“Discrepancy.” A word that has remained with me from my first year at university, with the connotation of being a difficult word to understand while there are simpler words that convey basically the same meaning. It never struck me as a practical word, and people using it never struck me as the practical type. If you use these kinds of words, then how are you supposed to know what you need to do? How does it connect to the real world where actual stuff happens?
While growing up, I lived in an unassuming neighborhood, went to normal schools and was part of the local soccer and volleyball clubs. We didn’t have fancy Christmas dinners, nor did we go on holidays to exotic places. Doing well in high school, however, paved the way to university and, for me, opened up a whole new world. This might explain why the word “discrepancy” wasn’t in my vocabulary. Although my vocabulary has certainly grown since, I still try to keep a practical approach to the things I do. Keeping it simple helps to work easily together with people and for them to understand what you expect/want and what you can actually do for them.
The same applies to the work we do within SIG. We work in the IT ecosystem, where technical terms and abbreviations are so common that for outsiders, it has become a secret language. This vocabulary is partly meant to help in being precise in what we mean, but it opens the door to the BS bingo. When we write advisory reports, we have found that we need to stay away from this if we want to have a lasting impact. Vague words don’t help our clients, but clear and actionable recommendations do. What is it that needs to be done tomorrow? What do I change? Which activities do I stop, and how will I spend my time tomorrow to ensure I tackle the problems I have?
To avoid getting lost in pretty words and vague advice, SIG consultants are challenged to live by quality Principle #5: My Recommendations are Actionable. We consider ourselves most successful when our recommendations spur both our direct audience and their colleagues into immediate action. Being able to report that your advice has already been taken into account and actions have been initiated is the hallmark of a good final presentation and report. To get there, we consider four elements when we formulate recommendations that let our clients ‘get to it’:
- What – Be strict on what exactly needs to be done. This means that you need to set a goal that can be achieved with a clear result. The challenge is to break it down and make it concrete such that someone can start working on it tomorrow. The what ties into the who; if you are not clearly stating who specifically needs to act, then this will be up for debate and is highly likely not to get done.
- How – After defining the what, you need to be clear on how someone can get to this result. Break it down in manageable parts and activities that can be carried out by people that still have to discover context and information. The how describes the process steps of getting the result you described under the what.
- Why – All actions require a reason for doing them and this goes double for change. Change is hard and the reason for doing it should be compelling. Therefore, every activity in your recommendations should have a clear reason and benefit. It needs to directly tie into a cost savings, a risk mitigation or an improvement that you or your client is looking for. An action without a why isn’t an action worth taking.
- When – How critical is the action you are proposing? What priority should it have? Within what timeline should it be done? Only by placing activities in a timeframe does it become apparent what their impact on effort is going to be. Specifying this will help to put your actions and recommendations into a roadmap that is easy to follow.
These four elements help us challenge ourselves to understand what actually needs to be done. If we cannot answer these questions, then we certainly will not be able to convey it to our client and thus elicit action. Being able to specify the above tells you that you have mastered the subject and that your advice will be practical.
The Five Principles that I’ve shared with you in this blog series represent the core of how we look at our deliverables and our assignments at SIG. They serve as not only a guide for new consultants who need to get the hang of our way of working, but also as a constant refresher and reminder to our seasoned consultants to keep a sharp eye on those things that really matter in our advice.
Maybe these principles have triggered you to set guidelines for your own organization or your own work. Maybe you’ve been able to pick from them to adjust your own quality model. I firmly believe it’s important to also make your quality principles explicit and convey them clearly. They help me and SIG to make decisions based on a clear set of beliefs that provide consistency in what we do. I hope they can help you in the same way.
Read part 1 in this series: Living By the Code: 5 Guiding Principles for Producing Quality Work
Read part 2 in this series: Quality Principle #1: My Work is Evidently Valuable
Read part 3 in this series: Quality Principle #2: My Message is Easily Transferable
Read part 4 in this series: Quality Principle #3: My Findings are Fact-Based
Read part 5 in this series: Quality Principle #4: My Solution is Tailored