification of operator, site/location suitability, etc). These guidelines were neither onerous nor delaying the project. As the approval process was going on so was also the process of procuring the Containers and other support items. We needed the 1st set of placements and their operations to scrupulously follow our Standard Operating Procedures. In essence, we wanted to run mini pilots in each of our commercial operations. These would then set the standard for eventual decentralised placement

MT, the MD, decreed immediate and complete decentralisation of the MIT roll-out… and almost immediately, the SSD project lost its way.

  1. The MD’s decision to decentralise decision making and execution enhanced speed but distorted the execution and destroyed quality. The project had inbuilt perverse incentives that led a good number of the field team to, without supervision, execute “out of spec”.
  2. There was a signalling from the very top that suggested that quantity was better than quality “Solomon, how many SSDSs have been set up?” Our reviews were on how many had been set up. Not so much on how they were performing.
  3. We could not find “600” independent plots of land. Some of the local teams saw in this the opportunity to make money. The definition of ‘best location’ and the criteria for selection changed.
  4. In most cases, the land was provided by the operator and so there was difficulty in disciplining poor performance.
  5. The resources and assets provided for the 16 pilots were not available for the scaled roll-out.
  6. There was no local project champion who was driving quality execution. Even where nominal appointments were made, the vested interests were too powerful for them.
  7. The SSD Project was going to succeed if and only if these conditions were met:

a.    We selected tested hands who understood our business. But, the local teams, more often, picked the absentee ‘moneyed’ person who could afford to pay the required start-up funds. They otherwise picked relations, mistresses/girlfriends and even owned some by proxy.

b.      If we could easily fire none performing operators. This became virtually impossible due to the labyrinth of perverse foundational actions. They usually leased the land from the operators (which was against the guidelines). They had entanglements with the operators.

c.      The Operators ‘distribute’ the products and not wait for retailers to come and buy. With the quality of operators and lack of rigor in implementing the SOPs, this was not usually the case.

8.      Down the line, the very well thought out SOPs and Guidelines where all but abandoned.

The SSD concept was a great concept. In driving for speed at the expense of quality, in not scrupulously implementing our SOP, in not rigorously measuring performance with attendant consequence management, we doomed its implementation. Thankfully the seed did not die. The SSD concept is the foundation of the RTM transformation that (especially) FMCGs have undertaken over the last decade or so.

In part 3, I will address the key lessons we picked from the SSD roll-out failures and how Pilots can age and scale well.

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