Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gartner talks up Pattern Based Strategy

For those who don’t know, Gartner group are a business/technology research outfit who produce reports on things technical and business related. They have a pretty good reputation and they have a couple of sidelines in consulting and event organizing (or is it the other way round?). Sometimes they are leading opinion and sometimes following. They sell their reports, their conferences are expensive and their consulting must be more so.

Anyway, the reason for saying this is that Gartner have decided “Pattern Based Strategy(tm)” is the next big thing: “Companies Must Implement a Pattern-Based Strategy to Increase Their Competitive Advantage.”

(Notice the “(tm)”. Somebody, somewhere owns the trademark “Pattern Based Strategy.” Hillside own the trademark “PLoP” but not “pattern”. Could the owner of this one be...?)

Now as many of my regular readers will know, I’ve been talking about Business Strategy Patterns for over five years - and you can read my Business Strategy Pattern papers for free. Since posting up the 2009 EuroPLoP paper I’ve spent some time on the whole, I know have a 230 page draft of a book and I’m starting to approach publishers. There is still a lot to do but I hope to have something out by the end of 2010.

Getting back to Gartner. I’d love to tell you how their patterns and mine link up but I can’t actually read the Gartner report. Call me penny-pinching if you will but $500 seems pretty tall. Actually, they have a bunch more papers on strategy patterns but again, its $500 a throw.

I asked Gartner for a copy of their research and they said: “Unfortunately, our research is only available to our clients, but I can provide you with the press releases we have done on the topic which you may find helpful.”

So there you go, a closed shop. They aren’t willing for other people to review their work, definately not the culture we in the patterns community have.

It also means I can’t see their sources. I’m naturally suspicious of organization that won’t disclose their sources. For all I know they could be be building on sand - they could even be referencing me left right and center. Never mind me, I’d like to see some third party research to support their ideas.

From the press release (the first link I gave) and some other downloads from the site it doesn’t look like they are talking about Patterns in the same sense that anyone familiar with Christopher Alexander’s work would understand it. And by extension, they are not linking their patterns work up with work from the software engineering community - Design Patterns (GoF, POSA, etc.). Neither are the talking about patterns as knowledge management from the likes of Mary Lynn-Manns and Daniel Mays, or the work on Business Strategy Patterns I and others have been doing.

At the basic level there are similarities about the patterns they see and the underlying ideas of Alexander. For both Gartner and Alexander it is about a reoccurring sequence of events in some setting - Alexander would say place, software folks would say context and Gartner say market.

I think Gartners work is more related to data mining and business intelligence than it is to Alexander. As such it may well have more to do with bird spotting. Some years ago Harvard Business Review ran a piece on how spotting patterns in birds could help with business strategy - see Spotting Patterns on the Fly from HBR November 2002.

Although we are all dealing with the same thing: reoccurring events, sequences, constructions and the forces that bring them about, I consider Gartner’s patterns as “patterns in the small.” Reoccurrence without the repetition, analysis and explanation that make up “pattern in the large”. Its the same word but used differently.

Gartner also discuss “weak signals” and scenario planning. This is interesting because I’ve always believed pattern thinking has a lot in common with scenario planning. It is about detecting the forces at work and seeing how they play out.

Gartner are mixing a number of different themes into their “Pattern Based Strategy(tm)”: IT systems, event monitoring and data mining. They talk about finding “new patterns” but how can you find new patterns if you don’t know the old ones? It would be nice to think Garner have some patterns they might share but I suspect they don’t.

OK, lets give it 10 years and see if anyone remembers Gartner’s “Pattern Based Strategy (tm).” Alexander and Design Patterns will still be around - timeless.

Finally, I would imagine that Gartner are one of those companies with a reputation management system so someone in Gartner will shortly be alerted to this blog. I’d like to hear your comments.


  1. I think this is pretty interesting. There are already examples of real-world application, that is applied to software companies to predict changes in the strategic environment?

  2. I agree that the patterns mentioned by Gartner are likely to be an extension or 'rebranding' of Data Mining. To be useful for business decisions its all about interpretation and deciding the ction to be taken.

  3. Allan,I've read their material and it's mostly educational not practical. I work at BMC software on IT Infrastructure Library processes and tools for Service Management, I have a keen sense of the pragmatics implementation of such processes. The whole notion of a service catalog, supported requests, fulfillment processes etc are highly germane to a more generalized pattern based approach to business. Would love to discuss in more detail if you're interested.

  4. Simon - yes, I'd like to discuss this some more, unfortunately I didn't get an e-mail address from blogger!


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