#QuPlan - A Quantum of Planning - Episode 2015/5 - Ongoing - Certification

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#QuPlan #QuPlan discusses the current status of planning and project management, and then builds up on “unconnected” dots to derive a potential evolution of planning concepts

#QuPlan is part of the “Connecting the dots” series, short pragmatic books (generally, up to 60 pages), based on experience and aiming to inspire re-thinking your business ways #QuPlan Episodes Expanding on the #QuPlan book, this (free. online) series of booklets (“episodes”) is a walkthrough within the lifecycle of a fictional business case concerning a regulatory programme

This sixth “episode” (and the two previous ones) focus on changes in scope and compliance requirements into opportunities- in this case, business impacts of a certification.

See the back cover for the full list of the planned 2015 episodes

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Whatever the purpose of your project or



programme, you will have three main actors whose motivation and involvement have to be balanced: the team(s) charged with its delivery, the organization that will be accountable for whatever is delivered, and the ubiquitous stakeholders.

As discussed in previous episodes, any Stakeholders

programme delivers a modicum of change, and this generates a stream of ongoing negotiations between the interests of the three main actors.

But “balancing” should not replace the purpose of your project or programme: otherwise, you turn project/programme management into just acting as a PR for your activities, while ignoring “details” such as budget and deadlines.

In this chapter, the left-hand page is shared between the three episodes discussing the “delivery” side, each episode exploring a change during the ongoing fictional activities, with a focus on what each one of the three main actors could do; you can either read the episodes sequentially, or read all the “method” chapters together, before moving onto “business case” and “thinking”.

The right-hand page contains information specific to each episode. © 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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“Cloud”- something that you heard about quite often over the last few years, and might even consider as a potential platform to use for your existing business processes.

Something that, as I was reminded today by a connection on Linkedin, was anathema barely few decades ago.

You probably heard of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS- (software, platform, infrastructure as a service), but the concept isn’t that different: you get what you pay for, plus you pay what you get (depending on your contract negotiation skills and bargaining power, they aren’t necessarily two sides of the same coin).

In this third element of the introduction, after discussing in the previous two episodes “overheads” and “externalization”, comes an element of “service scalability”, i.e. ensuring that you get some benefits from compliance.

Let’s admit it: any company, while growing, sometimes gets distribution channels that are based just on their ability to provide an existing customer portfolio, but unable to deliver growth.

Compliance can help in justifying dropping (as direct channels) distributors/agents who aren’t anymore what you would need in your network.

Harmonization in many ICT organizational charts is just a box, but it can actually be a useful tool to “separate the wheat from the chaff”.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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In most cases, compliance is based on the assumption that what you have to comply with is defined before you start your programme- rules “cast in stone”.

In this case, I followed instead the approach that way too often was followed with compliance in Italy at least since the 1980s (when I started seeing it in businesses, small and large, local and multinational).

In some cases this might be the “new normal”, as instead of “compliance” we should get used to “convergence on compliance”: define the ground rules, define the initial framework, get feed-back by those implementing it, observe how the new regulation solves the issues that it was created to solve, and evolve the regulation.

Sounds familiar? In a way, this is what has been done for most business-related ISO standards, or rules on risk for the financial sector promoted by the BIS in Basel.

Therefore, the main issue is not with the approach- but with the “static” concept of compliance that I found often in business, e.g. around Europe.

We have to get used to a more “agile” mindset, the way traditionally was done in Italy (maybe with less pathos)1.


Suggested short reading: Roumeliotis “Please stop bastardizing Agile” 21 June 2015 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/please-stop-bastardizing-agile-george-roumeliotis

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro


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By inclination, I am used to reduce complexity by breaking down any activity into its components (yes, the WBS that I learned from MRP along with BOM- Wikipedia the acronyms to see an explanation!).

I am the first to admit that you plan what you know, and any planning activity, from a whole new business to the tiniest project is also an exercise in testing the boundaries of your ignorance- and identifying the “knowledge/expertise gap”.

