• Thanks for stopping by. Logging in to a registered account will remove all generic ads. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

Don’t Put a Digital Expert in Charge of Your Digital Transformation

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
4,591
Points
1,060
FYI … and Amen  ;D

Don’t Put a Digital Expert in Charge of Your Digital Transformation

“Although a digital guru may understand how to create a digital business from scratch without the constraints faced by an established business, when you put them in a real company setting, they will often fail simply because they don’t understand the business.”

https://hbr.org/2019/08/dont-put-a-digital-expert-in-charge-of-your-digital-transformation

 

Michael OLeary

Army.ca Fixture
Subscriber
Donor
Reaction score
1
Points
410
Well, that pretty much describes the creation and evolution of the DWAN.
 

Kirkhill

Army.ca Legend
Subscriber
Donor
Reaction score
743
Points
1,060
Can I add lawyers and accountants to the list of people that don't understand business?
 

FJAG

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
1,900
Points
1,040
Chris Pook said:
Can I add lawyers and accountants to the list of people that don't understand business?

Most corporate lawyers and accountants understand business in the general sense quite well so that they can provide proper legal and accounting advice to most businesses. They may not know the detailed aspects of a particular client's business but then again that's not necessary to provide their professional advice. OTOH, quite a few to the point where they move into corporations as CEOs and CFOs. (Your experiences may differ  ;D)

Digital experts on the other hand rarely have a broad based business experience which is why one assigns project directors out of the corporate leadership and project managers out of the IT contractor and has business analysts involved to a) analyse the business to help structure the IT solution, and b) develop the business transformation plan to implement the IT solution.

All too often businesses fail to provide project directors or business analysts or under-resource the positions.

:cheers:
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
4,591
Points
1,060
FJAG said:
All too often businesses fail to provide project directors or business analysts or under-resource the positions.

:cheers:

Or, more usually, have the IT and business people working in separate silos where they don't interact except through hundreds of 'change orders'.
 

Navy_Pete

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
606
Points
1,040
Chris Pook said:
Can I add lawyers and accountants to the list of people that don't understand business?

I've met a few corporate lawyers working for the other side that were excellent, and really had a solid grasp on the business, that I learned a lot from. Have yet to find a DND lawyer that has a clue what the project goals are, how govt business works, and what is practical, but that didn't stop any of them from providing business advice without answering the actual legal question put to them.  My  :2c: we (DND) don't give lawyers working on contracts the swim lanes and let them take over negotiations when they are in fact unqualified due to lack of any relevant experience on projects.  Really a breath of fresh air to get outside counsel opinion on those, but we also don't ever involve jr lawyers in the project world, so not really their fault they have no context or experience.  If you want anyone to have business sense, they need to actually work on the business end, and that's pretty hard to care about if you have no responsibility for piddly things like the budget, meeting deadlines, scope, etc.

Some of the opinions that I saw are mind boggling, and showed a stunning lack of comprehension to how business works, but there was a certain arrogance that they knew better. Even if you had experience in the industry, or provided relevant supreme court decisions..... yeah... [/end rant]

My general experience and from everything I've read shows that showing a bit of common sense, ability to make a decision, willingness to learn, and having coffee with people will generally let you push projects forwards. Helps to be an expert in something, but having a team of experts in different areas is maybe even better. Bit of a combination of making some decisions to keep the ball rolling and giving people enough rope to run ahead on their own steam. If all else fails, make a fancy powerpoint using the right bureacratese and buzzwords and you too can be a senior leader!
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
4,591
Points
1,060
Navy_Pete said:
If all else fails, make a fancy powerpoint using the right bureacratese and buzzwords and you too can be a senior leader!

Amen  ;D

‘It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and  they’ll do practically anything you want them to do.’

J.D. Salinger
 

Colin Parkinson

Army.ca Legend
Reaction score
1,806
Points
940
Successful businesses have experts on software and computers sitting with the board to advise them of the consequences of decisions, they also consult senior lawyers and consultants. But it's people with an expertise in business that make the final decision.

Leaving your company in the hands of an accountant while you go on holiday is fine, but not to run the business full time, same with lawyers.
 

Navy_Pete

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
606
Points
1,040
Maybe differentiate between someone's training/background and their prime role?  For example, some people are engineers doing engineering work, others are CEOs that happen to have an engineering backgroud ( same with lawyers, accountants etc).

Business acumen is learned, but there is no reason that anyone who has learned a trade or profession can't pick up the skills.

Often see people who are experts in a field get moved into management because... they are experts in their field and have been there a while.  Recipe for disaster if no one bothers to show them how to do it beforehand, but lots of people are happy just doing their thing and would probably be happier without that 'promotion'.
 

FJAG

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
1,900
Points
1,040
Navy_Pete said:
Maybe differentiate between someone's training/background and their prime role?  For example, some people are engineers doing engineering work, others are CEOs that happen to have an engineering backgroud ( same with lawyers, accountants etc).

Business acumen is learned, but there is no reason that anyone who has learned a trade or profession can't pick up the skills.

