Lean Management Philosophy and Computerized Management

27 08 2019

Lean management, formalized in the 1990s in the United States, was first introduced in Japan through the Toyota production system (1962) for the automotive industry.

Lean philosophy is in no way synonymous with fixed mechanics; instead, it is a management approach based on simple principles aimed at increasing the productivity and quality of a business.

In recent years, several other industries adopted the concept, including the construction, health, and professional services sectors.


The migration of this philosophy to other business lines is strongly associated with three basic principles, the « Muda – Muri – Mura »:

  • Muda: Eliminating anything that is without value
  • Muri: Eliminating excess of any kind
  • Mura: Eliminating enforcement irregularities in processes

The link between the computerized management of your operations and the principles of Lean management lies in key features in your solution and your operating ERP software. First and foremost, let us delve a little deeper into each of the principles outlined above.

Muda – Eliminating Waste

The approach combines the concept of “waste” with seven so-called “classic” business management activities. This does not mean that these seven activities are automatically present in your business:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory management
  • Ergonomics of work in action
  • Waiting periods or delay in the deliverables (client or supplier)
  • Overproduction (volume of goods or services)
  • The process in its overspecialization
  • Non-quality

A progression towards Lean management will address waste as a priority and therefore seek to identify the largest source of waste for quick and efficient processing.

If this source is not already apparent to you or your organizational context is involved, then VSM – Value-Stream Mapping is an effective methodology that can support you in identifying key sources to be prioritized.

Muri – Eliminating Excess

By “excess” we can understand different management phenomena such as:

  • Oversized or overspecialized work equipment for the task at hand
  • Resources overqualified for the task at hand
  • Excessive pressure on a work schedule well beyond regular hours
  • A pace (volume, speed) of production that goes beyond the specifications of existing equipment

In the first two examples, you can see a reasonably strong link to the concept of “Muda” when you look at it from another perspective, which is the underutilization of available resources. This is a waste of the “potential” of the resources available within the company in terms of its number, capacity, and expertise.

For this reason, the notion of “underutilization of skills” sometimes appears in the “Muda” box in the literature.

Our last two examples, however, have the more distinctive features of the “Muri” in terms of negative impact on value creation.

Seemingly, working harder and producing more naturally goes hand in hand with notions like “making more revenues,” “making more profits,” or “making more clients happy.” Difficult to contradict a common sense that relies on “1+1 = 2” in the Cartesian domain.

The experienced manager knows full well that it may make sense to experience temporary work overload, to deliver a large order, for example. However, a pace substantially exceeding the company’s human and equipment capacity continuously will eventually lead to disaster.

The systematic elimination of excesses is, therefore, more of an approach based on the optimum continuous quality of the goods and services produced by the business and not on the volume it generates. So the “Muri” is an approach focused fundamentally on client satisfaction and quality. A key and strategic concept of 21st-century trade.

So, there are two types of detectable excess, but very different in terms of treatment:

  • Punctual excess that may be commercially justified but must be monitored very carefully as to remain “punctual.”
  • Systemic excess, the one that has become entrenched in our operations and our day-to-day management to become a work standard. That’s the kind of excess we’re talking about when we talk about “Muri.”

For managers who may have difficulty identifying the “bad” excesses in their business, here is a simple thought that can be raised frequently in the daily life of a business:

“Does working overtime or implementing new state-of-the-art tools always equate to “good management,” optimal management, or do you sometimes feel that overtime could have been avoided by working differently and that the new tool was not ultimately essential to the desired productivity lever?”

Humm… If the manager in you never experienced any discomfort in approving overtime over and over again, I tip my hat to you!

Here the “Muri” is therefore closely linked with the concept of proactive management versus reactive management. Another interesting topic to explore in the future.

Mura – Variability in the Application of Processes

In short, if you have eliminated waste (Muda) and excess (Muri) then… all that’s left to do is work properly.

The “Mura” therefore targets the notion of consistency in applying the right ways of doing things to control and make predictable the behavior of your management machine, your business.

Here we seek to optimize the flow and quality of the company’s goods and services for the benefit of our clients and our growth.

The complexity behind a simple concept is that, regularity in the application of methodologies, and rigorous monitoring of standards, protocols, and processes are not necessarily easy things in the context of the highly unpredictable business environment in which a company operates.

All managers are in favor of virtue, but our business environment sometimes forces us to compromise management principles in which we strongly believe.

An effective strategy to work on “Mura” is to identify processes that create the highest value in the business.

By working on the regularity of one, two, or three major company processes, you will find that the intervention and improvements made to these processes can have a substantial impact on other related secondary processes.

In the medium and long term, you will be able to measure and see an overall improvement in the whole company, the operating machine, in terms of its ability to deliver what you want, when you want, at the quality level you want.

And when your business becomes predictable, there are no limits to your growth and expansion plans.

In conclusion, when you approach a potential purchase or take a step back on your computerized management platform, it becomes imperative to ensure that this management platform can track your movement and your improvement strategy towards Lean management.

The first feature to validate will be the ability of this platform to fit into your business vision and processes, as you can work on the “Muda,” the “Muri” and the “Mura” if your business and information platform doesn’t follow… you’re going to stay in the same place.

The customization of your ERP software provider’s application platform is, therefore, key to the success of your Lean approach.

Good management!

CRM – XRM, Back to the Future!

18 08 2016

During the past few years, I have had the opportunity to be invited as a speaker to present the operational concepts behind CRMs (Customer Relationship Management), conferences during which I was asked to introduce the less familiar concept of XRMs (Extended Relationship Management).

It is very much intrigued that I had to answer basic questions relating to the operationalization of the tool instead of questions that focused, for example, on a vision, such as “What more could I do in the future with a CRM, what would be my next step?”.

Here are some conclusions based on these rewarding encounters, hoping that my remarks may be useful within the framework of your current or future projects with CRMs / XRMs.

A little history

The quest for business relationship management, as well as tools to support it is not new. It is the extent and the importance of the relationship management that have increased over time. Very briefly, here is the evolution of tools in this field in four key moments:

1980: The area of research known as CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) emerges at about the same time as the term “Groupware”, associated more closely with the technology supporting the CSCW concepts.

1990: Structured commercial offers concretely take hold of the market with the promise to optimize communication in a work team. The “Lotus Notes” software is an ambassador from this period.

2000: The introduction of a clear CRM offer in the software world with the arrival, amongst others, of the now well-known company “Sales Force”. The main goal expressed is to provide companies with a tool supporting the automation and optimization of the sales force. We see  notions of the automation concepts of the sales force (SFA – Sales Force Automation) and the “360-degree” vision beginning to emerge, aimed at maximizing customer potential.

2007: The concept of XRM platform appears. More commonly associated with a way of doing things rather than a specific technology as such, the main objective pursued becomes the automation and optimization of business processes of a company as a whole. New corporate performance perspectives are discovered and continue to be to this day.

We now live in the age where managing challenges and efficient exploitation of unstructured information are the optimal support strategy for our internal and external business relationships.

