By Michael Pruitt
VMC Senior Consultant
In War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise’s character, Ray, runs from murderous aliens in impenetrable machines called Tripods, equipped with heat rays. The U.S. military unsuccessfully fights with its own firepower but is easily overpowered. Luckily, in the end, the aliens spontaneously die – done in by the human cold. While the aliens were advanced enough to invade other worlds but dumb enough to overlook germs, the military made the bigger mistake. It was predictably shortsighted.
Organizations increase productivity by implementing the right tools and processes to support work, which evolves over time. Tools and processes tend to be rigid and don’t always adapt. Thus, people adjust to compensate for a tool’s shortcomings. While this method of coping is dysfunctional, it’s common. When problems reach a fever pitch, consultants are often asked to do a technical assessment, to develop new features for an already bloated tool.
A technical assessment only fulfills a specific tactical need. For example, say you want a new application and want to know which one is best for your purposes. A consultant will figure out what you have to do in order to acquire and implement the new application. However, the consultant doesn’t examine whether acquiring the application is actually good for your business. My opinion of technical assessments is that they can be problematic because they focus too much on the tool. But, tools don’t get work done. People do.
In contrast, a good business assessment focuses on the work, not tools. Often, we recommend that our clients eliminate processes and tools rather than add new ones. The military in War of the Worlds would have accomplished more if it assessed its business objective first (defeat aliens) and developed scenario-based ways to fight off the invasion. Instead, its leaders said, “What do we have in our arsenal? Well, let’s fire it all.”
In business assessments, we look at the existing state of a system and its users, and we figure out what changes can be made to improve it. It’s holistic end-to-end engineering versus a feature-based approach. In one case, when asked to fix a tool, we first defined the entire workflow instead of starting at the backend, which was where the problem manifested. We then learned that issues actually originated at the top, where work requests were inputted by an administrator. So, instead of completely redesigning the tool, we simply adjusted its workflow.
Errors can crop up in technical assessments because people apply bandages to stave off bleeding rather than treat the cause of the wound. In your industry, what are the benefits of being proactive in optimizing workflows instead of being reactive to issues?