Oct 12, 2016

Change as strategy

In business, "more of the same" is almost always required. We need to sell more of our products and services. Then there comes a time when change is needed. We need to change our products and services and even our business model. Interestingly, the rate at which we need to change seems to be always increasing. So today we devise transient strategies that anticipate and execute change.

Like businesses, governments too need to occasionally change. According to a recent CBS News poll, 55 percent of American voters want “big changes,” while 43 percent want “some changes.” That is, 98% percent of voters want change. Reason? According to Rasmussen Reports, 70% of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. If so, it appears that in the November elections, only a change strategy will work.

Sep 24, 2016

Tech projects can be executed just like other business projects

"When we’ve mastered the method and the skills to execute technology projects in the business context, we’ve mastered how to execute tech projects like business projects." Read CIO article.

Jun 28, 2016

Digital strategy: how to avoid an IT strategy like failure

Are executives using the right approach to devise digital strategy so that the strategy would guide them to invest in the right initiatives? Read the CIO article.

May 23, 2016

Is your SDLC ready for strategy translation?

SDLC is not just a method for engineering. It is where strategy translation can take place. So it's critical to ensure that your SDLC is enabled for strategy translation. Read the CIO article.

May 10, 2016

“Something is happening, and I need you to help me”

Helen Marriage works with artists to create extraordinary events that bring huge audiences together. For one of her projects, she needed the help of the planning manager of the London buses. She faced resistance.

The planning manager eventually agreed and actually became the project’s biggest champion.

Helen’s secret to make change happen: engage people in a task rather than seek permission.

Source: April 11-24, 2016, Bloomberg

May 5, 2016

Media bows down to "Voice of the People" — probably in an unprecedented way

1. The constant misrepresentation of Trump by the media ever since he announced his candidacy is probably unprecedented. Here’s an example of misrepresentation pointed out by one of the greatest thinkers of our time Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “he (Trump) said `let us stop Muslims from coming until we figure out' and the words `until we figure out' were not picked up in the media … the press prices itself out of the market in a way by not presenting Trump's ideas in full.”

2. Add to it the 75+ million dollars spent on media ads attacking him — again, probably unprecedented.

While the former was done mostly by anti-Republican folks, the latter was done — amazingly — by the Republican elite.

End of the day: It was the voice of the people that won. Trump won the nomination (almost).

How: Trump appears to have listened to what people wanted and simply became their voice. In the business world (or in the Trump world), it’s called “voice of the customer.”

Questions: Would Trump get more polite (while keeping his political incorrectness)? Would he become President? If he does, would he be able to deliver?

Apr 27, 2016

What is strategy translation?

Some define the term narrowly as in “translate strategy into measures,” while some others define it abstractly as in “translate strategy into reality.” Who's right?

Blue Ocean Strategy driving Trump wins?

In the US 2016 primaries, GOP’s “splitter” strategy was crafted to make Jeb Bush win the Republican nomination without winning the base. The reality is, not every strategy works — especially when it meets a better one.

You could blame Jeb Bush or his back-up Marco Rubio for poor performance. But look at the front-runner Donald Trump’s three policies: (1) End of political correctness (I strongly support this policy) (2) Large changes to immigration (3) Redoing trade deals so they’re not lopsidedly in favor of the other country. “The more vocally on the wrong side of these three issues a candidate was, the faster they dropped,” observes Sean Malstrom.

The media, the so-called experts, the politicians/establishment, the anti-Trump colluders, the politically-correct, and those who want to appear civil: All have been proved wrong — again and again and again. All conventional forms of analysis was wrong. The reason is, according to Malstrom: “you cannot analyze non-voters. But non-voters are showing up. Trump is somehow bringing them out, some are even coming out to vote against Trump. This is why merely using the ‘likely voters’ model will not work when a Blue Ocean Strategy is running.”

Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS), by the way, is about creating uncontested market space and thus making competition irrelevant. A method called PCD I created a long time ago for a software practice sub-discipline was a blue ocean. It may not fit the BOS definition entirely, but I did use the BOS formula: Eliminate, Reduce, Raise, Create. Sounds like a disconnect? We'll explore this later.

