Technology Solution choices – the question is “Why” not “How”…

25 Nov

A question was posted on LinkedIn about which is the best solution for a customer – Oracle or SAP?  If a company was to scrap their solution and start from scratch which is the correct solution?

I’ll ignore the fact that this is an attempt to get business cases for one solution or the other and not dive deep into the differences between the two solutions for ERP and concentrate on the correct answer.  The correct answer is both and neither.  The correct answer is you choose your solution based on the needs of the customer, not on the technical merits of the tool because all tools are created around a fundamental principle which is they meet a need.  And lets face it – all tools do work – or they wouldn’t be able to sell them, so they do work for someone.  Its just that you may or may not be that someone.

So every CEO, CTO, IT Manager and even the lowest man on the deployment totem pole or Small Business owner gets to ask the same question.  More often than not they dread this question – they agonize – they hate it because even asking it implies that they’re not sure about it themselves.  I have, in the last two decades of playing with IT, heard this question soooo many times I should probably just get it printed on business cards to save people time saying it.  Just hand them out when they get that same pained expression that they always get when they say it.  Every pro knows this question.  We know it, and yet we ourselves ask it and we dread it as well.  “What is right solution for my business?”.

Again and again and again we’re faced with this question by customers.  “What’s right for my business?”.  And again and again and again, we give them the same answer which is – which ever tool we’re selling.  Let’s be honest here.  C’mon guys – it’s true.  In the last 14 years I can count on both hands the number of consultants that DIDN’T sell that way that I’ve seen and worked with.  Pandas, White Rhinos and Polar Bears are not as extinct as really great consultants.  I’m not saying that they’re unethical – I’m saying that everyone pushes the solution they believe in.  Not the one that’s right. 

The bottom line for almost all consultants is we have preferred tools.  Sometimes we prefer them because we’ve used them successfully in the past, sometimes the preference is mandated by who we work for or partner with – but the fact is, almost every consultant or IT pro chooses a tool based on their needs and not the customers needs.  Don’t be ashamed.  There is nothing wrong with having an opinion.  There is nothing wrong with having a good or bad experience with a tool.  What is bad – is because of this, when the pressure is on we rely more on reacting to a problem than analyzing the problem.   The problem with this approach is that if the house is on fire – jumping out the window to save yourself requires more information than just jumping out the window.  If you’re on the first or second floor – you’re fine.  If on the other hand your on the 20th floor – this is not the wisest choice. 

So the answer is not to react, but to first gather information – and then react.  When we’re under pressure from people or deadlines or management, that’s not easy, and in some cases it’s not even possible.  But it is something we need to try to do with every single decision we make.  Because when we stop following this process of gathering information first and reacting based on that information, it becomes second nature very quickly.  The difference between experience based decisions and informed decisions is often the difference between “knowing” that you’re on the first floor and “assuming” you’re on the first floor before you jump out that window.

There is an old adage that if all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.  A great carpenter has several hammers, and an entire plethora of tools in their tool box.  They know that some types of wood are best fastened with glue and screws, or even rabbited and jointed with no nails at all.  That is a good carpenter – he selects the tools needed for the job needed and uses them because they know and understand the bigger picture which is to create something that is useful, functional, solid, reliable and aesthetically pleasing to the customer because if they do that… the customer will ask for them again.

To make a customer happy – to make our bosses happy we need to eliminate any question that can be asked with “What” or “How” and we can toss anything starting with “Should”, “If”, and “When”.  There’s only one question that you need to ask and you never ask it of someone else – you ask if of yourself – and that’s “Why?”.  “Why am I doing….”, “Why do we need…”, “Why will this…”.  Why tells you what it is you need.  How tells you how to fix something but you will not know the “How?” of something until you know "Why you need that “How” or that “What” or that “When” until you ask “Why?”.  You will never know what the right answer is – if you don’t know the right question.  The right question will almost always begin with a “Why”.

This rule applies to all things, and not just in IT, but it very definitely applies to IT decision making whether you’re a consultant or an IT Manager or a PM or a CEO.  If you choose a tool based on a preference you’ve made the wrong decision.  A tool should be chosen for a task.  If you do not have the right tool or you can’t get the right tool you need to find out why you don’t have it and what it will take to get it.  If you absotively posilutely cannot get the tool, and you must complete the task then … and only then… should you compromise and resort to using the next closest tool for the task.

Quality shows.  Not just in cost or appearances.  Quality begins in the decision making process and flows to the last nail in the last board and the last coat of varnish on the product you build.  Cheap products = Cheap Quality.  Good products = Good Quality.  Great Products = Great Quality.  It really is that simple and if you decide which of those levels you’re aiming for in your work, in your products, in your services your customers will respond at that level.

We are currently in a very tight bind economically.  Unemployment is at an all time high in the U.S.A., and it’s going up globally.  Money’s tight, budgets are tighter and your boss is going to crucify you and replace you with someone else if you don’t make the “right” decisions.  We know this because – he’s told you that and it’s not a comforting notion that you have to replace a lot of very expensive tools and hardware next year.   To make matters worse he just got off a cross country flight and read in some magazine that “Nixobilly” is the ERP solution of the year that can reduce costs, increase sales, wash your clothes and walk your dog.  He has no clue what “Nixobilly” is – just that the ad said so and three guys sitting near him on the plane said they’d heard it too.

You also have no idea what the hell it is.  But that’s why you hire smart people.  So your smart people can tell you.  But what if your smart people are biased?  What if they’ve got no experience with this “Nixobilly” either, and the mega-bazillion dollar contract for IT services people are recommending “Acme” over “Nixobilly” when you ask them.  What do you do?

First things first… you look at what you need.  You look at why you need it.  You decide where you are, and what your going to do, and where your going, and why your going there.   You stop and you ask “Why"?”.  And you go to your boss who says, “We gotta have Nixobilly in there by … tuesday!” and you say, “Why"?”.  And he’s going to say, “Because our costs are out of control and we’re spending waay too much and we can’t scale and …  and because I said so!”.

Now… is where you decide if you want to be a cheap worker, a good worker or a great worker.  The cheap worker, will say “Sounds like a plan I’ll get the guys on it and will implement.”.  The good worker will say, “I need to run some numbers and see if we can, how we can, and if we can in the time frame you’re giving us.  I also want to go on record saying I wish we’d had more time to review the options – but I’ll make sure it happens.” and the Great Worker will say, “We’ll get started on seeing what it will take to roll this.  While we’re at it I want to assess what our options are by seeing if this really does meet our needs.  We don’t want to spend a fortune and find out later that there’s something we’ve missed and it’s going to cost more.  I’ll put together our options and let you review them so you can give final approval.”. 

Did you see that?  The “Great Worker” never said he was going to do it.  He said he was going to review the options. He also wrote down “Costs out of Control, Spending too much, Can’t Scale” and he’s going to compare how each of the solutions out there – examines those criteria and answers them.  And he’s going to come back (as quickly as possible) and say, “Boss – Nixo’s really a good solution.  So is Acme.  In looking it over the cost of moving from one to the other directly is just not there this year (or is a good buy depending on what he found out).  We should….”.

See?  We don’t just start grabbing nails and boards – we start by fixing the problem and the fix begins with “Why” not with “How”.  Tools are “How” answers.  But they’re never “Why” answers.  So the next time someone says, “If you’re going to start from scratch…”, ask them first “Why am I starting from scratch?”.  You’d be surprised at how this changes your choice in looking at a tool. 

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Posted by on November 25, 2008 in Design, Development, Internet, Work


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