90-day Continuous Improvement
Driving continuous improvement and growth in a business is a very difficult challenge for many
business owners and managers. Why? Primarily because, in our experience, business owners and
managers lack aspects of the following:
Lack of time. Those that are working in their business find very little time, if any, to work on.
Striking the balance between working “on” versus working “in” is made more difficult when
the pressure is on for more sales and profits.
Lack of skills. We know from experience that business owners and managers in a small or
medium sized business need to wear on many hats – sales person, marketing manager,
finance manager, IT manager, HR manager and so on. Generally people are strong in one or
some of these areas, and this is where they shine. But the weaknesses in the other areas end
up being the aspects of the business that slows growth and improvement.
Lack of knowledge. Not everyone knows everything, and it is even harder to know about
something you don’t even know! In larger organisations the combined skills, knowledge and
experience is a great asset to ensuring you maintain high levels of productivity, innovation,
and energy. In smaller business this isn’t the case – and so limits in knowledge and
experience does have an effect.
Lack of resources. Larger businesses can afford to bring on expertise and fund activities that
are aimed at shifting the business in particular directions. Smaller businesses don’t have
unlimited resources (money, people, time) to do this.
Having worked with owners and managers of small to medium sized businesses for the past 10 years
has resulted in the development of this Continuous Improvement methodology that strikes the
balance between working “in” the business and working “on” the business.
The methodology is supported by a subscription website (www.zenbuu.com) as a management tool
to help reach that balance and build management skills and knowledge, and plug gaps in your
resources to help you achieve continuous growth and improvement in your business.
This paper brings together the key features and resources that subscribers have access to, to help
you implement a practice for continuous improvement in your business. Here we step you through
the Review process, the development of a 1-page Strategic Plan, the completion of a SWOT, and the
development of a 90-day Action Plan. Following these four steps on a continuous basis, with the
right people involved, will support you in achieving the results you are looking for from your
Examples of successes
There are many successes we have had with a variety of businesses across Australia. We’re building
our success stories with the Pharmacy sector, but here are some of the achievements other sectors
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Increased staff productivity by 40%
Increased revenues by 114%
Increased profitability by 20%
Increased gross margins by 60%
Achieved succession / owner exit
Lifted available cash in the business by 50%
Of the nearly 3,000 businesses using ZENBUU we can see that nearly 99% of all businesses lack a
strategic plan, and 50% lack a business or operational plan for the year. The majority of those that
have these don’t reference them and so the business stumbles along month by month, with owners
and managers reacting to last months’ performance or the latest drama.
Our 90-day continuous improvement methodology, which we call ZENBUU-90, requires business
owners and managers to allocate 2 hours per week to work on the business. These 2 hours can be
split up into 1 hr or even 30 minute increments – it doesn’t have to be one 2 hr block of time. But it
must be a commitment every week.
The process for driving continuous improvement involves these steps:
Step 1 – Complete a Review to benchmark your business
The default diagnostic that we have loaded into the ZENBUU website is called the Scorecard. This
diagnostic will help you assess the management practices across all aspects of your business, and it
will benchmark your responses against “best practice”.
You can choose to complete any of the many diagnostics loaded into the ZENBUU website. For the
sake of this paper and the methodology we are referencing the Scorecard diagnostic.
Take the time to read all questions carefully, and answer these as objectively as you can, only
choosing the response that most closely describes what is in place today – not what you plan to have
in place. This is important, otherwise you are fooling yourself. Objectivity is the key and hence why
we use a systemised way of assessing your business performance.
The process should take you no more than 1 hour. Once you have completed the diagnostic it will be
scored against “best practice” and your business will be graded accordingly.
You will receive an overall score, and also a score of each main section of the diagnostic. So in the
case of the Scorecard, the interview process examines and benchmarks your management practices
across the following areas:
Strategy and Planning
Finance and business management
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A comprehensive report, with recommendations on what you could do to improve your result, is
provided at the end of the review process.
This step starts the “inform” process of driving continuous improvement.
Step 2 – Complete a “weighted” SWOT
A SWOT is a quick way of working out the Strengths and Weaknesses of your business, and the
Opportunities for, and Threats on your business.
A weighted SWOT is a more effective way of helping identify the critical SWOT elements. A weighted
SWOT template can be found in ZENBUU’ Knowledge Base, search for it and read the instructions.
This will help you to develop a list of all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and
weigh them up against each other to help you work out the most important of these.