An observation

It is no coincidence that the concepts of CSCW have first materialized in tools dedicated to the sales force. Sales are the sinews of war, as the saying goes. Naturally, it also goes to say that sales are primarily about relationship management. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have rapidly steered the communicational management possibilities of CRM tools toward this strategic component of any company.

Sales are also a fairly controlled management enclave, isolated, with a very clear objective. It is a team of human resources relying on processes, a methodology, and a well-established marketing theory. I mean here that operational ambiguity is, in principle, less present.

I make a distinction here between the “Marketing” component, where it is more a question of analysis, positioning, differentiation and business strategy and the “Sales Force” component that deploys the action plan in the field. In short, when you’re a part of a sales team, you must constantly remind yourself of the “Just do it!” mantra.

Therefore, concepts and tools in a controlled environment and yet, returning to my lectures, users who express not only their will but also their difficulties and reluctance to move forward with a CRM project even if it is limited to the sales team.

The fundamental reason is simple and participants have expressed it very clearly. Obviously, each of them did so in their own way, in their own context and according to the objectives each of them pursued with their project. A sales force, even with a clear and precise marketing action plan, does not actually operate in a vacuum.

Some here will return to the concept of “360-degree vision”. If we limit ourselves only to the sales force, I say “not quite”. I say “okay”, however, if we talk about “Client” issues noticeable in all business interactions, regardless of the department, with its existing and potential customers.

In this latter approach, we can easily perceive the management complexity issued from interdepartmental momentum. Indeed, each department having its own responsibilities and precise role, it is natural that the respective visions of each department collide.

Here is an in-depth observation summarised by the participants with respect to the difficulties they encounter in their current CRM project: the complexity to reach interdepartmental consensus on a given method in order to achieve set objectives.

The choice of the tool

CRM software abound and you therefore have a wide selection at your disposal. It is not the goal of this post to make a comparative analysis of the main products available on the market. For those interested, you can view a list of known CRMs by following these links CRM Software Review and Best CRM Software. Of course, remain cautious of the interpretation of rankings.

Beyond the usual functional characteristics, I suggest two in-depth validations if you plan to gradually evolve towards an extended XRM platform. Your CRM software should adhere to two principles:

  1. A high customizability and information processing capacity based on your strategic challenges. You must be able to reconcile, analyze and quickly exploit strategic information for each department.

2 A great configuration capability of the access to information. I am not addressing the security aspect here, that must of course be present, but rather your technological tool’s capacity to modulate the access to information based on the operational needs of each department.

In other words, if you want to maximize the leverage of your configurations, make sure that each department can access the information it needs, but only the information it needs. Otherwise, you could reduce the operational focus of every department and instead generate a loss of productivity, obviously an effect to avoid.

Centralization of information

When it comes to the implementation of a CRM, a majority of the failed attempts, or efforts attaining limited success, come from the difficulty to define centralized reference information. Of course, if you opt for a solution such as “” for example, there is no need to go any further as de facto you would normally operate in centralized mode.

For those who currently have or would consider a local solution, remember that it is imperative to create a centralized informational reference. You must lose the reflex of accessing locally to information (on a given workstation) for any information related to a customer, or else your CRM project is in jeopardy from its first days of existence.

As minimal as this information may be at first, for example, with customer contact information, to quickly generate a reflex to adhere to the centralized information is paramount.

This step will enable you, amongst others things, to raise as well as live the whole issue of standardization of the codification of key information. This standardization is strategic in order to stimulate ownership of the tool by its users and to generate analysis leverage and decisional leverage thereafter. Consequently, if necessary, do not neglect the mobilization efforts of your team on the issue of centralization of information.

The hidden face of success

Whether you wish to limit your CRM project to your sales team only or you wish to expand the use of your software to form an XRM platform, the whole question of the analysis of the management processes involved remains a critical issue.

As with any other computerized management project, the implementation of a CRM-XRM solution is a privileged moment to improve the efficiency of your existing processes without denaturing and losing sight of the methods that have created your success. With this in mind, you should never forget that a rigorous project management is always your best ally.

Now, there is an additional aspect that I wish to bring to your attention at the deployment and operationalization stage of your CRM-XRM tool.

There are, on the basis of the concept of CSCW, some fundamental operational principles that must be respected and implemented to ensure the generation of the leverage you are seeking. Unfortunately, they are often forgotten or neglected.

I will first refer to Johansen’s (1988) “Time-Space” matrix, which is a historical theoretical reference for Groupware. This matrix shows the communications and interactions in a work team based on the possible combinations of two parameters, space and time.

Johansen Matrix

I will not go into further detail about the underlying operational theory. For the theorist in you, I suggest an additional 2007 publication endorsed by Elsevier (http://www.elsevier.com/) and titled “A Classification Method for CSCW Systems

The structural principle to grasp here is that a CRM-XRM tool acts like a management differential. Think of it rather like the role played by your car’s differential when taking a curve and having to manage the rotation difference between the inner wheel and the outer wheel.

In fact, the key to CRM-XRM is that they manage the differences in availability, speed of execution, processes, etc. which represent challenges that resources of a company face daily throughout their internal and external interrelations. All deviations or operational desynchronizations to be managed here always being linked to notions of time and space.

In order to activate the magic of CRM-XRM’s I draw your attention to the simplified structure of an interrelation between two resources:

Structure ITV_En

We are always in the presence of a “Trigger” who makes a request to a “Doer”, a “Transmitter” who ensures that the request is forwarded to the right person at the right time (your CRM-XRM tool) and, finally, the “Doer” himself. Note the feedback loop that highlights the possibility of an iterative process if necessary to complete a task.

So that’s the mechanics on the basis of the operational magic of CRM-XRM’s. Now, here are the key principles that are frequently forgotten, unknown or neglected in the framework of the use of these tools according to each participant in the process:

The trigger’s responsibilities

  1. 1. He must make sure that the request is clear and precise otherwise he automatically increases the processing and implementation time, because the doer will automatically ask for specifications on the action to be taken. A very common shortcoming related to the fact that the requester always feels that what he wrote, or dictated, is perfectly clear. It is indeed clear for him but not necessarily always so for the doer.

We well perceive here the importance of establishing codification standards for requests.

  1. Send the request to the right doer, implying it is the right resource possessing the qualifications, skills and responsibilities to meet the demand. Otherwise, it is clear that processing delays will be introduced in the implementation times.
  2. He must precisely indicate the processing priority that must be granted to his request. Remember here that when everything is urgent, the possibility to prioritize no longer exists, there is no effective emergency management anymore. What is implied here is to pay special attention to the definition of what constitutes an emergency as a prerequisite.

The transmitter’s responsibilities

The transmission medium is the management differential as such. The reliability and performance of the technological tool are critical parameters otherwise the credibility of the system is automatically attacked.

The doer’s responsibilities

  1. Immediately validate that he represents the necessary player to meet the demand in terms of his role and functions as well as in terms of his skills and knowledge. We quickly see here the effectiveness of a CRM to detect the possible continued training needs of a team.
  2. Take an immediate decision concerning the request as to whether it must to be fulfilled now or later. If the action can or should be postponed, its execution or follow up must immediately be planned in the work schedule.

