Dominic Cummings says …

“There really are vast improvements possible in Government that could save hundreds of billions and avoid many disasters.

Leaving the EU also requires the destruction of the normal Whitehall/Downing Street system and the development of new methods.

A dysfunctional broken system is hardly likely to achieve the most complex UK government project since beating Nazi Germany…”

It’s hard to disagree with the sentiment, putting to one side the tasteless comparison with WWII and, of course, individual feelings about Brexit.

But subtract Brexit for the changes required to deal with climate, or true artificial intelligence, with increased automation etc and I suspect we all agree more fervently.

Projects as Films

Today’s Financial Times notes

2% make it to the cinema and perhaps 1/3rd of those are profitable. Those are long odds.

There are likely 3 rules of cinema

1) Make something you, or someone else has already done (hence why we see so many remakes and sequels … Toy Story 4, endless Marvel movies)

2) Produce a film with people you’ve worked with before (which is why proven directors and actors get repeat work)

3) if you’re going to do something completely new, start small and don’t risk a lot (hence low budget independent films)

Projects, which have perhaps the same, or maybe even a worse, success rates, have the same rules

1) Do what someone else has already done and stick as closely to the script as possible (cloud technologies and configurable apps versus custom projects)

2) Keep the same team around you, as long as they have been successful, because you know how they work and they know how you work; trust the team to solve the problems they know how to solve … bring in new people to keep things fresh but don’t go for wholesale swaps

3) If you really want to do something novel and different, start small and don’t spend a lot of money … especially if you’re working with people you’ve never worked with before

Those 3 rules, a version of which I wrote on this blog many years ago, could massively boost your project success rate.

From Lithium to Hydrogen

A few years ago at a conference on Electric Vehicles I posed the following question

If we believe the following three things

1) EVs are the future and will quickly displace diesel and petrol cars

2) EVs will usher in autonomous cars but we don’t yet know when

3) The arrival of autonomous cars will accelerate an existing trend of lower car ownership and introduce broader car sharing and subscription models


1) how much should we invest in wiring the U.K. to support widespread and local charging of EVs?

2) when should we switch our investment plan to cater for AVs that drive themselves to a charging spot (and so are in in use perhaps 70-80% of the time) and that don’t need to be parked outside a house (unused 90% of the time)

3) what would we do with the space that was freed up, particularly, say in the streets of South London where single lane roads with two lanes of parked cars would suddenly have wide streets, no longer need traffic control measures and would be safe for the young and the old to wander around in?

There is no easy answer to those questions. We are so early in the world of EV take up, not just in the U.K. but elsewhere (though other countries – Norway and China for instance are far ahead). There are plenty of scenarios, of course. My sense is that we are only really dealing with Q1 above as everything else likely falls into the top hard box.

There are lots of challenges with EVs. I’ve written here about some of them over the last 12-18 months.

One of the bigger challenges is around the ethics of the components that are used in EVs, particularly around where many of them come from and how they are mined or produced.

An EV needs nearly double the amount of copper a traditional car uses. Cobalt is physically mined by huge numbers of workers, often involving child labour; death rates are off the scale. Lithium is perhaps a little better, but not much, and if delivered at the volumes needed to put a battery into every car, would be worse. There are plenty of other rare earth materials involved – all of which are also used (in vastly different quantities at an individual level but huge quantities at a macro level) to make jet fighters, mobile phones, submarines and computers.

What then, if we asked a different question and said “what would it take to make hydrogen a viable fuel source?” and when could we, or should we, make the switch to backing that as the best option?

Norway is already trialling this. Japanese car makers have long been sceptical of EVs (notwithstanding the hybrid Prius and the Leaf EV) and have invested heavily.

The big cost is affordable extraction using solely renewable energy sources. The big challenge is likely erasing memories of the Hindenburg from the minds of potential customers.

But what if?

Exit Through The App

This sign greeted me earlier

Pay with the app … but only when you’re inside your car. Long ago it was thought that a mobile phone could cause a spark at a petrol station (one would imagine a far greater chance of that with vehicles moving through the petrol station of course).

