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In a Tweet on 03 Mar 2010, I said:

You heard it here first – next big thing to watch out for is “ValueWashing”. Be diligent and think it thru to identify the diff!

Really, it was inevitable. Any term that has some form of living spirit to it shall eventually fall prey to vendor marketing and popular misuse. The most recent casualty is the term “value”.

In a certain sense, I am honored, because I’ve been ranting about value for many, many years. Long before I could probably even spell value, I was an advocate for it. Now, I find myself being dwarfed by the gigantic marketing machines and webinars that try to suck people in with visions of value that cannot really deliver value.

This is nothing more than “Valuewashing”. Yes, you heard it here first. I’m claiming the space. That now begs the question — “what is valuewashing?”. Well, I  started thinking about this in terms of Greenwashing. Let’s look at the Merriam-Webster definition for Greenwashing:

expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities

I’ve seen other definitions that I like better, but I’ll start with this one and expand out.

Here’s my first cut of the definition for your perusal.

Valuewashing is any attempt to have a given product, process or activities be perceived as being a solution which can provide value, but ultimately does not offer sufficient power to really deliver on the implied promise.

I’m going to do some more work on this, but I did want to get the conversation started. Why? Because it really ticks me off.

I’ve seen way too much of this from technology vendors. I’m not naming names — YET! But I am getting close. There are lots of examples. Here’s a generic set:

  • Vendor Claim: “My stuff is ITIL compliant, you can implement it with my tools and be successful…”
  • Result: Promises made. Money spent. Results fail to materialize with the solution…
  • Vendor Claim: “You shouldn’t be doing ITIL, you should be focusing on optimizing your processes.  When you do that, you’ll be successful and our tools are ideally suited for that…”
  • Result: More promises made. More money spent. Results still fail to materialize with the solution…
  • Vendor Claim: “Hey, you know why all that process improvement stuff didn’t work? It was because you weren’t ready to do it. Your processes weren’t mature enough. If you focus  on your maturity level, we can get you to be successful. Fortunately, our tools are ideally suited for that…”
  • Result: More promises made. More money spent. Results still fail to materialize with the solution…

Are you seeing a pattern here? While the words change to fit the parties, the underlying intent is the same. A promise is being made that cannot be delivered on.

Now, before you get your hair on fire and accuse me of being anti-technology or anti-vendor, don’t. I value my vendor relationships and recognize the power that technology can provide, when positioned and used properly. Now that all these other attempts to push solutions that can’t really deliver, the focus shifts to value.

The worst part is that it doesn’t just apply to products. It also applies to education, consulting, certification and just about anything else you can think of. It makes it hard to distinguish fact from fiction. That’s the work to be done. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done.

As an industry, I think we need to reclaim the term (value) as well as the means by which value is determined and/or defined — the value equation. In addition, we should also call those to account who misuse/abuse it.

In follow on posts, I’ll explore some more about specific examples and ways in which valuewahsing occurs.

So, what do you think?

2 Responses to “The Rise of “Valuewashing””

  • sm101:

    Simplistically put when I penned ‘value’ in the Guide to the USMBOK book, value from a service perspective, is the relationship between the benefit derived from using a service to achieve desired results, compared with the cost of acquiring and using the service.

    The challenge for any claimant of ‘value’ is that they should describe how their product or service helps you the prospective buyer, achieve one or more of your desired results, and at what cost of use, and ownership….

  • Thanks for your comment. I think that you raise a very important point and a very viable definition for value. Properly answering the question “value for who?” is something that is absolutely essential. For the most part, the only people who are receiving the value are the ones who are answering the question (the vendor/consultant/trainer, etc).

    That’s a classic example of Inside-Out thinking and IT needs to yank its collective head out of there and get oriented to Outside-In. If this doesn’t “ring the bell” for what serves the customer, then there’s no need to talk about much more. The value just isn’t there.

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Guide to the USMBOK, I’d highly encourage you to get a copy. Start your search at the USMBOK site.

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