Along with “swarming”, another concept that I find interesting in business is “emergence” (check Wikipedia for more formal descriptions), which can be (over)simplified as “grassroot change initiative”: basically, those on the frontline can often spot changes, opportunities, and initiatives worth taking- and build their case to present in front of senior management by doing, not by asking permission.

Also because, often, those working this way do not have a mandate but, once their case is built, it becomes a no brainer; there are obvious risks, but see “emergence” as an opportunity to have others work for you- and pay for it2.

A certification, the object of this episode, is often seen as a “crossing the Ts and dotting the Is”, but it can actually foster the development of a trust-based community focused on the improvement of whatever is certified: what, in manufacturing, is part of the Lean Six Sigma/World Class Manufacturing (check Wikipedia) element. See also: “SYNSPEC” http://www.robertolofaro.com/SYNSPEC

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Compliance, at least considering the projects and programmes where I either worked or had to review or audit, has impacts on the operational side (nothing new, here, I hope)- and might even dramatically affect your business model.

This implies that, whatever regulatory changes or evolutions will happen during the “delivery” phase, probably you will need first and foremost to minimize the impact on what was painstakingly negotiated before the compliance programme started.

Sometimes, the first choice is to “buffer” changes, i.e. add something that leaves intact what was already agreed, and add on top of that the changes.

Even when this option is feasible, the risk is to create what in French is called “usine à gaz”- an over-engineered set of results that would probably be impossible to maintain and evolve (if it is ever completed).

There are actually three approaches that enable a better long-term sustainability:   

Integrating stakeholders Building a competitive advantage case Triaging ownership and delivery.

Each approach will be briefly discussed on the right-hand page of this section across the three “delivery” episodes, with further analysis in future publications.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro


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Look around you: certifications are like mushrooms- a disaster, a business issue that makes its way onto the front page of newspapers, few months, and a new certification pops up.

Its value is mainly in creating a shared lingo and avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel, but can become both a barrier to entry into a market and block innovation.

In previous episodes, within this section you read about “integration” and “building”, but now let’s consider a concept usually associated to wars and emergency care, activities where resources are scarce and inadequate to fulfil demand: triaging (again, see Wikipedia for history and details).

Certifying members of your distribution network is a way to ensure consistency of quality perceived by your customers, defend the value of your brand, and enable a cross-organizational resources marketplace.

But you have to cope with reality: both local demand and business realities might generate different organizational structures (size, depth, breadth) in different markets.

Therefore, think again: if you “certify” your distributors, identify first a “certification triaging strategy”, and make it transparent (it is a derivative of loyalty schemes)3.

See also “Business Social Networking – part 1” http://www.robertolofaro.com/BSN2013

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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As discussed within the “thinking” chapter, running a certification scheme involves a complex maze of business choices that could affect your business continuity, but could also turn into a “tremendous business opportunity”.

To add a further twist to our business case, after initiating a "usine à gaz" (as the French call it- see previous episodes) through a regulation, adding a first twist to help remove some "moral hazard" (episode 2015/3), a further twist to potentially reduce costs (episode 2015/4), a further attempt to "generate value" for the affected businesses is delivered by regulators: the possibility of generating a "certification scheme" to transfer downstream some of the training and information responsibilities.

If you read the previous episodes, you understand the "business ethos" of the fictional company that I designed for this publication series, and therefore you will not be surprised by how this opportunity is managed.

The main choice is quite straightforward: understand what the regulatory changes imply, identify potential scenarios and, for each scenario, risks and opportunities, as well as the nature of the costs and organizational impacts involved, and then decide which scenario(s) might make sense to turn into reality.

Within the “action” section, then you will see what you read within the “method” chapter of this and the previous two episodes under a new light.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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From the audio recordings of the meeting of legal and marketing with business after the initial assessment

[The meeting would begin with a discussion of scenarios that are possible, based on the regulation change, feasibility would be assessed within the “action” section]

Business: considering what you said, at last this “certification”, coupled with the eservice incentive of the previous “improvement”, and the chaotic improvement to remove “parasitical” partners makes some business sense.