The greatest shortcoming encountered in the context of the implementation of CRM-XRM tools is the absence of a decision on a request. For there to be an effective management of a situation, an informed decision must be taken and since an informed decision is no mere coincidence, a minimum analysis process must therefore take place in the treatment of any given request.

Note that you must distinguish “taking a decision” from “meeting the demand”. These are two completely different things. A decision may be to do nothing at the moment but in this case, I repeat, a follow up or intervention date must immediately be scheduled in the work calendar.

The classic mistake is therefore to leave requests pending without having subjected them to a minimal management assessment. In addition to not being in action, you accumulate potential problems in the future.

Take a few moments to think about this principle. This is the keystone for generating leverage with a CRM. Everything lies solely in this principle.

If each request received is not subject to an immediate minimal analysis … you do not manage even if you think you do and think you are very busy!

Let us now take this principle the other way around in order to reveal the other classic problematic situation. As we can well imagine, if not leaving anything pending is the idea here, then we must satisfy all requests immediately!

And so, a reactive management mode is now amplified by a tool that was originally dedicated to a more accurate and efficient management.

Assuming we are operating at finite operational capacity, in responsive management mode, the informed decision process is greatly affected if not inexistent. For example, we no longer ponder on which request requires priority treatment when facing two requests of equivalent priority.

As odd as it may seem, by wanting to do everything immediately, a work team can reduce its effectiveness simply because it does not do the right things at the right time.

  1. Upon satisfying the demand, in order to respond adequately, the doer must make sure to document his actions with clarity and precision, since he represents the last link in the process and, even more so if he must return the summary of his intervention to the trigger.

The doer is, therefore, faced with the same responsibility as the trigger to produce clear and precise documentation.

Note that clarity and precision of the documentation, from both the trigger and the doer, is a safe investment to prepare the future leverage of your CRM-XRM tool. If you wish, this documentation can become the cornerstone of a potential corporate knowledge bank. The latter can then constitute the basis for the business rules supporting the automation process.


It is quite interesting to ascertain that the collaborative management software field once again highlights rules such as that a technological tool cannot correct a bad management process, a wrong way of doing things. As such, a CRM is a tool, not a solution.

Moreover, due to the usually larger number of users, collaborative software further amplify management shortcomings more than any other type of software. The more effective the tool you will choose will be, the quicker you will get the feedback of your operational deficiencies.

My recommendations made in this post are, in their essence, of course focused on field work. Unfortunately, it is often at the level of common basic principles that we find the most frequent errors and, therefore, there that CRM-XRM projects are jeopardized even before they took their momentum.

Once these basic principles are mastered, you will effortlessly move on to the subsequent stages, such as BI (Business Intelligence), to extract additional leverage from your CRM platform and progress towards an XRM platform.

Good management.

The real challenges of the digitization of patient files

13 08 2014

Waiting times that sometimes seem unreasonable, a shortage of family doctors, yet, millions of dollars have been invested to explore the latest technological advances. For many, it’s not clear what happened to our tax dollars in the absence of clear and conclusive results.

This is the situation with the Quebec Health Record project, for which management control seems to have been completely lost.

In short, the question becomes pertinent: where is the problem with digitization in the health sector.

Technology, technology, and more technology!

With all the current technological potential, the interconnection protocol known as HL7, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), cloud computing (Cloud), virtualization and so on.  How is it that we still feel like we’re running in place?

Our technology tool box is currently full enough to convince experts in the field that salvation will be found by establishing a common technology platform that respects all the necessary criteria in regards to the confidentiality of personal information.

I must admit that I am among those who believe that we already have the technological tools to achieve this infamous digital patient record. With costs and delays much more reasonable than those made public to date.

Therefore, my conclusion is that, if the problem was mainly at a technological level, then we would probably have already solved it.

The extent of the health network and the diversity in current technologies in place, probably explain a part of the technological challenge.

Reality always catches up with us

For those of you who know me, I rarely see the source of everlasting life in technology, the operational cure-all for complex productivity improvement challenges. Therefore, I will take you elsewhere, to the place where the real challenges to the digitization of the health system lie.

I propose a simple consideration based on my experience of the health sector and the digitization of clinical care.

What degree of operational freedom does a health professional have to manage their clinic?

At the risk of surprising you, practically none, and if not none, then very little.  Why?

Simply because when a doctor, dentist, podiatrist, regardless of the specialist, when a health professional stops treating patients, it also stops the income for the clinic or the service for the patient.

I’m sure you know many chief executives who would announce cheerfully one morning “Come on, we’ll stop making money today and to serve people, don’t sell anything else!”.

Oops… I used the word “sell” in an article about health… I put my foot in my mouth!

More seriously, beyond the taboo that we do not sell anything in healthcare, but rather we offer services to patients in need. Simply, ask any professional if they willing to take voluntarily pay cuts and the answer will clear.

My first business observation :

If a health professional cannot stop treating patients in order to manage, how can they efficiently manage the digitization of their clinical operations.

Since digitizing the management, requires a lot of energy to mobilize the troops.

Another reflection on the business environment of a health professional:

Have you every thought that a health professional may have studied to practice, and I stress the word ‘practice’, a medical discipline that they enjoy.

For a majority of the companies that make up the fabric of our economy, it is customary for those who manage human resources, accounting and finance, technology and general administration, are people who have studied in these respective fields and who have deliberately chosen these areas. People who love what they do and want to work in these areas.

The health professional has not studied, nor have they oriented their skills to administrate, manage human resources, do accounting and any other administrative task connection to the management of a clinic.  They studied to be able to do what they love, to treat patients in their medical discipline.

My second business observation:

The health professional doesn’t particularly enjoy the management aspects of clinical care, including the digitization of its operations. It’s a subject that they try to avoid as much as possible, and that they usually delegate to the administrative personnel, who on the other hand, does not have the authority to make final decisions. The professional remains, despite themselves, the boss.

And so, the picture is painted, it seems fairly clear that:

1. Under financial constraints (or if you prefer by interest for public health), we cannot ask a health professional to have the natural reflex to want to invest himself in a strategic digitization project.

2. Under consideration for personal taste, we cannot ask a health professional to have the natural reflex to want to invest himself in a strategic digitization project.

As they say: “A leopard can’t change it’s spots!”

So obviously, it becomes very complex to successfully complete a digitization project as large as the QHR.

OK, that’s great, but where do we go from here?

There you have it: the big picture, but what can we actually do?

Based on the conclusions above, here are some recommendations:

1. Extreme cuts to the steps at the project planning level

If this seems simplistic for a PMP Certification holder, well, tell yourself that you maybe don’t understand the deeper meaning of my suggestion.

I’m not talking about regular logical cuts in the context of a project in the engineering planning stage. I used the word “extreme” for a very good reason. I’m talking about project cuts that will seem ridiculous for any PMP, but that will allow for systematic progress, in small increments such as to ensure the eventual arrival at the destination.

In other words, given the naturally low availability (operational and psychological) of the health professional who is the key player in the process, we must develop a project management model that is completely different from conventional models used in other sectors.

It is the intrinsic nature of the health sector that requires this process.

