Category Archives: Process

My LG USA consumer experience fail, and why B2P matters

I don’t often complain about vendors on this blog. I don’t think it’s a useful use of anyone’s time, or that people really want to read about it. But my experience with LG has been so bizarre, and has ended so bizarrely, that I feel it was worth putting pen to paper.

At some stage in 2013 (I believe July), I noticed that the knobs on my LG Range cooker were falling apart. Specifically, they looked like they were solid metal, but they were in fact some sort of plastic or resin, coated in metal. The metal was peeling – here’s what it looked like:

LG Range

LG Range

This isn’t great, so I got in touch with LG. They told me that despite the Uniform Commercial Code in the USA, which requires goods to be of good quality, they were unable to replace them because the range was too old. I thought oh well, I’ll just go and buy some online.

It turns out that when you go to buy them, they are $50-60 each! It was $310 for a set of knobs from the parts distributor, which is most of the cost of a new Range oven. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty certain they’re not gold plated.

So, I went back to LG and asked nicely if they would consider pushing up their management chain and replacing the knobs as a gesture of good will. I tweet out a picture of the knobs for good effect, you can see it is on July 26th.

Some while later…

A package arrives! I’m excited until I open it, when I find that a single shiny new knob is inside. So, I get back in contact, and request that they send another four. An agent, apologized for the inconvenience, and promptly ordered another four knobs.

We’re now at October 10th and 4 knobs arrive in the post, that don’t fit my range. Someone else is now taking charge of the case and they say they have sent out another 4 knobs.

I call several times in the interim, create email cases, and deal with nearly 10 separate people. They’re all pretty nice people, and I think they genuinely want to resolve my problem.

In November,  they contacted me to say that the items have been on back order and should be with me in the next few weeks. In December and early January, I got in touch twice but didn’t get a response on the second occasion.

The last straw

It’s been a busy start to the year and I’ve travelled extensively. Nearly a year has passed and this isn’t at the top of my to-do list, but I pulled up my to-do list today to try and knock a few things off it. Ah, LG knobs. Back to the live chat. This way I have a record.

We’re back where we have always been but this time, the person on the other end of the chat is defiant.

As much as I will like to help you out unfortunately its way pass the time for the free of charge cases which mean you will need to buy it from our parts distributor.

yes its been 4 months now and unfortunately its way pass the time to report this case

also remember this is as a goodwill, your unit is already pass the warranty period its a 2008 unit.

and unfortunately it has already pass the concession request period, this is a october-november case , you should have report this no more than 2 weeks from not receiving it.

So I’ve waited nearly a year, LG have consistently either not sent out the parts they promised, and now after wasting all this time, they tell me to go and buy them.

Customer Service 101

And here is the point I’m trying to get to. LG have several routes for customer support. In the B2C world we call this multi-channel. At least: Twitter, e-mail, Phone, Chat, Web. I think that everyone I interacted with was interested in solving my problem.

However, after 10-15 interactions, at least two shipments, and incorrect products being sent out, there is no problem resolution. I don’t want to know what my interaction with LG cost them.

And the problem is that LG clearly do not have a process which tracks multi-channel support requests and assigns ownership. At every stage, I was a transaction and never a customer. To them, I was case reference VCM130726017442 and CNM131002063418, and not a human being.

At no stage, did anyone from LG proactively get in touch with me to find out if the problem was resolved. They did ask me to fill in a lot of surveys, which I of course filled in with zeros and they did not contact me.

So I thought I’d pen this little story as a reminder of how in 2014, customers have moved from a desire to have Business to Consumer (B2C) relationships with consumer products vendors. Instead, we want Business to Person (B2P) relationships.

I wanted a human interaction, and I didn’t even get a LG pen with which to write them an angry letter. Guess this will have to do.

Disrupting the IT Services market: Consultancy 2.0

Some time ago I had dinner with SAP co-CEO Jim Snabe. Jim is a bright and talented individual and one of the topics we got into was the setting of unreasonable boundary conditions as a mechanism to get the best out of employees. The principle is that by asking for the unreasonable, you will cause people to come up with more creative, better solutions to problems. I was instantly fascinated.

However, it wasn’t until a late phone call with friend and mentor John Niland of VCO Global some weeks ago, that my thoughts started to finally mature on this. We discussed the topic of motivating contributors, and how you get the best out of those people who work for you.

I told Niland that my experience was that the best way to get more out of great employees is to ask more of them. As humans, we tend to be limited by what we believe is possible and this in turn restricts us. In an interesting twist, contributors are actually happiest, when pushed in this way. So I came up with an idea to test this theory:

The SI Smackdown

We took what would normally a 3-4 week SAP HANA technology project and I told a team of two that they had 2 days to complete it. Everyone thought it was crazy. To make it crazier, we orchestrated it to happen live, on a conference room floor, in front of 8000 people. And just to make it interesting, we used two Systems Integrators and turned it into a competition. Oh, and we used a real customer, Consumer Products giant ConAgra, with real data.

Because unreasonable boundary conditions – think back to the conversation with Snabe – were set, the SI Smackdown competitors found a way to make it happen. And then they blew my wildest expectations out the window by not just doing what was asked, but so much more. They demonstrated not just a better IT system running on SAP HANA, but radical ways to show ConAgra how they could change the was they run their business.

The thing that really interested me about this most was that the two participants from my team, once they had a few days off after the conference, were demanding when they could do it again. It turns out that they loved it.

Extreme Consultancy

And so it happened a few weeks ago that I was in a situation. We had committed to a UK conference to show a customer demo and we got the data 7 days before the conference to build the demo with. Worse, I had no resources that week spare to work on it and we had a good portion of our team out at another conference that week.

So, I wondered what would happen if we applied the two concepts above at the same time. Set unreasonable boundary conditions, and ask even more of our employees. So, I designed (OK… handwaved) a really cool solution based on the customer data, using technology that wasn’t available yet and would only be released the day before the conference. Note once again the importance of making the boundaries unreasonable.

Then, I emailed 5 very talented individuals, each of whom would bring an invaluable skill to the table, and asked them if they would be prepared to do the project in their spare time before the conference. Every one of them replied within an hour and agreed. They created the most amazing solution that showed how the customer, one of the largest Pharmaceutical companies in the world, how they could revolutionise their Integrated Business Planning process. Wow.

Managing Contributors

It’s worth jumping back to my conversation with Niland, because my second assertion is that if you want to get more out of your contributors then – I believe – you have to observe an interesting set of rules, which are even more important when setting unreasonable boundaries:

First, there has to be a purpose and you have to explain it. This becomes a shared vision for the contributors, who usually deeply care about actually making a difference. In both cases above, there was a customer scenario and a reason for creating the technology solution. Ensure there are unreasonable boundary conditions. If they think it’s possible, it won’t motivate them.

Second, you have to motivate them by providing them with what they want – and here’s a hint – it’s never about money. In both cases above, they got access to cool technology – a $400k appliance, plus access to software that wasn’t readily available and the request to do something that had never been done before. Be very mindful here because different things motivate different types of contributor.

Third, you have to give them other great contributors to work with, and clear the decks. Both by getting out the way yourself, but also by making sure they have access to get assistance when they need it – assistance from people they respect. Listen to what they need and provide for them.

Fourth, you have to look after their wellbeing because they will not. When you set unreasonable boundary conditions, I’ve often observed that contributors fail to manage their own wellbeing. Ensure they take a break when they need it, and they get days off after a high-pressure stint. But, don’t be confused into thinking that wellbeing is about a 37.5 hour week – that’s Eurobullshit. Happy people can work long hours. Stories of early Apple suggest 90 hour weeks were a regular occurrence and they were some of the most motivated workers I have ever read about.

Does the consultancy market need disrupting?

One of the things I lay in bed thinking about at night is the Consultancy business model. It was borne out of the large business process change and globalization models of the 70s and 80s and it made a lot of people at Accenture and IBM very rich, earning $2000 a day for poorly trained graduates. This got better after the markets crashed in 1999 and again after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the sorts of customers I deal with are very sensitive to getting value out of consulting projects. Many customers will now opt for fixed-price contracts, which is the right way to do consulting engagements.

But I still agonise every time I get a call saying “we need your help, XXX consultancy quoted this price to do this work and it’s way more than the customer will pay” – and I get a few of those every week. Surely there is a better way? Surely we don’t need 18 month projects that cripple business change and the ability to be agile? We have worked on ways – templates, agile methodologies and amazing people – to be cheaper, better and faster than our competitors but I don’t believe it is enough.

