I was reading a blog post on the Sales Proceess by Micheal Webb, and his closing argument resonated with me quite a bit. One of the biggest benefits of having a process is to ensure you make use of the knowledge already available within your organization. He writes…

“[W]hen someone does something that works better, the organization doesn’t know why it worked. The power of process thinking is in its ability to harness this knowledge for the benefit of the organization”

When thinking about processes, a mistake done by make people on both sides of the table is to think “compliance”. This is why processes have gotten the bad …

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On choosing a transition partner for process improvment…

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I was reading a blog post on the Sales Proceess by Micheal Webb, and his closing argument resonated with me quite a bit. One of the biggest benefits of having a process is to ensure you make use of the knowledge already available within your organization. He writes…

“[W]hen someone does something that works better, the organization doesn’t know why it worked. The power of process thinking is in its ability to harness this knowledge for the benefit of the organization”

When thinking about processes, a mistake done by make people on both sides of the table is to think “compliance”. This is why processes have gotten the bad reputation that they have. Just think, would you like to do something just to ensure you dont get into trouble? Or do something which increases your productivity, ensures you get your work done on time and enhances your sense of satisfaction with your job?

The trouble is, most management teams dont see it that way. And neither do most consultants for that matter. What happens in reality is something like the following.

1. Management decides something is not right and something needs to be done to ‘improve’, or get certfied to win more business.
2. Management researches possible solutions and comes up with frameworks (ITIL, CMMI, ISO9001, ISO27001 etc) which promise benefits through ‘best practices’
3. Management tasks someone (either an in-house resource or a consultant) to implement the framework to get the desired result.

(and here is where this breaks down)

4. The implementor see’s the best practices and assumes (for the most part) it is a requirement to follow, no matter the consequences.
5. Processes, work instructions and templates are drawn up by people, most of whom have never been in those particular situations, just to ensure requirements are met (compliance achieved)
6. These processes are thrust upon the employees, leading to mass confusion, dissociation, mistrust and disgruntlement.
7. Audits and appraisals are scheduled forcing people to comply with requirements rather than do their jobs (increasing the above mentioned side effects)
8. Audits and appraisals are held successfully and management is content with its decision.
9. Couple of weeks/months later, the whole team of employees, which made up the company, leave for greener pastures due to non-satisfaction with work environment!
10. Management wins a couple more contracts, since they now ‘comply’ with new framworks, but have no productive people to work on them, instead have (for want of a better word) mules to carry on activies.
11. Organization cannot deliver quality product/services to its new clients, who then leave.
12. Company looses client base, and eventually settles for low yield projects (after downsizing significantly) or closes up shop.

Okay, so maybe i’ve gone a bit too far with the doomsday scenario, but how many of us in mid-level careers can admit not to have seen this happen before?

So whats the solution? Think back to the quote by Micheal Webb. “The power of process thinking is in its ability to harness this knowledge for the benefit of the organization”.

If you are in an organization which is planning for process improvement (specifically CMMI, or any of the ISO families of certifications), think about who’s going to be your partner for transition. Is it going to be someone who does steps 4 and 5? Or someone who will spend time and glean knowledge from YOUR teams to make YOUR processes work better, eventually making sure you have a good work environment to retain your human resources, make them more productive and deliver your projects/services on time and within schedule.

The choice of a transition partner is paramount and not something which should be considered lightly.

Facebook comments:


  • I agree with what you said Mansoor, but in reality it is really hard for keep the balance that you’re suggesting. Probably because there are three different (almost separate) entities involved.
    First of it’s the management who needs to get that certification and hence brings in the exorbitantly paid consultant. They hate the consultant’s guts because they cost so much and most of them act like arrogant jerks. So they want to get the job done as soon as possible.
    Then we’ve got the mid-level managers and employees who are already overworked and don’t appreciate people butting in their work to ask questions. Knowing that the consultants are just going to come up with suggestions that’ll make no sense to them and yet they will have to follow them.
    That leaves us the consultants who know that they have to work against all these resisting forces to get their job done.

