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Field Notes

A Cautionary Tale

If Something is Too Good to be True, It Probably Is

A few years back a senior executive from a global systems integrator and a senior executive from a $1 billion software firm met to explore ways in which the two firms could work more closely together for mutual benefit. Both executives agreed that investing in a three-day alliance-planning workshop would produce meaningful insights into the creation of a successful alliance partnership.

 

I was among the two-dozen or so attendees who came from all operational functions from both partners and three global geographies: The Americas, Western Europe and Asia. Great pains were taken to hold preplanning discussions with the goal of making the in-person event less educational and more of a decision- making forum. Great expectations were built going into the session from the corner offices to the folks in the trenches

 

The consultants leading the session were masterful in guiding the group through the key planning stages. They were careful to ensure that everyone who wished to contribute was heard.

 

Each day’s wrap-up was positive and enthusiastic. No one thought that executing the final plan was going to be a walk in the park. But there was a pervasive confidence from the start that the combined strength of the two companies could overcome whatever challenges came their way.

 

At the final presentation to executives the software firm’s COO pulled up a chair next to me. As the consultants ticked off the key plan milestones the COO asked me quietly: “Are we going to make it?” I said “No.” Nevertheless, the meeting concluded with smiles and hand shaking all around.

 

In the next 12 months many of the things that could go wrong did.

 

The software upgrade that was to have gone live was in the ditch. Upgrades to existing applications were delayed. Frustration between the partners’ sales forces was getting toxic. Field managers had all but abandoned efforts to sell jointly. Everyone seemed to be digging their own foxholes in anticipation of what were inevitable cuts in people and dollars.

 

What went wrong started with that initial planning session. These companies had every right to feel confidence in the potential of an alliance. But there were too few checks on some of the key plan assumptions such as product development, access to new markets, sales targets and costs.

 

Would implementing a baseline Plan of Record have headed off the unfortunate failure that befell these partners? I believe that it could have by scrutinizing more carefully the required resources – people, dollars and time – to meet the alliance’s business objectives, and acting accordingly