Why should I believe a consulting firm that doesn’t have a service catalog or any other company?

Let’s see you’re a technology consulting firm or any consulting firm and you don’t have a service catalog.   When you’re advising my company, you bring to the table a wealth of technology-speak: Cloud, Digital Transformation, AI, Containers, Blockchain, IoT, and the like.

Asked what your firm does I hear a jumble of more buzz-words: Agile, Digital Design, and the list goes on. Pressed for a simple answer I get “We’ll assist or execute for you in implementing the latest technologies”. So basically, your service catalog contains two items: Project Management and Technology of the Moment (TotM) implementation.   “Well we do more than that. We also provide Agile Training, Coaching, and blah, blah, blah…” Isn’t all of that in support of the two services you are supplying?

I know a few years ago your firm was trying to engage with my firm’s IT function about improving operational efficiency. You were proposing that you could help us by creating a service catalog as part of implementing a service management strategy.   We’re still working on creating our catalog. Can we see yours?

Oh, you have a list of services you advertise but no real catalog of how to perform or measure? Then a quick scramble behind the scenes to dig up you Secret Sause Methodology that no one else has. But I’ve seen this by every other firm just with different company specific acronyms.

I begin to wonder why if your firm had highlighted how important having a service catalog was so important years ago, that you don’t have one also. Especially since you still insist its key to an effective organization expecting to digitally transform itself.

While this is a rude hypothetical example. I assure you the events and thoughts are real, confirmed through discussions with many Executives over the years.

I don’t claim a service catalog is the answer to all of life’s questions, nor will it make a poorly conceived business model suddenly become profitable. What I do suggest is that a well thought out service catalog is part of good business and operating models.

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These models “guide” a company to success. Provided one understands these are models not the real world. These are the visualization of planning. Eris Ries along with other notable business advisors suggests two important concepts about enterprises and growth. First, you can expect you’ll need to change your business model or plans once you engage with the market. The ecosystem will inform you what is of value to your clients and your business. Second, if you focus on doing everything, you’ll eventually do nothing. For all the resources mega-enterprises have, these still must focus. It’s when they lose focus and try to do too much outside the core the business goes off the rails.

So where does a service catalog come into play?

Service catalogs are the details behind what your firm does and does not do, and how it does these. This may be why there are so many small consulting firms with big dreams that never grow up. Either not knowing what they do, trying to do everything, or not understanding how to do it repeatedly (a service) with consistent and measurable results.

Imagine going to a Cleaners only to get your clothes back partly cleaned one time, fully cleaned another, and having the service period vary by days without any indication as to when. Then going into the back room to see people cleaning clothes in no consistent manner: a dry-cleaning machine all the way through using a tub and scrubbing board. How long would you consider using this “service”?

While there is no guarantee that having a service catalog will ensure the perfect outcome. Having a one along with management oversight increases the probability of that desired outcome. Coupled with service agreements this reduces the risk to the client.

So why have a service catalog?

A service catalog is the guide rails to good outcomes for both client and company. The services included in the catalog are the execution details behind the key activities of your business.

Methodology Engine for Consultants

Early wake-up call…well not actually early for me.  Today’s agenda: More Data Mining and evaluating the best course to capture methodology for my consulting firm.   Four primary factors to consider: 1) Knowledge and Skills transfer 2) Job Aid and Execution support 3) Ease of maintenance 4) Accessibility for field consultants

In prior roles I help construct or constructed my own methodology engines for various domains: Marketing Management and Strategic Planning, Enterprise Assessments (e.g., ISO 9000, CALS, etc.).  Depending upon factor four the technology choices I had narrowed down to were: Lotus Notes, SharePoint, and MS Access.  Of all the platforms to build on, MS Access was the most popular as one could carry the engine into a client’s site where Internet access was limited.

 

I was consider a hybrid on desktop MS Access and Access Services, however, given the uncertain future of both I’m considering another option such as Pega which would have the accessibility limitation pointed our prior, but gains an orchestration engine and data consolidation of multiple engagements for future BI application.  However, to kick start the project I’ll likely use the Methodology Engine I created in ACCESS as it has the basics to capture the workflow, methods and R&Rs

Strategic Planning vs. Strategic Plans

Spent last week in my first Enterprise Leadership Team strategic planning onsite meeting.  It was one of the better if not best strategic planning sessions I’ve participated in.  Rather than focusing on the two extremes –what can be do now to address some mess — or — pie in the sky dreams that have no basis in reality or likely to be realized– the session focused on reviewing where they were, why and what the vision of the business is to be.  As we covered what others may mistakenly consider trivial issues in sequence, you could see how these decisions narrowed down options to a laser focus as we at the end of this sequenced redefined or rather clarified what inherently knew was the business design’s skeleton.  While there is still much work to be accomplished on this, the skeleton provides the supporting scaffolding to successfully build out.

