Does the Question “Why is it So” cause Perpetual Motion

A colleague once asked me the secret to finding hidden issues. Trying to answer gave me a conundrum as I considered this:

“Improving processes is about looking for things disconnected or missing. So if you follow the rule “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”  you may not see the gaps.  On the other hand if you run a “why is it so” acid test. it means what works must be proven.

In any processes the key is understanding the natural chain of supply. That means knowing each stage and where it starts to trigger activity that produces an outcome that then starts another process.  For example a purchase order received triggers a stock picking action for fulfillment. This in turn triggers shipping activity and a potential production scheduling to make more stock. 

And so it goes on with the Shipping department triggering paperwork to be completed including an invoice prepared Billing so the goods can be delivered by Logistics. The Customer on receipt matches their inwards good generated receipt which triggers its Finance department to pay it after accounting provides a payment slip to show all the internal approvals are signed off and the terms have been met.

Like the pendulum swinging,  the oscillating process needs to be routinely questioned o ensure outcome are all in sync with expected. 

Competitive innovation is ever looking for smarter more efficient ways to do things. Knowing the presence and impact of this endless phenomena is the real secret.

Experiences of innovation in this way often as outside changes occur means it is inevitable that processes need to change, For example in the 1980’s Electronic Data Exchange let customers and suppliers join up systems so supplier firm process becomes very linked to their customers.

This move to paperless process has evolved  since in so many many things e.g Assets Management, now sees Artificial intelligence predicting issues and interacting with supplier robots to manage a customers production maintenance end to end in a fail safe way.

In my growing up years an American scientist had a marked influence. His name was Dr. Julius Sumner Miller (May 17, 1909 – April 14, 1987) and he lived in Australia for a period and had a television show called “Why is it So?”

Television itself in Australia was also quite new and just the right medium for this fascinating Professor to win widespread appeal as he questioned convectional wisdom.

Using whimsical antics he would make physics fun and to make you think about how everything worked ..

When this irascible Dr. of Physics talked about Newton’s first law of motion, it all sounded gobbledygook when he explain it by saying,

Inertia is an object or mass that is not moving and therefore inertia is mass, hence a moving mass will wish to keep moving, whereas a mass at rest will wish to remain as rest”.

His seemingly eccentric style of using simple experiments and provocative questions all resonated with the public sense of fascination and send his ratings skyrocketing.

But in a different way too his “Why is it So?” question had a profound effect on many of us  shaping our way of thinking. It seems for all of us these kinds of formative years defining experiences setup what ongoing we accept is the as-is.  Hence that foundation that gives us the vision to flower and grow may also also constrain us unless “Why is it So?” remain perpetual to break that faith in those foundations when they change or becomes obsolete ?

In my case as a early grade school student, I seemed bright socially but so academically I struggled with what was then conventional to learn by rote. I was lucky however in grade three when I mastered the times table, my parents began to see I was not a compete write off.

About then an eye astigmatism that was blurring my vision was picked by the school doctors. Before I had gotten to far into the dark this intervention remedied my learning difficulties. The prescription glasses emancipation meant for me it was so much more fun leaning my A B C’s through to Z . Even though I was never going to go to Harvard, resetting that foundation let me break through when my time was right.

I suspect too that my increased attention to learning in grade three was due a lot to the teacher, Miss Pinfold. She always favored kids who tried, Elephant and Kangaroo stamps on the back of lids hands were her treat. That incentive saw me proud at home to showed my Mum when I got one, who bless her, always praised me too.

A pretty girl. Susan James who sat near me also had a impact, She was way out of my league because I was dumb, but I didn’t know that. Yes we were all around 8 years old then but she was cute and being bright she had no fear to sit up the front. But given my crush I also had lift my game to keep my upfront spot with her Even though with my new spectacles I could see very well, it made me an ugly duckling, so I had to perform to keep in her good books.  

Conversely less pleasant experiences meant I failed to go on to be a concert pianist, after my Mum and Dad spent their hard earn cash for private lessons. They thought I just wasn’t interested, but I know now the teaching methods were at the heart of my inertia. My music teacher would eat apples beside me when I played and often wrapped on my knuckles with wooden ruler if missed a note, especially doing scales. Surprisingly something stuck with me after I gave up the lessons.

Later when I took to practicing piano again. I also recalled from those early painful lessons some value so I then learned to play quite well on my own and could I even play by ear.  That meant “do you know” and “play it again” notoriety befell me in requests at family parties when I became confident enough and had some sort of repertoire, My brother Steve, who played guitar, was often call on too, so we made a good team.

One thing I was not so good at was reading about theory, at least until I went to University. I did learn however that reading was a good way to find out about how things work. I guess that complimented what I like most kids do to pull things apart to see how they work.

Starting by looking at something real in a holistic state not only lets you see and understanding how something works, but also how it is used. In my case, I often went further to get under the hood, so memory training became very important too.  That was vital for getting things back together, before I got into trouble.

One day our family got one of those newfangled Hills Hoists installed in our garden. This revolutionary rotary clothes line, was replacing the long wires that spanned many gardens to hang clothes to dry. One day the fascination of how the lifting mechanism worked had me and my bother open the casing to see. What we found  was a clever three gear mechanism inside, that  I learned later was at the heart of the patent that made the Hills Hoist a world revolution.

For directional transfer the winding handle initially works the same as car differential. But instead of turning the wheels when the drive shaft turns it winches an internal shaft to lift or lower the clothes line frame on top. In other words when the handle turns the crown gear winches a rack up or down inside the pole. Our father was never the wiser as we put the casing back on , but we knew the smarts.

By then I had learned the value of the writing things down. Remembering steps in an intuitive order is quite hard especially if there are breaks in the workflow. I learned that lesson much more when I got my first car and had to fix things. Fitting corroded welch plugs, broken water pumps, and making oil changes all for economic reason  were all done by yours truly home mechanic.  But it was ever so easy to forget key items like the thermometer or a sump plug when doing a reassembly.

The Homer Simpson joke about “Where is there Any-Key” says it all for me now. I know well that having a KISS basis to write things down provides me so much discipline to crystallize things I might otherwise take for granted or get wrong. The so called intellectual property it generates to be used it over and over allows others to use it to test and improve things.

Having poor sight may have given me an advantage in that I listened more for learning rather than by reading. My brother came in one day and shared a story of mate who had use a watch and the sun as a compass when he became lost in the city. It was not until I became lost in the bush some years later I recalled my brother’s story and found a path out. Knowing north was the halfway position between the hands after lining up the 6 and the 12 with the sun probably saved me a night of being wet cold and hungry and waiting to be found .

In university I found my feet and excelled. By actually listening in the lectures and then reinforcing that with study and tutorial work. I reversed my average high school level performance where set book leaning had been the teaching style.

It was not till I got to University that I had realized why I got poor grades and why I had a low attention span. A wake up call had in fact come sooner in year 11. My father had encouraged me to sit for a national scholarship exam, which I did knowing full well I had no hope. But not being part of the curriculum I felt just like fun and I went all out. I knew I had done well but I was the most surprised of anyone when I leaned I had creamed it with distinctions and ended up winning one of the only 200 places offered in the state.

It seemed I was one of those people who had learned to learn by not only doing but by also following the experiences of the others. That was so much more rewarding and infinitely of more value .

But it was not without cost to the the patience of my parents, which at times was stretched. Working items in our house often went missing for experiments.

At around ten years old, my Auntie gave me a how to book for Christmas, In was a plan of how to make crystal set radio which become my next project. The result was a very crude radio made of bits from my Dad’s shed.

I did not waste my hard earned paper-round pocket money on kit as the how-to-book had suggested. For the tuner I used a cardboard tube to wrap copper wire around to make a coil. The aerial was light gage wire that our mate Warren Dickens who lived across the road found it in his Dad’s garden shed. Fully assembled the aerial went out my bedroom window and up long timber pole that my Dad fixed to the house for me and then it stretched across our garden to another pole. I took great care to make sure it was secured well so the wind did not make it go close to anything metal.

I also learned a valuable lesson from that day about the being insured against risk of damage to private property. I had climbed onto the roof to secure my aerial and cracked some tiles. A couple of weeks later heavy rain saw water running down the walls in our lounge.

My father, who was a builder, had already taught me about how to walk on the front edge of roof tiles where they rest on the baton. So that for me it was an expensive lesson as I had to forgo my hard earned pocket money to pay for replacement tiles and fixing the water damage.