The best way to naturally engage a health professional in a digitization process of this magnitude, is to ensure  that they will be bothered the least amount possible by the process, hence the need to proceed with small steps and incremental changes.

My approach is consistent with the core of Agile development methods with a hint of the Phase-gate model to ensure that everyone is always on the same page at key points.

Each step (activity, deliverable, etc.) should ideally result in useful and functional progress for the health professional, even if it doesn’t give complete satisfaction. This is where I make the link to my next recommendation.

2. Respect the guidelines, but not the ultimatums of the clinic environment

Obviously, the final system must meet the needs of the health professionals, but you must resist the many ultimatums that will be given during the digitization process.

Time and again, you will have comments such as “If it doesn’t do this, this and this, it’s useless to implement this technology at our clinic” or “This system is completely useless it if doesn’t at least do this”.  Be warned and informed from the start.

My comment is all the more relevant, since I just recommended that you proceed by incremental steps. Therefore, in principle, few of these steps will deliver functionalities that are actually complete in the eyes of the professional, especially in the beginning of the project.

To return to my base conclusions, a health professional generally doesn’t have the time to manage, the computer skills, the project management skills, and moreover, isn’t really interested by these subjects.

How can you expect that they can have a global and honed vision of the context, the challenges, and the best strategy to reach the goal?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that a health professional is not capable of understanding what is going on. I am simply pointing out that they have, by nature, other fields of interest that come from their choices and career path.

They need you, as an experienced technology project manager, to achieve their ideal vision of the computerized management of a comprehensive digital patient record.

It is therefore necessary to collect their input, but always with the objective to validate the direction of the project, rather than to organize the steps, and/or to define the technology for the project.

I insist on this recommendation, because all too often I have seen technology and project management specialists surrender to the client, by having the client’s way of doing things radically imposed on them.

You must stay the course against wind and tide, constantly making sure that all the professionals involved in the project committee stay motivated, by seeing the planned progress being made.

3. Manage the infamous resistance to change

Much has been written and will continue to be written about this subject.  In your implementation strategy, do not overlook, at any time, the resistance to operational changes phenomenon.

The phenomenon often has a negative connotation, as if the targeted stakeholder, the system user, was stubborn and closed minded. Which is not the case in a majority of situations.

We must understand that any technological change which result in changes in the usual way of doing things, requires an adaptation and transition period that is long enough to unravel any psychological knots and not to create mental blocks.

Resistance to change is an especially important parameter in the health sector, because each professional is convinced that every clinic which works in the same speciality as theirs, operates automatically, in the same manner.

Which, unfortunately, is false, although similarities in the fundamental concepts are of course present. For example, a majority of clinics manage a patient file that usually contains a medical history form.

Oftentimes, health professionals can be viewed as self-employed.  In this spirit, they each develop personal work methods.

Consequentially, as a project manager, you will experience a lot of diversity in the occurrences of change resistance, since each person will be convinced that they have THE best work method.


In summary, as long as the digitization of patient records project consists of a global approach with an operational scope that is too large, it will be, in my opinion, impossible to see the actual implementation.

The project cannot be completed except in underground mode, with basic incremental steps, by establishing functional cells which are not necessarily interconnected in the beginning, to eventually be amassed into a final global system.

But now, the project becomes much less interesting on a political level. But that’s a whole other topic.

Happy management!

Is your customer better informed than you?

4 11 2013

The advent of the Internet has revolutionized the way we view and deal with promoting the goods we sell. Today, you are no doubt more visible than you’ve ever been before and make a point of constantly investing to optimize your online position. Sales are what counts and your Internet portal is a strategic tool.

The obvious problem, however, is that you are not the only one with a good idea.  And sorry to burst your bubble for anyone who thought they could boost sales tomorrow morning by posting a new website. This is something Internet companies have known for years. I know, I know… but, you’re the best in the business.

The Internet, unfortunately, cannot protect us from competition. In fact, competition can become surreal in the virtual world when you factor in the disinformation element, a potential by-product of the democratization of information.

The insidious “new thing”

What businesses with a strong online presence may not have contemplated is the fact that due to easy access to information, potential or current customers now probably know more about their products and business reputation than they do themselves.

Thanks to the Internet, a customer has access, which is entirely out of your control, to volumes of information that are even by today’s standards unfathomable. Imagine what it will be like in five years time! Think about it… emails, blogs, discussion forums, social networks (twitter, facebook, and others), etc.

In some cases a customer who is using a social network and who has just been politely informed by your advisor that he will have to wait six weeks before a parcel can be delivered, may decide to let the community know just what he thinks of your service, even if in your opinion the reasons for the delivery time are entirely justified.

One has to understand that human frustration can ignite a firestorm in an instant. In the marketing world of tomorrow, ignoring immediate interconnectivity will be the equivalent of juggling with dynamite, smiling all the while and feigning ignorance “not to worry, everything is fine, no trouble here”.

What’s that? You’re suddenly feeling uneasy? It’s something I can relate to since I experience a small twinge every morning when I start my day. Take comfort in knowing that this uneasiness is healthy from a management perspective. Over time, in fact, this is a natural reflex you should develop if you hope to successfully make headway in the online marketing world.

You know who you are…. So you think?

You may have an unequalled online presence, you may represent the ultimate expression of Internet e-commerce positioning, but you should immediately focus on the marketing fundamentals: What does my customer think about me and my products? Because if you have maximized your visibility, it can impact your success as such as an information fiasco.

On this matter, based on the advances of a marketing theory that attempts to adapt to a fast growing business environment, in my opinion it is obvious that in today’s world Market Share is no longer a reliable indicator of the strength of your strategic positioning, but of the Mind Share, which I would interpret as a share of the intention (to purchase), which actually determines the soundness and effectiveness of your market position.

More specifically, this model of thought leads to the following conclusions: Even if you are a market leader with the largest number of customers, if most customers would have purchased a competitor’s product if they could buy the product again, you are then clearly in a tunnel of negative medium to long-term growth or you will certainly find yourself in a weakened business position.

Unless you hold a monopoly, you can think what you want about yourself, but if your customer has another opinion, he or she has the final word, since the customer speaks the commercial truth where you are concerned. Remember that in marketing “Perception is reality”.

Relating to a new generation customer

Now then, let’s put everything into perspective. Customers can find information online at anytime about the type of product you are selling. Customers can take all the time they want to gather information or disinformation, ask questions on forums and social networks. They can even create information about your company and products. When they contact you, trust me, this version of “educated” customer has specific expectations and they are unwavering.

In the online era, the skewness of knowledge, historically in favour of the seller, is gradually tipping in the other direction to a more balanced position or, my opinion when it comes to the future, to the point where knowledge is skewed in favour of the buyer. This is a new important business challenge where the Internet is a powerful information tool for consumers.

In the field, there will consequently be more situations where your sales representative may not be as well informed as a customer. He will find himself in a situation where he is unable to adequately answer a customer’s questions, in other words… from the information angle your customer would like to hear. Namely a summary of the information he has put together following online research.