Marketing is right about the possibility of using this as what I would call a “Trojan Horse” for further integration while also doing something better than burden shifting.

From the perspective of Legal, the potential liability implied by a mismanagement could be two-sided: from one side, we might unwillingly release IPR to third parties, from the other side, we need to structure the activity so that any IPR generated by the “structured feed-back” does not create de facto contractual commitments.

Our revenue recognition is already complex enough to be unwilling to add a further layer, to say nothing about the potential side-effects if we were to inadvertently embed advice that has been delivered by a network member.

Better to consider the other option: make it “arm’s length”, by creating a “certification club” that is to manage what we decide, has a monitoring role, and whose membership, implied in entering the certification process, includes also converting any suggestion, feed-back, etc. into a “common”.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Usually, a certain degree of “triaging” is needed, as discussed within the “method” chapter of this episode: you cannot let anybody in, and you have to layer membership by level of commitment.

If you went through the previous two episodes, probably you saw the almost confusing “table of contents” for the “method” chapter: it was done on purpose, to repeat concepts that should be seen as a continuum that you get through while making choices whenever there is a change.

What is triaging, in reality? A way to decide how to spread your resources. In many business activities involving the distribution of services and business software products, I observed since the late 1980s how often who you get as a distributor isn’t necessarily able to “scale up” while your business grows.

Once “opportunist sellers” have exhausted their existing portfolio of opportunities, they are often unable to generate new qualified leads.

A certification scheme that includes a “triaging” element links each “certification level” to requirements of mutual commitment.

Look around you: in anything from sponsoring events to membership of business networks, a typical approach is to identify “gold”, “silver”, “bronze” levels, but a certification requires something more.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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From the audio recordings of the meeting of legal and marketing with business after the assessment on the “certification club” solution (continues)

[The meeting would begin with a discussion of the information collected, and the comparative analysis delivered by Marketing based on what is the current “best practice” adopted across various industries, and considerations from Legal on each option, as well as their joint proposal for the structure of the “certification club”]

Business: yes, the solution that you proposed is straightforward and “elegant”. Moreover if, as you said, you already checked with ICT the potential integration within the social networking element of the e-service component that we set up to comply with the previous regulatory change.

In organizational terms, it seems obvious that it is up to Marketing&Product Management to take charge of the “consultative” and “communication” processes, while the certification per se can be issued by the new business entity, the “certification club”, using as advisors/in house experts our own support and monitoring staff, to ensure consistency across the board.

The agreement is then to do a “licensing” of the certification framework to the “certification club”, while the certification fees will contribute to both the internal costs of the new unit, and a “nominal” fee paid back to us as per licensing. [Now a long discussion and probably further meetings would follow, to structure the memorandum of incorporation, organizational chart, roles, processes, etc.].

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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What happens when you have changes “en route”? “Transition”, the last element, involves first assessing what to do with what is affected, then phasing-out what is not needed anymore, and phase-in the changes.

The aim? To ensure that, by the completion of the project/programme activities, whatever changes you introduced are fully integrated with what was pre-existing.

This does not imply that the difference “disappears”- but while in computing and equipment often it is possible to be “integrated and distinct”, in other cases that could be just the best way to make it impossible to work.

Imagine that your programme, as in this case, delivers a service: would you think sensible to teach to your service representatives the “history” of each process that they are supposed to execute?

Wouldn’t be better (and less confusing) to simply teach them what they are expected to do?

While the right-hand page is focused on this episode, this introduction is shared between the three “delivery” episodes.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro


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From the audio recordings of the workshop on the “certification club initiative”

Business: as shown within the documentation that you all received, the new regulation now creates the option to delegate some of the activities to the distribution network, but anyway requires to create a certification scheme.

Following analysis of the best practices on the market, and legal advice, what you saw in the previous presentations from Legal, Marketing, ICT should give you a clearer idea of what we plan to implement.

This first meeting is just an introduction to discuss the general concept, and before the new business entity will be created, with an initial grant funding and “staff&processes seeding” from our part, we wanted to have this workshop.

