Magazine article Management Today

Born to Float

Magazine article Management Today

Born to Float

Article excerpt

Trevor Davies enjoys dangerous challenges - in August he climbed the Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps, and later this year he plans to scale the Eiger. But mountaineering holidays aren't enough to satisfy his desire for risk. That's why 18 months ago he gave up a well-paid job as head partner for computing and electronics at management consultants Coopers & Lybrand (C&L), to start a software business. It was a big gamble, but Davies, 42, is convinced he has a winning idea. He expects to become multi-millionaire when his company, Logical Water is sold or floated in three years' time.

Davies's idea was to develop and sell an innovative software tool that would help managers understand their businesses much more clearly. The concept had been evolving at the back of his mind since the early 1980s, when he had been hired by Guinness to shake up its management information systems. Attempting to unravel the chaos, he became increasingly dismayed at how badly software was adapted to business needs. `It tends to legitimise the mess you're in rather than get it sorted out,' he says. Nor were IT consultants much help, because outsiders, by definition, couldn't maximise the expertise held within the company. `I soon realised that the ideal solution would be for staff to work out better ways to do things for themselves,' he say

When he moved to C&L, he discovered that Guinness's problems were not unique. 'Almost every company I saw experienced the same difficulties, caused by the fact that their management information systems were based on IT methodologies, rather than on concepts that business people could understand.' Davies was convinced it must be possible to design software from the opposite viewpoint, starting with how managers and business people think.

His solution, Quesheet, asks managers three simple questions: what are they trying to do, why and how? This clarifies their objectives and makes it much easier to identify whether there might be a better way of achieving them. Davies is not the only person to have had such ideas. Management guru Peter Drucker outlines a similar approach in his book Managing for the Future. The easiest, and perhaps the greatest, increases in productivity, Drucker says, `come from redefining the task, and especially from eliminating what needs not to be done'. Davies, however, is unusual in having put the idea into software.

Other software just automates the way people work already, says Davies. `We want to help users find new ways of working so that they can shed the burden of unnecessary activity. So many people don't understand why they are doing things.' Take the task of managing customers, for example. The reason for managing customers might be to maximise customer profitability. But there are many ways of doing this: by ensuring further orders, maximising order values, or keeping selling costs down, Davies points out. So, `managing customers' is the wrong objective.

Another example might be product development. If a manager asks himself how he develops products, the answer tends to involve producing a design, developing a plan, or allocating resources. `But you need to ask why you are developing a specific product in the first place,' says Davies. It could be to ensure a competitive position: you might achieve that by understanding market need, understanding technical opportunities, establishing a product outline, or developing a proto-type. The Quesheet approach almost forces employees to come out from behind departmental barriers, Davies says. It also greatly simplifies the task of communicating goals and methods to everyone in the business so that they know and understand what they are trying to achieve.

Davies had not designed Quesheet to this level of detail while still at C&L, but he was convinced that the theory was right. Meanwhile, although he enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of colleagues at C&L, he longed to put some of his own business ideas into practice, rather than continually advising other people. …

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