For those people into crystal sets, you would know for that to work the natural electricity from the radios waves come in via the antenna which in turns needs a ground wire to work. In my case I ran that out of my bedroom window and attached it to a water pipe being a good ground conductor.  To my father’s dismay I had scraped the paint away to get a good contact but he forgave me when I promised to make good. He then helped me to figure out how connect my headset.

That final component was what made it all work. But joining the earpiece you actually needed to understand how the natural frequency flow works inside the device. Imagining how and where to bridge the wires was not so easy. The drawing was clear enough once you have intuitive understanding, but it was not intuitive to me then. In the end I got the connection point right so the radio signal was syphoned to the hearing set it as it came down the aerial through the coil.

I had also cannibalized the earpiece from battery operated tape recorder, which of course then rendered that toy useless. But having cut off the plug I could no longer test the earpiece for problems with the wires now bared to join them to my circuit. This mistake bothered me. My loss of confidence in how I imagined it worked meant having to get my Dad to help me think it though.

Finally it worked to our delight the cracking turned to the sound of a human voice as I worked the tuner. From then on after school I was often to be found in my room. But doing my homework took second place to being plugged into this sub-standard signal for hours listening to radio serials that we could get clearly on the family radio set.

Who remembers the ABC Radio Argonauts Club and the Hop Hariigan Radio serial based on the comic of the same name? My brother and my two sisters would listen to those radio classics in so much more comfort in the living room, but I did not care. It had my own radio and was in complete control.

In the end as an incentive to get me to do my homework my parents bought me a kit version which worked so much better. True to form I had it apart in no time so see how it improved on my home grown attempt.

But this time my earlier experience had taught me how to do things in way so my reassembly did not became work in progress. At that impressionable time of life electronic communication became my passion and dominated social activity with the wires over fences to the neighborhood kid’s houses?

The phone by then was already pervasive but we preferred the excitement of building our own which had the added advantage of secrecy to talk out of earshot of the parents .

Facebook was not invented so as kids we just set about forming an early wired social network. A far cry from the early string and tin cans we had graduated with it use field phone handsets with battery power that we got from the army disposals store.

We actually sent our first ring tone using Morse code akin to SMS packets sent today. The signals -..- .-. .- -.– / – — / –.. ..- .-.. ..- (Xray to Zulu) was transmitted down the wire to vibrate the membrane of the army disposals field telephone handsets.

It was exciting and we felt like Edison must have felt. We had created our network using telegraph technology as the ringer over a copper wire broadband infrastructure. So it seemed way back then before the internet was even dreamt about, we had mastered voice, data analogue and wireless all delivered across our own secure Local Area Network

It also got great applause on its launch. To the amusement of all the parents as their kids ran to answer their new smartphones. That foundation of that experience and the imagination that went into creating and putting to real use something from scratch was immeasurable for me and all the neighbourhood kids who worked on it.

Ever since I have been fascinated by how things work, especially for business. That perhaps is why I enjoy working with people who never want to stop working to improve and create new ideas for better business and living solutions.

Life itself requires innovation to sustain our very existence. So bringing the Dr Julius Sumner Miller "why is it so" based way of thinking to others, for me is the prize.

As we realize the ideas and dreams through experience and keep exploring why “What-Is” is,  we can then put to use what we find to change “What Could be” into the “New What Is”.


Should business best practices Include Requests for Information templates?

When responding to a Request for Information (RFI) to qualify to tender a proposal, it always seems a lot of effort.

Experience shows that deals are won and lost not on tenders but on the work that leads up to them. So if you are invited to respond to an RFI to provide solutions, treating it like a qualifying call (which it is) does need all our pre-sales skills to deliver it well, so it will count.

As part of our business at Sherwood Group Consulting, as Performance Management specialists, when we get into this process with large companies. we rarely do it alone.

On very large deals we join in large vendors. like INFOR, Microsoft and other big guys whose software  we may be proposing as an underlying technology for our offerings. Getting them involved as collaborating partners adds their brand weight with ours and  makes a deal more complete for buyers able to deal with just one team. Such responses also stand a better chance to lock out fifth column  initiatives from inside partners organizations.

Partnering as specialists with large consulting and system integrator firms is good too. This may include the likes of professional firms such as Deloitte, where high end connections are important. If they invite you to partner on one of their prospects it can work very well as they need you. In cases where we engage them as long as their value is seen along with their equally high end fees so they can be paid for from the deal,  it can produce very productive outcomes too.

