The iron triangle. That’s what I’d learned in school. Cheap, fast and reliable. Pick any two, and the third is dictated to you. Accipiter was asking for an innovation program that was cheap, fast and reliable. They were hoping to dictate all three facets. Usually a client would ask for inexpensive and reliable, and we’d staff it accordingly, and deliver over time. Sometimes a client would ask for fast and good, and we’d tell them it wouldn’t be cheap. Getting to cheap, fast and reliable meant making a lot of assumptions about Accipiter I wasn’t willing to make, and forcing them to follow our methodology, which we knew and felt would work. So the question becomes – is working with Accipiter, and the opportunity to work with them beyond this project, worth the risk that they would fail to put the right resources on the effort, or choose to ignore our plans and guidance?
I left the call with Susan promising to contact her with our thoughts. I wanted to talk with Matt. Taking on what appeared to be a demanding client that might not agree to work to our approach meant a significant risk of failure, especially one that had been so slow to make a decision and now felt forced to move. I knew what this meant, and so did Matt. Time for a skull session. Darby’s at noon.
I slid into the cool, comfortable booth and shot a glance at the waiter across the room near the bar. He sighed and wandered over. Like he was doing me a favor. I made a mental note to remind myself of his favors when the bill came due.
“What’ll you have today, Sam?” I like a place where the folks know my name – I wish sometimes I’d get a little more respect for the business I bring.
“The usual. Rye bread, Thousand Island dressing, corned beef, etc.”
“Ok, one regular reuben for you. Matt?”
“Cobb salad, hold the eggs.”
My raised eyebrows got Matt’s attention. We had an unwritten rule that meat, in some form, was consumed over lunch.
“Watching my cholesterol” he said. By eating a salad with bacon and blue cheese.
Our faithful waiter departed, in a hurry to place our orders and wait on someone, anyone who didn’t denigrate the food and the waitstaff. I leaned in to Matt.
“I need to pick your brain. Look, I’m torn about Accipiter. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there, but I also think they want something on the cheap to point at for Wall Street. I don’t want to create the show pony that gets put back in the barn after the carnival.”
Matt scowled. “What do you care how they use what you teach them once you’re gone? If they can’t reinforce the programs we put in place, that’s not our problem.”
Matt had a funny way of shifting his eyes around when he was debating himself, and now his eyes shifted back and forth like windshield wipers. If he wasn’t careful, on the next pass one of those eyeballs might just roll out on the floor, and keep going.
“You don’t believe that, and neither do I. We’re not big enough to leave a client with a half-complete, half-baked solution and not feel the consequences. If I start a job, I want to do it right.”
He sat back and gave me his best devil may care grin. “So, tell them no. Tell them you won’t work with them unless they agree to work according to our methodology. If there’s as much pressure to get something done quickly as you say, then perhaps they don’t have the time to search out another consultant. Maybe you can turn the tables and demand something for a change.”
As this wasn’t my first rodeo, that thought had crossed my mind. Could we make these demands and expect Accipiter to accept them? Would Accipiter simply decide to find a more compliant consulting firm who’d create a Potemkin village of innovation and cash the checks?
Our waiter slid our orders in front of us, and waited patiently to discover if we needed anything else before slinking off to flirt with the bartender. If I didn’t need to pay the alimony I’d get me a job like that, and spend as much time loafing around a bar with a good looking bartender as possible. A man’s got to have a plan in life, and his wasn’t so bad, looking at it from my current vantage point.
Matt attacked his Cobb salad with the attention he’d usually give to a rare sirloin. I assume that’s what he was trying to conjure up. My reuben was tasty, hot, sweet and tangy all at the same time. Matt looked at me, fork halfway to his mouth.
“What if you simply put down a set of requirements. You know, they define the scope and we define the project plan. Any deviation from the scope or plan and we both agree to rewrite the contract. If we need to do this much work this quickly, and you have concerns about their staffing or follow through, let’s just make that part of the agreement.”
“Well, I am worried about staffing, but what I’m more worried about is that we’ll get people on the project who’ve been told to give us 10 hours a week, but who still have their entire “regular” job to do. You know we faced that at Thanone. Remember how popular we were there?”
“Yeah. That one guy was sure we’d cost him a promotion since he had to miss so many meetings with his boss to complete the work. I think he did most of the work we assigned him on Saturdays.”
“There aren’t enough Saturdays in this plan to get everything done on the weekend. The folks from Accipiter have to be fully committed to the effort, or the project will really suffer in such a short period of time.”
Matt nodded. I wasn’t preaching to the choir, I was reading from the book of Matthew to the author himself.
There was nothing to it. I was going to tell Susan we’d work with them, but only under very carefully defined conditions. If Accipiter didn’t like the scope or the workplan, then they could go find another innovation patsy.
Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project.
Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” a book that encompasses much of the OVO Innovation methodology, and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities. In 2010 he chaired the Innovate North Carolina conference and was a keynote speaker at Queen’s University, University of the Pacific, UNC and several other colleges and conferences. Jeffrey has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia.