On 2nd & 3rd Order Consequences Pt 2

March 18, 2010

In part 1 of this post, I stated that as a general manager, you already have the skill set to ask the necessary questions to ensure that recommendations or decisions made by your technology staff are suitable for your strategic goals. A background in technology is not required.

In your own field of expertise, you already know that every decision has consequences. And yes, those consequences can go far beyond that immediate decision. Some brief examples I gave in part 1, you acknowledge that there will be  trade offs required when deciding volume vs. margin, or quality vs. cost.

So! here in part 2, I wanted to give a recent example that demonstrates basic questions that allow you to better understand these trade offs when it comes to your business technology.

The Task

In our sample case, a software developer was given this task;

Evaluate and then provide a recommendation on a software tool designed for software development teams.  (In this example it was a development team member, but this could have occurred with a consultant or supplier as well.)

First, this type of team based software tool is not like Microsoft  Word where you double click the SETUP icon and keep clicking next until it finishes. This type of team based tool needs a server, and it needs a database. In other words, a few more background tasks have to take place before you can use it.

After the evaluation, the recommendation was made to purchase one of the products to run on the companies local (on site) servers.

As a General Manager?

It sounds simple! – ask for an evaluation of  several products,  then receive a recommendation on one of them!

But is that recommendation the best fit for your strategies and your goals?Is this the best fit?

And this is where I want to demonstrate that you do not need to be a technology expert to ask the questions necessary to validate the decision. Basic questions similar to the samples I provided in part 1 can lead you into further detail on what the next level consequences may be of that recommendation.

This simple evaluation and recommendation of one single tool provides an excellent example of what we are talking about about asking basic questions that ensure that the recommendation meets your strategic goals.

Question: Does this idea fit into our current infrastructure and goals?

If your goals are to minimize internal IT bits and pieces, this recommendation fails. Installing this software on your  site requires servers and other IT infrastructure. In this case the tool can also be purchased on-line as a service which may be better aligned with your goals.

Question: Does it require new services such as new databases, servers, or technologies?

Perhaps the answer is that the tool simply uses a web server and a database – and that everybody just uses their existing web browser.

With that one answer to a general question, you have hit pay dirt.

Because you can ask; what web server? Do you even have a Web server at your site? Is it the right Web server that the software needs?

What database? do you have that database? or is something else that has to be either purchased, installed and maintained?

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

Perhaps the answer is yes to all the above, but in may cases, the answer will be no. New skills would have to be learned, and new tools deployed. Perhaps it actually uses different technology than you currently use in your environment, That would mean you would have a second type of database server, or second type of web server.

In this type of case where you choose to duplicate services, complexity will kill you on operational and maintenance costs.

The SMB Takeaway

As a manager in a small to medium business it can be too easy to assume that every recommendation or decision provided by your technology staff or supplier has already considered the next level consequences of that recommendation or decision.

Unfortunately, that will not always be the case.

I hope I have demonstrated that you do not need to know one database from another to still ask the questions that will assist you in determining the consequences, both in cost, and in your strategic goals in any recommendation or decision that involves your business technology systems.

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Photo Credit bootload via flickr

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