An indecent proposal

Tom Peters On Excellence
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I believe, fervently, in electronic networking, using today's so-called groupware (such as Lotus Notes) to create value through pooled knowledge. And Lord knows I believe in customer responsiveness. Still, I was repelled by the recent piece in Com puterworld magazine headed: "KPMG turns to firstclass groupware."

One Friday at 3pm, the accounting and consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick received a request from an insurance company to submit a bid for a "major technology overhaul", according to the magazine. Over the weekend, four partners in four different cities prepared a "thick" proposal, complete with graphics and diagrams, using the firm's new Knowledge Manager system. They delivered the document to the client at noon on the Monday, winning the business and beating out EDS, IBM and Coopers & Lybrand. Wow! But wait. I call this the "But Will You Brag About It to Your Grandkids" test.

Suppose that one of the four KPMG partners is 36. Twenty-four years from now, at age 60, will he thumb through a stack of 100 proposals and reports that he worked on, stop at the one prepared over the hectic weekend, and exclaim, "Wow! A grand slam. A brand-new approach that led the insurance industry in a whole new direction"? I doubt it.

Call me a sceptic. Call me a Luddite. Call me anything you want, and you'll not convince me that anything genuinely new and worth bragging about can be created during a groupware weekend in cyberspace.

The magazine said that a normal response time in this case would have been three to five business days. Well, a pox on both houses: I mean that I roundly condemn the insurance company that asked for a serious proposal in five days, and the consultants

who met such a request. How stupid! Writing 2,500 words about your new service or product is not that hard, and one could do it in a weekend. Writing 500 words is harder, and writing three words - for example, an ad slogan that transforms the market, like Nike's "Just Do It" - is pure, una dulterated agony that could take months.

I'm hardly surprised, and even less impressed, that KPMG could create a "thick" proposal, with graphics and diagrams (doubtless in all the colours of the rainbow), in 60 hours. I'll bet they couldn't have written a scintillating two-page proposal in fiveor even 15 business days, let alone in that harried weekend.

I've been in the proposal- and report-writing business for 28 years. There are a handful of my "products" I am really proud of (that is, different and making a difference);there are plenty which are professional but blah - not worth the aspirins it took to produce them.

The great ones invariably involved collaboration (which surely would have been easier with Notes or FirstClass).

But they took time. Time to dance with the problem. Time to put the whole mess aside and let it gestate. Time to turn 10,000 "easy" words into 1,000 provocative and precise words.

"But we had no choice," the KPMG crowd might say. "The deadline was absurd." So what?

"We were up against the likes of EDS. Doing the job over the weekend, with more creativity than the other guys, was a big win."

Don't be so sure.

I have no idea how it will turn out, but I'd bet that the result for both the insurers and KPMG will be unremarkable. (And then KPMGers will complain to me - they have before - that their services are becoming commodities.)

My response to KPMG, sure to garner a hatful of "don't be naive" letters from readers, is, `So don't respond to asinine requests from clients."

David Maister, the premier observer of professional service firms, agrees. He rips lawyers, accountants et al, for taking business that doesn't help them grow or turn them on. (He says providing professional servlces should be fun. Ad man David Ogilvy ison the same wavelength, bragging of having fired many more clients (who were wearing down his staff) than have fired him. Gary Withers, the British marketing services whiz, joins the parade away from dull business.

So, amen: Groupware yourself to the hilt. I'm all for it. But use the technology to do something with pizzazz, not just to be a lightning-fast drone.

And KPMG - next time a client asks for serious help but wants it in three to five days, give it EDS, IBM and Coopers' phone, fax and e-mail numbers. Then take the weekend off, read some good fiction or take a long hike, and be raring to go at 8am on Monday.

You will dramatically raise the odds of having somethlng to brag about to your grandkids, even if your partners do look at you askance.

TPG Communications