Looking Back, Looking Forward – the First Ten Years at Clarrus

August 30, 2012 by
Filed under: Uncategorized 

It’s been over 10 years since I started Clarrus. Here’s a summary of what I see as some of the important things I’ve learned in that time, and a few of the upcoming things on the horizon.

If you recall the business environment around 2002, we were just starting to recover from the dot com implosion. Starting a consulting business in the tech field wouldn’t have been considered a wise thing. I went for it, though, already having a few years under my belt as a consultant in the technology space, and all kinds of piss ‘n vinegar about how I could make things work.

Besides, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the planets really were aligned at the end of April 2002. I saw it as no small sign that as we were out for a few drinks just before Clarrus started, we could see 5 planets with our naked eye in the evening sky.

Like many companies starting from square one, though, things started slowly.

As many consultants do, I had a rolodex (look that term up, kiddies, there’s an app for that now) of people i knew, and a few local companies I could get started with.

From the beginning, there are a couple of things that I saw as critical, as differentiators. Never oversell, always deliver value. Even when the revenue stream was still a bit slow, I chose to disengage from a client rather than continue to draw a monthly fee when they would not follow my advice. I still believe today that if there’s reasonable emphasis on delivered value, the revenue stream will follow – and it has.

To this day I choose to not represent myself as an expert in Agile methodologies, though I have comfortably held discussions with many teams that believed they were agile. I have strongly spoken out with several clients when their rationale for their actions was that they were doing agile, to the point where on more than one occasion clients have left the room in anger. Even though I’ve been called an agile curmudgeon, at times like that I find I am actually defending what agility really should be. Ironic.

I don’t claim that there have been successes with every client (and wonder what is behind the veil for those organizations that tout such numbers), but for those clients that are interested in deep and lasting change, and the effort to get to that point, it has been a great ride.

To see massive productivity gains in organizations, some where we even had the opportunity to measure that improvement to show an ROI that business owners would drool over. To quantifiably confirm that those things we generically call ‘best practices’ actually do work when applied to help a team collaborate effectively.

To help drive a turn around of a major business unit by exposing the simple idea that business requirements can be considered as unimplemented features. The rest simply fell into place with no culture shock, and no resistance to adoption.

Development of a diagnostic approach to working with teams that allows the team itself to uncover and identify ripe areas for improvement, rather than getting some high-faluting consultant to come in and write recommendations about what they need to do to fix themselves (and generally ignore these recommendations anyways). All at a lower cost and with better results than what most consulting groups offer.

The last 10 years have provided a wonderful variety of work – I’ve run workshops and consulted to companies in Spain, Germany, Israel, Korea, and all over the US and Canada. The vast amount of my work has been repeat and referral business, and much of what I do these days has been with teams outside of the tech sector.

While in some ways each project and sector is unique, in important ways they are all the same – effective teams are a diverse collection of people that have found a way to collaborate toward a common goal. I have learned that the results really are in the team – they don’t need someone to come in and tell them new things, they are better off with someone coming in and extracting from them what they already know they need to do to succeed.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at conferences, run workshops for local organizations, and give back to the community through acting as a mentor in a local business competition and volunteering for the local Crisis Centre. I’ve learned that the value I gain out of working with clients can be measured in a number of ways that are enriching.

I’ve written and published Software Teamwork, and developed content for major university courses. This has provided me with an understanding of what goes into each of these major endeavours, and be able to see the fruits of my labour at the end. I believe both endeavours contribute to their respective domains of knowledge.

I’ve learned a few little secrets about consulting that I’ll share with you, too.

  • I’ve learned that as a successful consultant, I don’t come in with some secret sauce or magical elixir (or snake oil) that will solve everyone’s problems. I come in able to ask the apparently naive questions, expose some underlying assumptions, open up and explore the gaps in thinking, and strengthen the synergies that are already there latent in the group.
  • I’ve learned that many groups are not looking for a long-lasting solution when there are so many quick fixes at their disposal, but it is worth it to find those willing to put in the effort.
  • I’ve learned that I’d rather work with a partner interested in growing a sustainable organization rather than one interested in their own quick exit strategy – I generally don’t do venture-based due diligence anymore.

And all that is just in the first ten years.

What does the future hold for Clarrus, for me?

Well more of the same, with some refinements. Here’s what is coming this fall.

I’m retooling the Diagnostic that has worked well for teams in the past – refining the questions to apply to different team environments, and simplifying the deployment so it can be done in a simple lunch and learn setting – emphasizing the shared discovery and rich discussions that are critical features of that product. I expect it will continue to be one of the most effective catalysts for teams that I have seen.

I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to give back in a way that is meaningful, and it looks like one may have popped up as I was starting on a draft for this blog. There will probably be more about that to follow as well, as one thing I see more of in the future is getting back to a more active blogging schedule.

As part of that giving back, I’ll be taking advantage of a huge inventory of training materials that has been lying dormant for for a couple of years to offer up some open enrolment training. To celebrate the first 10 years of Clarrus, these courses will priced competitively, and well, if feedback is any indication, you’ll get a great workshop experience, too. Look for courses in Software Requirements, Use Cases, Peer Reviews and Project Management – and contact me if you are interested in signing up early for any of these courses

And just as I recently did with the release of Practical Agility, I’m looking at a couple of complementary e-book releases in the near future – one on projects and one on people – that will be available as a bundle when they are all out.

I’m really proud of the ground we’ve covered in the past ten years, greatly appreciate that many of you have been along for the ride, and looking forward to what is to come.

Whew…let the good times roll!

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