So, I’ve been working with friend and SAP Board Member Vishal Sikka, to try and challenge all of our assumptions about how we deliver consulting engagements (paradoxically, he helped me, by setting some unreasonable boundary conditions). Could it be that the consulting market is ready to be disrupted?

It’s cloudy out there

Cloud advocate Dennis Howlett often waxes that the solution is in the cloud, with companies like Salesforce and Workday offering much faster implementation times. This works great – even for integrated business processes, in the mid-market, but the processes that sit behind the Global 500 customers are so complex – with many languages, end-markets and integration points that if Workday and Salesforce do start to be able to offer a solution, it will probably be just as hard to implement as any other software product. And the consultancy gravy train will start afresh.

To add to this, there is no lever for Accenture or IBM to change – they have a lucrative model and while there is no alternative, they will continue to milk their cash cow. In most cases, I think the customers, particularly at the board level, are in any case not unhappy with the large consultancies and their business model.

Consultancy 2.0

So this is a call to action. Do you think Consultancy 2.0 needs to happen? Let me know your thoughts, publicly or in private. And if you work for a large consultancy, or if you are a board member of the sort of organisations I’m talking about and want to discuss this off the record, then let me know.

And equally, if you would like to help with this by co-innovating on a project together then let me know.

Thanks go to everyone I worked with on this, and particularly to Vishal, Jim, and John Niland for being the contributors and inspiration to this process and to Lloyd, Tristan, Anooj, Gary, DJ, Ollie and Brenton for being the contributors, unwitting guinea pigs and for creating unbelievably amazing solutions.

People, Process and Technology – is IT the new HR?

I created People, Process and Technology as the title of this blog because I believe that all three are the cornerstone of business and society and most people have a home base. They return to that home base when pressured or threatened and this affects their behaviour.

For example my home base is technology. Our head of finance caused a problem on our core finance system on Friday at 6pm and my default reaction was – despite not having used that system in 6 months – to dive in and fix it. Rather than lever other people or some support process.

So I will fittingly start by discussing the technology dimension.

Technology

I was sat in a booth in Orlando at SAP’s business-focused conference last week, and the comments made by one my friends was really interesting. They were bemoaning the difficulties they were having, getting their management to implement SAP’s in-memory technology, SAP HANA.

The language used was interesting: “my management do not get the benefit” was the essence of it. It was late so I responded slightly too bluntly: “is it because you have not articulated the benefits to them?”. I probably could have put it better but the semantics are there: technology is an enabler for making People’s lives easier through Process change. To invest in tech, we have to convince people of the benefits of this.

People

I also spent some time with Lars Daalgard, CEO of Success Factors and current head of SAP’s Cloud division. Lars is essentially a salesman and you can see this in the bromance between him and SAP’s charismatic co-CEO, Bill McDermott.

And a few weeks ago he commented that “everyone is in sales”. This caused some community backlash because technologists don’t like that idea, but I happen to agree with him. It is just a matter of how you explain this to people, and Lars did that poorly.

But however you look at it, there is some truth in it – see my example above. When you believe in something and want someone to send money, you need to explain the value to people and process. That – in Lars’ viewpoint – is sales.

Process

The third person I spent some time with lately is Kate Daly, who runs a Change Management consultancy and is advising one of my customers on their HR change programme. And I bring her up because she came up with a very interesting observation for which she deserves credit.

20 years ago, HR departments ran processes for companies. Well two processes, hiring and firing. They transformed over the last 20 years from process droids into strategic advisors. My head of HR, Cheryl, is one of my most trusted advisors and drives business change, currently on career development of our most senior consultants. And they want to be called Human Capital Management to signify this. Good for them!

The IT revolution

Currently, the IT department of most large organisations does what HR did 20 years ago. It runs a process, keeping business processes up and running. There is often a “IT and Business” or “us and them” divide.

We believe that those IT people who figure out how to bring strategic change to their organisations will be the kingmakers of the industry and will afford success. And I for one am focussing on building a team of IT consultants who are focused on challenging and changing I our customers’ businesses.