Strategic Planning and Strategic Plans are all well and good until the touch the reality of engagement.  What made the past weeks activities worth the effort were the last two days of the onsite.  With knowledge of where we want to be and where we are, we started deployment planning.  This is appears to be the fatal flaw in almost all the strategic planning sessions I’ve attended in the US.  Without planning how to deploy the plan, strategic planning results in pounds of paper and dilutions.  This seems obvious but somehow often gets overlooked.

One could say that’s because the strategic planning activity is designed that way. Or because there are no tools to translate strategic plans into actions.  However, both assertions are false.  Whether its because strategic planners don’t wish to get involved in deployment or as software designers often say small matter of programming 😉 or they are unaware of intellectual tools to assist, I find it more attitude that capability.  If I was to draw a parallel.  Design Engineering is often viewed as more glamorous and desirable that manufacturing Engineering, though its the later that can make or break a company.

With that said I’ll point to several approaches I’ve used, when I’ve been able to make the case to actually plan out implementing a strategic plan:  Hoshin Planning, Results Chain (DMR Consulting), Benefits Dependency Network (Cranfield), Strategic Capabilities Network (IBM), and Elyon Strategies own planning methodology.   My preferred methods are Hoshin Planning and Elyon’s as both focus on alignment to the strategic goals and a sequence of activities that logically contribute to achievement of the goal.  As I write this post I’m thinking of how-to merge Hoshin, Results Chain, and Elyon’s methodology as each as a strong point but a small gap that the other methods address well.

 

Internal Transformation

Past week has been working on internal transformation projects for my firm.  A classic case of eat your own dog food.  The interesting situation is everyone is excited to participate and help in the transformation.  –makes the task 1) easier 2) much more enjoyable — and confirms that I joined a awesome company, with awesome people.  Revising Business Model and putting into place a strategic execution system to ensure alignment with Biz Model, Designing, building, and implementing a client acquisition system to improve getting and keeping desirable clients.

This morning’s insight

A part of a good strategy is knowing what not to do; besides what to do.  I see too many companies run off the rails by going after the wrong type of business, markets and clients. Or trying to be everything to everyone, thus ensuring you’re nothing to everybody.

Philip K. Dick was right but may be wrong also

For those who are not Science Fiction fans, Philip K. Dick was a writer of notable insight to cultural trends.  His books have later been turned into blockbuster movies: BladeRunner, Minority  Report, Total Recall,  and Next to name a few.  His books had a dystopian perspective to these, where governments and social agents become tyrannical.   I will not dwell on that forecast of the future of society is this post.  One interest concept I thought interesting was his focus on media.  More specifically how the media would change.  Though the movie adaptations only hinted at it media, print for example, changed from a primarily word based format to more of a graphical based one.  Well the saying goes “One Picture…”

When moveable type was created it did two things. First it made production of information cheaper.  Thus distribution of information increased and was made available to lower income people. Second, it changed the cost ratio between text and graphics.  When books were hand drawn, the cost of graphics was on a par with text.  This ratio changed only slightly over the years until the application of computer technology.

What is interesting about this was that prior to the movable type revolution much communication was through pictures and other symbols.  Dick’s prediction of the future was a return to graphical communication and a reduction in text.  This inferred a lowering of grammatical literacy within society as a whole.  Having just complete several Government RFP response marathons where reply instructions were specific about writing to an 8th Grade level that would seem to prove Dick’s point.  However, I took a few steps back in considering such.

What came to mind were presentations and proposals I’ve seen and participated in over the years.  Many times I was privy to executive decision-maker sessions.  What struck me over the years was how these sessions have changed.  Initially presentations and proposals were fully of textual information.  A slide or page was filled with paragraphs of descriptions and opinions.  A little later after spreadsheets had become the go-to business tool, these became filled with tables of data and charts.