The result, your representative may often find himself in a strained customer relations position: loss of control of a conversation, waning credibility during a discussion and deterioration of a relationship of confidence with a customer. Where a secure relationship does not exist, there is little chance of a sale. Customers who are in doubt will no longer buy blindly unless they get a strong third-party endorsement, which, by the way, is an old marketing principle that could gain strength with social networks.

The important subtlety in this new business situation with your customers is that a customer who searches for information on your business and products, will be doing it increasingly as a means of validating his knowledge and hence the knowledge of your representative. A customer will be contacting you less simply to get information about your products and the terminology used in your specialty field. This therefore places us in an entirely new and unusual relational approach to sales.

Adapting to new game rules

A number of strategies can be implemented to minimize a loss of control and maximize your ability to deal with this new generation of customer. I have listed a few, and you will note that some suggestions are solutions that have been tried and true business practices for some time now. All you need to do is understand that you have to use them more often:

  • A systematic analysis of the most common issues discussed by target customers on credible discussion forums in your field of activity. This means using the Internet to your advantage. You have to become a psychologist and understand the thinking model or modus operandi of your target customer. This is known as profiling a typical customer. This approach can be analogous to a market watch. The minimum aim of this approach is to appear credible by supplying answers to at least 90% of the most frequently asked questions. The main goal is to better understand types of behaviour to, among other things, instantly determine if a customer is engaged in a validation or information gathering process with you.
  • Training, training, training. The ongoing training of your sales team will never be as important and strategic. Think mainly about incorporating the relational aspect, based on profiling of a typical customer, into training meetings since technique has very likely already been properly covered.
  • Highlight and maximize your CRM tool to structure and reconcile key information about customers and products as a means of support, if possible automate some aspects of the sales relationship. For example, setting up an information base can become an effective support tool to compensate for a lack in technical information, in the case of a junior representative. It will also generate a sense of organization and structure with a potential customer if a representative cannot provide an immediate answer.

In short, as always an exciting business future awaits us in the era of e-commerce. Emotional marketing, the marketing of experience are at the heart of marketing development now more than ever as it grows more comprehensive and subtle. Listening to a customer with humility is a must. Gone are the days of the traditional jiggery-pokery and ready to serve sale.

Here’s to continued management success!

Managing Change and Technology Integration

21 05 2013

Managing change is crucial to the success of any technology project. Given that businesses are constantly evolving by adapting to new corporate visions and strategies, the need to become efficient agents of change and specialists in swift adaptation is extremely important.

Simply put, organizational change is any modification to an established workplace environment with which employees are familiar. When change does occur, whether planned or not, it will affect the “comfort zone” of our employees.

Failing to acknowledge the psychological impact change can have within an organization significantly increases the risk of failure when implementing new work methods or impairs the ability to learn new technologies. This is why it is a hot topic in today’s media and the reason many universities offer specialized courses on the subject.

What is of interest to me in particular in this post, however, is change in a context of incorporating technology. In other words, the aspects related more specifically to the approach to change management when a new technological tool is being introduced.

I touched on the point above of how change management is primarily managing the psychological aspect of the individual who is impacted or who is the target of change. The project manager therefore operates a little like a surgeon unblocking an artery, where necessary, to enable change to flow throughout the organization and gradually become part of operations.

The main difference is that while you are asleep on the operating table, the surgeon has the option to perform what is within his power to correct and improve your health, whereas if you’re fully awake, you can offer some resistance to his actions. In the same vein, refer to  “Resistance_to_change”.

This resistance is generally attributable to fear of the unknown, a fear that itself is usually caused by an employee experiencing a loss of sense of direction and who feels disconnected from his role, recognition and usefulness within the organization.

Since no one wants to feel useless and incompetent, the reactions of an employee can extend from innocent curious questions to unpredictable actions or emotional outbursts. In short, always bear in mind that any reaction, regardless of degree or type, is human and expected in a situation of change.

The solution for any proactive manager is to immediately find an anchor point, a reference point for the employee who is experiencing organizational uncertainty. More specifically, if work methods have changed due to the introduction of new technology, focusing the employee’s attention on the positive aspects of the targeted technology is important. Centre your action on issues that will enable the employee to bolster his contribution to the business because it is this loss of self worth that is the source of uncertainty and subsequently, resistance to changing the work environment.

Take, for example, the introduction of a new technology to improve the process of manufacturing an existing product. Here are some tips for a psychological approach that have proven helpful in the workplace:

  1. Underscore the fact that the result, the final goal, remains unchanged except for the fact that the delivery period, product quality or amount will improve. The product, the goal, here helps to serve as a familiar reference point.
  2. Draw the employee’s attention to the fact that it is thanks to the ability to learn a new technology that he will improve the work environment and that the business will perform better. Encouragement to make an effort to “try” conveys, in the employee’s opinion, a sense of recognition and value within the business. He may also equate improved business performance with the “long-term survival of his job” and “a more enjoyable environment “. Two winning benefits for him. Motivating him to try is a reminder that you value him as an individual and this positive message relieves anxiety about his role and skills, which naturally reduces resistance.
  3. It is important to bear in mind that motivation alone will not ensure that an employee will necessarily embrace new technology or work methods, in other words, make sure the employee translates thoughts and good intentions into action. This is crucial to ensure change actually does take place.

To reduce resistance and speed up the introduction of change, make sure the employee rallies around the project, in other words, that he makes it his own. To help this mindset to take hold, create a work environment where the employee can become acquainted with the technological tool and related technical characteristics.

It is therefore crucial that you plan ahead and provide the employee affected with a flexible schedule and a skills development program (specialized training) that allows him to adopt the new technology and “master” the new tool.

Once you achieve this goal, you will realize that not only has the employee recovered all of his confidence, i.e. a sense of proficiency and contribution to the organization, but he will become a valued ally for training and winning over other members of your team.

Although many businesses are aware of the challenges that come with managing change, few unfortunately approach it effectively when it comes to major projects within their organization. Always be on your guard if you hope to maximize the return on your time and investment.

I urge you to read the following post “Change Management” for additional information and, if you have time, take the time to read the bestseller entitled “Leading Change – 8-step process for implementing successful transformations” by John Kotter.

IT Potential: An Adaptive or Rigid Approach to Management?

7 01 2013

That is the question. Should you favour a management approach based on the flexibility of adapting to a series of different business situations or should you choose an approach centred on optimizing stable and predefined strategic processes?

My blog “The Illusion of Performance” examined the perceptual angle of performance. Shedding light on current management principles that can easily break down when the fundamental shifts that are actually contributing to a business’s success are revealed.

I will now take you into the perspective of performance, performance as the result of a mechanical approach to management. Methodological performance, which is a part of, but does not necessarily result in gradually establishing business success.

A debate was launched in 2003 by Nicholas Carr, editor of the eminent Havard Business Review with the article “IT Doesn’t Matter”. It should be noted that Mr. Carr based this article on an in-depth analysis in his book entitled “Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage”.

My interest here is not to demonstrate or question the rationale of the actual leverage ITs have as tools for corporate growth and development. In fact, I’m not in any position, I must admit.