And yes, I do believe that everyone is in sales but you can’t sell that to them by saying that. From my conversation with Lars, I think he gets this nuance.

Why does the tech community hate Enterprise IT?

I have a serious case of writers block, and a more serious case of insomnia. I wrote an blog on Tuesday entitled Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad, and it went viral. I received more page views in a day, than my combined page views on my blog, ever. It was read by people from individual developers and the SAP management team alike. And now, like a musician writing a second album, I don’t know how to follow it up.

15 years ago I was studying Computer Science at Cambridge. These were heady days. We theorised on Richard Stallman and The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The open source community was starting to rear its head and we felt on the cusp of a revolution. We installed Linux by hand and RedHat was just starting to emerge. We hacked code until 5am, drinking Jolt Cola and listening to 80s rock, exposing vulnerabilities in Windows NT. I had a Digital Alpha running Linux under my bed. Microsoft was the devil. Times were good.

And I remember the process of leaving college and receiving interviews. CSC, Oracle and Microsoft would woo us with their graduate programs, offering booze, pens and the promise of the good life. We scorned them and took the junkets. Colleagues went off to banking, software development. The lucky ones went off to startups where they applied their Linux skills and programmed in ML. Some sold their soul to the devil and went to work for Microsoft, SAP or Oracle.

In the meantime, I went through a career where I have done many things. I spent some time in Analytics, I’ve programmed C++ and perl and 20 other languages. And now, I’m a parody of myself, running a consulting practice in SAP Enterprise IT. I’m sitting here wondering what my 19-year old self would think of me now.

So it came to pass that for some reason, my article hit Hacker News and it went viral; as a result I got a very different audience reading my content. When I write about enterprise, I get a small but engaged audience reading about SAP. They say nice things about what I write and I feel warm and fuzzy. On Tuesday, I found a new audience, and some of what was written is akin to hate mail:

“Get a life, stop wining about how a tech b2b company that you are more interested in isnt getting the same amount of press… it is a boring company. and seems like less profitable too.”

I know why this is and I’m pretty certain my 19-year old self would have chimed in with the accusatory language. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I believe – like in 1996 – we are on the cusp of another revolution; one where the Enterprise IT and tech communities can – if they want to – meet in the middle ground of the Consumerization of IT. Here’s why:

From what I can gather, the tech and open source communities hate SAP for a number of reasons; the worlds evil and antichrist came up a lot in my blog comments. My inner hacker knows exactly what they are:

1) Idealogical. SAP protects software patents, has an army of suited sales executives and lawyers. It’s not cool.

2) Community. SAP is implemented by armies of consultants charging high day rates. It’s a boys club and the community is hard to get into.

3) Integration. SAP is an information silo and it is hard to get stuff in and out of it.

In order for any of this stuff to change, there have to be socioeconomic factors which are a catalyst; I think in 2012 we will be in exactly a time where an inflection point is possible.

1) Economy. Let’s face it, the global economy is screwed. Budgets are tighter than ever and there is no end in sight. It will be business as usual to work to get Even More for Even Less.

2) Pervasiveness. SAP is here to stay; 65% of the world’s business transactions touch SAP. It is the most successful Enterprise IT software. Even if SAP becomes irrelevant like IBM AS/400, many SAP environments will be around for 20-40 years.

3) Consumerization of IT. We all expect Android and iPhone user experiences. We want it for our business interactions. I use my personal MacBook Air as my primary business machine. The dam has broken on this and we can’t fight it. This is a real pain as SAP’s user experience traditionally sucks.

4) Business Networks. Much of the world now operates as a living breathing business network. Invoices, sales, supply chains – many of these operate automatically and electronically. Integration is necessary.

5) Big Consulting. SAP want to break up the Big Consulting Systems Integrator model of the 1990s. For every $1 of SAP license spent, there is $7 spent on consulting and hardware. The big consulting houses have been ripping off customers for years. Customers clench when they hear the words “change request”. There is an irony that SAP and IBM created this business model, but the world has changed.

You may be able to see where I’m going here. If you are in the main tech industry let me tell you what is going on in the SAP world that makes it relevant:

1) Open Standards. SAP’s relatively recent CTO, Vishal Sikka, has been championing open standards. The new in-memory database, HANA, only runs on Linux and on commodity x86 hardware. The modelling tool is Eclipse-based. It supports ODBC, JDBC and MDX for integration. The new Gateway integration layer allows REST-based integration with any SAP function.

