Complexity management is fundamental
Interview with Claus Flinck, Senior Adviser and Executive Partner at ProData Management.
An Executive Partner at ProData Management, Claus Flinck has more than 30 years' experience in the IT industry. Over the years, he has held a variety of executive positions for major Danish and Nordic companies. In this interview, he gauges the mood of the Danish market, shares his experience and gives his take on the hallmarks of good IT management.
Before Claus Flinck became an Executive Partner at ProData Management in spring 2013, he had a long and successful career behind him as a decision-maker with some of the biggest financial services operations in Denmark and the Nordic region. This background and experience is particularly important in two ways: First, he has personal experience of making all the mistakes necessary to be able to call oneself an expert in a field. And secondly, he has experienced costly hired management consultants make mistakes in his business. Both aspects have equipped him with a superb nose for the good IT project and its proper management and – not least – the ability to instantly recognise the opposite. With regard to the latter, he advises businesses to be on the sharp lookout for a 'one size fits all' approach.
'Throughout my career, I have used management consultants in many contexts. My general attitude is that I do not consider people who present me with standard solutions to a problem to be management consultants. In my world, they are just standard consultants. They have been hired to solve a concrete problem and they do it without asking questions. A management consultant should think and act like the executive team of an organisation, and that requires something entirely different,’ says Flinck, and refers to his own organisation at ProData Management, which sends only highly experienced consultants out on assignment. That means no 25-year-old new graduates who have only just learned to rattle off what they have read in a textbook.
'Instead of focusing on the technology, a good consultant concentrates on the needs underlying the technology. The problems in the business the project is intended to solve, in other words. That is where the value lies and where a management consultant can make a difference,' Flinck explains.
Complexity has risen
Only a few years ago, businesses and organisations commonly launched major technology projects that were so complex and required such huge investments that the projects were allowed to operate in isolation from the business. Those days are over,’ Flinck declares.
Today, the tendency is towardsa steady flow of smaller technology projects, each of which must demonstrate its capacity to support the business. If they cannot, they are denied funding.
'To illustrate the tendency visually, imagine a staircase diagram where IT and technology take the business up to higher and higher and higher levels in a series of small, zig-zag jumps. The trajectory was much steeper in the past. You either made massive investments in technology and hoped the business would keep up. Or you did the opposite. Invested heavily in the business and hoped the technology would catch up later. The demands for business agility are much higher today,' says Flinck.
'The world is spinning faster these days, which is also part of it. When you could run IT projects like you did in the old days, the goalposts did not move much over the course of the project. That is not how it is today, when a three-year strategic plan has turned into a declaration of intent after only two weeks.'
Claus Flinck calls it complexity management. Chaos and uncertainty are fundamental conditions in business management today.
'That does not mean managers should not have goals for what they are doing. Of course they should. But it does mean that they should always be prepared to adjust the goal when reality changes so that the two coincide. This is where people like us come into the picture. Because it can be good to have a discussion partner when you are designing change management. Especially someone who has personally experienced the same challenges', says Flinck.
'For instance, I was involved in starting a project where the objective was to optimise internal business processes. While the project was under way, we discovered we were on the brink of a paradigm shift in the service area. When we started, "good service" meant that businesses took care of their customers. But as we stood at the midpoint of the project, the definition of "good service" suddenly changed to mean making it possible for customers to take care of themselves via self-service solutions. This happened while we were in the process. It was part of the whole on-line banking wave, when people realised they would rather sit at home and work out their budgets instead of doing it with their bank advisers.'
Remember the execution
Across all customer and business categories, Flinck can see that there is one particular challenge that is causing a lot of headaches inowadays.
'A lot of people are struggling with growth management. During the financial crisis, this was a matter of execution and optimisation, but there are no more cuts to be made. If they let more people go, they will gut their operations. So, instead, increasing numbers are asking: How can we grow our way out of the crisis? There, we are helping a lot of businesses utilise their technology in ways they had not considered.'
What is the most important experience you have gained after all your years heading up IT projects?
'Remember that the plans have to be executed. The worst IT projects I have been involved with are those where we have failed in the execution. Often because we were over-confident that execution would happen automatically. It doesn't. As a manager and colleague, that means you must always keep your word, deliver and think in terms of the common enterprise,' says Flinck.
'So, these days I plan to be behind. This comes from the understanding that unexpected things will most likely pop up during the course of a project. They always do. But I want to be behind from day one and not on the last day of the project.'
Good advice from Claus Flinck:
What should you think about when you buy management
- 'The first thing I always did was ask: "Do they understand me?" If they do not understand me, my business and my challenges, then I have no use for a management consultant. Because if they do not understand me, I know from experience that I will end up managing the project myself and it will never be any better than I am. The trick is to find consultants who can tell you something that you did not know before. It is precisely that you are paying for.
- Next, you have to find consultants who have the guts to assume responsibility on your behalf. They should think and act like executives in your business. This is important. Especially when challenges arise along the way.
- Finally, I would urge companies to be completely open about their business and not only talk about everything that is going well. The moment you take the leap and talk about the sore points, you will put other people in a position to help.'
Read more about ProData Management at www.prodatamanagement.dk