No One Tool Does Everything, No Process is a Panacea

Everyone is familiar with the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail.” This is no less true when it comes to management consulting, where consultants often specialize in a particular approach or may have a limited repertoire to offer.  You also see something of this each time a new approach to help management create more value becomes hip, hyped, and explosively popular.  Whether it is a new framework for strategic planning (balanced scorecard, anyone?), a way to look at the future (how about some “scenario planning”?), or something that promises to make your organization uber-creative (a little “design thinking,” perhaps?), there is always some new management fad to absorb your attention (and your dollars, please).

Inevitably, as internal organizational change efforts peter out with the prior management fad, and as service providers of the new rising fad seek an expanded set of markets to enter, we see consultants and clients begin to talk about the new fad as if it’s the all-in-one answer to strategic decision making and long-term success.

And of course, it never is.

Because it can’t be.

Management of an organization requires a number of perspectives, a number of time frames, and many different types of conversations.  The tools, the frameworks, and the processes you use in this space will be many.  And while you probably don’t want to use dozens of different approaches, you certainly want more than one.  Whatever you do use, you want them integrated into larger processes.  Each in their best and most logical space.

So what are we talking about, really?  Well, let’s look at the quick example below.


Figure 1: Each Tool in its Place

Let’s say you’ve got an organization that is concerned about its sliding performance in key products (solutions) it offers customers.  It also has the sense that there are growing uncertainties about how and where it’s business model might get disrupted in the years ahead.  And it wants to rebuild its strategic roadmap for the company.  What approaches might your organization call upon and how would they integrate?

  • Traditional market research: you might use this to develop a solid “snap shot” of the present, looking at your standing in your markets and with your customers, as they are currently defined
  • Foresight development: you might then engage in some genuine futures research and foresight development to broaden your view of what the future could bring and deepen your understanding about how and why things are changing across the industry and out in the broader environment
  • Ethnographic research: you might engage in this to generate new and deeper insights into your customers lives and how they experience their challenges
  • Design thinking: you might engage this approach to realign yourselves with your customers and to develop new solutions to problems they are currently facing*
  • Strategic planning: you might engage in a formal strategic planning process to incorporate all the new insights and service development activities into a revitalized set of goals and strategy

In practice, consultants (and internal stakeholders) often compete with one another to have their approach dominate the client’s thinking (and certainly to absorb the lion’s share of the client’s limited budget).  Yet, that shouldn’t be the case.  Each approach, each tool, has its own particular strengths, which become most useful when integrated with other strengths.  Anyone leading an organization certainly wants a toolbox full of different tools; no one really wants to be stuck with just a hammer.

*Vision Foresight Strategy has been experimenting with the formal integration of foresight work with design thinking, resulting in what we call “resilient design,” which ensures that the solutions being prototyped will not only work today, but will be more robust as the future unfolds and your customers’ challenges continue to evolve.

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