2) Developer Ecosystem. Work is afoot to cut red tape and open the ecosystem. This is very hard in a big organisation and I don’t envy them, but it is happening. I challenged the SAP management team to measure how long it takes to become a SAP developer from start to finish – and make it as good as Apple and Google. The new developer website – SCN – will be launched on Monday 12th December. It too supports open standards.

3) Technology. SAP have produced technology with big developer potential. The Unwired Platform allows secure integration for mobile devices and supports open standards like REST, Apple, Android etc. Plus, systems will be available in the cloud for developers to use without having to install gobbing great big SAP systems at home.

You may get the sense that I’m pro-SAP here; I am. And I think, with good reason. Because, SAP have – unlike any of the other Enterprise IT players like Oracle – listened to the advice that they have been receiving over the last few years. And I think this dramatically plays into the hand of the wider tech community.

Because, if you are willing to put aside your ideological problems with working along side The Antichrist, there are enormous and interesting opportunities out there. For instance, you could write a Ruby on Rails web app that exposes a web shop – continuing to use an existing SAP ERP system for sales order processing and pricing. Or mobile apps for time and expenses that run on iPhone and Android. Don’t let me constrain you – you can do anything your mind can imagine.

And the wider tech community already has the skills and will be able to get into the SAP Ecosystem easily. The issues around community and integration can evaporate. And we can do away with some of those awful legacy interfaces that people have to put up with. SAP has embraced design thinking and is making much better looking solutions lately, but imagine the power of a community which is 10 times the size that it is now?

The question is – are people willing to put aside the ideological problem? I’m not sure what the 19-year old John would have said. Bring on the hate mail.

Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad

It’s cold by the way. Winter finally arrived, I realised as I pondered SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors on the run into work. I can still feel the cold imbued from the run into the metal palmrest of my laptop as I write this.

The highlight of the weekend was Alexis Tsotsis’ faux-gonzoistic impression on TechCrunch. I say faux, because it has the attitude of gonzo journalism but not the style. From what I get of her article, if it’s not Apple or a startup, she’s not interested – and therefore the SAP acquisition of SuccessFactors is not worth reading about:

…you can never be too sure with these incredibly dull companies. I am too bored to Google it. In fact, I am literally bored to tears writing this, like I am seriously crying here in my local coffee shop and everyone is looking at me weird…

Really, this says a lot more about what’s wrong about TechCrunch, and actually the world as a whole. And so last night, I was discussing this point with a bunch of Enterprise Irregulars on Twitter. I’m going to disagree with Dennis Howlett (who used to be an Irregular), which is always a good way to start the morning.

@dahowlett: @applebyj giving idiots ANY play is plain dumb

Sameer Patel chimes in with a reminder that the Facebook acquisition of Gowalla – a FourSquare-style location based service, got much more airtime.

@sameerpatel: @applebyj @dahowlett not shocking. Most of yesterday tech meme led w/ reruns of Gowalla FB acquisition for an undisclosed sum vs a $3B buy.

And Frank Scavo got the feel of the enterprise community spot on:

@fscavo: I stopped reading TechCrunch years ago. @alexias’s recent post reminds me why. cc: @dahowlett @applebyj

But actually I think that Timo Elliott nailed it. Yes Timo, this is the real world.

@timoelliott: Strangely, this techcrunch post about the “boring” SAP acquisition made me very proud: techcrunch.com/2011/12/03/zzz… #dudethisistherealworld

And let’s just be reminded about how real this world is:

Facebook SAP
Revenue $4bn (estimated) $12.46bn
Profit $1bn (estimated) $1.18bn
% of world’s transactions Ermm? 65%
Users 800m 500m
Market Capitalization $82bn $72bn

If you compare Facebook even by their own metrics, they are still insignificant compared to the behemoth that is SAP. Billions of people interact with SAP on a day to day basis – every transaction with giants like Barclays Bank. 90% of the world’s beer is produced by SAP. And since SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Becher took the time to point it out, I’ll quote him:

@jbecher: @applebyj Amused by bit.ly/tFOK7J Don’t forget 65% of world’s televisions, 86% of athletic footwear, or 70% of world’s chocolate

Who says that SAP isn’t cool, with such accolades! And yet Facebook has the greater market capitalization. Why is this? High growth and cool factor. But Facebook has not proven that it has a sustainable market model.

Why does this mean there is something wrong with TechCrunch?

Well it strikes me that TechCrunch gets Consumer IT and is all over the topics that generate a lot of traffic, like Apple, Facebook and Google, and there’s nothing wrong with this. I do however think there’s two major areas where TC has a problem:

First, Founder and former co-editor Michael Arrington sold out to AOL then whined about their involvement. What amazes me here is first, his naivety, and second his desire for self-importance.

Second, it’s fine if you don’t understand Enterprise IT. But don’t whine about it being boring – because if you read Alexia’s article you will see that there are (currently) 99 comments, all of which criticise her and her journalism. Don’t write a crap piece of journalism and then follow it up with “I was just being honest” on Twitter – and then delete the Twitter post.

06/12/11 Correction – Alexia’s “I was just being honest” was in the comments area, not a Tweet. She didn’t delete it. My bad.

And what’s wrong with the world?

Well for my money SAP is possibly the most interesting technology firm in the world right now. I make my money out of the SAP industry so perhaps I would say that, but it’s also born out by facts.

They have the leading enterprise mobility platform, integrated back into an incredibly complex suite of software that covers 65% of the world’s business transactions. They are leading the world with in-memory technology.

And to add to that they have just made a major cloud acquisition, which might be the third dimension to prevent the risk of their becoming irrelevant in 5-10 years time.

What’s wrong with the world is that they are so focussed on Apple, Google and Facebook – with their over inflated IPOs and everything that comes with that. The world was not built on technology bubbles – it was built on hard work and honest money.

For a small number of lucky individuals there is a bubble with an IPO and a retirement salary. For everyone else, the world is a very tough place to live. My advice: stop being bored by the stuff which makes the world turn.

The Sales-Delivery Paradox – Filling the Pre-sales Void

I remember my first job like it was yesterday. I worked for a BI consulting firm called InPhase Software Ltd. I got the job during my university holiday by writing a letter to all the local companies and including a CV. I got 3 replies, 2 interviews, and 1 job. I worked for an enigmatic salesman called Robert Hobbs, who had just won Entrepreneur of the year award.

They had co-innovated on a really neat Data Warehouse product which allowed Business Scorecarding right the way down to line item analysis, with an Analytics capability in the middle. And before the age of 18 I’d been involved in Data Warehouse implementations at BP, Barclays, Booker and some 10 or more other FTSE100 customers.

And I remember the day that Robert came to me with the business requirements for a new customer and I looked at him, incredulous. I said “Robert, you know that can’t be done with our product.” – His reply: “John, I know you can do it”. He was right.

The Delivery Perspective

I’m sure this story is something that a lot of consultants can relate to: salespeople creating unreasonable demands that push the product we have available to us beyond its limits. They can see the commission at the end of the tunnel and they ignore whether or not it is actually deliverable, because they get paid on the sale, right? They take their pay check and move onto the next sales organisation, with no empathy for the poor delivery consultants who have to implement the mess they sold.

The Sales Perspective

The salesperson on the other hand, is sick of delivery consultants putting a spanner in the sales process. They often have a pessimistic approach caused by the experience of other projects gone wrong. Their estimates are always worst case and take into account a number of risk factors which may or may not be true.

Then the delivery consultants usually estimate from the bottom up, building pyramids of cost which make sense at a granular level, but which add up to far more effort than is required. Even worse, when estimating effort, delivery consultants often assume that the person delivering the work may be weaker than them and adjust the estimates accordingly.

And the reality is that many problems – especially technical problems – can be worked through with a quality delivery team and excellent governance processes. This was my experience at InPhase and the technical problems that I thought were impossible to fix, turned out to be very tolerable – with some design changes.

The Pre-sales Middle Ground

In the Pre-sales process we have to attempt to ride the middle ground between these two points of view, and this can be incredibly difficult. In addition we have to not be too worried about the detail of implementation – it’s just not possible to know every detail when we make an estimate, and we often make assumptions to protect against this lack of detail.

