Saturday, February 9, 2013

Equine allegories

First, please excuse the title  - a cunning attempt at promoting my blog. Anyone (and I mean anyone) who Googles "Equine allegories" is sure to be directed straight here. A winning strategy I think you'll agree.

Now, for those of you not in 'my manor' as it were, there's been a bit of a scandal of late with beef not being beef. Suffice it to say, jokes about Red Rum Steak abound. 

I think this has got some fascinating insights for anyone in the business of change.

Let's talk about quality assurance and product acceptance first. Projects are comfortable in a landscape of customer / supplier. Other approaches exist. I've always adopted a stance that the supplier is accountable for quality assurance. Equally, the customer never divests themselves of the onus for due diligence corresponding to product acceptance. It is too risky to rely wholly upon the supplier's quality assurance.

Now, risk. I've never been comfortable about the whole 'transferral' of risk thing. Mainly, because I don't think you can transfer risk predictably and reliably. I'm minded of a supplier who was responsible for building the new Wembley Stadium and F.A cup finals which were held in Cardiff (Wales) for 2 (3?) years due to delays in construction. And similarly here, while the supermarkets in Britain can point the finger at their suppliers, the fact they've not done their own testing isn't going to sit well with their customers. Particularly when they've almost certainly profited from the whole fiasco..

From a consumer point of view, it seems to me that the consumer demands choice at the lowest  price. Now hold on a minute there, because actually, I don't.. But, it's the line spouted by the business's involved in grocery retail so there may be a grain of truth in it. So, if we only make a purchasing decision predicated upon cost, then we're likely to get a supplying decision predicated wholly around cost with all the consequences it brings.

You'd think governance would play the part of fair, honest and effective broker in all this. I wouldn't. Basel II, Sarbanes Oxley and FSA couldn't avert the biggest banking crisis of a generation. You can try all the tricks in the book to minimise risk, maximise value and ensure the right decisions are made by the right people to the right criteria at the right time. But, if greed, gain and guile are the prevailing cultural themes within an organisation, it won't matter.

But, there is an up. Discovering that stuff has gone wrong today makes you better off than you were yesterday. You can start the job of corrective action, you can learn some lessons and strengthen whatever is needed to prevent re-occurrence. 

Finally, there's something else to take away from all of this. We can read and write all the books we like. Develop the discipline of project management in new and exciting directions. Effective and sound judgement however is something ephemeral, acquired slowly and lost quickly. 

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