But  we all know very well that letting the tail wag the dog is fraught with issues. As an Advisory firm good sense is to position software and data integration specialists lower in the pecking order in terms of risk and value. It is a mistake however undervalue the significant intellectual investment that they bring as it seriously undermines the practical partnership where all given values are transparently exposed to be exploited.

For example letting a materials supplier handle a building contract would not make sense so why do it with Software. Being  commission based too once the capability is delivered the vendor salesman exits or at best becomes passive as the deal is reduced to almost risk free to him. Software vendors however like any product vendor are very alert to ensure a good job is done so  final outcomes become reference-able  with no issues that impact their product credibility.

Getting advisers on board who have both business process and vendor product experience does work well to make a change work, It is actually at the heart of what makes that difference to software based implementations . It may seem like the jumbo jet being flown by a crop-duster pilot but it is quite the reverse. Large software organizations, especially in Asia, are Sales KPI driven by US focused models and are heavily reliant on specialists to captain and make fly what they sell.

The services to do that are akin to a building renovator. In a building firm, the Architect does the new designs and the team renovates a building for his client in a way that makes the transition as easy as they can. Once they work out the needs, and prepare the lifestyle layouts, they co-ordinate materials and trades skills to assemble them, so it can be used as living accommodation in the way intended.

A practical business advisory does the same to renovate a business process. Here design, assembly of technology and workflows with measures and reporting steps are delivered to make it all work to meets new capability objectives. Sold well this also stacks up with purchasing teams who are now more  attuned so it happens with less risks. Many prefer to use an advisory firm to change the process habits while delivering software implementations.

It all sounds good for the buyer but as the proposer one thing you should never underestimate  when tendering is size; The tendering process itself is a project of no small proportions, and should be treated as such so the RFI does its job so any ensuing proposal has a solod foundation.

In our case Sherwood Group Consulting, even though we no longer sell software directly, with our vendors of choice we lead on the deals. The nature of our arrangements is on the advisory services component we bear all the risk and the vendors underwrite their products. That way we can remain reasonably independent to assess a prospect client needs before we recommend a solution approach, which may vary from case to case.

We also never enter into implementation deals primed by software companies. Like the sales deals where their primary aim to sell licenses, by becoming a subcontractor adds the vendor middle man risk in which adds unacceptably high cost, typically of around 20-30% .

On the other hand  taking the prime role Advisory firms are then seen as fully committed to manage the final delivery and control of the costs. This allows them to leverage and balance of strengths of all the parties, to give  greater value for everyone involved

Putting all the noble ethics and compromise boundaries aside, projects these days are no place for the feint heated.  Clients can also be quite ruthless and are generally commercially savvy in understanding the maturity and limits of the business software vendor market.

But on  Go to market knowledge getting procurement processes to do their homework is rare. As is engaging  skills is no longer an intuitive  norm for such things like doing prerequisite as-is and to-be based processes requirements analysis. What is folly is assuming vendors are all Rhodes Scholars and understand high level and often obtuse objectives, like "improved efficiency" which are push to markets to see what they get.

That of course means a high duty of care and business risk in burdened to the prime contractor, who in turn is accountable. The implementation advisor, even though they may be certified and backed up to make the software work, they are still accountable for the end output.

So no matter how much you  do the homework, you will be hung out to dry if you don’t your insist on back to back risk mitigation clauses and factor in the high cost of managing them. That includes making an assessment of client capability and then making  it clear in the words that include what you expect from them. And remember too that loose acceptance in Asia is not clear cut especially when there is drift. So you need to be prepared to reinforce the expectation message over and over again, as you proceed.

It makes sense that taking the prime spot in the advisory position is the logical place to join all the players to win. That is equally tough and unrelenting as the risks to carry the can if anyone fails is very clear. But as advisers we have no choice hence we rarely accept s subcontractor role  In the end be-it design integration, process change. just the software  or the lot, if any element fails without project managed  mitigation , so does the whole project.

Being advisory by nature always places us in the middle and we will whacked for sure if we don’t do our commercial and project homework well and know our game. It forces us to be very sharp so it is not a bad position as at least we can have some semblance of control and leverage for best options on the risk management .