Then as graphic software became more capable presentations in many companies became more simple and focused.  A term which was not originally meant to be complimentary became popular code for these presentations to executives: “Big Animal Charts”  I suppose this was because someone thought reducing issues down to the simplest concept was similar to old children’s books; “See Spot Run, See Tiger run…”   A sort of arrogance was hidden in this comment lay just below the surface.  That is “I’m the expert and you’re not.  I have fancy jargon”  While jargon is useful to shortcut the communications process, its also an inhibitor for those that are not dedicated to a particular discipline or domain.  What many proposers and presenters forget, myself included, is that the presentations and proposals are not about me but about the audience.  So any means to make understanding easier for the audience is good.

Now I get back to my most recent RFP and presentation efforts.  After writing my technical responses I ran a reading level analyzer.  The results didn’t shock me.  The text was rated at Ph.D or beyond.  A far cry from the 8th grade level requested.  After significant effort I managed to reduce it down to 12th grade reading level. There I was stuck and required assistance from team mates, who thankfully jumped in.  What I found interesting beyond the reading level issue was that when I presented similar or more complex material I used very little text, choosing to use pictures, diagrams, and charts.  When I asked several audience members if the material was too complex and I should simplify it, thinking the words needed to be “dumbed down” I got a surprise.  They hadn’t even read the words, instead they got all they needed from the charts and spoken words, even though I used very technical jargon.

Which brings me back to Mr. Dick’s forecast of the future of media.  That graphics would dominate communications in the future.  Interesting points to consider: Look at Steve Jobs presentations, Nancy Duarte’s books Slid:eology & Resonate or books on Storyboarding –Hollywood’s go-to method to organize and present complex information.  All of which rely on graphics.  May be Philip was right in his forecast of the rise of graphics but others were wrong in thinking that graphics is dumbing down the communications.

Morning’s Ponders and Tool Suite Rational

Prior to jumping into finishing writing the technical approach for an RFP response this morning I spent a little time reflecting on the past few weeks of work.  I’m a big fan of Covey’s approach to analyzing your time to gain insights and understand patterns that could help you become more productive and enjoyment.  Yes I said pleased.  In a day when everyone talks about work-life balance as though these are separate things, I’m wondering if I’m the only one that gets enjoyment out of my work.

Must work translate into drudgery?

That seems odd.  I’m a woodworker, initially to assist my wife’s real estate projects and create items specific to what we need around the home, then it became a hobby.  As I participate in other social media sites around woodworking and makers, the pattern seems the same.  Then I find some others taking it a bit farther and creating businesses around their passion (e.g., Stumpy Nubs, The Wood Whisperer, etc.)  It appears woodworking has gotten a resurgence in popularity.  From their online appearance it seems they are have a passion for their work.  May be I’m reading into what I see in their public appearances and activities, but I continually see signs of real enjoyment in their participation in the craft.  Marc Spagnola,  The Wood Whisperer, has a science background and he uses it daily to expose the science behind the craft, right down to using the scientific method and experimentation to discovery such.  On his video blogs you see him and his wife Nicole banter back and forth.  To me its clear they are enjoying not only success in their business, but the process.

Which brings me back to this morning’s musings.  Do others also enjoy the process of their work like I do?   As I’m about to get back to writing the technical approach, I find myself excited about the process.  I really, no love, the entire process of discovering new methods and figuring out how to solve problems.  This is probably why I had gravitated to Management Consulting and Information Technology.

With that bit of personal insight, like always, after I closed out work last night I when back to working on the next section of my CAD for Enterprise ™ Design Tool suite.  My thoughts around this as a worthwhile endeavor is that there are plenty of technology corporations creating tools for what is the equivalent of CAM for Enterprise.  This matches what happened in the physical product industries for decades, lots of industrial automation technology while Architects, Engineers, and Designers continued to use manual methods and slide rules to accomplish their work till the computer technology became mature enough to be applied.  I’m seeing this as a similar pattern.  Last night I did a quick inventory of the “tools” I’ve built throughout my career to aid/automate various tasks around Enterprise Design, some I.T. oriented, some financial, some business management.  Then I looked at a tool I created in MS Access decades ago, B.A.S.E. ™ (Business Analysis System and Environment), it enable me to work in multiple functional domains on an engagement and reuse the information.  That goal I’ve continued to work on throughout my career.  A few weeks ago I had a brief exchange with my mentor regarding integrating various information domains.  With his encouragement and the involvement of others in their respective fields it looks like I’m close to creating the infrastructure that would support such a tools suite.