Often see people who are experts in a field get moved into management because... they are experts in their field and have been there a while.  Recipe for disaster if no one bothers to show them how to do it beforehand, but lots of people are happy just doing their thing and would probably be happier without that 'promotion'.

Absolutely right. Much of their success or failure depends mostly on their own ability to learn and apply their talents.

I had two partners who left law for private industry. One became a human resources manager for a large chemical
products corporation but even within the firm was known for his inflexibility. He lasted three years in the job before returning to the practice of law (but not to our firm)

The other left to become the president of a major community college at a time when they were greatly expanding the distance learning concept and from there to be the president of Higher Colleges of Technology in the UAE (which has some 1,800 staff and 24,000 students) before coming back to Canada as the CEO of a corporation that handles bulk material transportation services (with over 600 employees) across North America. A very successful business leader.

Law provides a good general education for business but you still need the drive to learn and adapt to the specific business model your getting into.

:cheers:
 

ballz

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
274
Points
910
Colin P said:
But it's people with an expertise in business that make the final decision.

Who has an expertise in "business" exactly? And how did they get it?

Colin P said:
Leaving your company in the hands of an accountant while you go on holiday is fine, but not to run the business full time, same with lawyers.

It's funny. I've always had the inclination to start my own business. I had a business degree and I had leadership and operations experience from the military, and everything I thought about doing I thought "but wait, I don't know anything about that." I had absolutely zero to offer in the private sector, which is why I started a CPA, to have an actual tangible, measurable skill that I can bring to the market. Otherwise, what exactly can I offer? And what can a "business expert" offer?

The heart of every business is delivering some skill set, knowledge, product, etc. to the end-user. Without a skill or body of knowledge of some form, you've got nothing. The rate of self-employment among skilled trades, lawyers, accountants, is quite high. Can an accountant start a successful carpentry business? No. But why would they start a carpentry business instead of a firm? I would challenge you to find someone paying off invoices for services they received from accountants, lawyers, skilled tradesmen, etc. that would assert that they don't know how to make money.
 

daftandbarmy

Army.ca Relic
Reaction score
4,591
Points
1,060
ballz said:
Who has an expertise in "business" exactly? And how did they get it?

It's funny. I've always had the inclination to start my own business. I had a business degree and I had leadership and operations experience from the military, and everything I thought about doing I thought "but wait, I don't know anything about that." I had absolutely zero to offer in the private sector, which is why I started a CPA, to have an actual tangible, measurable skill that I can bring to the market. Otherwise, what exactly can I offer? And what can a "business expert" offer?

The heart of every business is delivering some skill set, knowledge, product, etc. to the end-user. Without a skill or body of knowledge of some form, you've got nothing. The rate of self-employment among skilled trades, lawyers, accountants, is quite high. Can an accountant start a successful carpentry business? No. But why would they start a carpentry business instead of a firm? I would challenge you to find someone paying off invoices for services they received from accountants, lawyers, skilled tradesmen, etc. that would assert that they don't know how to make money.

I know a guy who ran a pretty successful management consulting company, with a BA in History (and some other stuff), for 10 years before getting an MA almost as an afterthought.
 

RDBZ

Member
Reaction score
0
Points
160
daftandbarmy said:
I know a guy who ran a pretty successful management consulting company, with a BA in History (and some other stuff), for 10 years before getting an MA almost as an afterthought.

"Management consulting" covers a pretty wide range of advice though.
 

Colin Parkinson

Army.ca Legend
Reaction score
1,806
Points
940
ballz said:
Who has an expertise in "business" exactly? And how did they get it?

It's funny. I've always had the inclination to start my own business. I had a business degree and I had leadership and operations experience from the military, and everything I thought about doing I thought "but wait, I don't know anything about that." I had absolutely zero to offer in the private sector, which is why I started a CPA, to have an actual tangible, measurable skill that I can bring to the market. Otherwise, what exactly can I offer? And what can a "business expert" offer?

The heart of every business is delivering some skill set, knowledge, product, etc. to the end-user. Without a skill or body of knowledge of some form, you've got nothing. The rate of self-employment among skilled trades, lawyers, accountants, is quite high. Can an accountant start a successful carpentry business? No. But why would they start a carpentry business instead of a firm? I would challenge you to find someone paying off invoices for services they received from accountants, lawyers, skilled tradesmen, etc. that would assert that they don't know how to make money.

My experience with successful business people is that they have a natural talent for it, an ability to balance risk taking, with preservation of assets, they can see opportunity when other don't. You can learn a lot of the administrative tasks and become very good at it, but creating wealth is in my opinion very much a natural talent. A professional without that talent such as an accountant or lawyer will generally maintain the business as is, but won't take the risks required, when required. A person with the natural talent for risk taking is wise to have someone working for them to focuses on the mundane and makes sure the day to day stuff gets done and then the risk taker can focus on the "rain making" which grows the business and wealth.   
 

ballz

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
274
Points
910
Colin P said:
My experience with successful business people is that they have a natural talent for it, an ability to balance risk taking, with preservation of assets, they can see opportunity when other don't. You can learn a lot of the administrative tasks and become very good at it, but creating wealth is in my opinion very much a natural talent. A professional without that talent such as an accountant or lawyer will generally maintain the business as is, but won't take the risks required, when required. A person with the natural talent for risk taking is wise to have someone working for them to focuses on the mundane and makes sure the day to day stuff gets done and then the risk taker can focus on the "rain making" which grows the business and wealth. 

So I agree with you on all of that (although I would add a few things to "natural talent." Few are just born with it... most experience *a lot* of ups, downs, sideways, trials and errors, before they ever make it work. People only pay attention to the end result.), except I'm having a hard time understanding how you have correlated certain occupations with not having that, and you still haven't clarified which occupations you believe are correlated with having business expertise.

It seems the accountants that started Deloitte, KPMG, PwC, EY, CDO, Grant Thornton, were all pretty good at this generating wealth thing. Those firms weren't created by some random "business expert" that just rodeo'd up a bunch of accountants. They were started by accountants with an entrepreneurial personality. Perhaps you haven't dealt with these types of accountants because they are out working for themselves / leading a fairly large firm as opposed to being a staff accountant in a company. Secondly, they didn't start out as business experts just as most others don't, they almost always start out as something else. It was their entrepreneurial personality that then changes them from being a professional accountant to a business owner / partner / etc. This also aligns with our principles of leadership... first principle of leadership being to achieve professional competence. I doubt there are any successful entrepreneurs out there, leading their business to success, that are incompetent at what it is their business does.

Point being, it's incorrect to try to correlate business acumen with any particular profession... As with all professions, most people are working for the man as product of who they are, and then there are those who aren't because of a product of who they are.

Colin P said:
A professional without that talent such as an accountant or lawyer most of the population will generally maintain the business as is, but won't take the risks required, when required.
 

Colin Parkinson

Army.ca Legend
Reaction score
1,806
Points
940
The problem is that people assume that Lawyers and Accountants will be successful in running a business due to their professional training, often the professionals assume as well. That training is good for them to run an established or stable business for a period of time, but in general their training and professional conduct restrictions will limit the risk taking ability required. My wife worked for a few Law firms here and overseas where the owner/Lawyer struggled with the business side of the firm. 
 

ballz

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
274
Points
910
Colin P said:
The problem is that people assume that Lawyers and Accountants will be successful in running a business due to their professional training, often the professionals assume as well.

I guess that's why we come at this from different perspectives. I haven't ever heard someone assert that and so your focus on those two professions in particular is quite odd to me.

Colin P said:
My wife worked for a few Law firms here and overseas where the owner/Lawyer struggled with the business side of the firm. 

That's the case for the majority of all professions. That's why half of all businesses fail in their first five years and only about a third live to be 10 years old. It makes no sense to attribute this anecdote to lawyers being worse at business than anyone else.
 

Navy_Pete

Army.ca Veteran
Subscriber
Reaction score
606
Points
1,040
I don't think that is unique to lawyers or accountants; have seen the same in small engineering firms. On the flip side, did some manual labour for a few different small landscaping companies, and in each case the owner was really good at getting new work and keeping on top of jobs, so ran a pretty good small business.

Suspect some people just assume that because they are an expert in their field, they should be able to figure it out as they go. A lot of it may be common sense, but takes a lot of deliberate thought and effort, so can't just wing it and be successful.  If you do something enough times, it becomes reflexive and seems like it's natural, but for me anyway, that means I've had to go through the checklist 100 times before that (and still look at it on occasion to make sure I didn't skip something). Hopefully that gives the veneer that I have a clue what I'm doing, but when in doubt, expound on the possible synergies that could be achieved by optimizing the stakeholder interfaces and seeking a holistic, client centric solution.  ;D
 

Colin Parkinson

Army.ca Legend
Reaction score
1,806
Points
940
I focused on lawyers and accountants because that is the groups I have the most experience in, followed by Engineers and Fish biologists (who file like herring spawn, but that's another story). Plus they are the groups that are most likely to handed the job of running a company while the leadership is in flux.
 

Brad Sallows

Army.ca Fixture
Reaction score
980
Points
910
"Business acumen is learned, but there is no reason that anyone who has learned a trade or profession can't pick up the skills."

It isn't that "digital experts" lack "business acumen"; it's that they lack "systems analysis" acumen.  Some jump straight to applying whatever solution template they favour ("two up, one back, right flanking"); some have forgotten SA; some never really learned it ("learned to code" to specification, never "learned to analyze").  Better than a "digital expert" is a "digital competent" who is a quick (problem domain) learner.

If imported consultants antagonize the legacy team, failure* is pretty much guaranteed - there will be business rule implementations and add-ons not written down in any existing correspondence (requirements, etc) within reach of a consultant.

*Cost overruns, time overruns, missed features

"Selection and maintenance of the aim" is the most important principle of IT change.
 
Top