Our experience is that the top 3 are often the most important, and that the list constantly changes
for any business. So this is an activity that should be undertaken every 90-days. And the top 3 are
the ones that should get your immediate attention, where:
Strengths – these you want to keep and make stronger; using these to support your sales
and marketing activities
Weaknesses – these you want to reduce or eliminate
Opportunities – these you want to work on and realise subject to your strategic goals
Threats – these are risks you want to manage so that the impact on your business is kept to
a minimum in case they eventuate
Tip – getting all owners, managers and staff to complete their own SWOT and then consolidate the
input is a great learning experience, and the different views complement your own thinking. You may
uncover something surprising.
Step 3 - Develop a 1 page strategic plan
We developed a 1-page Strategic Plan to help make it much easier to build, reference, change, and
guide business owners and managers as they make decisions while working on their business.
We have taken the approach that a small / medium sized business strategic plan should contain
elements that are “business today” and “business tomorrow”. Keeping this simple, and making this
as an integral part of the management practices of the business owners and managers is the only
effect way of maintaining focus to consistently drive change, whilst not loosing site of the existing
Search the ZENBUU Knowledge Base for our 1-page Strategic Plan template. This 1-page plan is a
highly useful reference that gives you a quick snapshot as to where you plan to take your business
over the next 1, 3, and 5 year horizons; and more importantly how you plan to get there. It also
provides a good reference point of the key elements of today’s business as well, such as:
Your target markets
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Your Unique Selling Points
Your key issues and SWOT priorities
Your current and planned KPIs
Your current and planned products and services, etc
This 1-page strategic plan provides the roadmap for your business.
Building the 1-page Strategic Plan should follow these steps. It is recommended that you include all
active directors, owners, and managers in working through the development of this plan:
i. Target Market. Start with defining your Target Market(s). Here you want to describe your
ideal customer and / or market segments, taking into account today’s business and your
future direction. Take the time to be definitive and detailed in terms of attributes or
characteristics that allow you to clearly identify what an ideal customer looks like.
ii. USP. Move across to defining your USP (Unique Selling Points). Here you want to clearly, and
succinctly define the key points that make your business different to your competitors. It is
critical that you do this from an objective point of view, and don’t claim something, like Best
Customer Service, unless you are able to define what makes your “customer service” better.
Highlight the shifts that you are trying to implement that create greater or new points of
iii. KPIs. The next step should be to document your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). These
are metrics that you would be able to look at daily, weekly, monthly that show how well
your business is travelling, today and for the future. Typically these fall into two groups –
Lead Indicators, and Lag Indicators. Examples of lead indicators may be number of
appointments, enquiries, bookings, proposals, quotes, visitors etc. Examples of lag indicators
may be invoice value, average sale, average debtor days, stock turns. Identify those
indicators that you should check daily, weekly, and monthly (D, W, M). Ideally no more than
6-8 are enough, and it is important to have accuracy in your recording and reporting of
iv. SWOT. Taking the work you had done on developing your Weighted SWOT, take the top 3 of
each S-W-O-T and put them on your 1-Page Strategic Plan. These must be reviewed at least
every 90-days and keep taking the top three and putting them back into your plan. Keep
focused on the top three in each – do something about them every 90-days.
Tip - an extremely useful exercise is to develop a SWOT on each of your competitors. Get
staff, suppliers, customers, and others involved in this process so that you get a range of
insights into these.
v. SMART Goals. Now it is time to develop your SMART goals. SMART means:
d. Relevant (realistic)
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So define SMART goals for Year 1, Year 3, and Year 5. These describe what your business will
look like in each of these three “horizontal periods” (years).
vi. Key Initiatives. For each of your SMART goals, provide a simple statement for how you plan
to achieve the goal. These are called Key Initiatives, and so write these in this section. For
example, if you’re SMART goal is to increase profits by 20% in Year 1, then your Key
Initiatives may be Increase margins by 5%, Eliminate credit on all accounts, Increase
productivity by 10%, and so on.
vii. Key Issues. Now develop your list of all the issues you are facing now in your business. Judge
those that are the most important and put the top 3 on your 1-Page Strategic Plan. An
effective criteria to use when ranking your list of issues is to ask yourself “is the issue
preventing me up from achieving my goals, is the issue in my list of top 3 weaknesses, is the
issue putting at risk losing any of my top 3 strengths, or USP?
viii. Core Competencies. These are aspects of you, your workforce, and your business that are at
the core of what you do, what you provide, what you’re good at. Often these are used to
diversify your business through complementary avenues. For instance a landscaping
business may have a sound knowledge and competency regarding natural fauna and flora
and environment sustainability. This knowledge could be turned into propagation and hence
a nursery business could be developed, which would complement the existing business by
providing lower supply costs.
ix. Mission. To answer this, the simplest way is to ask yourself “why are you in business, what
needs do you meet?” ZENBUU’ mission statement is to provide the tools that a (SME)
business needs to help it continuously grow and improve for the long term.
x. Products and Services. Group your products and services into categories and list these here.
Tip – it is recommended that your 1-page Strategic Plan is continuously referenced and kept current.
Ideally if you incorporate a quick review of your plan at every management (or directors) meeting
that you hold, and refer to it every time you need to make an important business decision, it will keep
you focused. We strongly recommend that you should hold management meetings no less than every
3 weeks, ideally fortnightly or even weekly if you are in fast moving goods and services sectors.
Step 4 – Develop your 90-day Action Plan
Now that your 1-Page Strategic Plan is completed you’re ready to develop your list of actions / tasks
that you should implement to achieve the SMART goals that you have set. Two challenges face most
business owners and operators:
Lack of time
Working out how to prioritise
Our experience shows that to maximise the limited amount of time that owners and operators have
you will need to break-down your SMART goals into smaller milestones. We recommend that you
take your Year 1 goals and break these down into a milestone that you can reach within 90-days,
and then define your Actions to help you get there.
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90-days is an important period of time as we know from experience this is about as far as a business
owner / manager (in an SME) is able to stay focused and committed. This occurs for no other reason
than the day to day running of the business is all consuming.
Use ZENBUU’ Plan functionality to record your Action’s, who should be responsible for ensuring the
action is completed, and when it should be completed.
Tip – We recommend holding management / review meetings every 2 weeks, and bring together all
the key people that are tasked with specific actions. Have a set agenda starting with reviewing and
updating your SWOT, then your 1-page Strategic Plan, then review how the business is travelling
against your KPIs, update your action plan, and then add more actions, as needed.
Step 5 – Sustaining continuous improvement and growth
Step 5 is all about repetition. Every 90 days the cycle (steps 1 to 4) should be repeated, as part of a
thorough review of your business, and its performance. This has been proven as a simple, practical,
and effective method of driving continuous improvement and growth in a business.
Tip – remember to spend no more than 2 hours per week working on the business.
Tip – engage as many of your key staff, owners, managers, and external advisors in this process. You
don’t need to share all the details, but the elements that you need their support and input to achieve.
Experience has shown that setting actions no more than 90-days in advance is about the maximum
timeframe set in advance, without needing to constantly review and revise the lists of actions, and
without losing focus on the actions that need to be done.
How much time should I spend?
Balancing the time a business owner / operator should spend working on their business versus
working in their business is always challenging. Following this methodology, a business owner or
operator should spend no more than 2 hours per week working through these actions, updating and
completing them, and revising their plan. The 2 hours can be broken down into small slots of time,
but resist breaking down the slot into any less than 30 minute intervals.
This means that it is very important to spread the workload out amongst people in the business, as
well as your own network of support, such as your accountant, lawyer, consultant, and so on.
How to prioritise?
Working out how to prioritise actions and determining what is important to work on is the hardest
task. There is no right or wrong formulae here, but develop criteria that you are happy with. To do
this, ask yourself the following questions:
Will the action help me increase any of my top 3 strengths, reduce any of my top 3
weaknesses, make progress on my top 3 opportunities or reduce my exposure to any of my
top 3 threats?
Will the action take me a step closer in achieving my SMART goals?
Will the action allow me to close off any of the top three issues?
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Can I achieve the action myself or do I need external help, and if so can I afford to bring on
What should / can I delegate and to whom?
Should you find yourself in a situation where you can’t even afford the time (2 hours a week) to
work on your business, struggling with implementation, having difficulties keeping focused or
maintaining progress, or trying to deal with a situation where you don’t have the skills or expertise
required for the task, then it is time to get external help.
ZENBUU has developed a network of experienced professionals to provide support to Pharmacy
owners and operators. Contact Us to talk to one of our support staff to discuss the options.
Have a question?
If you have any questions, whatsoever, log into ZENBUU and click on the Ask an Expert (question
icon) and we will answer your business or technical questions and get you a response within 2
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