On Silver Bullets and Value Delivery

It remains a dirty little secret that major technology initiatives routinely promise more value than they deliver. Touted as silver bullets for transforming bloated organizations into models of efficiency, all too many high-end enterprise investments grind slowly to a halt in a hail of finger pointing and a haze of Teflon. Hype and high hopes fade in the fog of high profile failures.

What is it about guys and hardware that sends “systems’ thinking” right out the window?

I attribute the persistent gap between value promised and value delivered to the “cost of confusion” that occurs (yet goes unrecognized) whenever people and complex technologies collide. Companies falling short on technology bang-for-the-buck have done so because they—and their consultants—overlooked the basic “DNA building blocks” of a value delivery system and the productivity that fuels it:

• Technology—competitive, cost effective, and business focused
• People—trained, knowledgeable, motivated, and rewarded
• Processes—seamlessly aligned and consistently applied
• Organizational environment—leadership and policies that support strategy and drive value creation.

But wait, there’s more to the equation. The mere presence of these four elements is not sufficient to guarantee success. The “gene sequence” for maximum value creation requires all the elements to be appropriately integrated and balanced with one another. A missing or sub-par element negates the impact and investment made in the other three. As in any multiplication, the smallest multiplier will always limit the overall sum.

By way of analogy, consider the goal of winning the legendary twenty-four hour LeMans race. Purchasing the newest Ferrari (technology) is but one of the critical elements of a championship bid. Winning becomes a possibility only if the drivers and pit crew are fully attuned to the car’s performance and handling characteristics (people); are functioning seamlessly with a strategy for running the race and executing precise procedures for pit stops (processes); are being fully supported by the team manager and solidly backed by well-funded sponsors (organizational environment). It takes all four elements integrated and “performance matched” to deliver maximum value to the team’s owners.

When organizations start viewing themselves and their technology investments from a value delivery perspective, they invariably discover one or more system elements missing and/or woefully out-of-balance with one another. As you can imagine, this is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. It requires the discipline to bite the bullet instead of searching frantically for silver ones.

Written by Richard Layton for Management Consulting News – 2006.

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