As you remember, we contacted not just the top 10% of our distribution network, but did a survey by category and dimension, in order to identify a “sample” to be invited- an investment on our part [a motivational speech would follow].

While the business entity is a structure supporting the enforcement, we would like the participants to this workshop to consider the proposed structure of the certification scheme as a first draft, to be improved with your suggestions. [The workshop typically should split into panels focused on various issues, e.g. using a Delphi approach on policy making, i.e. advice, not decision making1]


© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Within information technology is quite common: certifications are a form of branding, useful both with customers and potential business partners.

If properly managed, certification schemes are to be considered part of your brand management activities, and not just a “technical issue”.

And branding is something more than putting a nifty logo on paper or in communications.

Within the context of this business case, you shouldn’t think to something like ISO9000- it has to be more proactive.

Whenever I receive a letter from a supplier that lists the logo of all the certifications that it received, I think that it is more braggadocio than communication, considering the audience.

A certification initiated by a manufacturer or service provider is actually a tool that should be used not just by those certified, but also by those certifying them, and it requires a further element that many forget: it has to be credible.

You can certify yourself, but what would that mean? Just that you add a cost for staying in business with you, without generating any additional value for your customers or distribution network.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Keeping the value of your certification scheme requires (yes, I keep using that verb to underline the concept) that you involve a third-party acknowledged as an independent assessor.

Obviously: you define the selection criteria, define a contract that has to be accepted by those that applied to be certified, define the validation and improvement sides, and then “scout around” for a third-party.

There is an alternative, if you are used to manage joint-ventures: create an independent entity that is chartered to manage the certification process, and is founded and managed by both you and your distribution network- a kind of “certification club”, as discussed within the business case.

While you are doing the effort, it makes sense to have something more, and have this “certification club” get a certification on its own governance and quality processes.

Funding? Through the certification scheme itself. Evolution of the rules? Through a monitoring report delivered to your organization, plus a kind of quarterly or annual poll of the distribution network and a sample of customers, to identify potential improvements to suggest.

There is a risk that I observed few times in the past: if you delegate more than a monitoring and consultative role to the “certification club”.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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If you set up a certification scheme, you are actually doing few things:     

Differentiating your business and your distribution network Creating a method to legally drop from your network unreliable partners Protecting your IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) Generating a feed-back cycle that could help evolve your IPR …

As discussed in the previous section, creating a “certification club” is a way to give credibility to your certification scheme, as shown by various international entities (e.g. look at the evolution of various standards that became part of the ISO portfolio- many originated as a “merger” of various corporate certification schemes).

You will need anyway to keep a balance between increasing the credibility of your certification scheme (and its perceived value for your distribution network and your customers), and your own business continuity.

It might be tempting to extend the portfolio of activities managed by your “certification club”, but anyway you have to consider that you cannot outsource the evolution of your own IPR- it would be like asking a third party to develop your own strategy.

You can involve management consultants to create a new strategy, but would you delegate to them also the decision on which strategy to implement?

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Defending the value of your investment in business processes, technologies, and what generally goes under the “IPR and brand” label requires something more: a proactive marketing strategy.

Creating a certification isn’t enough- either directly, or by supporting your “certification club”, you should create a “communication continuum” that uses any opportunity to reinforce the perceived value and visibility of your certification scheme- not just quality, a “static” value, but also continuous improvement.

A “certification club” is an evolution of more traditional “User Groups” or “annual jamborees”, but should actually create within the member organizations a sense of “community” that would basically create “ambassadors” within each one, increasing the potential to generate improvements through “emergence”.

Any certification, if used in this way, will be part of a “continuous improvement”, probably with a significant impact development/improvement cycle.







The critical element? Do not turn it into a bureaucracy- create a real community of people willing to contribute to the increased value of the certification as a differentiating factor not only for your organization, but also for anybody undertaking that certification.

What does this boil down to? You are not creating an add-on to your branding strategy, you are creating an organizational entity and approach: it takes an annual budget, not just a “village/community mentality”…

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro