Friday, December 23, 2005

Tactical/Strategic Consulting 2

"...If you have got a difficult situation, and a lot of players, and some are less good than others, then turmoil is an opportunity..."

"...Fingerspitzengefuhl(fingertip feel) - the sense of a place, you now a place smells, how it feels. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working in is going to get people into trouble...."

Quoted in connection with profile of Zalmay Khalilizad - The New Yorker, Dec 19th 2005.

When I first posted the little piece on tactical/strategic thinking in consulting, I was pleased to then encounter the two quotes above just a few days later. Though they are from a different (and far more serious context - rebuilding/saving Iraq) than my area of interest (IT efficiency). They are profound and hit to the nub of where my thoughts are at present.

Firstly, when we are looking at markets in the IT sector we need to be aware that much of what is happening has so much momentum that it is going to happen no matter what. If we are buyers of technology then we might just want to avoid looking at the market dynamics too closely, as they can be little more than an obstruction of a clear view toward a decision.(Note: I am currently working on an article for CMS Watch on this topic and will post a link on publication). On the other hand if we are a technology vendor then, that turbulence and turmoil can become a major opportunity. If we look at the major vendors then I stand by my predictions that Oracle, Sun and NetApps could emerge as clear winners in their chosen areas. For despite their weaknesses, and the apparant strengths of their competitors, they are all smart fighters. Fighters with I suspect, Fingerspitzengefuhl - not that they have all always had this. In Sun's case they were very clearly without it for some time, but I think they have it now - and I am not convinced their competitors neccesarily have.

As the sharp reader will note, I cannot due to my role go into details - or critize vendors directly. But I can give praise where it is due!

Likewise, if one is a large enterprise and trying to bring some order to the chaos that you call IT - then you need people who can take a dispassionate and strategic look at the situation to advise you. But that person or persons must (repeat must) be prepared to at least have the ability to measure the pulse of the situation from a tactical viewpoint. In a recent post I mentioned a major error I made, in not recognising that what I saw as a small ongoing project, with a short deadline, actually illustrated widely the depth of the situation the firm was facing. I was seeing everything from 10,000 feet - and when a real world, ground zero situation was given me, I failed to notice its strategic significance. My fingertips were not working too well that day.

In venting my frustration from this particular encounter I have lashed out a little (but fairly I think) at industry analysts. Fair I think in that this is my own background, and though I prided myself (pride is never a good thing) that I was more in touch with reality than many analysts, I was clearly very insulated.

So that led me to think about this strategic/tactical consulting thing again - how do we know reality when we see it? As an analyst I was aware of the pampering by the industry, my distance from the real world - but not as aware of it as I am now. So it is unfair to beat up on those who cannot see things from my perspective. Then again I am not that concerned about fairness. What I am concerned is about getting it right, or to be pragmatic doing it better.

In consulting work, I suspect it is right to have a pre-conceived notion and a methodology you intend to follow - the client is paying for your experience and expertise. But one needs to assiduously test those assumptions with the clients organizatioin and expect those assumptions to change or morph.

My mantra in upcoming engagements (and my diary for 2006 is looking horrifyingly full - so I shall have lots of opportunities to chant) will be to touch base with reality on every project. To insist as a matter of course that I talk with end users, and that I (and my colleagues) spend less time talking and more time listening. Like lots of stuff here it is common sense, but I see so many in this industry who do not follow this rule. How do we get back to root cause, to pragmatic but strategic advice - partly I guess by simply insisting on speaking to end users (often clients object to this activity) - but also as consultants making it clear upfront with clients that we are there to deliver value, not make people smile. Consultants from global management, to local specialists are averse to delivering bad news, they are also far to to easily led into comfortable situations with 'senior executives who advise them on the 'real world' issues within their organization. Executives who are just as far removed from the real world as the consultant.

A strategy is a roadmap to get to a desired destination - or at least to continue successfuly down a particular path. But they are nothing more than castles in the sky unless they can be and are actually implemented.

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