In an earlier post I suggested it is important to challenge Management Consultants in any field to be specific about their advice and to prove their added value. Based on the feedback I got, some interpreted that as a generic statement against involving external experts. The opposite is true: I think there certainly is intrinsic added value which a specialist can bring to any complex situation. Without any compromise to my statements on the chocolate factory, I think an expert in a certain field can always bring added value by structuring the available information and identifying patterns where a layman only sees chaos. In short: you can only see what you know and therefore an expert potentially sees more. That is how the human brain works and the following examples illustrate that.
Today I went cycling and this brought me to a nice track between a river and a canal. A couple of yards in front of my bicycle I saw a Kingfisher crossing the road. I was alone so no witnesses to give testimony on this lucky sighting but an imaginary co-rider could have argued that all he has seen was a blurry blue/orange line swiftly crossing the road and disappearing even sooner on the left than it turned up from the undergrowth of the riverbank on the right.
And although both of us would have had the same sensory perception, I am fully convinced I have encountered an Alcedo atthis. The combination of size, colour, hight, speed and the surrounding wetlands combined with my knowledge of these type of birds does not leave room for doubt: I saw what I knew to be a Common Kingfisher.
Sports examples to illustrate this further
Another example comes from baseball: the Infield Fly rule. Quoting Wikipedia learns that:
Under the Official Baseball Rules used in Major League Baseball and many lower leagues, “Infield Fly” is explained by rule 2.00 (Definitions of terms: Infield Fly), and rule 6.05e (Batter is out). The rule applies only when there are fewer than two outs, and there is a force play at third base (i.e., when there are runners at first and second base, or the bases are loaded). In these situations, if a fair fly ball is in play, and in the umpire’s judgement it is catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort, the umpire shall call “infield fly” (or more often, “infield fly, batter’s out”); the batter will be out regardless of whether the ball is actually caught in flight. Umpires typically raise the right arm straight up, index finger pointing up, to signal the rule is in effect.
For those who understand baseball, the Infield Fly rule makes perfect sense and this type of decision by the umpire is easily recognized. At the same time it is quite difficult to explain the Infield Fly rule to baseball outsiders. 1)
What the examples have in common is that it is easy for the expert to recognize and interpret situations that for the outsider may be very confusing. This is also true for outsourcing engagements which are by nature complex and subject to a wide variety of contractual, financial, psychological, emotional and political drivers (to name a few).
A combination of poor services, reluctant responses on change requests and regular escalations on specific type of recurring disputes may at first seem be the characteristics of a service provider of poor performance. But for the external sourcing consultant with experience in a broad range of sourcing engagements and with knowledge of the same provider acting in other engagements these observations may be a clue to specific flaws in the contract or the relationship between both parties. Again: the more you know, the more you are able to see.
Obviously ‘the expert’ is not always right and experience can also cause blindness for issues that are very specific in the current situation. Therefore any external advisor should focus to keep an open mind and have a fresh eye when entering a new situation. That said, I’m sure the expert will be able to add value by reducing complexity and identifying underlying patterns in what may seem a very confusing sourcing engagement.
1) Before any US-citizen gets presumptuous on the baseball example: the same principle applies with the offside rule in soccer!