Now it seems to be to avoid people being distracted – staring at their phone as another car bears down on them perhaps.

We don’t really need this sign in petrol stations – we need it at zebra crossings, on stairs to and from tube stations, on every pavement in the land etc.

But, of course, we would all ignore it in those places too.

When petrol and diesel pumps are replaced by EV chargers … will we still worry about mobile phones causing sparks and being a source of distraction?

The 10 Year Strategy

In May 2008, on this blog, I wrote about Chateau Palmer (a fine Bordeaux wine) and, specifically, about how making wine forces a long term strategy – vines take years before they produce a yield that is worth bottling (my friends in the business say that the way to make a small fortune in wine is to start with a large one), more years can go by before the wine in the bottle is drunk by most consumers, and yet, every year the process repeats (with some variety, much caused by the weather).  It’s definitely a long game.

I wondered what would happen if you could only make decisions about your IT investment every 10 years, and them made a couple of predictions.  I said:
Cloud computing – This is going to be increasingly talked about until you can’t remember when people didn’t talk about and then, finally, people are going to do it. [If you read only this bit then perhaps I am a visionary strategist; if you read the whole of it, I got most of the rest wrong]
Application rationalisation – Taken across a single country’s government as a whole, the total number of applications will be a frightening number, as will the total cost to support them all. There are several layers of consolidation, ranging from declaring “end of life” for small systems and cutting their budgets to zero (and waiting for them to wither and die – this might take eons) to a more strategic, let’s use only one platform (SAP, Oracle etc) from here on in and migrate everything to that single platform (this too could take eons)
It feels, 11 years on, that we are still talking about cloud computing and that, whilst many are doing it, we are a long way from all in.  And the same for application rationalisation – many have rationalised, but key systems are still creaking, supported by an ever decreasing number of specialists, and handling workloads far beyond their original design principles.
Did we devise a strategy and stick to it? or did we bend with the wind and change year to year, rewrite as new people came and went? Perhaps we focused on business as usual and forgot the big levers of change? 

GDS Isn’t Working – Part 5 (No Vision, No Ambition)

Credit:  Roger Hooper

Efforts to transform government have been underway for more than 20 years.  Despite that, government has remained firmly as the catalyst – the part of the reaction that remains unchanged – throughout each iteration.    We need to understand that Government isn’t the subject of the transformation, it’s the object.   The citizen is the subject.  It’s their experience, their life, that we want to improve.

Whilst I have a strong disliking for the word “transformation” – because it implies a sudden, dramatic shift from what we used to call “as is” to “to be” and because it means different things to different people (one person’s transformation is another person’s incremental change) – it’s the word that is used to describe current change efforts in UK Government.

To get a sense of the level of ambition and vision for today’s programme,  I looked at the Beyond 2020 Strategy. It contains a couple of extraordinary statements.

Here’s the first:

“Nobody can predict what the world of 2020 will look like. Technology moves quickly and changes constantly. However we do expect what we call ‘digital’ currently to be largely mainstream by then”

This is both true and false.  More importantly, it’s entirely irrelevant in this context.

It’s true because we all know that there is a new iPhone coming out in a month or so and yet no one outside of Apple HQ knows how it’s all going to come together.    We don’t know what products will be released next year, let alone in 2019 and 2020.  So far so dull.

It’s false because we know how technology is moving and what there will be more of and less of.  In 2001, one of our first demos of the Gateway to the then Minister of the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney (the original sponsor of the Gateway), showed a VAT form being completed on a Compaq iPaq, sent over GPRS and acknowledged by HM Customs as being complete and valid.  We didn’t know it would be 6 years before the iPhone would come along and that it would be longer still before mobile access to the Internet was common, but we could see it coming. We don’t need to know which products are coming along to set a direction for how we want our online government experience to look for the citizen.  Technology in government, once deployed, can stick around for decades – ask HMRC how long the CHIEF system has been around, or the Home Office about the Police National Computer, or Cabinet Office, for that matter, about the Gateway.  We don’t need to harness the latest and greatest product capability to make a difference.

And it’s irrelevant because:

In these days of driverless cars, missions to Mars, rocket stages that no longer fall uselessly into the sea, artificial intelligence engines that get the maximum score on Ms Pacman, augmented reality and more … 

… we are still talking about digital government as paving the cowpath, that is, putting forms online.

And here, in that context, is the second extraordinary statement:

“We want to make the best possible preparations for the post-2020 period. We will use current and emerging sources of data so that we can understand what is working well for the current transformation programmes and combine this learning with emerging macro-trends to make the best possible plans for the period after 2020.”

I challenge you to tell me, in simple words, what that means.  I suspect you can’t, so let me translate as best I can:


Instead, the so-called Transformation Plan for the period from 2017 to 2020 simply repeats the mistakes of the past, focusing on linear transactions, ticking them off one by one, without dates, ambition or any sense of rationale.  For instance, here are some of the “deliverables” picked at random from the document (I’d like to call it a “plan” but there are no dates or details):

  • continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
  • make better use of data – not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
  • broaden the definition of users, for example to reflect that some users will interact with government through third-party services that use government APIs (application programming interfaces
  • design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
  • we will build a framework for the best way to deliver transformation across government
  • building a national data infrastructure of registers (authoritative lists that are held once across government) and ensuring they are secured appropriately
  • building shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones that we have and onboarding more services

Are you any the wiser?  Do you see the vision?  Do you see the ambition? Do you know what’s coming and when and are you palpably excited for how it might change your life for the better?

I wasn’t quite being honest when I declared that there is no vision.  The document does state one.  It says:

We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state – putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.

Which to me is a lot like saying “Our washing powder will wash even whiter than the last one that washed whiter.”

We have forgotten about the citizen – the ones who we truly want to see changed for the better.  We have instead labelled them “users” and decided that if we work closely with them we will design better services.  That’s backwards.

The citizen’s interaction with government needs to be about them, not about government.  We need to think about what we want them to become, what power we truly want to put in their hands and how we will make that happen.  Going through the list, form by form, is not how that will come alive.

Here is an excerpt of the Transformation Programmes underway as of November 2016:

Those programmes, inevitably, translate into some online forms:

Transformation?  No.   Not even close.

All the way back when this began in the late 90s and early 00s, we declared that we wanted to harness the potential of the web, initially, to layer a veneer on top of government – to mask it’s complexity from the citizen by presenting a joined up and citizen focused front end; we knew that the transactions underneath that would start off point to point.  We thought that would buy us time to engineer some truly joined up capability and we designed the Gateway to allow that – it could take in a single schema, split it up and send to different parts of government, get the responses, join it all up and send it out again.  That capability remains unused.

A slide from a 2003 conference

It’s time to move away from the point to point nature of efforts so far and to imagine, instead, what we want our citizens to be able to do when we have delivered a successful digital capability.  For instance:

– We want to encourage new startups and make it easy to create a company with, say, 10 lines of information and 3 clicks?  Company registration, payroll, VAT, R&D credits etc. What will it take to achieve that?  How will we know we are doing it right? What will the impact be on accountants and other professionals as well as on potential startup founders?

– We want to make it so that there is no need for anyone to ever phone HMRC to resolve a problem?  How many people who could use the Internet make a phone call now?  How many problems could be moved to an Internet channel meaning a call wasn’t necessary?  How many result from mistakes made by HMRC that we could correct before the citizen knew and how many can we prevent from occurring at all?    How would we make all of those changes?  How can we move the entire relationship a company has with HMRC to online interactions?  How can we do the same for a company employee?  For a retiree?  Not everyone wants to be online all the time, but if they want to be, we should give them a way.

– We want to make the administration post loss of a loved one simple and effect, cutting by 80% the amount of paperwork and the time it takes to handle all of the different pieces – inheritance tax, pensions, council tax and so on.  Can Tell Us Once help?  Why is Tell Us Once not available everywhere?  What else would we need to do?

We need to flip the thinking away from what do our departments do and how do we put that online to the problems that our citizens have and how we can solve them through smart use of technology.

This isn’t about user needs. It’s about a vision of how we want our citizens to lead their lives in relation to government services.  This is Henry Ford territory, that is, it’s not about faster horses.

As Paul Shetler says, “we can’t kumbaya our way through this.”  We need to get concrete.  Assumptions, plans, deadlines, delivery focus.

To make this happen, we’ll want to lay out some assumptions

1) The shape of government isn’t going to change materially in any way that would help our efforts.  Departments are still going to be departments.  We aren’t going to split them into horizontal layers focused on citizens.  We aren’t going to join up the machinery itself, we’re going to have to do that through our own capabilities – we are going to have to pretend that it’s joined up through use of technology.

2) We have all the technology that we need.  We don’t need to wait for flying, driverless cars.  We don’t need to see what’s around the corner, or what’s going to launch in 2020.  The technology that we launched in 2001 and that we have today is all that we need to pull this off.

3) We have all of the capability and capacity today.  If it’s not already in the public sector, it’s in the private sector.  We shouldn’t bolster one at the expense of the other, in either direction.  It’s all there today and we need only to focus it.

So what we have is what we need and vice versa.  It’s time to lay out a true, specific vision and to back that up with plans.

We then need to be transparent – about those plans, about the financials and about our progress.  Delays will be forgiven if they are telegraphed early along with the true reason.  Whilst we have what we need, it won’t be easy to create this level of change and so we need to bring people along for the ride, explaining what is and isn’t happening and why. 

Rule #1 – No surprises

Rule #2 – See rule 1

Mind The Gaps – Nothing New Under The Sun

As we start 2015, a year when several big contracts are approaching their end dates and replacement solutions will need to be in place, here’s a presentation I gave a couple of times last year looking at the challenges of breaking up traditional, single prime IT contracts into potentially lots of smaller, shorter contracts:

The Trouble With … The Green Book

The Green Book is, for some, akin to a Bible.  It’s 118 pages of guidance on how to work through the costs of a project (not to mention 130 pages of guidance available on how to move from SBC to OBC to FBC – you get the ideas).

Across government, departmental approval bodies revere the Green Book with its detail on NPV, risk assessment, Monte Carlo models and benefits realisation.  The Green Book is for all projects covering whatever kind of policy outcomes are relevant – providing benefits to the right people, improving water quality, connecting communities and, of course, IT.

Despite all of the comprehensive guidance contained within it, the outcome of many projects suggests that risks aren’t properly evaluated, that costs are not fully calculated and that the outcomes expected don’t always occur.  Recent experience with ever inflating HS2 numbers demonstrate that only too clearly.  That said, trying to forecast costs many years out has never been easy (and the error bars increase with every year) – and in case you think government doesn’t think long term, the Green Book contains a table that shows how you would discount cost of cash out 500 years.

Some paragraphs in the Green Book show how far we have to change to make the move from traditional project delivery to an approach that is faster, lighter and more agile:

5.61 There is a demonstrated, systematic, tendency for project appraisers to be overly optimistic. This is a worldwide phenomenon that affects both the private and public sectors.Many project parameters are affected by optimism – appraisers tend to overstate benefits, and understate timings and costs, both capital and operational.

Optimistic? Really?

Or how about this:

6.23 Implementation plans should be sufficiently complete to enable decisions to be taken on whether or not to proceed. So that evaluations can be completed satisfactorily later on, it is important that during implementation, performance is tracked and measured, and data captured for later analysis

Perhaps the get out here is “sufficiently complete” – one man’s sufficient is another person’s hopelessly inadequate.  But entire business cases are routinely laid before approval bodies right across government that claim to have looked ahead 10 years and figured out what will happen year to year at a sufficiently detailed level to forecast costs and benefits, albeit with inevitable optimism. Only recently – perhaps the Olympics and, now, HS2 – has contingency been a visible and public part of budgets.  It will be interesting how the spending of it is reported and tracked

And then this:

6.33 Benefits realisation management is the identification of potential benefits, their planning, modelling and tracking, the assignment of responsibilities and authorities and their actual realisation. In many cases, benefits realisation management should be carried out as a duty separate from day to day project management.

