Expert Opinion: We like a bit of Salt ‘n’ Vinegar

One of my least favourite things in a working day is the use of buzzwords to generalise; one of my best things is a bag of crisps. A little team twist on terminology we take is to prefer to say “ready-salted” instead of an over-used “vanilla” – meaning, in HR systems context, a solution to product, configuration or process that is standard or typical.

Another favourite mission for me in a role where I aim to explain to those in professions less close to technology is not only to avoid the jargon but to convey a concept of expert opinion. Expert opinion is why the “ready-salted” of HR systems projects is perhaps to be avoided in the asking. I’ll explain here why if you do ask for our ready-salted consultancy version (or that of any technology service provider) then be wary of what you are getting.

Historically – and in calendar time still less than 5 years, but an age in tech – the people technology industry in the UK referred to 3 tiers of product and the simplest, at the base tier, meant those systems that came off-the-shelf and without client-end configuration potential. These continue to have a very viable place in the market and their features, functions and flexibility of deployment is today staggering. Ready-salted and very good too.

Consultancy and professional services requirements are the concern for tiers of product more complex. In the context of a product where configuration, or even customisation, is in question then I am at pains to stress it’s unlikely there is one right way. This is the role of expert opinion.

I can be asked to arbiter between two professional views: which is right? Who is wrong? It’s a tough ask as an independent partner but it is one I value taking. In the question is the opportunity to talk to those who want to use and to enjoy the technologies about the impact of the choices they might be making and this is what consultancy is all about. [Have a read from the Phase 3 Insights library about why scoping matters, for example.]

Salt and vinegar pair perfectly together into a very good crisp. Argue if you will, but the market for crisps doesn’t argue. It seems that a very significant crisp survey[i] proved that between the 3 main contenders (salt ‘n’ vinegar, cheese and onion, ready-salted) there is just 19% of the UK market left to vie for. Salt and vinegar have very different and complementary tastes and that’s just how we enjoy to compose a consultancy team. Deliberately. If you’re an HR professional who has a concern for the value of diversity, then you’ll get this.

Some cases in point:

The parallel run is tried and tasted as an approach to implementing a system revision. Read here why some don’t think so and it is a view that I’m persuaded on. Parallel running is arguably a total waste of time if you have confidence in your testing design, capability and rigour.

What about the project plan? With the same scope one expert will go for the “big bang” and one favour the iterative flavour. Likewise, whether the pilot is a good thing or a red herring. Or the project method and its agility. These are viable approaches and I have rarely the cause to argue against a case as long as a case is well made.

At the configuration level, consultants and I will pick fights in a public user group forum to demonstrate that one design option is the preferred. Recently we took to bits the use of a system structure (or hierarchy) and the appropriate balance between flexibility, maintenance and automation. We’ve looked at absence scheme design and how to deal with part-timers, or multiple roles, handover periods and Bank Holiday apportionment.

If you have the happy opportunity to get detailed on Business Intelligence reports, then at a query level report design gives significant scope for opinion – and not dissimilar to choices found in payroll[ii] – about the correct calculations sitting behind each variable data return. Rarely are choices wrong.

These are the Salt ’n ’Vinegar choices questions of the HR systems consultancy profession and they are the flavoursome stuff that make your expert partners really, really good. Consistent is the need for you to understand how expert opinions work together to offer you understandings about impact and therefore choice points[iii].

I return to the ready-salted. I confess I like it best, but please understand the context for my own choice here:

Ready-salted versions of people technologies exist with limited product potential and that’s right in a certain environment. With configurable product selection, the ready-salted has to be created. Think of it as shaking that little packet of salt into the bag yourself. But if ready-salted (or “vanilla”) is your favourite then there is a way in which expert opinions can be heard and used to create just that simple, simply perfect result.

Triangulation of observed best practice drawn from your industry sector, a combined wealth of experience from your specialist experts and that which makes your own organisational different is an answer. But if that groundwork is not done, then ready-salted means the plainest, the same-est and the without consideration for your tastes. It means you cannot have any more and you cannot have it taste different.

In a project team, I recommend you look for the Salt ‘n‘ Vinegar views and when you make your choice go with Britain’s crisp survey and expect that no one taste preference is necessarily representative of the best. Expert opinion – taste – in how to get the best from your technology is real.

i Statistica, 2014, “Britain’s Favourite Crisp Flavour” – actually, Cheese and Onion won
ii See Payroll: not just a click of a button
iii See I’m the client and I know how I like my coffee

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Written by : Laura Lee

Laura’s role as Head of Marketing sees her continually looking for new opportunities to tell the world how great Phase 3 is.

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