I’ve wrestled with this issue for a few decades now, through the Strassmann and Carr arguments and a whole slew in between. And sometimes it feels a bit like The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s just not done (in polite circles) to point out the guy’s not wearing any.
When I look back over the years, I find that my arguments came down to this:
1. Costs are easy-ish to measure, benefits aren’t.
2. Even if costs are easy-ish to measure, allocating them is often a major headache.
3. And if allocating costs is hard, try “allocating” benefits. Just try it.
4. Quite often the decision is already made, by people with the authority to make the decision, so where’s the value in post-facto bureaucracy?
5. The process of trying to define, measure and crystallise benefits is itself so amorphous that it lends itself to arbitrage; more projects “fail” as a result of benefit-arbitrage politics than is commonly known or accepted. It’s along the lines of “When you can’t deliver the benefits, get your defence in first. Attack the project.”
So I spent time looking at Andrew Abbott’s The System Of Professions and the Searls/Brand Because Of Rather than With, spent time looking at democratised innovation and its implications, trying to figure out how best to deal with the issue.
I never questioned the need to have a real and communicable plan, a routemap, an expected cost and an expected timescale. I never questioned the need to ensure that the decision-maker(s) were empowered to make the decision(s). I never questioned the need to have good feedback loops and monitoring processes. What I questioned was the process by which the benefits were “created” and then used as an opportunity for arbitraging the rest of the project, and how much time and money was spent arguing about them prior to project initiation in comparison with post-implementation-benefits-analysis.
So it was with considerable interest that I read Andrew McAfee’s recent post on The Case Against The Business Case. I was particularly intrigued to see the comments made by Bob Kaplan on the topic; I will now go and read Strategy Maps, I’d bought the book and not got around to reading it.
Thanks, Andrew! Much food for thought.