We don’t need more theories.

New management theories and business models emerge almost daily. A recent review suggested that there have been 16 ‘major’ initiatives over the past decade. Personal favourites include total quality management, management by objectives, small is beautiful and lean thinking.

IT and e-business projects dovetail with these theories. In the 60s, centralised mainframe systems were widely adopted and the ‘big is best’ approach gained ground. In the 70s and 80s the mini computers and PCs allowed a more decentralised approach. This helped to empower users and encouraged an incremental approach to change.

In the 90s, client-server architecture started to centralise applications all over again. This move was supported by the trend towards shared-service centres and enterprise resource planning, while the arrival of thin client/web browser systems moved us right back to the mainframe model. At the same time, business process engineering encouraged big bang change.

But everything is about to change again as mobile devices take off. They are likely to encourage a big swing back to a decentralised approach.

Billions of pounds have been spent on consulting work to help implement these many changes. Despite this, we seem no closer to developing a universal set of truths on the best way to run a business or how to implement an IT project properly.

Late last month, I attended a summit run by Durham University on key financial performance indicators for growing SMEs. Delegates included senior representatives from CIMA, ICAEW, ACCA, AAT and the Institute of Management. We discussed a number of issues including the need to simplify the jargon of financial management and to try and establish some basic principles of how to run a finance function. The group recognised that there are real challenges in achieving these objectives.

One key problem is that academics are often keen to explore new ideas and concepts rather than refine what is already in place. Another is that consultancy practices have a strong incentive to introduce new ideas, as their clients rarely understand them. The consultants can then use them to create a captive audience and build a strong revenue stream.

However, what we really need to do is consolidate what we already know and reduce the complexity of the systems we have in place. Consultants who can achieve these objectives will be the success stories of the next decade. In a way, we’re right back to KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid). Management theories are dead. Long live management theories.

– The Foundation for SME development at Durham University will publish results of the summit later this year. For details email

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