I do nonetheless find the idea of asking the question “Does IT Matter?” very intriguing and would like to bring this question into the scope of business situations that favour the emergence of performance through ITs

From this angle, the potential growth incentive, or added leverage potential I should say, can be assessed on the basis of three analysis profiles:

. The degree of focus on a culture of innovation
. The degree to which ITs are incorporated into business processes
. The degree to which business processes have been integrated

These three profiles form an analysis cube that I will call the “IT Potential Cube”. If one were to imagine, an assessment of each profile on a scale of 1 to 10, it becomes clear that depending on the company, the cube can take on a range of shapes and sizes… this is what is known as “hexahedra”, to use the correct term.

One can also reason that certain cube shapes are more likely to lead to optimum performance, whereas other shapes should be totally avoided.

What is of interest, in light of the opinions consulted, is that it is plausible to assume that a cube that is optimum for a given business is not necessarily optimum for another. Let’s explore a little why by reviewing the key broad principles behind each profile:

Degree of Innovation

The greater the culture of innovation within a business, the greater the potential for ITs to generate performance and sustain growth.

Constant creativity that involves finding an approach to optimize use of a given technology as it applies to a given business process, automatically increases the potential leverage of a technological tool.

Although simple, this awareness is rarely present in projects to introduce technologies. A tool’s most standard features are often implemented without necessarily looking for the “added benefits” that could produce a significant positive difference.

Degree of Fusion

The greater ITs are integrated, closely merged with business processes, the more likely they are to improve productivity and bolster business performance.

Any technological change, however, is also likely to cause a slow down and result in lost productivity because it does disrupt processes.

Degree to which Processes are Integrated

The degree to which processes are integrated should be adjusted according to a company’s type of activities, more specifically its ability for enlightened strategic adaptation to optimize its business development within the market.

The more processes are automated, based on an assembly-line concept, which is a strategic cost-reduction goal, the more integrating processes is a good option.

The more flexibility and adaptability become the cornerstone of remaining competitive, the more difficult it is to improve gains in productivity once processes have been globally integrated.

The optimum degree of process integration therefore has a lot to do with best business practices within a given industry and the management constraints that come with a company’s decision to position a product.

It is also important to note that the final best strategy to be implemented may differ depending if you are acting on a “micro-operational” level, such as production, or “macro-operational level”, in other words a broader vision of all company processes. A similar type of vision could therefore apply on an operating centre basis.

In conclusion, although a firm commitment to innovation is fertile ground for optimizing ITs within your company, it is extremely important to constantly review best operating methods, namely those within your industry, but more importantly the approaches that contributed to your current longevity.

Then, together with a comprehensive knowledge of the dynamics between your operating centres, all you have to do is determine to what degree your company needs to adapt and the variability of the operations of your key processes, to find out which basic elements go into drafting a tailored and optimal IT strategy.

The Illusion of Performance

18 10 2012

What if I were to tell you that I’ve found the formula? The precise method of leading your business to success by tempting you with a few simple but surprising basics?

Chances are you would stay tuned to find out more, since who could resist an opportunity to enable your business to tower above the rest? Understandably, who would not embrace such an ideal?

But is there truly such a formula? This is a question that Dr. Phil Rosenzweig examined in his book entitled “The Halo Effect”.

Following on the heels of “In Search of Excellence”, “Good to Great” and other “bestsellers” on the same theme, I was expecting a host of strategic formulas one could use to achieve the ultimate goal: business success.

I devoured this book once I became aware that the author approached the subject from a completely different angle, unlike other books on the same theme.

I recommend this book to any executive intent on bolstering performance, but who does not believe in made-to-order or quick fixes or any formulas at all for that matter. Everyone will draw their own conclusions after reading it.

Based on this book, I would like to share my opinion on the subject of performance and possible biases when examining business success. I would like to offer a brief reflection on three themes:

. Operational inertia and the lull between action and results
. Determinism and chance
. Performance as a competition between businesses as a whole

Operational Inertia

Let’s begin with the popular equation of “Quality CEO = Successful Business”. To get you thinking, let’s now reverse the equation with “Successful Business = Quality CEO”. This is already a hint of what could lead to a distorted analysis and business perception.

On the basis of this type of affirmation, a successful business must automatically be headed by a high quality leader or management team. An immediate association of “Success=Exceptional Management”, however, is in my opinion, a simple and seductive explanation of a business finding that is centred on hindsight, once the facts have been established.

I am not convinced for example that a CEO, regardless of reputation, can remedy major management damage, any more than a lacklustre CEO can contribute to the sharp decline of a thriving business over a short period of say one year for example. Obviously, it all depends on the company’s size and the management environment when the new CEO took over.

Take for example a reverse scenario: the arrival of a new CEO, who took over less than one year ago, suddenly coupled with remarkable business success, and who is credited with, over this short period, propelling the company to the pinnacle of success in its sector.

What is often overlooked, however, is that the new CEO replaces a former CEO, who over the previous five years implemented strategic market changes and a major restructuring of operations, to the point where his popularity fell below a threshold where the only logical solution was to fire him.

Who should be credited with the business’ meteoric rise? The new or former CEO? Good question, is it not?

These examples clearly convey the first principle to bear in mind when zeroing in on certain business rules or strategies that led to a company’s success: the actual business environment and situation in the sector when a transition took place and the arrival of new management must be put into perspective.

One must always assume that a business result is the product of a series of structured actions that preceded it, a sequence of actions that is not necessarily the result of decisions that were made by the executives who were at the helm when the success came to light.

If there were no structured actions beforehand, then this is a fortunate, or disastrous, turn of events. Another interesting perspective.

Consequently, be it large or small, there is always a lull between the introduction of a strategy, carrying out a plan of action under the strategy and a measurable result.

A success analysis must factor in this lull to draw conclusions based on the true roots of success, before you can introduce the same courses of action in your own business.

Determinism and Chance

Another component to examine: a constantly shifting business environment that requires company management to constantly monitor changes.

A fast changing business environment usually places a manager in an open frame of mind “everything that was true yesterday may no longer apply today” or, “the past is no guarantee of the future”.

This is where the notion of strategic vision naturally springs forth and its importance another key component: a window on the market or a window of opportunity.

Obviously, the further ahead an executive has to look forward to a clear future, the easier it is to recognize well-established trends in the sector and the better a strategic plan of action can be synchronized to maximize success, in theory.

If a plan of action is implemented over a long period of time, however, in an environment of continuous market shifts, the window of opportunity also shifts quickly, or could disappear all together, with the result that the likelihood a strategic plan will succeed can vary enormously over time.

It was not by “chance”, that I mentioned “chance” in the section above. Because in the case of some business successes, chance may play a major role and the notion of probability of a successful plan of action becomes the only plausible means of actually detecting or accounting for a business’ success.

From a probability perspective, it is then difficult to suggest there is a formula for success. The term “formula” is commonly viewed as a structured series of resources and methods.

At the most, one can suggest a supervised opportunism and, from there, attribute success more to business attitudes or behaviour that promote success. In other words, introducing a corporate mindset that helps develop conditions that maximize a company’s opportunistic behaviour.

The key to success is no longer only the quality of a strategic vision that enables perfect “timing”, but more importantly a way of thinking. And this comes back to a corporate culture.

