Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Then came phase two, or Back to Basics, aimed at focusing the remaining IT staff around RC's new scaled-back mission through 2002. The goal: to use the next 12 to 16 months to shore-up core systems, make core processes more efficient and train staff to take Leapfrog up again, when the time comes. "We asked ourselves, what is our core job?" Murphy says. The answer: "Keep the utilities running—the network services, the e-mail services, all of the things that people just expect to be there." Murphy's crew, for now, still has six new ships to deliver in the next couple of years, each to carry $10 million worth of hardware, IT services and equipment, including 40 to 50 servers, three distinct networks, hundreds of PCs and hundreds of smart cash registers. "It's a very, very complex environment," Murphy says.

By late October, with staff cuts and refocusing efforts behind him, Murphy was feeling depressed. He met with RC President Williams and offered to resign. "I told him that, without Leapfrog, he didn't need me anymore," Murphy says. But Williams talked him out of it—in part by telling him Leapfrog would "need to start up again at some point."

So in November, Murphy began sketching out phase three, which he calls Restart, a plan to phase Leapfrog back into prominence, gradually, over the next two to three years. Under this plan, completing the reservation system would be the first priority, and supply-chain reforms would be the second. Putting HR networks on the ships would be third. Murphy is working on the assumption that 2002 will be flat and that only in the first quarter of 2003 will there be any substantial increase in prices and demand. "We'll have detailed discussions about this in January and February," Murphy says. "We're still far enough away from where anybody thinks we're going to restart anything now, so we've really just created an internal discussions group to weigh and debate the relative merit of these different projects."

At first glance, Murphy's microstrategy may seem to be just another name for "holding pattern." But microstrategists have a distinctive mindset, says Nathanial Foote, principal and leader of the organizational design practice at McKinsey & Company Inc.'s Boston office. "Traditional managers set corporate strategy more rigidly, whereas managers who microstrategize keep the organization focused on the right overall set of business goals and opportunities—and then let short-term strategy adjust for events in the marketplace that might take one off course."

With microstrategy, Murphy says, "It's very important to keep your eye on the long-term mission"—in this case, Project Leapfrog. "We face the same rapid growth and aging systems and infrastructure that we had pre-Sept. 11. We still need to address that at the macro level," he says. The lesson of the past few months: a little more incrementalism in planning is a good thing. "I think as we move forward, we'll find we can apply many of the things learned these past few months to our six- to 12-month strategic initiatives."

Is holding on to Leapfrog and Fain's five-year plan unrealistic now? Murphy doesn't think so. "The unassailable fact is we're still going to have 29 ships instead of the 23 we have now. You can't stop that long-term reality in a company that moves big, fixed capital costs in the form of ships. There are things that are optional and things that are not optional, and microstrategy helps to make the mandatory happen, one way or another, amid rapidly changing circumstances." Anything that his IT department does on the existing reservations system, for instance, has to take the project's new goals and changes into account.

This article was originally published on 01-01-2002
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