Generally the people delivering the programme are not the ones who have to make it work on the ground and so achieve the cost savings that the approval body has been promised.  As it says above, “realising the benefits” is a separate duty from day to day project management.  That is, then, part of the problem – delivery being isolated from the business means decisions can be taken for the good of the programme that are not for the good of the business.

None of the above is intended to be critical of the Green Book – it was very much a product of its time and perhaps where contruction of vast architectural feats such as dams and, indeed, railways that go from South to North (and back again) are being planned, it still makes enormous sense.

With a desire that IT projects be agile, flexible, iterative and
responsive to the ever-evolving user need, the guidance looks
increasingly anachronistic.   If you’re not sure what functionality
you’re going to deliver when because you might replace A for B or drop C
altogether, how do you calculate either costs or benefit with any
reasonable confidence only a few months out?  The best you might be able
to do is calculate the likely cost of the team – but what if it needs
to grow suddenly to deliver an identified need?

The Green Book is doubtless being refreshed now by a combination of GDS, Cabinet Office and HMT but, and it’s a big but, convincing finance directors across government that 200 page business cases with all of the options mapped out and separately costed are a thing of the past will be challenging.  And interesting to watch.

“Minister, there are three options … the first two pretty much lead to nuclear war, the third will be explosive and there will be terrible consequences, but I think we will survive … I recommend the third option … do you concur?”

TUPE or not TUPE

In outsourcing almost all of their IT over the last 20 years, government may have complicated their move to the cloud. Talk of the cloud is everywhere and has been for a couple of years. though little progress has yet been made on the journey. Last week, on walking into T5, I was greeted by a huge EMC ad announcing “the journey to the private cloud starts here” – and I thought I was on my way to Copenhagen. The complication arises because of something known as TUPE.

What is TUPE

From Wikipedia: The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/246) known colloquially as TUPE, are the United Kingdom’s implementation of the European Union Acquired Rights Directive.

The regulations’ main aims are to ensure that:

– Just because of the transfer, employees are not dismissed before or after (unless there is an ‘economic, technical or organisational’ reason

– Employees’ most important terms and conditions of contracts are not worsened before or after the transfer (unless there is an ‘economic, technical or organisational’ reason

– Affected employees are informed and consulted through representatives

What might TUPE mean for UK government?

Consider two scenarios, both very likely to occur for any given government entity in the very near future.

1) The Insource

In a quest to become more agile, reduce costs, speed delivery and try out open source software, a department at the end of its current website development and hosting contract decides to bring the development in-house. After all, it can hire good quality coders straight from university or with a couple of years experience for hundreds of pounds a day less than paying contractors or service provider staff.

The business case is straight forward. There are 20 people working on the website now, there will be just 10 in-house. The old ones were charged at an average of £650/day, the new ones will be £200/day. Even better, there is no need to spend months running a costly re-procurement. Costs appear to fall by 80% or more. Losing suppliers are also spared the cost and risk of the procurement process.

TUPE, however, rears its head. Those 20 staff need to be considered for transfer. Ordinarily, this would have been a supplier to supplier conversation as the government entity would have retendered for its website and, had the original supplier failed to win, the new supplier would have dealt with the transfer. Some staff, of course, would not have been required (and some would not have been eligible for transfer) and all of the costs would have been wrapped up somewhere in the bids, with new suppliers likely doing some risk-based calculations to judge the likely costs. Outsourcing providers are good at this – some deal with thousands of such transfers a year across dozens of contracts.

