On 2nd And 3rd Order Consequences Pt1

February 19, 2010

I wanted to break this into two posts, one as an introduction, and the second giving one recent example I experienced recently that demonstrates the concept.

As a general manager in an SME, there is a pretty good chance that your technology support individual or small technology team will be reporting to you, not to a dedicated IT Manager.

And as that general manager, you may feel that you don’t have the technical knowledge to question any recommendations or decisions made by your IT team.

Don’t feel that way! because that is a mistake, you don’t need to be a complete techie to ask these questions about these recommendations or decisions.

What the techies can forget

Quite simply, as a general manager, you are more likely to think about the second or third order consequences of any recommendation or decision. And unfortunately? too many technology specialists don’t.

As a business manager, your background could be sales, finance, or engineering. Whatever that expertise is, you already know that any decision analysis that is within the domain of your expertise has trade offs. Margin versus volume? Performance versus cost? As a manager, you know that you need to look beyond the basics into the longer term issues with any decision.

While your IT staff may give an idea or recommendation, they often neglect that longer term focus. They may think that recommendation is the  coolest new technology, but what are the second or third order consequences of that recommendation, of that idea, or that decision?

If your goal is reducing cost, perhaps that recommendation will increase costs because it requires secondary services or hardware that you don’t own.

If your goal is to try and use Salesforce.com for as much as possible to reduce CAPEX costs, perhaps this recommendation is going to need new servers and tools on your site.

Now while you rely on your IT team for technical details, it still up to you to ask questions.

These don’t need to be tech questions, but general questions such as;

– Does this idea fit into our current infrastructure and goals? Or does it require new services such as new databases, servers, or technologies.

– Does this recommendation require anything different in the technology infrastructure we have? Or does it have dependencies that are needed that you may not be familiar with?

– Will this work with existing solutions such as our types of servers, or backup software? or does it require new investments and skill sets.

– Does this idea require long term operating costs and requirements?

THE SMB Takeaway

You already think of the trade offs that exist in any decision that you make. So don’t let the fact that you may not be a complete ‘techie’ put you off from understanding those trade offs when it comes to ideas presented by your business technology team.

Because too many technologists may not think of them.

And to ask those questions, you don’t need to know Linux from Windows, or MS SQL from MySQL.

No tech required!

UPDATE: Part 2 is now here

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Photo Credit frangipani photograph’s creative commons via flickr


2 Responses to “On 2nd And 3rd Order Consequences Pt1”

  1. elliotross Says:

    Thanks for dropping by!

    And that is so correct – I did a post earlier on unintended consequences,and even if you try – you can miss some.

    So as an SME, sometimes you have to plan for those ‘unplanned’ unintended consequences.

    But a structured review can at least minimize that risk!


  2. itorganization2017 Says:

    Great post, Elliot! These second and third order consequences are really important, and easily overlooked.

    And there’s a way non-techie managers can help even more – by exploring the ‘unintended consequences.’ I’ve often done an exercise with my consulting clients where we will take a little time to think through the possible unintended consequences of a decision or action. These are often not technical, and would have been overlooked if the manager had not explicitly explored them.

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