Insight Blog

The Art of the Possible

by David Wise

October 29, 2019 | Project, Program, Portfolio Management

During a recent project, my client was in the process of selecting a new software vendor to replace an existing enterprise tool.  In accordance with current trends, they wanted to use cloud services to avoid the costs and complexity that comes with custom-built and in-house managed solutions.  The client had narrowed the options down to two well-known providers and invited them to demonstrate how their platforms could address the company’s needs.  The challenge, though, is that the client has unique operational practices that drive very specific requirements that are not commonly found in cloud platforms that are geared toward the mass-market.  In my previous experience with this client, they have been very prescriptive regarding how enterprise tools should function to minimize any impact to operations.  However, the project leader stated that the team should be careful NOT to guide the vendors—instead, they should embrace “the art of the possible” and empower the vendors to provide their creative solutions. Much surprised, the expression “the art of the possible” stuck with me after that meeting and I decided to dig a little deeper into its meaning and application.

In an 1867 interview, Otto von Bismarck stated “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.”  So why, 150 years later, is this phrase now being thrown around during a technology vendor selection?  To begin to understand this, I believe it is important to understand the context of the original quote.  Bismarck was a Prussian statesman (and later the first German Chancellor) who, during this period, extensively exercised political alliances with smaller states to diminish the influence of Austria, a powerful neighbor.  The “art of the possible” was about recognizing the options that were available and turning those to one’s advantage. Further refining the set of options to only include “the attainable,” places focus on those options that have a high likelihood of success.  Finally, he recognizes that a high probability of attaining “the next best” is better than failing to achieve an optimal solution.

As my client and other large enterprises consider adopting a cloud solution, “the art of the possible” perfectly sums up the challenges and opportunities in front of them.  To take advantage of the speed and efficiency of cloud solutions, the business can no longer expect all legacy practices to be supported.  Instead, embracing commercially available built-in capabilities enables multiple advantages:  cost savings, efficiency, scalability, business continuity, and most of all, predictable results.  However, this comes at the cost of adopting new business processes and shifting away from the legacy practices.  As enterprises consider these solutions, they will need to assess the impact of losing legacy practices which may enable key differentiating factors for their business.  This can then be weighed against the benefits gained from adopting more “standard” practices (aligned with the cloud solution).  By doing this, they will have explored “the art of the possible.”

Many companies struggle to embrace new opportunities if it means breaking from “the way things have always been done.”  Sometimes, an outside perspective to provide objective analysis and share new practices is essential to cut through entrenched ideas and practices.  Lake Shore Associates (LSA) excels at helping companies transform.  LSA’s approach to Strategic Enablement builds bridges from corporate strategic goals to the realization of benefits.  LSA draws from a multi-faceted toolkit driving all activities required to deliver a winning transformation.  Some key capabilities include: Scoping and Prioritization, Business Case Definition/Financial Modeling, Stakeholder/Leadership Alignment, Request for Solution Creation, Supplier Selection, Program Planning, Program Execution, Change Enablement, Steady-state Planning, and on-going Supplier Lifecycle Management.  If your company has an upcoming initiative (or is struggling with a current effort), please let us know and we’ll be happy to show you how LSA can help!