I love the Olympic Games. I get so caught up in the Olympics that for two weeks I procrastinate on many important tasks, and lose significant sleep. I’ve been known to awake at 3:30 am to watch favorite events.
The opening ceremonies are always a highlight, though I watch them more to see the size of the various country contingents, and the wide-eyed expressions on athletes’ faces. The television commentators love to include small human interest stories and to offer opinions on who might win their events, which sets us up for the competitions to come.
As I watched the teams come into the stadium – Russia and the US with over 230 athletes each, Netherlands with about 40 – I thought about how it was possible for many of the smaller countries to even compete with the larger. For example, Canada with a total population of 35 million, has fewer people than in California, yet competes at world-class levels.
I could not help but draw parallels to my chosen profession as an IT and project management consultant. When I was young in my career, there was a very popular saying in our industry: “no one was ever fired for hiring IBM”. Because IBM was big, IBM was a safe selection for many organizations’ seeking computing solutions. Risk-averse governments were especially prone to selecting IBM. There were other good firms (e.g. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Sperry, Burroughs, Honeywell); but “Big Blue” was big. Safe. And often selected because of its size.
From a consulting/project management firm perspective, how does one compete if your firm is small compared to others in the industry? Well, how do the smaller Olympic teams compete? By specializing. Large firms will naturally have more offerings; but smaller firms can compete skillfully within their specialty areas. While the US and Russia are competitive in all events, Norway specializes in cross-country skiing, Netherlands in speed skating, Austria in alpine skiing, and Canada in freestyle skiing and hockey. Does that make the US and Russia deficient in these events? Not at all. In fact, winning results are often measured in centimeters, hundredths of seconds, or a single judge’s style points. “Smaller” competitors have honed their strengths, established their niche, and compete ferociously to maintain dominance in their specialties.
From an organization’s perspective, when looking for an IT/project management solution, a Request for Proposals (RFP) is often issued for competitive bids. Several firms may bid, large and small. The organization will select the winner based on the responses to the requirements of the RFP, the firms’ past performance, and bid price. The organization wants the best solution, and will select the firm that can demonstrate superiority. If a smaller firm wins, does that make the large firms deficient? Not at all. “Smaller” competitors have honed their strengths, established their niche, and compete ferociously to maintain dominance in their specialty.
So, if a client organization is requesting services from world-class consulting/project management firms, how does any one firm distinguish itself? Clearly, in any given competitive bid situation, the client organization would not go wrong with any of the top respondents to its RFP. But why leave that to chance? Why allow the client to be swayed by the argument of being safe in selecting one of the “big guys”? Firms that focus on strengths, and go into a competition like a Netherlands or a Norway, can beat the odds-on favorite.
I love the Olympics. They remind me to find my niche, strengthen my skills, and compete with the odds in my favor.
[If you’re looking for an upbeat keynote speaker, an experienced seminar leader, an on-site project management coach, or an expert in project oversight and IV&V, you need look no further. Contact Merv to help guarantee your project delivery success.]
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