Governments, however, rarely deal these days with TUPE and almost no one deals with the transfer of staff back into government. And here’s the problem: transferring all or some of those 20 staff into the business will break the business case. If they’re made redundant, as they’re no longer required, TUPE dictates that the liability is with the recipient of the undertaking, not the sender. The government entity needs, then, to factor the costs of this transfer (either taking the staff on or making staff redundant) into its business case. Taking the staff on will result in little or no saving (and taking on expensive staff whilst releasing others who earn far less is not good business practice), dealing with the redundancy will increase one-off costs and likely severely damage the business case, certainly in the first 1-2 years in which everyone had hoped to book a saving.

2) The Public Cloud

Running dedicated IT is expensive. The foundation of the cloud model is that shared servers achieved through clever virtualisation of everything from processors to storage makes IT far cheaper. We’ve all bought this model, fed by news stories that show startups such as Quora launching using Amazon EC2 at fractions of what it would have cost them in the past. New ideas can be tried out quickly and cheaply – and shutdown even faster with no stranded costs if they fail to work out. Pay as you go IT without the need for upfront capital is ridiculously attractive.

Governments naturally want, in varying degrees, to take advantage of this opportunity. The US government has stated that it believes some 25% of its IT needs can be met by the cloud. Now some governments are actually big enough (although not always clever enough) to create their own clouds (if every department or entity shared the same infrastructure and even software) but the real save is thought to come from using the public cloud. If every public sector worker in the UK switched to gmail or Office 365 tomorrow I doubt google or Microsoft would see even a blip in utilisation figures – they can accommodate new volumes easily without necessarily adding capacity or staff.

So let’s suppose that the department above, having considered insourcing its website, now wants to move to public cloud email. Its current service provider handles all of its IT needs, not just email but there are a few specialist (and dedicated, in both senses of the word) resources who keep email working, it being the lifeblood of the organisation. Perhaps email takes 3 people in this organisation.

In the cloud, of course, 3 people aren’t needed to run email for this organisation. It might be 0.3 or even 0.03 but it’s likely not those same 3. Again, TUPE suggests that they should be transferred to the new organisation – the public cloud operator. That operator may not even be based in the UK or, with some providers or services, not even in Europe (data protection rules to one side for a moment).

The new supplier has the obligation to accept the transfer of those 3 people, or to make them redundant (something that would be far more complicated in the event that the receiving supplier is not in the UK or the EU). My guess is that few cloud providers have any experience at all of TUPE and that, anyway, they will be unwilling to take on staff at a faster pace than their slick processes require. That means that the government department will end up dealing with this with their original supplier – and, on the basis that services will move to the cloud on a piece by piece basis over years, this will be a recurring issue.

I’m not a lawyer – and this post shouldn’t be taken as legal advice – and the likely scenarios are certainly far more complicated than the two I outline above. But the issue is real and needs careful thinking about, both by government and its suppliers.

There may, for instance, be a need for a managed rundown period where in the months leading up to the insource or the cloud move (or the end of contract), the existing team is slowly reduced (through not replacing leavers or transferring staff to other projects/customers) – this may delay the move, of course, or result in a period of reduced service levels (this would be somewhat akin to the, apocryphal (I assume) story that Ken Livingstone changed the phasing of all the traffic lights for a while to really screw up the traffic before resetting them, instantly making the traffic flow smoothly again). At the same time, the department will want to make sure that the supplier is not artificially moving people that it might want to see made redundant or transferred to a new supplier ahead of any move (as if anyone would).

Departments, seeing this risk, may decide to move new projects to the cloud initially – so creating a capability in the cloud through development and eventually production – and delay the transfer of existing services.

Alternatively, central provision could be made for redeploying such staff across departments or even suppliers to bolster weaker areas ensuring that tough projects were well-staffed. In the extreme, central provision for redundancy costs may be the only way to achieve a more rapid move to the cloud.

We was bored. We decided to have a go at changing an industry.