In the meantime I continue to create various point tools that will eventually snap-in, like the B.A.S.E. ™ product I created which had a similar idea of point tool modules.  This along with my question-based methodology is the goal I’ve set out to accomplish.  –and yes the point tools can be used in stand-alone mode; and yes I have shared these to others over the years (some on the Office Templates Online under the brand Intellectual Arbitrage Group which appears to have been syndicated on multiple sites as free downloads).

Cloud –hype or a lesson to learn about ongoing technology change

A while back the model was there was a market for just 10 mainframes worldwide, or so the quote goes.  The in order for a corporation to join the big boys, you needed your own.  Decades later I’ve the equivalent of a S/360 processing power in my pocket.  If one follows the technology generations: On-Prem. Mainframe; Department Minis; Timeshare; PCs; Client-Server; then Internet, Now Cloud. There is always a new technology on the horizon (e.g., quantum computing) that will solve the worlds problems and put the kids to bed on time or so the marketing hype goes.

I’m neither a fan-boy or luddite when it comes to new technology.  I believe I’m a pragmatist.  I’ve a set of simple rules when it comes to acquisition and holding onto technology:

  • Explore and examine, but do not commit till conditions point to such
  • When exploring the technology, examine both the technological aspects:
    • does it add new capabilities
    • Is it stable (mature enough, reliable enough, has enough market share to continue a reasonable lifespan)
  • and business application:
    • does that new capability add something to my business
      • Reach to customers or markets
      • Improve customer relationships
      • Allow me to do something new for customer or improve my operations
    • or reduce costs and risks

Which brings me to the latest R&D I’ve been conducting over the past few decades that fits into my larger research project of creating a CAD/CAM system for Enterprise Design, Construction, Operations, and  Remodeling.   That latest research has been all about the overlap between business and technology strategy.  This is something my mentor John Zachman had started decades ago.  By now I can imagine several people’s eyes rolling. “Zachman Framework!, that so yesterday…”  However, those that have seen the decades of methodology hype go by know that the Ontology expressed in the Framework still is relevant.  Its just not the “silver bullet” everyone wants.  It takes some work to understand that the views defined in the Framework are there for a reason: To understand the various aspects of an abstract entity, Enterprise, to be manifested.

Given the hype and technology priesthoods that have developed around various methodologies: TOGAF, DODAF, SAFe, BPMN, etc.. I will not enter into the fray, other than to say these all have some aspect of utility and all address some dimensions in the Zachman Framework. 

Back to Cloud and business/technology strategy:  As of late business models or various levels of business models (Campbell’s Operation Model Canvas**) are become more mature from decades ago and starting to reach across to technology or rather technology has been identified as an enabler to business strategy.  With that as an underpinning to this post.  I post the real question around Cloud and Cloud Hype:

The real issue is how or should you take advantage of such. If you’re just switching technology to “modernize” that’s fine.  If the cost of maintenance or business continuity risk due to end of life is a significant threat changing technologies is a simple model (i.e., you’re replacing you car because you can’t get anything more out of your Model T).  That does suggest however, it will be running business as usual.

That, in my opinion, is short sighted as few businesses are in an environment that enables that.  Today business as unusual is the norm.  There is so much volatility and change going on in the space we call enterprise that operating a business is now more an effort of managing complexity and change than executing a simple production line was twenty or thirty years ago.  As such prior to committing to such a change it behooves Executives to ask the questions beyond the easy just replace On-Premise with On-Cloud for a supposed cost saving, how will I exploit the technology to improve my business besides just keep it operating another day?  As well as ask what are the trade-offs I make with such choices:

  • Dependencies/Risks on a service provider
    • Will they be around tomorrow
    • Will the service change
    • Besides Security and Data Ownership, can I extract such to a new provider should I decide to
  • Will/Can I integrate a broad spectrum of services together (primary vendor and others) with moderate or less effort, or is it really a closed system
  • How long will it take to covert?  Will the conversion take more time than the technology is likely to be in place

The thing I tell my clients continually, there is no free lunch, there are always trader-offs.  Some immediately, Some during an event, and Some eventually (i.e., in the future).  It is up to your executive team, not the technology providers or operators within the company, to understand these implications and impacts.  -And if your team does not have the confidence in making these decisions get a Business – Technology Strategy Consulting firm to assist.  This is not a technology strategy consulting firm (i.e., how to install, configure, and operate), but one that focuses on how-to use the technology for business as well as what are its implications to the business.

**full disclosure I’m working with Andrew Campbell on a tool suite to evaluate Operating Models similar to the evaluation tool suite I built for the Business Model Canvas community