Friday, December 12, 2008

Why we are NOT into the Quality Certifications Business!

This is a common question that a lot of people ask me in professional and personal meetings.

We know that a lot of companies around the world spend a lot of money to get certified or assessed against standards or frameworks like ISO 9001, ISO 27001, ISO 2000, P-CMM, CMM-i, etc. etc. etc.

This is line of business that has very close relationships with some of the strong competencies, some our consultants have. For example I myself am a lead auditor of ISO 27001 and ISO 20000, have helped two companies get assessed at CMM-SW Level 5, one company get assessed at P-CMM Level 5, and very closely involved in getting a company certified at ISO 27001. Some of our consultants have more detailed experience in CMM-i, ISO 9001 and the list goes on.

In the earlier days these certifications were considered to provide cutting edge competitiveness to the market players. They were mandated by companies looking for vendors and vendors got them. Once a vendor got it in a certain market, the rest followed. There was a rush. Everyone wanted to be certified. A huge market opportunity around certifications sprung up.

Senior Management were given goals to get their companies certified in 6 months, in 1 year and so on. Most of them did their job, they got their companies certified. I still remember seeing a resume which said "I spearheaded the CMM-SW Level 5 assessment program for our company, and we got assessed at Level 5 (from Level 0) in a record 6 months". I thought, 'wow'!

In the earlier days, these certifications were appreciated and spoken proudly about during sales meetings. These days, no one wants to speak about them in sales meetings. They are a part of the sales presentation (most of the times), but mostly in corners.

A couple of months back, I met the Management Representative of a Large Indian Bank. She had called me for help. I met her and was sure trying to help her. She kept asking me 'Will this be enough to get the certification? I want to know what is just enough to get certified?". She asked me at the end, if we certify companies and if would be interested in their opportunity. I replied 'No, we are not in this business'.

I personally have learned a lot from these frameworks and standards. I was introduced to corporate systems 8 years back, through these frameworks and standards. They are excellent and continuously evolving. I would never have been here today, without learning and implementing them. I also believe that every company that has implemented them (to whatever level) has definitely benefited from them (to various extents).

But the reason they are sought after today, is not the primary reason for why they were developed in the first place. No wonder Software Engineer Institute (the keeper and developer of CMM frameworks) has tightened the assessment process. No wonder the International Organization for Standards (ISO) is tightening its standards. If not, it will not make sense for them to exist in the first place.

If a company is willing to invest towards a certification for helping their end customers and thus themselves, we are willing to help. If not, we are not interested.

We will never get into the business of certification ourselves. We will only help if the above prerequisite is met.

One of our corporate value says 'Delivering Sustained Strategic Value; Professionally and Ethically'. I want to highlight the word 'Ethically'!

Can you speak to my friend who is looking for a job? Please!?

The moment you become a high-ranking official in a company, you start getting recommendations and references for employment of people from

  • friends of relatives
  • relatives of relatives
  • friends of friends
  • relatives of friends

Initially you accept to at least speak to the candidates, to not disappoint your relatives or friends.

Once you speak to them you will realize that you are now requested to speak to the candidate's friends or relatives, and then it dawns to you that there will never be an end to this thread if you start encouraging it.

It is very important to understand why you are in a business. And it is always better to set the right expectations immediately.

And by the way it is not only you who gets pushed. It is your wife, father, mother and other close friends and relatives. You will need to start setting expectations early on, or be rest assured that you will spend a lot of time in these tactical activities with result in no beneficial business outcomes.

And lets not forget that there will always be exceptions, when you will speak to the candidates. But those need to be a few. Very Few!

Wish you all the best!

Balancing between Perfection and Practicality

One of the common issues most startup face is to balance between perfection and practicality.

You have to make choices between these two, constantly. For example:

- Should we have a state-of-the-art office setup? Or should we setup an office with basic requirements, that leaves increased working capital for research, service development, sales and marketing?
- Should we create the best sales presentations possible (which would mean a lot of effort and time)? Or should we be Ok with near perfect presentations and depend more on the sales team?
- Should we buy the best computers with 19" LCD screens or should we buy 17" CRT monitors?

These are questions you will have to constantly answer on a day-to-day basis. If you have a looot of working capital you could go the route where you invest in the best (which does not ensure the best outcomes, but definitely aids them).

If you don't have looot of working capital, make sure you don't lock up your working capital.

Recently, I met a high-ranking official of a mid-size IT firm based out of USA. They were growing fast when the market was good. They decided to invest on a campus in India, spent millions of dollars and met that objective. Today they wish, they hadn't done that.

Everyone knows that the market is in a recession. Working capital has shrunk for a lot of players, and most wish they were prudent in good times.

Coming back to the point on presentations. There are cases where we get a day or even less to prepare for a sales meeting.

We believe that:

- A good prospective client will always want it's vendors / partners to bring their best, to the table.
- We should never put our company brand name at too much risk.


- If we think that we do not have the required time to prepare, we ask our clients for a meeting that is on a later date.
- If the prospective client agrees, well and good.
- If not, we weigh the risk to the brand. Inspite of our best efforts if we cannot mitigate the risk to the brand to an acceptable level, we convey our apologies to the prospective client and let the opportunity go.
- if the risk to the brand is acceptable, we give it our best shot and go for the meeting.

Remember, you don't want a prospective client to think that your company is no way close to your competitors. If you loose by a small margin, that is still Ok. I have seen a lot of cases where a vendor looses, only to be called back because the other vendor made some big mistakes during the engagement.