Practice Makes Perfect

Posted by Ben Copsey on 3 September 2012

Here at Optimation we say that people are the most important asset of this organisation. So I thought it might be time to explain a point of view from my position of leading the consulting practice, focusing on how we organize and support our people.

Richard Branson once said that “business has to give people enriching rewarding lives or it’s simply not worth doing”. In round-the-table discussions with both our internal resources and our closely held associates is that ‘our people’ want precisely that and more importantly they’re not prepared to simply sit back and expect it to come to them.

Our response, and the way we structure our people is the concept of practices. We view practices as a hub that brings people, methods and tools together in the service of our clients. To our people they’re ‘by us, for us’. This means that they want to have an active role, help set the agenda and drive the creation of methods and tools.

Our product is primarily a successful client outcome and it’s important we never lose sight of this. We focus on consistent, excellent, efficient delivery of those outcomes through innovative, pragmatic solutions to common problems.

We support this through a knowledge process encompassing 3 main components:

  • Institutional Knowledge, used to demonstrate relevant experience and establish credentials (summaries of business or technology issues, solutions adopted, outcomes and key learnings).
  • Applied Knowledge, used to provide rapid start and added value for specific projects (templates, project plans, re-usable code etc.).
  • Tools and methodologies used to support delivery of services and outcomes.

As consultants at Optimation we’re first and foremost practitioners. We think tier one (and many of us come with many years experience at tier one professional service firms) but deliver pragmatic executable outcomes. We support our clients to achieve those outcomes (don’t dump and run).

So how do we make that work? With our teams I use the analogy of a special operations unit and I think it embodies the things we need to be doing well to be successful in our endeavours.

To borrow from an excellent 2009 article from Strategy and Business about special operations teams: Effectiveness is rooted in a carefully designed and comprehensive system of recruiting, training, infrastructure support, leadership, and organizational culture.

To us the combination of practices and people means:

  • If necessary we can sub for a team member, because we are deep generalists.
  • We maintain our competence through deliberate practice and our practice meetings focus on building these skills.
  • We’re equipped and trained in the tools to do the job, supporting our professionals regardless of whether they are internal or associate resources with our methods and tools.
  • We expect constant feedback on how we are doing as both teams and individuals.
  • Within the terms of the engagement each and every one of us is empowered to adjust to conditions on the ground to achieve the best outcome for the client. 
  • We attract raw talent from other practices for example growing solution architects from our development and integration practice into ‘deep generalist’ consultants.

I also encourage my team to take on board some of the points made by Thomas Friedman in his book ‘Average is Over’. I was influenced having heard him speak at a recent Wellington Readers and Writers Week.

In his book Friedman proposes a mind-set based on four themes that align well to how we operate:

  • Think like an innovator – always be in BETA, we never assume our methods and tools are perfect and can’t be refined.
  • Think like an immigrant – go look for opportunities and don’t expect anything to be handed to us, this means that our people actively work to get the things they want in their practices, the variety of work they want or the skills they want to develop.
  • Act like an artisan – this is particularly important because every optimate should be sufficiently proud of their work to leave their makers mark on the deliverable.
  • Be an entrepreneur – within your role in the engagement use the tools, methods and experience at your disposal to contribute to the client’s wider outcomes and their satisfaction.

I’ll leave you with a thought from Tom Peters, in his recent Excellence Now treatise online "We will not rest until seamless cross-functional integration/communication has become our primary source of value-added. EXCELLENCE in cross-functional integration shall become a daily operational passion for 100% of us."