From my friend, John Caswell, at Group Partners … a guest post:

Masters of Disruption

The problem though was that the industry didn’t quite exist. Even so we observed a gap in it. We, and Clients, realized that we had a problem in how to think about how to think – about any problem. In a phrase, we were too close to it to see, external agencies were too biased by the way they thought about it to care and we didn’t know what it was in the first place. Of course back then we didn’t know this.

Business is actually set up to fail.
It’s designed that way. ‘Divisions’, ‘Departments’ and ‘Units’. Surely they should be ‘Completes’, ‘Wholes’ and ‘Unifieds’. As a direct result business breeds separate smaller business pieces, silos as they are known, that have their own language, religion and faith. It cannot possibly add up to a single minded stated goal. How could it. We aim to break all that.

What are business folk doing if they aren’t thinking about what makes business business?

What makes business work is knowing, as much as you can, the 24 modules of 4D™. The logic of 4D™ is simple yet beguiling. In order to achieve a cohesive set of actions, know what to stop doing, start doing – you need to have a framework. Sustain a vision and agreed strategy across an aligned leadership team – you need to structure that. All these would seem a daily refinement if only there was a blueprint. Knowing all the barriers, knowing the customers, developing winning solutions, building clear and compelling positions, engaging with everyone around the right processes and systems, knowing how to make these choices. This seems a natural aim. It so seldom is. That’s what 4D™ does.

To me there is little else required in business than to get this stuff right. But. It never fails to shock us. Very few if any of our 2500 assignments has seen much fluidity or confidence in more than half of these modules. Let alone their integration into a coherent set of plans. It also surprises me greatly that often good enough is good enough. In the 21st Century it isn’t. The aim seems so low. By raising peoples sights and ambitions it’s possible to do so much more. People prove that all around us every day. So why is business conditioned to not think – or conditioned to think that it’s always going to be the same.

Humans are classic. When they see something new or different they fall into two camps. Attack. Wonder. Like Blackbirds pecking a Canary to death – or like David Attenborough.

Painfully Simple.

Those that attack see our work as over complex, impenetrable, hard work. Unless we can get them to think for longer than one minute and explain how simple it actually is then they remain pained with the threat of the unknown. Peck away. Once they overcome their fear, like a first time bungee jumper, then they are it’s biggest fans. Field trip.

The wonderers are intrigued from minute one. While they may never fully get it they are entrapped for a lifetime by the idea of visualized knowledge, eco-system dynamics and creative logic. Guess who become the best ambassadors for Group Partners in the longer run?

It’s quite hard to tell a simple story about what we do as a business. It’s a practice. It has a big production element. It exploits the two inventions – Structured Visual Thinking™ (the philosophy) and 4D™ (the application and method). We say that this is designed to help our clients avoid solving the wrong problem really well. It does.

We work with big and small partners. They bring us in. We want to remain neutral to any outcome.

Simply put it’s about making better decisions and doing so creatively. Big and messy word that – creativity. For me in this market creativity is the application of one’s mind to solving problems in a different but more valuable way than the norm. Going beyond the humdrum, same, ordinary to find the innovative, unique and extraordinary. To me that’s what’s required so we just apply it to everything we do. Simples.

We’ve always had an Expert Network™

Yes we’ve always had an Expert Network™ this made complete sense when setting up the business and now even more so. In the early days people didn’t get it and suggested it was a distraction. I told them to F off. We have stayed true to it although we haven’t fully leveraged it. We find people who may be able to help our clients when we uncover a need. We also go and support our partners with our tools and techniques to improve their work. It works well. We remain neutral. Weve made great friends around the world. We are working with them now.

Creativity is a really big part of Group Partners and it comes from the strangest places. When you are least expecting it. But you can practice at making it more likely. In over 2500 cases our approach has resulted in creativity of one form or another – innovation, inspiration, ingenuity, communication. Breakthroughs, epiphanies, catharsis. We like that.

12 Reasons to get over yourself around creativity and Innovation –

Fundamentally the approach forces the audience to reach into unexpected areas. Places they didn’t think they could get. Places and spaces where creativity is more likely – where they have not been before. We make sure the outcomes are creative too. We work at scale. We find massive walls and bring magic paper. People look at us strangely. We like that too.

The writing is on the wall.
Something special and hard to explain happens when a conversation is translated live onto a wall. It is part synthesis of many layers of discussion, part honoring the audience, part performance art and part warranting the vital component in something yet to be. Visually Thinking and Acuity –

Creativity is also applied to deliverables, words, stories, technology and tools and everything we do when we show up.

Our success is to take the traditional, random and often abused process of strategy, transformation or change and then drive a truck through it. Do everything differently. Remove the anesthesia of Power Point and endless droning meetings and replace it with smart, focused sessions that are enjoyable, visual and meaningful. Come out the end with something that can be used immediately. We’ve removed the biased lens of the solution provider, the expert, the ad agency, the consultant seeking the thousands of hours and 4 square matrices. Chucked it all out.

We’ve changed the dialog by asking sharper questions and we’ve extended the context so that the discussion has a chance to breathe. By really mastering the idea of structure and the effect of them on existing patterns we built frameworks of a logical nature. These frameworks bust open the status quo and stuckness in a friendly, visual and energetic way. They force teams to think openly and out loud. By doing it often we learned that our clients became more confident and more able to see for themselves where gaps lie and opportunities and decisions needed to be made.

Our frameworks are intuitive and deceptively simple. But they are great friends in ensuring we think well. They remove the idea of opinion and blather. They take no prisoners. That’s quite magical.

Design is another of those bear trap (with sticking up in the air fatally poisonous toxin tipped bamboo shafts. Lots of them) words. Innovation is another, knowledge, leadership, brand. Oh don’t get me on brand. Marketing is another one. All of them loaded and highly dangerous.

We mean the skills and competencies of conscious and thoughtful, experienced people crafting a new something. Obsessing until it works beautifully, behaves exceedingly well and looks fit for the task it was designed for. It may also take your breath away. We also use the term Information Design. That is our definition of the word design applied to Information and its need to be communicated to others well.

Columbo Questions

The most powerful questions of all come when they are least expected. The ‘so what’ question, the “I don’t quite get that” – “It doesn’t quite make sense can you explain that to me again?” question – all writ large on a 60 feet wall. The Columbo Questions –

And finally.

  1. We avoid making our clients do too much preparation for sessions. It encourages positions – a stance that may not be helpful. We do a lot of work behind the scenes to get ready and understand the context so that our questions cause the most effective and efficient conversations. 20 Critical Questions around Innovation –
  2. Our assignments are short, focused interventions set amidst a program of analysis and development of deliverables at each step. Because we believe the client has the key to solving the issues themselves our aim is to get them doing the bulk of the work. Not expensive external consultants.
  3. We study the concepts behind living systems, design and integrative thinking. We are avid followers of technology trends, innovation in the semantic web. We are Apple fanatics.
  4. We stopped telling clients the answer and started to enable the answer to emerge naturally by working with them. Co-creating. This builds enormous trust and integrity into any complex program of work. It binds teams, it creates a frame of reference, it enables ownership and shared intention. It’s the way to go.
  5. We’ve applied this to every conceivable issue and opportunity. These days mostly in Government and with the top multinational brands. We like to solve wicked problems. We like to put something back and make it sustainable, ethical and be sure it stays real for people. 7 Secrets of leadership that the consultants wont tell you
  6. We’ve developed deeper and more specialized frameworks to deal with specific topics such as Customer Experience and best practice architectures to ensure compliance or rigor around standards. All through the logic and philosophy of 4D™ –
  7. We didn’t stop with the frameworks. The ideas and insights from them find their way into user interfaces in digital systems. They can be animated, interactive tools for ongoing change and learning, induction or further challenge. We call ourselves the Pixar of consulting.’Pixar’_Of_Consulting
  8. We are now gearing up for full training and enabling scale through partners. We’ve always partnered. It’s an exciting time.

Oh and we write a lot more about all this on Twitter, Facebook and blogs and wikis and more. We can’t stop. Stop.