I tend to adjust estimates based on what I know about the nature of the consultant doing the estimate. I have been known to triple the estimates of optimistic consultants and third the estimates of pessimists. This makes up for an estimate deviance of 900% for the same piece of work. And I think this is common in the market – and it’s no wonder that the salespeople and delivery consultants are often at loggerheads.

Dealing with Product

This is exacerbated in the Enterprise IT world because we have products to take into account. The pre-sales consultant (usually a Solution Architect) has to decide what the appropriate tool to use for the job is – and how much it can reasonably be changed or customised.

The reason this is usually a problem is because a software vendor is usually also pushing product into the same account. Their point of view may be different to the consulting organisation and their product knowledge may also be different. And clearly there is a conflict of interests between a consulting organisation trying to push services, and a software company trying to push product.

How do we find a way forward?

The only way that this can work is when the consulting and software vendors work together and get a joint vision. In this process the software vendor has to realise that their product won’t always be fit for purpose, and the consulting vendor has to realise that sometimes making a product fit isn’t straightforward and may require some compromise.

Then we have to bear in mind that in an estimation process there are basically 3 variables: Scope, Roles & Responsibilities and Assumptions. It’s only reasonable – if you can agree those three variables with the customer – to vary those variables so that they give the lowest possible price. What clearly isn’t reasonable is to vary those when you know they won’t be true, with a view to artificially lower the price – although it is sadly common practice, especially in Enterprise IT.

And even within that, the respective pre-sales consultants have to be willing to push the technology envelope and realise that resourcing great people to a project and having the right governance process, is what really brings success.

As I sometimes say (and it only really works in British English) – it’s not the tools which make a project fail, but rather the tools using the tools.

The story behind the title photo – Part 2, Process

Now that we know the people involved in my first blog of this series “People”, we can start to discuss how process assisted me along the journey.

In Enterprise IT we tend to like to think we have really well defined processes. Even if we are being self-deprecating, we think we attempt to define processes. We have processes for managing projects and for support, for procurement and supply chain and everything in between.

What’s interesting is that we are generally best at defining IT processes, whilst human processes are much harder to define. Take this into every day life and talk about the process of “climbing a mountain” or “taking a photograph” and we choose not to describe a process, but rather think of it as learnt behaviour.

This is pure and simple because we choose not to think of every day life in terms of a process – but it’s out there. Our decision to turn back from the mountain – the cloud cover coming in from the west or the dampness in the air – are justified by well-honed senses and a subliminal process.

For this mountain there were a few processes that were incredibly important.

Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

To contextualise – this photograph requires a 14 hour mountaineering expedition – a round trip that covers some 6000 ft vertical and 26 miles. It requires head torches and a rucksack full of equipment. In my case I left the torch in the hotel and it added 45 minutes to my journey whilst I sat in the car waiting for dawn to arrive.

It requires sufficient water in your Camelbak. Michel told me that I could refill my pack at 9000ft but it turned out that the river had run dry and it took me an hour to dig out the river and make a pool of water to drink from.

Getting Fit

Getting fit is a process that most of us are familiar with. Get on treadmill, run for an hour, eat less, drink less, repeat. Or whatever your fitness poison is. Most of us convince ourselves that either a particular regime works for us, or that we’re not as overweight as we think we are. I tend to convince myself that when I’m 80something kilograms, I’m about the same weight as I was when I was 21. If only.

What’s interesting is that the process of learning mountain techniques makes up  to some extent for the lack of fitness. If for example, you learn to pace yourself in the right way, early in the day, you will dramatically increase your performance later on.

As Michel told me “un bon guide, c’est un guide sec” – roughly translating to “a good guide’s a dry guide”. Now I’ve seen the beer he consumes when home so I can only assume that he means during the day. It seems that great mountain guides don’t work themselves to a point of sweat and therefore barely need to drink when out on the mountain.

Final Words

Whatever we do in life, there is an implicit or explicit process surrounding it. It may be too complex to visualise or describe, or worse, we may believe that we understand the process when in fact there are nuances that we do not understand. As IT professionals we are especially guilty of this.

So when you embark upon the journey of process definition, remember that people die every out in the mountains because they misunderstand their process definitions, especially about the weather.

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