All  RFI’s are different but having a standard boiler plate of responses can help a lot when you are slogging thru a tedious list of requirements.  The too  if a subsequent request for tender (RFP) is sloppy or ambiguous (RFP follows on after the RFI qualifying stage) an appendix may help to narrow the risk of any influence er bias built into questions.

As a baseline I dug out an RFI we did for one of those few hard to win big deals we all used to see in the good old days. On that occasion we lead and won, based not only on our submissions but also after long relationship setting gestation. I must add that we had quality input from all our partners and especially the senior people who trusted us to represent them and protect their value.

In the pages following I have shared this RFI  response. The client name, a large multinational public listed group in Asia, has been withheld for various reasons.

Any business considering a CPM or BI solution, here are some questions to ask your advisers and vendors, to see how they stack up. Even though the client name is suppressed the client questions are real. Some privacy editing has been done on our responses. >>>> .



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Is a Cloud Business Intelligence Service a no-brainer at 40% of in-house cost?

We talk about big dinosaurs of reporting that are facing extinction. What is good to know is the evolution of Business Intelligence, which has been with us since the Industrial revolution, is moving to becoming a “business current state” service with the low cost cloud very seamless to deploy in and simple to use and understand.

Managers will never stop setting and managing targets. What also never stops is the need to do it faster to meet market demands. More than ever traditional tools are at best now problematic. Dynamic predictive planning tools linked to real business data are vital.

Even so, with Business Intelligence being so much cheaper to deploy as almost a commodity the reality is to now it has remained in the hands of the elite.  But not for long!

What has changed, even for small to medium business, is most have some sort of embedded real time visibility of business transactions in their core system that allow some focus on process stages near real-time.

This is driven by the competitive need for the ability to be market responsive and change plans quickly and collaborate much faster on operational improvements.

Hence being able to see outcomes and correct the tactics with an “always current” end-to-end view across each process is high priority in most multi-tenanted business.

Decision makers are also aware the tools exist to see who and what is delivering best value to customers, and right down to bottom line impact and what competitors are be doing in the same space.

Traditional finance reporting method however still prevails with 82% of organizations in matured economies lacking visibility on line of business profitability.  This is even lower in Asia where traditional ways are harder to change.

The 18% who do have their business information integrated, have long since learned that deep dive analysis lets them see how to improve margins using very direct, fine focus measurement driving continuous improvement of process performance.

Faster and more reliable business information has always been the vital competitive ingredient. Business Intelligence systems that join all the data to replace draconian qualifying processes that rely on finance.

One good example is big retailers and chains who hook directly into their cash register or point of sale source. These big guys with big volumes and many outlets have been doing this well for decades, allowing them to focus on both detail and scale. It also has wide reach to also manage supplier performance.

Planning managers using data mining and analytics tools also handle much wider segmentation and understand more on how to influence their overall market and service footprints. With big data able to be mined and interpreted they get dual performance perspectives quickly at both helicopter and ground level operational detail.

None of this is new; it’s just that it’s much easier to do now for any business. Pervasive big data web technology to link business intelligence together with performance management processes, is no longer a big budget item.

The emerging proliferation of cloud services is making it even cheaper and easier to deploy. SME’s and large enterprises alike are now adopting Business Intelligence and planning tools at a rapid pace due to lower barriers to entry like new licensing options (e.g. pay-per-use) and reduced cost of IT infrastructure, thanks to public cloud services.

These organizations can take that leap of faith and replace their constrained highly inefficient conventional reporting processes (that rely on high cost finance dependent skills that have been dedicated to preparing, then qualify these summary business reports).

Transcending traditional thinking for everyone too is being able to get timely analysis and reports directly from in-house transaction data. With cost effective tools in reach for all business, the elite 18% of businesses no longer have a competitive advantage.

In the race to the cloud market the software industry is using innovative disruptive tactics to drive rapid adoption of new cheaper to deploy Business Intelligence and planning tools. This means everyone can get succinct planning systems able to be integrated with detailed current coal-face level performance data.

What’s becoming increasingly evident are cost models of “business current state” services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Using Hybrid & public cloud services is so fast to deploy business tools, with previous road blocking concerns around security and data sovereignty having been addressed.

The race to market is now on for the very cost effective next generation cloud-based solutions and products.