Ted Levitt, Harvard Business School
I love that quote! For me, it describes the BMC Value Framework in a brilliant and succinct way.
To provide the best solutions for our clients, however, we often need to dig a little deeper. For example, do we know WHY the client wants to make quarter inch holes? Are they trying to fasten two objects together? Are they trying to reduce the weight of something? Or are they just bored, and want to make lots of holes? Are we really sure holes are the best solution for their problem? Not getting the answers to these questions could result in missed opportunities, or perhaps selling them the wrong tool.
To illustrate, let me tell you about my recent, personal foray into cloud computing.
For many years, I have provided web hosting services using a Linux server in my house. This is something I have been doing since college, and I initially configured this server to do absolutely everything. It was a DNS server, DHCP server, file server, sendmail server, web server, ftp server, firewall, etc. It wasn’t the wisest or most secure setup, but the demands on the server were low, and it worked.
I insisted on doing everything “in-house” because I wanted absolute control over every detail. As a CS student, I also wanted to learn how these services were configured. Even if it had been possible to create this system with a few mouse clicks, I would have done it manually anyway. I had NEEDS for all those services, but my real VALUES were complete personal control and self education.
Eventually, however, reconfiguring DNS and sendmail after every OS upgrade became tedious. Modems with built-in DHCP, NAT and firewalls became available, and FTP was too insecure, so I eventually off-loaded or disabled all of those services.
This made life much easier, but I was still tolerating a lot of pain. My hardware was so old that no current Linux distribution would install on it, the existing OS could no longer be patched, and the server could not recover from a power outage without manual intervention. Comcast would occasionally change my IP address, making the system unavailable for hours (or days) until DNS records were propagated (no static IP addresses in my area). I even had to deal with annual PCI audits!
Still I limped along until about three months ago, when my system mysteriously died. I concluded that one of the hard drives was failing intermittently, corrupting data on the other drives. It was recoverable, but the thought of repairing this old, tired relic filled me with dread.
Somewhere along the way, my value system had changed. Sure, it might be an interesting technical exercise, but my values were now focused on saving time and money to devote to other things. I went online, and started searching for cloud providers.
Two hours later, I had fully replicated my Linux server in a remote cloud. Now I never have to worry about power or hardware outages, or un-patchable operating systems. I can administer my server remotely, make ‘hardware’ upgrades on the fly and, as an added benefit, performance is greatly improved! This is a really, really good thing!
Getting back to quarter inch holes, we all know to avoid leading with solutions, whether they be quarter inch drills or cloud computing. However, it’s sometimes easy to mistake NEEDS (quarter inch holes) for VALUES (why holes are important to me). In my example, my NEED for a system providing online services had not changed, but the things I VALUED were completely different. As a CS Student, I loved new and insanely complicated technical challenges. Today, not so much; I get plenty already.
Understanding the mind-set of your audience can allow for subtle changes in your delivery, making it more relevant and effective. This comes from digging deep, asking the ‘why’ and ‘so what’ questions until you really understand what your client values. The first response is usually not the complete story, so keep probing. It’s also a good idea to return to those questions again after building more trust; often they will reveal more details which change the scenario entirely.
And, by the way, if anybody is interested in a 400mHz dual-Xeon server with a bad hard drive, I can hook you up!