Essence and Problem Solving Blog

June 9, 2019

Scaling “Essence in stealth mode” and why you should care

Filed under: Software Engineering Method & Theory (SEMAT) — pemcmahon @ 12:57 pm
Tags: ,

In this blog I would like to address one of the comments I received on my last video-blog, titled, Using Essence in “stealth mode” to help solve a Cybersecurity Challenge.  

Following is the comment in italics:

“I think it is a great approach for a lone consultant. ‘Stealth mode’ seems to me by definition to be ‘not a scalable model’, since what you are making visible and selling is very specifically ‘the consultant’ and very specifically not Essence (which remains completely invisible to the customer).

 One might ask of this example, ‘Which really comes first here, and plays the primary and critical role throughout?’: the knowledge, experience and analysis skills (“wisdom”, if you will) of the consultant OR the Alpha State checklists. Realistically, the critical success factor in this scenario are consultancy skills and knowledge like:

         Listen first – listen deeply and seek to understand

         Start by trying to understand the problem

         Do root cause analysis

         The critical importance of the big initial “buy, build, reuse” decisions

         The critical importance of dependencies on external organizations

         The need to control key risks relating to competitors and IP

         Adopting “need to know” principles in such circumstances as this one

         Knowing the true meaning and role of good leadership 


Put another way – one gets the feeling in this case that Paul would probably have been basically successful here even if he didn’t know Essence, and likewise a less “wise” consultant would not have been so successful even if armed with a pack of Alpha state cards …”

I think this is a great comment which is why I am devoting an entire blog responding to it.   There are four points I want to make in response.

First, it is a misunderstanding to think that Essence remains completely invisible to the customer when used in “stealth mode”.   Let me give a concrete example.

When I use stealth Essence as in the referenced video-blog I don’t tell the client about it upfront because what they care most about is getting their problem solved.  Once we have accomplished this, then they are much more likely to listen and be interested in learning about Essence because it has proven itself.

In the Cybersecurity video-blog reference about nine minutes and thirty seconds into it on slide 10 when my client says,

“I like this approach and I am starting to see how our team can now meet this challenge.” 

This is where I might reply to the client with,

“I was able to help you partly because of my experience. But that is not the only reason.  If you are interested in learning about a framework that I use and could teach your team members to use so they could solve similar challenges themselves in the future we can discuss this further.” 

Often, at this point, my client is interested and this is where I discuss Essence with them more explicitly.  The right time to make a customer aware of Essence and how to use it, is after it has proven its value, not before.

Second, let’s address the issue of the “knowledge, experience, and analysis skills” of the consultant versus the value of the Essence checklists. It is certainly true that when I help my clients I am relying on my experience that I have gained over many years.   But when we developed the Essence checklists many experts from around the world came together and shared their own experiences.  Through numerous discussions over a period of two years (often held weekly) we arrived at what was agreed to be the “essence” of our common experiences which were captured succinctly in the Essence checklists.

Now, when I conduct training and when I work with my clients on specific challenges, such as the referenced Cybersecurity challenge, I utilize more than just my own experiences.  When I use Essence, as I say “in the back of my head”, it isn’t just my experiences anymore, but rather I am accessing the broader community of experiences that were captured in the Essence standard.

Third, let’s address the point of “stealth Essence” not being a scalable model.  Just as the Essence checklists strengthened my own base of experiences that I draw from in helping my clients so can each practitioner use it the same way to broaden their base of experiences they draw from to help make better decisions, regardless of their own level of experience.

Today, I don’t just use Essence to help clients by giving them recommendations based on my own stealth Essence approach.   I use it to coach practitioners in how they can access this same base of experiences in making their own decisions.

I have often said that my primary job as a coach is to “work myself out of a job,” by teaching my clients to solve their own problems so they don’t need me anymore.  This is what I believe all coaches and consultants should be doing.  Our goal should be to teach practitioners how to make their own decisions and how to help their less experienced teammates.  Teach your practitioners how to use Essence as a thinking framework to help solve their own problems and watch how fast it scales almost by itself across your organization.

Fourth, with regard to the final point about my being successful even if I didn’t know Essence, and a “less wise” consultant being less successful even if “armed with a pack of Alpha state cards”.   I do not disagree with this point, but by providing concrete examples, such as the Cybersecurity example, demonstrating how experienced consultants and coaches use Essence to solve problems we can teach others how to do the same thereby raising the competency level of our less experienced team members faster.  And isn’t that the real goal we are all searching for?

As always, feedback is encouraged.

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