Obviously, my point is not to deny the importance of strategic vision, in fact quite the opposite. I am only challenging the concept of “formula” viewed as an absolute value that goes on to become, in my opinion, an unpredictable concept for a manager.

The second principle when analyzing a business success is to find a few things you can use within your own company: the culture, container, corporate framework in which a formula was implemented may be entirely different from your own, so the same formula will not produce the same results. An identical formula may even cause your situation to deteriorate, rather than improve it.

Take for example, two successful companies operating in the same sector. One where the product culture is extreme refinement of its characteristics before marketing it and the other where the culture is “penetrate the market with basic features, and we’ll complete the rest later on”.

If these two companies can generate enormous success and take turns being first in their sector, there is little likelihood that they could swap their respective corporate strategies and each generate the same type of success.

A Machine Combat

A third aspect, let’s start with the fact that the business environment in which a company develops is populated by a huge number of competitors. Business success is measured on the basis of a company’s ability to outperform and provide better offerings than its industry competitors.

It is in this simple context that one can truly speak of business performance, namely business performance rooted in a relative view of a company’s market position compared to competitors. We are speaking of, more specifically is performance of an entity as a whole.

A hindsight analysis of business success is often placed in the hands of specialists in specific fields (marketing, engineering, etc.). At this level, serious biases can interfere when you cross a vertical analytical approach with a business result that is linked to overall organizational performance.

The Cartesian approach all too often requires us to examine a company’s success from a specific, segregated and isolated angle to decipher the management mechanics that are part of the actual context in which they contributed to the success of the business.

A business is a multidimensional organization (R&D, marketing, financing, etc.) and it is in the form of an organization as a whole that a successful business truly manages to beat its industry competition.

On the business playing field, everything comes down to a machine combat, a whole, whose optimal design of organizational components becomes the key to achieving success.

Third principle: When analyzing formulas that led to a company’s success, individual organizational components cannot be isolated and methods extracted from it without completely overlooking the actual dynamics that generated success.

This type of approach could lead to implementing a method that might be negative in your context, because the other aspects of your organization may not be at the same developmental phase as those of the company you are analyzing.

The organizational development phase is another fundamental concept that is required before a strategy that worked in another company can be put into perspective and its application and potential to improve your company can be assessed.

Lastly, in the commercial arena a business competes as a “Whole” organization. It is this organizational “Whole” (culture, technology, strategic vision, methods, ability to adapt, etc.) that a skilled executive must always maximize to accentuate and improve a business’ speed of development.

I like using the analogy of a car rally to illustrate how businesses move at different speeds.

Which car poses the biggest threat from your position as a driver if you are travelling at a speed of 120 km/h?

The vehicle one kilometre ahead of you travelling at 100 km/h or the vehicle one kilometre behind you travelling at 150 km/h?

Obviously, you will eventually overtake the car ahead of you, but by then you will also have been overtaken by the vehicle behind you.

Constantly improving an organization’s speed therefore becomes a prerogative to performing well and implementing the conditions favourable to success.

It should be noted that at some point during the race, the car ahead of you was a symbol of success and performance.

Which just goes to show that performance can sometimes be an illusion!

The Human at the Heart of an IT Project

30 08 2012

An article in “Direction informatique” magazine entitled “Implanter les TI avec succès: tenir compte du facteur humain” (Successful IT Implementation: Factor in the Human Element) exposed the human challenges that come with an IT project.

Given the constant exuberance that is part of IT advancements, an exuberance centred primarily on novelty and technological progress, the article was an important reminder, a warning that an IT manager must never lose sight if he hopes to reach his destination…arriving at the right port and on time.

I would therefore like to add my field experience to that of the writers of the article to confirm that the human element is indeed a key component that must be factored in from the outset before you embark on any IT project to increase its chances of success.

A number of other questions immediately come to mind, “Can you determine the impact of the human component beforehand?” “How do you control it and minimize its impact?”

Although the issue may sound a little stale, the appalling statistics that litter IT projects are a reminder that it is any but. Recent statistics, including the Standish Group “CHAOS″ study show that we are still in a situation that, for lack of a better word, is frankly discouraging.

By determining the general characteristics of a successful project in the following manner:

. A final system that meets functional needs and are defined during the initial planning phase;
. A project that is completed within a specific timeframe;
. A project that is completed on budget.

Their 2009 study revealed that only one-third (33%) of projects were deemed successful in 2009. Worse yet, cost overruns on problem projects are regularly 100% to 200%! The very thought that public funds, your tax dollars, are being pumped into major IT projects in this manner no doubt makes your skin crawl.

I suggest reading Frederic Casagrande’s blog entitled “Lost in Chaos” to view a chart of the study’s findings. A second chart reveals that findings have been dismally consistent since 1994.

Statistics and more statistics, but where does the human element enter the equation? Do you simply focus on the first characteristic indicated above “an end system that meets functional needs” and expect the first connection to hit you over the head?

How can a computer system not meet the functional needs of the end users for whom an IT project has been specifically implemented and where their needs have been identified and defined? This is simply illogical.

While not downplaying or maligning the importance of efficient project management methods, as the PMI recommends, I believe that by asking the question here we should answer it: end users are simply not consistently included in the IT project management and development process enough. But then again, hope springs eternal…

This is where we come to one of the critical elements cited in the Direction Informatique article: management commitment.

Again, you might ask, where is the problem? Do the companies that go on to invest in a promising IT project do so because they firmly believe it offers a crucial edge in their development strategy?… Well I for one do not believe this is the case, or if they do, they do not always do so with a commitment that is felt, supported and expressed daily to end users.

The fundamental problem is that, even today, the executives of far too many organizations regard investing in an IT project as little more than purchasing computer equipment. Sorry to burst your bubble, if that is the case, but approaching an IT project on the basis of investing in technological infrastructure is tantamount to buying a hammer and expecting it to come with a house.

But getting back to an active management commitment, it is important to examine new system development approaches that are considered “flexible methods” that target, among other things, involving the end user in the development process to guarantee a better quality product that is in keeping with their initial expectations. What is good, very good, since I obviously must endorse the position I am defending.

A few obstacles get in the way, however, if we look beyond the principle of working closely together, which bolsters the argument in favour of management making a proactive and firm commitment to an IT project. Including:

  • What happens if the end users are not interested in sharing their demands or, if, which is more common, it is always the same users who respond and impose their opinions?
  • Should we allow new project directions to emerge due to the continuous stream of requests for adjustments and improvements from end users, only to find ourselves with functional features that are not essential to the strategic plan?

Freedom of expression in broader interactive settings can indeed result in a loss of control. Therefore, a flexible management project that is not established on the basis of specific strategic directions and corporate actions is liable to result in a computer system that “yes” does meet the needs of end users, but not necessarily within the scheduled timeframe, on budget or entirely in keeping with the company’s initial strategic goals.

In conclusion, human communication is a variable that is more sensitive than any technology that is part of an IT project. I therefore urge all senior executives who are preparing a company IT project to approach the planning phase of their IT project with a management focus and effort on the human component. As a rule of thumb for the time being, I suggest doubling the effort that you might first think is initially enough. I will address methodological specifications and suggestions at a later date to maximize the chances of your IT projects succeeding.

