This month celebrates our first 5 years in business. Well at least it was August 5 years ago I started stressing about where my next pay check was coming from. Incidentally, a stress I’ve learned, that never goes away.
K C Armour & Co was born to fill the gap between desired business outcomes, and effective technology delivery. At the time, about 70% of technology programs failed to meet business objectives. If IT departments were going to say relevant, then surely something needed to change.
Despite the rise and hype of methods such as agile, it seems that number is still about the same. How is it that we as an industry could be so bad a delivery? If it was your hairdresser or gardener, you’d be asking for your money back!
For our sins, we started out by focussing on the delivery. If only we could make tech delivery work more effectively, the we can surely close the gap. Across our journey, we’d come to realise we were perhaps looking at the problem all wrong.
A Journey about Value
Taking a blend of current academic thinking and existing methods, our approach to delivery optimisation achieved some fantastic results. Upwards of 100% productivity increases became the norm for the technology teams we worked with. Important numbers if you’re delivering a $50 million program, but as it turns out, not if you’re running a $50 million business.
You see, typical IT spend in most non-tech businesses sits at around the mid to low single digits. Frankly, even lower single digit improvements for the business wasn’t setting anyone’s hair on fire. We had to come up with a better story on value.
Coming from a corporate background, it’s really easy to have a limited view of what value means. For my part, if it didn’t sit on your profit and loss spreadsheet, then it wasn’t something you cared about. Technology, and digital business strategy should then directly drive that P&L.
With this concept in mind, we came up with the four pillars of digital business which seemed to be a nice fit at the time. The feedback was generally quite positive, but it wasn’t setting anyone’s hair on fire either.
I don’t think the model was wrong. In fact, I still use the model almost weekly. It was just in hindsight, back to front.
At some point in this journey, I was introduced to the Jobs To Be Done framework (Thanks’ Christian!). We also started looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of transformative businesses; That is what separated the leading companies out from the rest of us. What came out of all that was the PACT Manifesto.
For the first time we started to have a story where we could fit all the pieces together. Importantly, the PACT Manifesto was a set of principles that were focussed on value outcomes, rather than technology outcomes. Our customers and industry peers were starting to take notice, but it was still not enough.
The Epiphany, and a lot of Reading.
Why do people choose to do business with us? Because of the value we create for them. Our employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders and customers all choose to engage with our businesses because of the value we create. Value that spans different functional, social, and emotional demands for each and every stakeholder.
The PACT Manifesto does a really great job of delivering that value. Where it falls short is finding and understanding where that value comes from in the first place. Another evolution was needed.
By now you may have heard my mantra:
“Your value is not in what you do, but in the value you create for others.”
The more value you create, the more valuable you become. The more valuable you become, hopefully the fatter your wallet becomes to. As simple as it sounds, I haven’t met a person yet who hasn’t become excited by this concept.
Persona Value Mapping and the Net Effex framework has become the glue that binds the whole thing together. From a value delivery perspective, we finally had a cohesive story: Where does value come from, and how do we deliver it in the most effective way possible.
That’s not to say there are still not gaps, but we’re getting there:
- Net Effex allows us to map how value moves around our ecosystem, and the role we play in it. Reframing problems towards value and outcomes rather that functions and activities.
- The PACT Manifesto provides us with high level principles on how to deliver that value to achieve transformative outcomes.
- Our ongoing work on risk optimisation helps us to focus in on the opportunities that matter. Reducing some of the bias and guess work from the process.
- Fast Facts and our work on knowledge accessibility have helped clients make faster decisions and improved efficiency.
- Our Rapid Evolution Delivery framework has accelerated design and delivery outcomes for technology teams. It’s also been used as a kick-starter, proactively setting projects on the right track. (And of note, very similar to the emerging design sprint concept)
The work, and research, continues.
In fact, my personal research folder currently contains around 630 journal articles, industry reports, and market research documents. An average of 2.42 articles a week of what could be described as anything but light reading. That doesn’t include web copy, books, and other articles I’ve deemed not worthy of keeping.
Conservatively, I would double or even triple that number given every day I wake up and read what’s in my google alerts. At the very least, it feels like a lot of reading.
Where the future lies
In the early days, I used to quip I’d only been in business 6 months, or several years depending on how you look at it. Such was the pace of learning and our ongoing product maturity I felt like we were continually refocussing. Ask me today, and I would probably say the same thing.
The last 5 years have definitely been highly R&D focussed. Given the conversations we’re having with businesses and academia alike, I’m confident that right now, we’re sitting on the leading edge. It’s certainly been fun, but R&D doesn’t always pay the bills.
What it has become though is an integral part of what we do. We’re often exploring concepts our clients perhaps might have never considered, even completely reshaping their view of the problem. We don’t just follow other people’s ideas; we help create them! That doesn’t come without its challenges.
Ultimately what we’ve been developing here are processes and frameworks for finding and delivering value. We’ve focussed on business as a science, not as an art, and the science is moving fast. The more we learn, the more I realise how far we have to go. (Thanks Dunning & Kruger!)
While we still have some way to go, if we as humans can develop and apply such a process, then it will only be a matter of time before a machine is doing likewise. With this in mind, I see us playing a bigger role in preparing businesses for an autonomous future. Putting the right structures and processes in place to best take advantage of our new robotic, cloud enabled friends.
In parting I’m reminded of a quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain:
“It ain’t the things you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
To me, it feels like the majority of common business thinking is still based concepts developed at least 50 years ago. When independent economies were largely disconnected. When business decisions would take days or weeks, and not seconds. When everything was delivered by a single business entity, not an aggregate of the many.
In today’s world, there is no way you would build a new business today as you would have even 3 years ago. Especially given each new generation of business is out there specifically to challenge the status quo. The way I see it, if you’re not out there leading the wave, then you have no control of where that wave will leave you.
Is this why technology programs are still failing in such large numbers? Stuck in the mindset of what they know for sure when the world has moved on? Whatever the case, I’m still confident we have what it takes to bridge that gap. But it has to start with a discussion on value.
Certainly, regardless of what our specific future may hold, I’m just looking forward to enjoying the ride!