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The Challenge of Planning Part 1

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas

There was not much--well none--formal planning to the launch of Fab Lab ICC in October of 2014. The idea had been percolating among members of what we called the Monday Entrepreneurs Brown Bag Lunch for about a year. I sat down with then ICC president, Dan Barwick in March of 2014. He said if I could raise the money for Fab Lab equipment, we could open the Fab Lab in the south end of the (then) Cessna Learning Center, now the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation with local match from our late great serial entrepreneur, Curtis Lavine* we raised the money and opened seven months later.

No Formal Planning for Fab Lab ICC

At the time, spring of 2014, there were only 200 Fab Labs in the International Fab Lab network; we became approximately the 201st. There was no play book on creating a lab, only a suggested list of equipment. Indeed, there can be no play book because every community is different, and the evolution of a Fab Lab or maker space will be different.

Had Dan Barwick said, “We’ll need to form an exploratory and planning committee and conduct a community needs assessment, then we can have a fab lab, we’d still be struggling to open today.” (We know community colleges that have done too much committee work and planning, taking five to seven years to open.)

There are many people in the world that won’t start something hard until they think they have everything figured out. This includes the college presidents and administrators in the colleges above that take five to seven years to open a maker space. My good friend and founder of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, Gary Schoeniger, posted this quote on Facebook just the other day.

Entrepreneurial Mindset Moment from the Farnham Street Blog: “One of the biggest keys to success at anything hard is believing that you can figure it out as you go along. A lot of people won't start until they figure it out. And because most hard things can't be figured out in advance, they never start.”

Entrepreneurs Figure it Out As They Go

This explains why most businesses launch without long and formal business plans. Entrepreneurs and founders want to learn as they go, making on-the-fly adjustments as they determine the products and services for which customers are willing to pay. At a certain point, as a business, or Fab Lab grows, the ratio of planning to on-the-fly adjustments needs to increase. Although changing markets will always require figuring things out as we go, being able to plan and implement the technical work of the business or organization will lead to more efficient use of resources, i.e. better profits in the case of a business. Customers and constituents want consistency. I don’t want my favorite meal at a local restaurant to vary in quantity or quality from time to time just because different employees are doing the preparation. I expect the restaurant to have planning, method, or instruction so that any employee assigned to prepare my favorite meal will know how to prepare it in a consistent manner so I will get the same quantity and quality I have received previously.

When one person is doing the work, it’s easier to maintain this consistency. As an organization grows to a point where one person can no longer do the work, helpers are added. Many times, the new helpers pitch in where needed and that works for a while but eventually mistakes are made and if there are no instructions, how do you prevent the same mistakes from reoccurring? (The need for systems, i.e. planning and instructions is illustrated very effectively in Michael Gerber’s book “E-Myth Revisited.”)

Better Than Instruction Manual

Previously, I’ve always thought in terms of the need for a huge instruction manual containing the methods or instructions for performing the repeatable tasks that are inherent in any business or organization. As employees, volunteers or contractors need to perform new tasks, they should have a manual they can pull off the shelf and find the instructions they need to accomplish a given task successfully. There are two problems with the idea of an instruction manual. First, no one is going to take the time to look up a task in a manual. Even if the manual is stored digitally, finding the right instructions can be cumbersome. The second, instruction manuals are cumbersome to update when process improvements are made, especially if the manual is in hard copy and when there are multiple copies throughout the business or organization.

So, the challenge is to get the latest and greatest information and instructions, for performing the various tasks of an organization, in front of the right people at the right time.

 In the last year, my thinking has shifted from the idea of an instruction “manual” with its inherent problems to a planning solution that is dynamic and digital and available instantly to the right people at the right time. In part 2, we’ll take a look at some possible solutions.

*To read about Curtis Lavine, enter “Remembering Curtis” in the search box of our web site at www.fablabicc.org.

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org.


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