The world was very different 30 years ago. Management Consulting was in adolescence and growing pains associated with maturation were rather obvious to most observers. Operations-focused consultancies were rapidly growing with services centered on cost reduction. Sadly, many firms possessed only one approach to cost reduction and it was job elimination. That said, professional services chased perceived needs, and in this case the first serious wave of technology in the workplace had indeed made many jobs redundant. There were many large corporations in serious need of that kind of cost reduction at the time.

As students of our industry, we used to sit around discussing if those firms had the ability to diversify their offers over the longer term. You know, the kind of conversation that results from way too much time spent on the road eating at Chili’s and sleeping in bad hotels. One ludicrous recurring answer had something to do with personal fulfillment and the global elimination of money. Well, that was 1988. We can’t adequately explain it.

The decade of the 90’s saw market expansion for the entire consulting industry. This was, in our view, driven by the looming horrors of information technology meltdowns brought about by the new century; increasing complexity of globalizing markets; and a shortage of people inside companies that knew how things were supposed to work (thanks in part to Operations Consultants). There were many firms, approaches, and delivery models to suit just about any would-be client’s desire.

Operations Consulting in general, morphed from services chasing specific needs to something more akin to that awful third cousin living in your basement telling you what you’re going to cook for his dinner. Well, sort of anyway. Let’s just say that marketing budgets grew exponentially to get the word out about the next “great world class thing that no one was smart enough to think about until we wrote this brochure”.

At the end of the 20th century, while the technologists were preventing the Y2K disaster and the strategy houses were helping clients manage increasing global complexity, the operations consultants rolled out Business Process Redesign; Re-engineering; Process Improvement; Business Transformation; Lean; and more. There were many “branding” terms and many “breakthrough” concepts cruising along under the mantra of “new and different”. But not so fast, as Harry Truman said in loosely quoting Ecclesiastes: “there is nothing new in the world”…

In fact, some of these “new” concepts are over 100 years old, first brought to us by Frank & Lillian Gilbreth, pioneering “Industrial Engineers” around the time of the first World War. In fact, Gilbreth devised an “efficient” method of assembling and disassembling small arms for the U.S. Army. He broke the job down into small elements and trained soldiers to follow the procedure in sequence without looking. This simple process approach to a routine activity undoubtedly saved many lives in the trenches of Europe.

The Gilbreths also created the “Flow Process Chart” to describe the conduct of manufacturing operations. This cutting edge thinking in the middle of the industrial revolution was still being offered in the 1980’s in many classical Industrial Engineering curricula. Even today, many universities still offer courses in Work Management & Design that start at the beginning with Frank & Lillian.  If the they'd had a Facebook account they would be rock stars in the business world but sadly, few people alive today have ever heard of them much less know of their contributions to the world.

Hope you enjoyed reading this short and somewhat tongue-in-cheek recounting of the history of Operations Consulting. Fact is though, you’ve been set up. The follow-on to this post will be a discussion on the critical few things required to ensure your success in any engagement with any consultancy. Hope you check it out in early December.

We hope that everyone is gearing up for a fantastic holiday season and to those of you in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh, One more thing... Certitude Group can assist with an assessment of the current fit, function, and effectiveness of your business processes and we can design enhancements to not only correct deficiencies but also improve the effectiveness of your operations. We have identified millions upon millions of dollars in benefits associated with business process effectiveness upgrades. These benefits materialize through better technical outcomes and cost effectiveness. We can do the same for you and your company. Just drop a note to info@certitudegroup.com and we will set up a time to discuss you situation in detail.

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