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Methodology Consultants are like Arms Dealers

March 6, 2018

 

Much has been written by yours truly about the blatant competitive differentiation that goes on with various software development methodologies and processes. I could be accused of being naive in my observations, and whether it is possible to change human nature and these immutable laws of marketing. The most basic instinct related to the profit motive and trying to make money off of rebranding "generally accepted practice" under a flashy new label is alive and well. It is also true and written about extensively in my new book "Value Stream" that this is costing our collective industry around $200 Billion each year. How many different ways can one spin 2-level planning, the science of flow or different ways to achieve a meeting of the minds? Given that this phenomenon exists, namely that various practice assemblies are myopically stitched together and driven most of the time to create wealth on behalf of the consultant doing the stitching, why has this strategy been so successful? Why is it that enterprises having difficulty seeing this snake oil for what it is? Surely renaming a longstanding practice with something more uber or more populist in nature can be seen by those that care about their software investments for what they are - mere synonyms. 

While methodology consultants pushing their wares may rationalize that they are righteous with noble intent, they are doing a disservice to the enterprises they purport to serve. Even if one gets past the blatant conflict-of-interest that exists when grand representations are made yet no indemnifications follow, what is unfortunate is that the consumers in this game have also become indifferent. The producers are unfortunately feeding a negative side of human nature which serves self-interest above the interests of the organizations needing better results as related to their basic hierarchy of needs. It is as if they have grown to accept this status quo and would rather go along with whatever is the next big thing than take a stand. As long as the various factional troops within enterprises have something that is different under their arms to shoot with, it's game on. It is the new normal within enterprises that leads to continual cyclical methodology battles flaring up every 18 months or so. Unfortunately, the "generals" at the top within enterprises who are accountable for delivering results to shareholders can't understand why they seem to be losing the battle they are trying to win - the one their business enterprise is in to ensure their very survival.

The sad reality is there is a market for different brands of method-ware within the largest of enterprises for this simple reason: many people wage a competition within companies on the basis of this stuff, ever politicking and positioning for elevated status and monetary reward. To fight such a battle plan requires arms and ammunition. Instead of driving towards better results and the mindset of organizational learning, many prefer to wage such intellectual warfare on the basis of methodology. While new discoveries in software development practice sometimes arise due to differing contexts, problem spaces, technologies or a changing litigation landscape, the pace at which these occur is lapped many times over by the shiny new objects that are foisted upon our industry at an accelerating pace.

So that is why methodology consultants are like Arms Dealers. They provide the raw materials that fan the flames of division among the various fiefdom's within large companies. Is what they are selling credible or just a re-branding of the practices under different labels? Or worse, is what they are selling ethical and serving the shareholders of your business? Leadership within large enterprises have the unsavory job of sifting through all the rhetoric and noise to arrive at a credible and actionable strategy that will yield success, something that has been elusive to date with any consistency or certainty. This is the root cause of the 70% failure rate in capability improvement. While on the surface everyone participating in capability improvement appears to be interested in the greater good for their stakeholders, underneath are the shenanigans that everyone knows goes on but is taboo to openly discuss. 

If you are an executive with a fiduciary duty to serve your shareholders, there is a better way to drive results - disarm the warring factions. Take away the market from the arms dealers. If teams are empowered to leverage whatever they think will get the job done, then the impetus to drive for total world domination goes away on the inside of enterprises. Even though the outside consultants will continue to try for total world domination, their dealings will fall on deaf ears. The game shifts from petty competitions regarding the shiniest methodology silver bullet or body of knowledge howitzer to who can learn the fastest to deliver the best outcomes for those who are paying the bills. Allegiance shifts from bunkered factions within foxholes to the ideals of trying to be the best one can be through life-long learning and continuous improvement. So if you are looking to crack the strategic change management failure rates and return some of the $200 billion wasted each year to your stakeholders, it is time to raise the drawbridge on the methodology consultants - because they are arms dealers.

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