Gartner's Lack of Attention to Detail Reflects on the Firm's Research Rigor

Last week, I had the chance to catch the final 15 minutes of a presentation by Gartner's Debbie Wilson at an event in Chicago. Even though I missed the front half of her presentation, the half-dozen or so slides I did see had numerous inconsistencies and mistakes that are important to call out here not to nitpick, but for more important reasons I'll get to in a minute (hold that thought before you call me petty). These deck "challenges" included: inconsistencies on period usage (used for some bullets, not others in the same column), misspellings, missing commas, em-dash and hyphen confusion (and substitution next to each other), bullets not aligned in places, capitalization not consistent and the use of passive voice in much of the material I observed. This final comment, though (unlike the other points) is purely subjective, but generally shows an analysts' subliminal distancing from their own research, for one reason or another.

You might say these are unnecessary nitpicks. And you'd most certainly be right on some level. But I spend my days and nights reading presentations, and when I see something like this from a source of authority, it stands out for a reason we should all be concerned about. Now, in Debbie's defense, her speaking delivery was fine and she comes off as a subject matter expert in the content. The material was a tad elementary -- and I don't believe for a second that anyone buys "supply base management" -- but I did learn a thing or two from the talk. Still, the fact that almost every slide I saw had at least one mistake (and some had multiple) points to an undercurrent that we should address.

I've had the fortune -- or some might say misfortune -- of working for half a dozen ex-McKinsey consultants throughout my career, starting as an intern at the age of 20. From these experiences, I've become permanently scarred for life when it comes to looking at PowerPoint and nitpicking every detail the moment I start to read the content. Even before I hit the legal drinking age, I had a second sense around typos, extra spaces, alignment, font size differences and other issues with presentations. Sure, I get things wrong from time-to-time as well -- but never consistently.

I believe the inconsistencies and basic presentation mistakes within the PowerPoint in question provides some evidence that we should actually approach Gartner's vendor comparisons in this sector with caution. The fact that an analyst was allowed to deliver a presentation without having her material go through a rigorous editing / proofing process suggests to me that the quality control surrounding their general material and research is not sufficient. PowerPoint may have been the solution delivery channel for the content in this case, but the medium is just the medium -- this might as well have been a vendor comparison or ranking research brief.

Moreover, I've been taught over the years that presentation neglect is not just a reflection on how one writes slides -- it is a reflection on the quality of research, thought and everything else that comes before the actual launching of Microsoft PowerPoint. If someone is willing to deliver a presentation with many mistakes to an audience, what does that say about the quality and reflection on the thought process that went into authoring the content in the first place? Make no mistake -- if this was a regular Joe from procurement (or Joe the CFO) giving the presentation, I'd turn my head the other way. But the author of this presentation indirectly or directly influences dozens of software deals every year with her research. To be continued ... (check back later today).

Jason Busch

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