Right now and until November, I look forward to watch and learn from political strategies!

Mar 29, 2016

Is IT strategy a good input to translate business strategy?

Strategy translation in software practice is about ensuring strategic potential before investing in technical and business change implementation. Is your organization's IT strategy an authentic input to this critical activity? Find out here.

Mar 17, 2016

A master acquirer's many strategies

Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina has been working a broad strategy: Convinced that the drug-distribution business was destined to consolidate, Pessina keeps swallowing increasingly bigger companies. The result — at least one of the most recent — the merger of US-based Walgreens and Switzerland-based Alliance Boots into WBA. These two are significantly different companies, but here's Pessina's strategy for US retail: Infuse the Sephora-like stylishness of Boots into the efficiency and convenience of Walgreens stores.

Pessina is not done yet. He's eyeing CVS Health, but faces a giant challenge. While Walgreens pushes consumer products, CVS Health has positioned itself powerfully around health. Two opposing strategies! If Pessina can combine the two companies, it would be very interesting to see what his strategy would be.

Source: Fortune February 1, 2016

Feb 27, 2016

America views learning differently

Former CEO of multibillion-dollar companies Willie Pietersen recalls the time when he became an American citizen and attended the event where his two US-educated children were awarded degrees. He says,

"Where I was raised in South Africa and also where I studied in the UK, these events are simply called “graduation.” The attendant idea is that this is the end of something. However, I was struck by the fact that in the US, this ceremony is called “commencement,” meaning the beginning (or at least the continuation) of something. I love this concept. It exactly captures the essence of learning as a lifelong journey."

Learning indeed should be a life-long journey. Make it cross-disciplinary learning and the advantages can be big. A personal illustration ... I enjoyed learning Physics between 1981 and 84. However, without the skills I learned from Intel's Stan Uffner in 1987, I could not have set up TCS' tech writing practice. Without the insights I learned at UC Berkeley in 1994-95, Cognizant would not have got its early competitive advantage from its India-first user interface design practice. Without the knowledge I learned at Columbia Business School in 2008, I may not have come up with a strategy translation method for use in software practice.

Keep learning – even from other disciplines!

Feb 10, 2016

Why social welfare states are scaling back

Social welfare policies of Scandinavian nations such as Sweden have been admired.

However, here's what an article in the Feb 1, 2016 issue of Fortune points out:

  • Scandinavia built wealth that its citizens enjoy today long before leftist ideas took hold
  • In fact, when Sweden's welfare state began to expand, economy noticeably slowed
  • Not only do the larger welfare states of Italy and France have less robust economies, Scandinavia is slowly returning to its free-market roots.

Will the US presidential candidates strike the right balance between welfare and economic growth?

Source: Fortune Feb 1, 2016

Feb 4, 2016

Software implementation will not automatically translate strategy

To execute business strategy through technology, start with a focus on strategy translation. Make the Business phase of software practice a strategy translation phase, rather than just a requirements analysis phase. Ensure that what you would eventually implement, deploy, and use has strategic potential.

Read more:


Take a look!

Jan 13, 2016

Nov 23, 2015

Why execution rarely delivers on strategy's promise

"Research indicates that relatively few firms execute their strategies effectively, and, on average, companies deliver just 50% to 60% of the financial performance that their strategies promise." - Frank Cespedes, HBR October 2014.

When we complain about poor outcomes due to poor execution, we're obviously assuming that the strategy is good. Let's momentarily stick to that assumption. The problem then is, we're thinking that execution is largely about project (or program) management. What we're clearly missing is the crucial activity of strategy translation.

When it comes to investing in business software, strategy translation is about "embedding" targeted organizational strategic outcomes into an architecture that can then be implemented. If this activity is not done right, neither a great strategy nor effective execution can generate targeted outcomes.

For approaches to strategy, see The Strategy Palette

Nov 16, 2015

Price for compassion? Or price for absence of leadership?

Compassion is a beautiful rare thing. European countries allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants. The US leadership too is bringing migrants. In European media you may have watched how the host people are trying to architect innovative housing for the migrants and constantly debating how to make the migrants feel welcome, how to integrate them, how to get them jobs, etc.