    Now I agree, that choosing the right transition partner is necessary, but equally important is for the management to align the corporate goals with goals of departments and even individuals.
    And I know .. all this is easier said than done and the firm will probably hire more consultants to get this job done as well 😛

  • The right approach to organizational improvement!!! Building processes around the existing practices, and targeting the most problematic areas first is the way to go. The mindset should be diverted towards IMPROVEMENTS instead of CERTIFICATION. Ask the right questions to the right people to identify bottlenecks, and set the priority of fixing problems by involving the team members. The feeling of participation by team members instead of the consultant/partner loading them with templates, forms and documents will yield the right results. The pace would be slower, but in the end, it’ll pay off!!!

  • arfeen: quite right, there are these three factors, but even then, the first two exist because the right partner has not been chosen. Allow me to explain,

    1. If a consultant shows management that they are delivering ‘value’ to them and their organization, then cost becomes (and should become) a secondary issue. Why? because almost everybody would pay a premium (or a kings ransom in some cases) just to ensure the work gets done and done well, and the company gets the benefit out of it. The only reason then to hate the consultant’s guts are if the consultant doesn’t deliver the value (which unfortunately also happens)

    2. If a consultant does come up with suggestions that doesn’t make sense to the mid level managers, then the right partner has not been chosen. The right partner will ‘augment’ your business processes and come up with ideas and proposals which will help them work better and something which the mid level managers also agree to.

    3. the third factor does get mitigated if the first two issues are handled. In the world of consulting, this form of client education is truly what seperates good consultants from the bad :p

    but yes, you are right that most of the times, this is easier said than done.

    afaq: well said. if we dont involve the teams, then we’ve got nothing to show in the end except a dust collecting manual of processes and templates no one wants to use

  • Shahzad Shah

    Excellent writeup. My organization has also embarked on such an initiative and seeing 4 or 5 happening would really be the last thing we’d want.

  • Excellent summary Mansoor. One of the underlying issues in your doomsday scenario is management commitment and the proper setting of Business Goals and Objectives, Process Goals and Objectives, Quality Goals and Objectives, Project Management Goals and Objectives, etc. Achieving a certification like ISO 9000 or a CMMI Maturity Level is NOT, and should NEVER be, one of these Goals and Objectives. Unfortunately, setting the achievement of ISO or a CMMI Matuity Level is often what I see as a Business Goal and Objective when I teach the CMMI class or pay the initial visit to a new client. When the organization has this view of why it is in business, then they display ALL of the dysfunctional behaviors you noted above.

    In my experience, most managers do not know how to perform proper goal setting without some coaching and mentoring. Either the goals are too lofty (motherhood and apple pie) or they have nothing to do with their core business (achieve ISO 9000 etc.).

    And if their customers are demanding ISO 9000 or CMMI in order for the company to win new business, then it is extremely difficult to get management’s attention to set proper goals and objectives.

  • shahzad: congratulations on getting on the path! that is the hardest thing to do for most and i believe you’ve already achieved more than 30% of your result. if you need any help or clarity on a topic, please do not hesitate to ask.

    henry: glad you have you here henry. i completely agree and support your analysis that it is management commitment which is at fault here. goal setting is normally either relegated to the sales department or the CEO who then put it off for ‘more pressing tasks’.

  • Thanks Mansoor. we could definitely use some help. You see, our consultant having a holistic and thorough understanding of our business (and specially the key areas that need attention), we think, should be the prime concern of ours. What i dont understand is how in the world does anyone make sure that whatever they’re being is actually the problem? By saying this i dont really doubt the capabilities of the consultants out there including ours.. My points is.. how do i know that my consultant knows right?

    Ideas please??? :)


  • Well shahzad, one of the first things you’ll learn during this process is that there is no right or wrong. Its that simple.

    Allow me to explain briefly, although i think this would be better off as a separate post in its own right.

    Why i say there is no right or wrong is because that would imply someone or some authority has decreed a particular way to be the ‘correct way’. No human is qualified to make such a statement because of the very fact that we’re human and we err. Also, because organizations are made up of human’s they have a feature which is inherent to their population.. a character. You see, no two organization’s are the same… because they are made up of people and no two people are completely the same either. While we may try to impose uniformity upon the whole company, that’s rarely achievable and even more rarely beneficial because it is our differences which give us our unique flavor and in business, our edge to compete.

