Vendor Valentine

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2-12 valentine
Getting engaged with your vendor? Select an appropriate model.

In my years of consulting within the project and portfolio management space, I have typically encountered two conflicting views of any PPM tool deployment.  I would contend that much of the challenges in a typical consulting engagement are driven by this conflict.

Put more succinctly, when both parties in a consulting arrangement are operating from the perspective of a different engagement model, bad things happen.

The first model is simple.  It is based on the following points:

  1. The problem is simple.
  2. The focus is the solution.
  3. The solution is technical.

What this means is that we have a discrete, defined problem.  We can easily place boundaries around it, and the consultant’s job is to come in, design the solution, train a couple of end users, drop an invoice on the desk and run.

The second model is more complex.  It is based on the following points:

  1. The problem is wicked.
  2. The focus is the problem.
  3. The solution is adaptive.

The challenge in the second model is that we never assume that everyone agrees as to what the fundamental problem actually is.  In fact, we don’t even acknowledge that everyone agrees a problem exists.  The first step in an engagement of that nature is to work on defining a common consensus as to the problems faced and the priority of those problems.  Often times, this requires covering ground that may have been covered already long before the consultant walked in the door.

That’s the fundamental building block upon which to continue the engagement.  Once it’s completed, we don’t acknowledge that there is such a thing as a solution.  Instead, we acknowledge the concept of progress towards a solution, insofar as we can work towards a better future, one where we better understand what the problem is and better provide value to the organization.

What does this mean, for example, in the context of a simple reporting engagement?  Reporting, more than pretty much any other topic, lends itself to the adaptive consulting model.  In reporting, you are typically tying multiple data sets into a single reporting tool, and then presenting that data to your stakeholders.  Once they see the data, and they see how it can be manipulated, the questions start.  “Can I see it this way?” they ask.  “Can I add additional data to the mix to see how it impacts things?”

What that means is that a reporting effort never ends.  It just begins.  It’s an adaptive exercise continued ad infinitum until the stakeholders have iteratively identified what reports are actually required.

How does one consult in a situation like that?  You don’t focus on the steady state solution, which is arguably a myth.  Instead, you focus on building a capability.  Our job as consultants is to build the capability of developing and modifying reports within the client organization.  Once we’ve built that capability and the technology platform to support it, we have done our job well.

For more reading on problem-framing as part of enterprise tool deployments, take a look at Kailash Awati and Paul Culmsee’s book, The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices.