Flexibility is not strategy (part 4)

27 05 2009

Flexibility – it can manifest in many forms and can quietly work against the soundest strategy.  In this, the nearly final installment, I’m going to talk briefly about dissemination and communication based on my experiences.

Many jokes are made at the expense of having consistent representation of a topic.  Being “on message” is corporate obfuscation and doublespeak, but its power can be used for the purposes of good.  Believe it or not, it is possible to be “on message” and also be transparent at the same time.

Bottom line: if you don’t have a communication plan around your new strategy, you’ve got a problem.

Water cooler messaging

Everyone’s reticent to learn the details of a new strategy.  So sometimes a 1 minute water cooler conversation is worth a 60 minute company address or a 10 page document.  Documents in particular have two major problems:

  • They probably don’t speak specifically to the reader
  • They require reading

Read the rest of this entry »





Flexibility is not strategy (part 3)

22 05 2009

A clear sense of purpose and a common understanding of that purpose seem like an obvious requirement to engender prosperity.  These elements are elusive because humans are not machines.  Creativity abounds, opportunities knock, tangents manifest, and allegiances are pledged. The confluence of these can help or hinder the evolution of companies and individuals.

Flexibility is the substitution of laissez faire for purposeful direction.  Unchoreographed dance or theatre may be expressive or interesting, but it’s not repeatable.  Good directors accept input, but in the end specify precisely what’s to be done for the entire piece’s overall impact – yet they don’t do the acting themselves. 

Actors and employees alike may not always be able to see how their specific role helps achieve the objectives, but leadership, transparency and ultimately trust resolves this.

Read the rest of this entry »





Economic necessity: reaping innovation’s rewards

21 04 2009

In a previous post, I discussed the role of constrained resources in innovation.  I strongly feel that it behooves companies to create a culture of innovation by rewarding employees for their novel ideas with more than “not getting fired.”

Users develop solutions from actual problems or opportunities on the front line.  These projects can lead to significant innovations.

I like the story of Dynamic Matrix Control (DMC). If it weren’t for a long-term strike at a Shell Refinery, this new way of controlling operations would never have come to fruition.

Innovation comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Creating DMC and turning it into its own business is more of an exception than the rule.  But measureable improvements abound when users are allowed to be creative. Read the rest of this entry »





Economic necessity: When all you have is a hammer…

16 04 2009

The lure of “Something as a Service” may not be for everyone, but I think some of (the few) positive aspects of hard times are discipline and innovation. 

Reflect on Michael Porter’s HBR article “What is Strategy” to see what I’m talking about.  As is validated in this blog post, everyone will cut costs and focus on operational excellence, but that opportunity is transient.

Innovation through discipline is typified in my work with small theatre companies.  The arts have known nothing but hard times.  Yet, we have pulled off miracles with zero money.  That’s not to say we couldn’t have used more funds, but creativity was the order of the day to make something out of nothing.

User innovation, like art, may actually thrive in hard times.

The sin of opulence?

Fifteen years ago great debates raged on USENET newsgroups about the merits of programming in constricted resource environments (yes, comp.sys.*.advocacy).  Assembly vs. higher level languages.  It was very geeky.

The premise was simple: relying on hardware for performance lead to undisciplined code.  Today’s constraints are different, but using existing assets better will force creative thinking – as long as there is incentive, and merit is recognized.

Users may not have access to anything in today’s buzzword parade (SOA, SaaS, etc.),  but they will discover great potential in tools like Microsoft Office.  Innovative users will exploit all their available resources if they have the time and incentive.

Problems will be solved in new ways, costs may go down, and new value may be discovered – if users are empowered.

The revolution may not be scrutinized

In almost any company, certain users have the flexibility to operate on the outskirts of IT’s control.  So experimentation could already be underway.  Using the Office example, users can install a long term trial version in stealthy manner and create the “next great thing” right under the nose of IT.

These installations can grow gradually with minimal impact on operations, and users can solve some really interesting problems for the business by just assembling components. 

D.I.Y. solutions to problems like document management, “Excel hell”, and rich application construction without programming are all possibilities given the capabilities of Office.

But companies must create a structure to reward the curiosity of its innovators.  Fear of job loss is not a motivator.  In today’s world where company loyalty has dwindled on both sides, a collaborative approach to surviving and thriving is not an option, but a requirement.

In a later post, I’ll write about how and where to draw the line in order to reap the benefits of these innovations sustainably.  Then we’ll discuss what this means for vendors.





Economic necessity: where have all the users gone?

14 04 2009

Now is the time for vendors to seek out their buyers and users (and know the difference).  Grassroots user support helps keep a vendor’s platform relevant and endorsed as critical infrastructure.  Vendors that take an active role in assisting users will also make users shine and avoid “going legacy”.

The strategy is simple to articulate, but hard to deliver: change the argument from “cost savings” to “new value” as easily as plausible.

Keep in mind that vendors also need to show momentum to buyers.  By acknowledging appropriate compatibility and buzzwords surrounding their product, they stay viable from a customer-funding standpoint.

User shrinkage

Layoffs have many layered, long term effects.  Users and buyers at customer installations will be faced with some very difficult and immediate cost-cutting decisions.

For software companies, that means familiar users and buyers may disappear or “go dark”.  This triggers a cycle which could slow software releases or cause product stagnation.  None of this helps the case for software upgrades or roll-outs.

Savings as a Service?

During cost-cutting season, users will look under every rock for opportunities to keep their teams employed and food on the table.  If users look under your “rock” and find a shiny new replacement technology with promise, you’ve got problems.

Everyone’s heard of “the cloud” right?  Vendors offering tangible, useful services in the cloud may help IT staff and users alike carve out narrow savings and innovation opportunities.

Software as a service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and even Datacenters as a Service (DaaS?) have all received  much attention in the recent past (much like SOA used to).  Heck, I even wrote a couple articles about SaaS and manufacturing in 2008.  The cloud is now chock full of capable, credible options.

Remember: upgrades are ugly, so if the cloud fixes a problem appropriately, it’s on the table.

However, disrupting the status quo is a difficult decision.  The switching costs associated with swapping out an existing application or infrastructure may be too great to undertake as customer staff and support wane.

But trading on fear, uncertainty and doubt is not the answer.

Get tangible before the pressure builds

Immediate value is something vendors need to demonstrate hand-in-hand with users to maintain relevancy.  Working with customers early to understand their objectives can keep their user support base on staff while uncovering new, valuable opportunities.

Know your landscape: vendors threatened by the cloud or that lack a “cloud positioning strategy” had better create one. 

Adopting a proactive stance may turn a potential liability into an asset and transform a “cost savings” argument for displacement into “new value” built on existing assets.