Freedom For Ideas

Sharing ideas, concepts and thoughts, mainly about Information Technology – and consulting

Archive for October, 2008

Training the next generation of consultants

Posted by Yannick Martel on October 27, 2008

The next generation!

The next generation!

At OCTO Technologies, we have to accomodate two necessities: finding clients and opportunities to express ourselves on one hand, having adequate and experienced people to execute the missions we are requested to perform on the other hand. Fortunately, in 2008 our main limiting factor has been hiring people we were confident we could train into OCTO consultants. Thus we have taken measures, including hiring promising juniors we could train over time – for good effect in the long run.

A coach colleague of mine has recently initiated me to the power of appreciative inquiry as a tool for shaping teams and helping them get a common goal, and for positively investigating, learning about the best things in the past and the present, and preparing for the future – or still best: preparing the future! For instance, I have used it recently in a meeting with a potential client as a guide for learning more about their past projects. It helped understanding the way they are preparing for their future and finding opportunities for them to avoid living again some problems they had.

I am coming to like very much appreciative inquiry. Of course, its first effect is to make your meeting partners feel good – not so bad! But there is more: I like very much that appreciative inquiry is focused on “discovering, dreaming, designing and delivering”. The very last step, about implementing your dreams with help from your past experiences, is important. Could we say that appreciative inquiry has “a bias for action”?

Beyond this, it is a very powerful way for a consultant to avoid becoming another solution problemer. As consultants, we have many tools to help clients – the more, the better. Still, it is often too tempting to fit your latest trick and tool into the problem your client has – finding the problem for which your trick is a solution. Appreciative inquiry helps you find out what has worked in the past for the people you are interacting with and for yourself – thus helping finding in our collective arsenal which one can be used or transformed or evolved for the future, and shaping new tools from our common experience.

More recently, I began applying appreciative inquiry at home as well, first with my wife, then with my kids – as my coach collague was doing. My younger daughter usually does not say very much about what she is doing at school. “I don’t remember”, she answers to direct questions. So I asked “what has been your most pleasant experience today?” and, hoops, she talked and we learnt many many things she did, and liked, and we got many more details than we were used to.

The day after, when I came back home, she asked me: “Daddy, what is the most pleasant thing you have done today?” I was impressed. I answered my best, and felt better. You see, I am already training the next generation of consultants, but I did not know…


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The Vietnam Syndrome

Posted by Yannick Martel on October 5, 2008

This was used in Vietnam to help you get out of hell

She was used in Vietnam to help get you out of hell!

Fighter pilot Ed Rasimus mentions in Palace Cobra that during his second tour in Vietnam in 1966 the US Air Force was a much more efficient organisation than during his first tour in 1972. This was the same war, but as it persisted, methods and practices where developed and implemented to more efficiently and reliably incorporate new arrivals, maintain planes, program missions, route pilots to refueling, direct them to bombing their targets and then get them back. They were able to operate smoothly with larger groups – in one word, they were more industrial. Was it enough to win the war? Not really. Did they achieve their strategic objectives? Not clear. Ed Rasimus even suggests that their very efficiency might be a symptom that the Air Force did not achieve their objectives – they just stayed and did their job, incrementally better, learning and improving, but it did not change the outcome of the war.

Let’s say it again: their very efficiency might have been a sign that they had been doing the same job for too long without any significant result. Of course, it had nothing to do with the guys who were actually in the war. They did better over time and achieved local, tactical success. Ed Rasimus instead condemns the way most of the war was managed, with no real intention of achieving a strong and rapid victory and with very bad understanding of the realities of war by decision-makers.

On reading “Palace Cobra”, I wondered if this could not apply to other situations. If I find a process which is very complex, smooth and well-established, it might mean that it does not really address the root of the problem – else it would have already solved it.

Recently, I found myself interacting with a very large IT organization. There, many years ago, the proliferation of releases, patches and applications lead to a nightmare of side-effects, non compatibilities and nasty disruptions. They decided to set up a mechanism of synchronization, forcing all major releases of applications to go together, with a strong project management organisation for coordinating them and performing qualification in sync. They have been doing it better and better over the years, and now it looks to me like an impressive war machine, very industrial and repeatable. On the other hand, they have made their release process very rigid and increased the time to market of new features and offers.

Is that a case of the “Vietnam Syndrome”? They addressed the problem at hand, which was solving the release nightmare. They kept going on and improving this solution. They kept bombing at the same place – but was it really the right target to bomb? Have they won the war? Maybe not, as they are still doing it. Clearly they have done right in solving their short-term crisis by strongly synchronising releases. Should they have done more than industrialising the approach? I am not sure, maybe address the issue of dependency between applications. Maybe something else. Then they might have won the war, or at least fought it on a strategic scale.

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