    So if nothing is right and nothing is wrong then how do you know if ‘it’ is right? Because it should, inherently, work for you! Makes you productive and makes you achieve your goals. Everything else is plain ‘wrong’. No matter who says otherwise.

    See, simple :)

    hope this helps. and trust your consultant 😉 he knows what he’s doing.

  • Dear Shahzad,
    It is very interesting that you should ask this question today about the integrity of consultants. I just finished taking an on-line Ethics class from the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The SEI is conducting a series of Ethics classes for all of the SEI professionals, which include SEI employees, visiting scientists, SEI-authorized Lead Appraisers, Instructors, Observers, and candidates for these positions. There is also a Professional Code of Conduct that all SEI professionals must abide by. What this all means then is that you should be able to rely on an SEI professional to be an honest and professional consultant, trainer, and/or appraiser. The vetting process for the SEI should weed out some of the behavior you are concerned about. This should also be true for consultants liscensed by other professional or regulatory agencies. You really need to examine the consultant’s credentials. If they are not either an authorized or lisenced individual, then you will get what you pay for and may be in situation described above. However, these lisences and authorizations are not absolute, but they do tend to mitigate the problem.

    And on a more practical note, before you engage with a consultant, you should perform your own due diligence and request references from other clients who can talk to in order to determine if the consultant has exhibited the behaviors noted in the above comments or if he/she is not knowledgable of your business.

    Henry Schneider
    SEI-authorized Intro to CMMI Instructor
    SEI-authorized High Maturity Lead Appraiser

  • thank you henry, for adding a very good point to the discussion.

    while being licensed and authorized to provide professional services is a norm in more developed countries, in pakistan, it is still a distant future.

    your practical point is much more valid and i believe that in the absence of licensing, this should provide a much more stable manner of feedback as well as become a service standard for consultants looking to secure future work.

    one thing i’d like to add is, when all else fails, meaning you find a consultant who does not references involved in the same business as yours, then look for qualities such as responsiveness, willingness to learn and willingness to explore. also, make sure to meet with the complete team your consultant will put on your end, and not just the senior/sales people, to get a more complete feel of what sort of people will be advising you.

  • Dear Mansoor,
    Great points! In addition, the licensed consultants are usually more expensive than the others. Therefore, you get what you pay for. A low cost consultant may look very attractive up front, but in the long run he/she may end up costing the company more money than if the company had contracted with a licensed consultant.

    One final point, consultants should be of the mind set that they are being hired to help the company or organization, NOT augment their staff. A good consultant realizes that they will only be working for their client for a “short” time, not permanently. The end goal is to improve the company or organization so much that they no longer require the consultant’s services.


  • Dear Henry and Mansoor, I fully agree with the valuable thoughts being shared between you. A consultant to me is just like a Teacher and other than Business, he also carries a lot of social and moral responsibility of guiding the organization. I would even like to go to the extend that they should assume the role of Partners in Quality of Clinet Organization.

    On the other hand, the organizations should spend some time in evaluating the credentials of the consultant, previous assignments and other means, as it will clarify lots of things.

    CMMI and ISO standards are very good, as they save time of reinventing the wheel and you can have a Jump Start but most certainly Maturity Levels of CMMI should be adding value to the clinet in terms of process efficiencies and not only Marketing Efforts. I put it like this that marketin benefit comes as a By-product.

    these were my 10 cents on the topic.


    Farhan Mirza
    CMMI Lead Appraisal
    Lahore, Pakistan.

  • farhan bhai: you do me honor by commenting on my post! thankyou for your 10 cents, they have certainly helped making me richer.

    please do keep coming around and sharing your thoughts.. they would help keep the community alive!

  • Dear Farhan,
    Thank you so much for your positive comments. I couldn’t agree with you more. If you would, please take some time to read my blog at PPQC.blogspot.com and leave some comments there as well. There is a lot of CMMI questions answered in my blog.
    Henry Schneider

  • thanks for the link henry.

  • Thanks for the Appreciation Henry and Mansoor. I have visited the link of PPQC Blog, looks very nice. Will definitely jump in some discussions there as well.


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