I would like to share the exhilaration I experience, even today, when it comes to tackling the complex challenges that come with implementing business management IT projects. The type of project that blends high technologies, operations management and humans, three diametrically opposed speciality fields.

These three mismatched components may be contributing factors to the historically poor success rate within the field to date.

Here’s to management success!

Social Networks: Competitive Advantage or Management Boondoggle

24 01 2012

This is obviously a current topic that may require a definition before going any further. I have therefore based the definition of “Social Network Service” on that provided by Wikipedia, which is in my opinion correct and well documented.

This definition highlights two facts of particular interest. The first, the term “Social Network” was coined in 1954 by John A. Barnes. The second, the theory behind the analysis of social networks is based on, among other things, scientific publications dating as far back as 1741.

So, is this new realm of activity an emerging phenomenon?

Like many things that at first glance may appear to be entirely new and innovative, a novel craze is often simply the result of an enhancement that is attributable to the emergence of one tool that supports, automates and nurtures a system that has existed for a very long time.

It is the age-old developmental “Tool – Knowledge” waltz of human beings that leads to embracing “new” ways of doing things and casting aside others. It is a process of natural selection of knowledge from which our methods emerge and become sweeping. The strong triumphing over the weak.

Exactly how does one way of doing something suddenly grow to dominate? When it goes on to become more useful than another, obviously, but since the concept of usefulness is subjective and depends on a need for fulfillment, and how easy it is to use (the tool) to fulfil a need, we now have a better understanding of assessing the true role of social networking in managing a business.

Is social networking truly a competitive advantage to one’s business? In my opinion, absolutely. Subject, however, to certain “deeply-rooted” terms and conditions.

Social networks are therefore nothing new, except that they are now easier to create, recognize and use thanks to the Internet, the ultimate tool of today’s man! At least until the next new innovative tool comes along.

In by-gone eras, for individuals from a younger demographic, did simply having more business cards than your colleague mean that you would sell more? Probably not.

I can hear jeers from the younger crowd: “Listen Dan, you clearly understand absolutely nothing about social networks. It’s the quality of your circle of contacts that counts, not the quantity”.

An argument I have to agree with. Before the concept of “Six degrees of separation” can serve a true purpose and be considered an advantage, you must have a quality circle of contacts. Quantity can, however, serve as a remarkable natural catalyst, which is the subject of whole other article.

Here is my fly in the ointment, however, and suggestion for the need to tweak it further.

Firstly, the assumption of “quality” in this instance depends not only on the credibility of your contact as it relates to your goal, but more importantly to the quality of your human connection with this person based on the mutual trust of your relationship. Is this individual prepared to aggressively support you in a strategic situation?

Otherwise, knowing a whole lot of people who are very nice may make you someone of interest, but not necessarily remarkable or distinctive. In business, getting stuck in the nice phase can mean getting trapped in the “first degree”. If this is where you’re at, an online social network is not what you need. An email or phone call will do just as well.

Secondly, given the growing mergers and current explosion of contact networks, you can be certain that launching an online social network means continuously controlling its setup and activity, if you want to constantly keep virtual relationships flourishing.

If you can manage to incorporate a new activity into your daily work routine, the business advantage of social networking can be surprisingly effective and significantly boost sales by providing a tool to automate and accelerate a pre-existing, sound and efficient approach to networking. Not to mention the crucial marketing advantage that comes with higher visibility if your target customers regularly surf the Web.

In my opinion, here is where the point of my previous article “Don’t Confuse a Tool with a Solution” comes in, since we need to hone our critical awareness of the potential contribution this technological advantage can bring to staving off disappointment.

If the amount of effort that is required appears to be too much to fit into your current schedule, my suggestion would be to avoid it all together or proceed slowly.

If you plunge headlong into virtual networks, without precaution, you may eventually be wondering why someone is suddenly sharing with you that he is currently on highway 20 on his way to Montreal, that he went to see a U2 show last night, that he thinks Carbonneau should return to coach the Montreal Canadiens or that he is thinking about redecorating his bathroom?

In which case, unless you are an anthropologist, not a manager, your new virtual friends will be consuming massive amounts of your precious time, time that would otherwise be better spent on your business.

Technologies: Don’t Confuse “Tool” and “Solution”

5 12 2011

Through my years of experience, I have come to notice that company managers who come up against business problems often confuse a management tool with a solution.

While not to negate the role a technological tool plays in solving a management problem, there is nonetheless a need to acknowledge certain basic principles to avoid exacerbating a problem rather than solving it.

The simplest analogy is based on my own personal experience. I have limited talent as a handyman, we can’t all be good at everything, so when I was once given a high-performance miter saw as a gift, I was told how great an improvement this would be.

Between using a handsaw to cut through a plank and using my new miter saw, there was a difference in operating efficiency that even the word “enormous” does not come close to describing.

But the problem is, if at the outset I begin by taking the wrong measurement, the result, namely cutting the board the wrong length, will obviously be unsatisfactory in either case, regardless of which tool I use.

In this simplified example, one thing becomes clear, as difficult as it may be on the ego, but very real nonetheless: It is important first to “know how”, i.e. have the skills necessary, to correctly analyze a business situation and a goal you have set out to achieve, before making the decision to optimize a process using a new technological tool. Otherwise, you risk losing control.

Did you also notice in my example that in addition to cutting the board the wrong length, which rendered it useless, I was able to produce the same effect… only faster?

My point here is that if your business process has shortcomings, even before introducing an optimization tool, you will only find out how bad an operator or manager you are sooner. Because over the same period, you will be generating a lot more poor results than you did before! Fortunately, most of us learn from our mistakes and can adjust quickly.

A second more subtle and perverse operational finding: A sophisticated high-performance tool is likely to magnify a procedure’s operational shortcomings, to the point where you will feel that it is creating more problems than it is actually solving.

So, at the risk of incurring the wrath of die-hard technofreaks, before you throw yourself into the latest new cutting-edge technology, that revolutionizes all manners of thinking and operating and that will propel you to the top, my suggestion would be to carefully review which operations and business processes will be affected with the introduction of the technology and ensure that they are, if not optimal, supported by at least some references showing that they are effective. And don’t forget the human factor, a critical element in the success of your approach.

Ensure also that you do not fall into the trap of thinking that you have no other option but to mould your operations to those imposed on you by a new and revolutionary technology, which based on theory rather than practical application, is impossible for you to operate.

Because you are then transforming a “tool” into a “solution”.

You are subsequently on a slippery slope where the success of your plan to optimize operations hinges on improvised management and the likelihood that the tool imposes operations that are, presumably, in line with the intrinsic nature of your sector and the innovative character of your business vision.

Don’t place decisions dealing with your operations in the hands of technologists. Instead, use their expertise to see how your organization can become more efficient, more productive and, ultimately, more competitive.

Lastly, I must confess and acknowledge that I have a weakness for any new technology. Not a day goes by that I am not exploring the possibility of improving operating performance by incorporating an emerging technology that might completely support my vision.

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