Then this thing happened -- the attack in Paris by people (among others) who were allegedly smuggled into Europe along with the migrants.

Is this the price for showing compassion? Or is this the price of inadequate leadership? How do today's and tomorrow's Western leaders balance compassion with practicality? What is practicality, by the way? Is it about having a strategy and proactive execution or is it about being reactive?

For thoughts on America's current and future leadership, read: Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World

To see how Jesus combined compassion with practicality, read: Jesus CEO

Oct 22, 2015

Leadership: your teammates your enemies?

Imagine you are interviewing a potential candidate to lead a department in your company and he says, "I consider some of the folks in that department my enemies." This is a most unlikely comment in a business interview, but we heard it at an interview for the world's most important leadership position. At the recent CNN democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton was asked to name her enemy – and she responded, “probably the Republicans.” Thankfully, Joe Biden later corrected her saying it's critical to “end this notion that the enemy is the other party.”

Oct 1, 2015

Rewarding for delivering results: lessons from Texas

Two examples ...

1. Texas-based firm Ryan: "Over half the employees at this tax-prep firm have compensation linked to the results achieved for clients"

2. Another Texas-based firm Hilcorp: "Outrageous rewards for meeting certain goals."

Both are listed in Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" (2015).

Volkswagen success: thanks to its strategy

At a time when Volkswagen is battling dozens of lawsuits, I'm talking about what made the company great. Bad timing perhaps, but why stop learning from the company's strength?

Volkswagen owes its success to: its STRATEGY.

And the strategy? Cars share components.

Karan Girotra and Serguei Netessine writing in HBR say, "Although the strategy does not protect the company from general demand swings, it reduces demand variability for individual components, because shared components make it easy for VW to switch production at its plants from one model to another whenever the demand for car model shifts."

Sep 30, 2015

Would Cleveland Clinic have gone from good to great without Kara's political incorrectness?

CEO of the mighty Cleveland Clinic, Dr Toby Cosgrove is a pioneering surgeon who had operated on over 22,000 patients. He just finished delivering a speech to Harvard students.

The students admired the speech, but Kara Barnett stood up and said, "Dr Cosgrove, my father needed surgery, but we decided NOT to go to your hospital in spite of your great results because we heard you had no empathy."

Kara was politically incorrect. She not only said something offensive about someone and his institution that the world considered the best, but embarrassed Harvard that brought an outstanding speaker.

Dr Cosgrove responded, "Not really" and moved on. However, Kara's statement kept his mind busy. He imagined redefining medicine as patients experienced it rather than as what hospitals provided. He questioned the very foundations of doctors' specialist silos. What he eventually did changed the lives of many. His change initiative was hugely risky, challenging, and inspiring.

He reorganized the hospital around multidisciplinary centers based on body parts and ailments. He got a surgeon to act as Chief Experience Officer and deliver training on empathy. He sent surgeons and physicians to Disneyland for lessons in customer service. He got the hospital building re-architected with simpler, cleaner design. He had a dress designer remodel the patient's gown. And the hospital now has concierge-style porters, who greet patients and provide a calming influence.

In 2013, a survey of patient satisfaction showed that Cleveland Clinic was the top-ranked hospital in America. It was a startling turnaround. Thanks to Kara's political incorrectness.

Unfortunately, a lot of people today hide behind political correctness. They don't say what they really feel or think. Disguising issues (and thus risking not addressing them) is not very responsible behavior. Political correctness could turn the brave into a coward. A culture that only tolerates political correctness stifles free speech. Politically correct people may appear untrustworthy. In fact, extreme political correctness could turn out to be the exact opposite of its purported aim: impoliteness. Think about it.

Source: Dr Cosgrove's change initiative is brilliantly researched and described by Gillian Tett in her new book The Silo Effect.

We know very little about strategy translation

Today we may know what strategy means, but "we know a lot less about translating a strategy into results (HBR, March 2015)." Here, strategy translation means strategy execution. The latter comprises many activities including project management, which many managers have mastered. But "execution" includes the critical activity of "embedding" targeted strategic outcomes. Without this, you could be brilliantly managing the wrong project. There is even less information available about this critical activity.

Strategy Map: the Marriott example

Talking about Marriott's much-admired employee-first culture, CEO Arne Sorenson says that this culture "drives loyalty of our folks, which drives better service, which drives customer preference. which drives higher retention, which reduces costs."

The flow is obvious: from Assets to Process Performance to Customer Value to Financial Performance. A nice example of how to use Strategy Maps (Kaplan & Norton)!

Strategy: keeping focus while widening product range

Two examples ...

1. Carlos Ghosn wants to move Nissan from good to great. His STRATEGY: “mobility for all.” By that he means, being present in every market in the world and in every segment in every market. So, the Nissan alliance produces 110 different models in 170 different markets.

2. Jonathan Goldberg wants BBL Commodities Value Fund to keep an eye on short-term opportunities as well as on the horizon. His STRATEGY: Trade oil “across the barrel” — refined products as well as crude itself.

We have to wait for their financial results to see how well their strategy is working. In the meantime, I love their compelling mottos expressed in just 3 words and yet covering both focus and range! Take another look.

Does treating employees well hurt the bottom line?

In many cultures (mostly non-Western), top management denies basic employee rights or even basic human rights because they believe this is how they can grow and make profits. WRONG.

Companies on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For are "shining examples of a different way of doing business that puts to rest the old notion that treating employees well might hurt the bottom line." One example: the Marriott philosophy: "Take care of associates, and they will take care of the customers."

Consider the 12 companies that have made the Fortune list every year since they published the first in 1998 ... They're the top job creators ... They outperformed the S&P 500 index by a ratio of nearly 20 to 1 ... They're winners in the marketplace as well as in the workplace!

Source: Fortune, March 15, 2015

Sep 1, 2015

How design thinking gave a young firm an early advantage

For a while, “design thinking” was business world’s most fashionable concept. Companies tried it, sent their employees for training, and so on. Then things changed. Now Google’s frequently used search phrases include “design thinking is bullshit” and “design thinking is dead.” If you read the naysayers' articles, the common rant is “there’s nothing new.” I do not agree with the Google phrases, but I do agree with the claim that there's nothing new in design thinking. Here's why.

Design of experiential marketing

Beginning in the late 90s, I created and upgraded experiential marketing for a young software firm where I was employed. This is not about brochures, white papers, and such standard things of questionable value. This comprised the following set of items designed and laid out in a purposeful and human-centric way:
Gallery: A casual, standup conversation facility. Here, we had
conversation-starting posters. The posters had quotes by customers and others. Some showcased thought-leadership in terms of innovative methods, publishing, speaking, biographies, media coverage, and conferences organized. The gallery also had the optionality of projecting slides on a wall.
Show-and-tell lab: The usability lab I set up doubled as a marketing tool. Nearly every visiting prospect/customer was given a walk-through. The “touch, feel, participate” nature helped prospects/customers believe in our claims we made about our method and talent.
Try-me interactive: Pre-programmed interactive stuff for customers and employees. It allowed people to work with the Before and After of a software application and immediately computed and showed productivity and dollar savings based on their actual performance. Essentially, it demonstrated what a customer could typically expect from software reengineered by the firm. A lot more effective than a traditional self-running demo. 
Giveaway: A copy of my 90s book published in the US. For Western customers visiting India, this was many times more credible than claims made via presentations, white papers, etc.
ROI proof-of-concept: In the sales cycle, we created a small prototype of a prospect's or customer’s software. Most organizations do this. Here's what we did differently: we demonstrated a customer’s potential business benefits in terms of cycle time reduction and dollar savings.
Besides the gallery and the lab, which were laid out to promote customer tours, the layout also included team workspace, my office, and conventional conference room. The layout was located in a piece of real estate that the firm considered its most prestigious at the time. The firm is Cognizant and today it has annual revenues of over $10 billion.


This old Cognizant case is remarkably similar to the relatively new IBM case described in the book Solving Problems with Design Thinking. IBM transformed its trade show experience for customers "from spectacles into conversations, from monologue to dialogue. This was achieved by a combination of seating and standing areas, public and private spaces, and formal and informal settings to accommodate different learning styles of audiences." (More)

My learnings primarily came from a mid-90s human-centric design course that ACM Lifetime Achievement Award winner Richard Anderson taught at UC Berkeley Extension. My learnings also came from my visits to museums in various cities in the US. I not only enjoyed interacting with the exhibits, but took pictures of display techniques and passed them on to the firm that did the building/interiors that housed the layout.

Clearly, there’s nothing new about design thinking.


The more important question though is, is there value in using design thinking? The answer, in the case of Cognizant, is: if you constructed a strategy map, you will see an upward pointing arrow linking my “experiential marketing design” to customer acquisition and retention. You will also see other arrows connecting to that success. These arrows will link from customer-facing folks and from the method and talent used in project execution. Always, specific assets and processes must come together to deliver the kind of customer value that can result in positive business outcomes.

Aug 13, 2015

Companies that moved to BT are winning, research shows

Forrester Research has slightly redefined BT (business technology), but they continue to champion the move from IT to BT for one basic purpose: business success. A research they conducted shows that companies that moved to BT have positioned themselves well for success. Read more: http://www.zdnet.com/article/business-technology-focused-companies-win-in-the-age-of-the-customer/

The oil-drilling model for discovery-and-design that I created helps actualize the purpose of BT as regards software/digital technology. More about the method: http://www.prescouter.com/2013/08/software-practice-for-the-business-technology-age-lessons-from-oil-drilling/

Aug 12, 2015

Google's great. The restructured Google should not give up what made it great.

Making money is not hard (you've seen a lot of ugly companies in the world make big money). Here's what's hard: making money by offering great products/services via a great workplace culture.

Google is rated the best company to work for (six times). As a Fortune study points out, the best places to work are only getting better, and Google is an example. Google is also the second most valuable brand in the world. That's a lot of great stuff to achieve. Thanks to Larry Page and Sergei Brin. *

Along with the new corporate structure comes a challenge – a question about the future culture of Google. Google should not compromise on the hard-to-copy culture it has ingeniously and painstakingly built over the past years. Google should keep the culture, and keep using it to meet financial performance goals.

* To know about the culture that Page and Brin set up at Google, read Fortune, March 15, 2015. To know about the brilliance and boldness of the two founders, read Walter Isaacson's The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

Jul 31, 2015

How to stop IT from going under: McKinsey's suggestion versus mine

Business and IT executives continue to worry. Based on McKinsey's 2015 survey, their article "Why CIOs should be business-strategy partners" reports that executives’ current perceptions of IT performance are decidedly negative. A few reasons:

  • “widespread concerns over IT effectiveness" beyond providing basic services and managing infrastructure
  • “fading confidence in IT’s ability to support key business activities, such as driving growth.”
  • “little awareness of or agreement on how IT can meaningfully shape a business’s future.”

Note that these are the same "findings" that organizations have complained about for years and years and years.

The McKinsey suggestions

Here are two (of three) suggestions provided in the article:

1. Reimagine CIO role so they help shape business strategy. Some ways to enable the change include "getting the CIO to report to the CEO, establishing clear partnerships between IT and corporate-strategy functions, and holding both business and IT leaders accountable for big business bets."

2. Develop IT’s business savvy. "Before they can contribute to overall business strategy, many CIOs and IT leaders may need to improve their understanding of the business.”

Again, it's important to note that these suggestions have been provided for years and years and years. Just google and you'll find a lot of evidence.

My suggestion

We're grateful for McKinsey's recent survey, but the findings and even the suggestions are not new. For years, other organizations such as Forrester, Gartner, and CIO.com too have reported similar findings and provided similar suggestions. Fixes have been attempted, but the problems keep recurring.

To me this suggests that instead of trying to fix IT governance, we should look for faults in IT practice. Software practice is strong in engineering and project management, but does it have a strong business phase? Does it have a method to translate business strategy into a realizable architecture? Without a translation method, how do we even know whether we're working on the right software projects in the first place?