The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems

Blissful Ignorance

               As an amateur boat builder, I acquired many woodworking practices that were so simple, so logical, and so easy to understand BUT they are not that obvious to the uninitiated. As a novice, someone had to tell me first. Then, a small voice inside my head said duhhh.

               Who hasn’t heard the old saw Measure Twice, Cut Once? What I had to learn though, was that it is okay to cut twice; first to cut the piece long and then to cut it to size after attaching it in place. Duh, why didn’t I think of that?

               The true value of that practice becomes obvious only AFTER you’re finished; when it is showing in the end result of your work. No matter how accurate you measured the first time and the second, you may experience that the piece you cut once is still short, even if it’s only by 1/16 of an inch.

What Separates the Craftsman from a Novice?

               Now, ask yourself, what’s the price you’d put on the advice to cut twice? Even though the practice itself does not elicit any amazement—like when being given some deep scientific insight—the consequences of being oblivious to this simple practice can be dire, either right away or further down the line. This is the difference between a novice and a craftsman! Note that the craft of getting things right is in the (wo)man; not the tool.

               Unfortunately, craftsmanship is grossly undervalued because craftsmen do more with fewer tools, making work seem so effortless and easy. After all, that’s how they were trained, and performing their craft in any other way would undermine their pride of workmanship; it’s not done, period! They are not going to violate their sense of self-worth! In return for what? It makes no sense to them at all.

Craftsmanship in Business

               I have had a similar experience in business. For example, when I headed the Project Management Office (PMO) for a mission critical Information Technology project, back in 1997. The assignment was getting the investment banking branch of a major Dutch retail bank ready for conducting business in the new single European currency—the Euro—starting on 3rd of January 1999.

               My role was to assist the project manager—my boss—in delivering the IT project successfully, on budget, and most of all, on time. He took his assignment to be strictly Information Technology—main frame applications only. Yet, I cast my gaze wider, and asked him for permission to make anything beyond IT my own project. He saw no harm in that and he agreed on condition that it would not interfere with my PMO duties.

               My reasoning for starting my own project was that I had noticed no one showing any interest in any of the other departments; the Call Center, the Back Office, Accounting, and Marketing. Even the department heads themselves showed the least of concern when I asked them what they were going to do to get ready for trading in Euros. They all had the same answer: Hans, you see, this is an IT project! It only took a few questions of mine to put the fear of G’d in them.

               I asked marketing if they had any form letters, brochures or other marketing materials using the local currency name—the guilder. Then it hit them like a ton of bricks, they had a massive amount of work ahead of them, and time was running out quickly. They had to go over every single piece of marketing collateral, inserting the new currency, re-writing texts, changing illustrations, and getting it all ready for printing as soon as possible because print shops were getting booked up left and right. After all, it was their responsibility to have everything distributed well before 3rd of January 1999.

               On to the Call Center. I asked if they could foresee any of their clients asking Euro related questions. If so, would they be prepared to give a qualified response? Nothing was planned for the Euro conversion, after all it was erroneously perceived as “just an IT project.” They rose to the occasion magnificently.

               When I asked the Back Office similar questions, they told me about the 13th mutual fund that was about to be launched, which required them to make the Excel program Euro compliant. But, no worries, they knew how to get hold of the former intern who wrote it, so they would ask him to do the job. Then there was silence on my part; I had to process what I thought was impossible.

               Unfortunately, it was true: twelve mutual funds were administered on a stand-alone PC, at an unsecured location, without any back-up on the main-frame . . . . . Clearly, the mission critical IT project was unaware of this PC’s existence, after all, this stand alone PC was not part of any application on the main frame network.

Consequences of Blissful Ignorance

               None of my initiatives and suggestions were earth shattering revelations—apart from finding the stand alone PC. It was more than obvious that these activities had to be included in the enterprise-wide Euro conversion program in order to be Euro compliant on the 3rd of January, 1999.

               YET, it only BECAME obvious AFTER I told my boss about the additional work that needed to be completed in order for the bank to be FULLY Euro compliant in time. Although this timely revelation was in and of itself NOT earthshattering, the possible consequences of everyone’s blissful ignorance would have been dramatic if the non-IT departments were not Euro-compliant in time; no doubt about it.

                I just did my job as a craftsman—always keeping the end-result in mind. Nobody really thought about how a possible looming disaster, both financially and reputational, was avoided. After all, anyone would have recognized what had to be done; the remedy was simple. That is undeniably true, but only because I enlightened them first!
What’s the price you would put on such craftsmanship today?

Read more about Craftsmanship and Stewardship in business in my book:

The Root Cause:
RETHINK YOUR APPROACH TO SOLVING STUBBORN ENTERPRISE-WIDE PROBLEMS

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