‘Predictable and reliable delivery of category benefits is the driver for success’, argues Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan in their book, ‘Simply Better‘.
Taking parallel from the book, what are the ‘category benefits’ (those expected out of a category or class of products or services) expected from a consultant, as a product and as a service?
I could think of these two:
Domain Expertise: This is the only reason a consultant is in the room. They are expected to be a master in the domain – whatever be the domain – CRM, Project Management, Process Re-engineering, Peoplesoft.
Appreciation of business reality: Usually consultants have to deal with dilemma on the ground and steer their clients to a solution. The problem in hand will be a product of people and process. Yet, consultant should stay focused and find or create a path forward.
Domain expertise can be learnt. In fact, during their life time consultants achieve mastry of more than one domain. However the other skill is hard to learn and judge. But it will be needed in almost all of the assignments. Without it, it is hard to be a consultant.
Do you agree?
Companies spend big share of their budget trying to ‘differentiate’ their product and services from those of their peer-group companies. Usually these differentiations are add-ons to the core category benefits which are expected from their product or service. But do such differentiations work?
Would you return to a restaurant that has an impressive interior and calming music but serves absolutely tasteless food?
This is the theme of ‘Simply Better‘, a book that, Gary Silverman calls, “… a book about marketing for people who have read too many books about marketing”. Drawing upon experience of Tesco, Toyota and similar companies, Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan, authors of the book, argues that, customers expect a predictable and reliable delivery of category benefits, every time; all the time. Differentiation does not matter to customers when category benefits fail.
The authors also emphasize the marketing principle put forwarded by Peter Drucker, ‘Marketing is not a specialized business activity…it is the whole enterprise seen from the customer’s point of view‘. Companies should spend their resources on improving customer’s experience at every point of contact – be it marketing, sales, delivery or post-sales support.
These are simple yet fundamental concepts for any company’s success. Fact is, simple concepts are easy to be missed.
Few books grab your attention on the first page and keep it that way until the last. It is surprising that a technical book written by a technical person would be such a one. As I read every page of ‘The mythical Man-Month‘ (MMM), I was thinking to myself, “Damn, I should’ve read this book in college; or at least when I started with my career”. The author, Frederick Brooks, is dealing about those invaluable lessons that I learnt hard way over these many years in this field.
Every problem that the author talks about is so relevant today. Fundamental to the book is the ‘fallacious and dangerous myth about interchangeability of men and months‘. Even today when I present effort estimates to stakeholders, the immediate question is, “So if we double the team size, we should half the time to build this application?”. Brooks derives his response from a restaurant menu in New Orleans – ‘Good cooking takes time!’. Some tasks can’t be hurried without spoiling the result.
Or take the problem of communication. Though every one talks the same business language (English), their interpretations vary. Often one hears, “Oh! you meant that? I thought it was something else!”. Despite plenty of modeling techniques, understanding between parties involved remains a paramount problem in running a software project. (This is compounded in offshore projects).
Those of us who have handled large systems with different functional owners for different modules would have dealt with the issue of ‘conceptual integrity‘. I have managed such projects and it is not only difficult to integrate these modules; such systems throw enormous amount of confusion to the end users.
Building prototypes and releasing alpha & beta software are a common practices today. Open Source Software Practice advocates ‘release often; release early’. Yet, I’ve witnessed large projects with multi man-year effort and high complexity being developed in isolation after gather user requirements. When the project is released after years of development, the ‘actual need and the user’s perception of that need’ changed; and the project is a colossal failure bringing frustration and humiliation to the technical team.
These are just few of the problems and solutions discussed by Brooks. As I said in the beginning of the article, all the issues discussed Brooks are surprisingly relevant today. If you are in software stream – as a developer or as a functional analyst or as a manager – you should read this book. It will avoid you going though the path of agony.
Is it common that IT folks don’t understand finance and its load of jargons? I think so.
I’ve tried to understand financial concepts by reading many, many pages of hard-bound books and whatever I could find on the net.
I even tried ‘shares trading’ so that it will force me to learn those concepts. Did it help? Na, I just lost money; never gained any knowledge. I lost hope of understanding those concepts.
That is when I came across ‘Rule #1‘ by Phil Town in the near-by library. Amidst scores of books that make you feel investment concepts is a rocket science, this one is a gift. Phil explains the concepts in an easy to understand, layman’s terms. I haven’t yet finished the book; but I’ve understood whatever I’ve read so far and it all make sense.
Phil says ‘don’t invest; but own a business’. This comes closer to Ricardo Semler‘s business theory of influencing employees to think ‘I am not cutting stones; but building a cathedral’. I am a subscriber of such thought process and probably because of that Phil’s philosophy appealed to me. Phil quotes a 10-10 rule – ‘Don’t own a business for 10 minutes if you are not willing to own it for 10 years’.
He then goes on to explain ‘The Big Five’ – the parameters to look for to choose a company to invest; oops sorry to own.The big five are:
- Return on Investment Capital
- Sales Growth Rate
- Earnings per Share Growth Rate
- Equity or Book Value per Share Growth Rate
- Free Cash Flow Growth Rate
He claims that there should be a 10% growth rate for the past 10 years. Wow! that is a strict evaluation. But if I invest my hard-earned money, I should be certain that I’ll reap its benefits.
Once I read the first 6 chapters, I wanted to find out how many Indian companies fall into this bracket. Well, it turns out that none of the sites, not even NSE, provide 10 years data.So I’ve to be content with 5 years of financial data.
NSE provides the date on which a company is listed with them. I’ve filtered those companies which are present in the market for 10 years. In that list, I’ve selected those companies that ‘means’ something to me. I can’t wait to see what companies I can own!