Consulting and Pretty Trees

Last week the Virginia Forest Landowner Education Program posted a link to a Greenville Online (South Carolina) column titled “The Curse of the Bradford Pear.” I read it because I loathe the Bradford Pear tree. The column laments the pervasive use of the tree as an ornamental tree, because of its tendency to cross pollinate with other pear trees that spread and become nuisance trees.  I have a more visceral reaction to the tree because 1) they stink to high heaven and 2) they bloom their white buds fairly early and are a reminder that I probably haven’t taken an allergy pill. The article (and the hundreds of comments to it sharing my sentiment) got me thinking: “How is the Bradford pear STILL such a commonly used ornamental, given its issues?” Could it be not-well-thought-out consulting? It could be; let me explain.

The Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana) is an often-used ornamental tree that is known for its uniform bole and bright white flowers in the early spring. The main issues (for a homeowner) with the Bradford pear are:

·       They stink. You won’t realize it when your landscaper puts it in, but these trees smell really bad. It’s often described as smelling like rotting fish.

·       They have structural issues. You will probably replace this tree in 10 years. These trees grow quickly and, because they are planted in isolation (e.g. lining a driveway), they are often exposed to wind. The bole is prone to tearing in storms and can be a hazard to life and property.

·       Sprouting. The tree needs to be pruned constantly and, when cut down, the stump will sprout shoots that turn into a bush-like plant. If you want to completely get rid of it, you have to dig up or grind the stump.

A good landscaper should be like a good consultant: they should fully understand your needs and preferences before proposing a solution. Landscaping can be a semi-emotional decision. You just bought a new house, spring is in the air, you want to decorate… whatever reason… you want to make your space pretty. The landscaper, in the interest of delivering something that meets your stated requirements quickly may deliver you landscaping that is uniform, pretty and striking – without much regard for the future of the plants (because that’s for you to deal with).

In many ways, you may find yourself in a similar, emotional position when working with a consultant. You have a need that has boiled over to the point that you just want it FIXED. The trap can be, when solutions exist, to go get the lowest cost solution, or the one with the most bells and whistles, or the “prettiest” without regard for the full requirements or the full lifecycle cost of the solution. The result of which is you end up with a tree that stinks or breaks under pressure.

Modern organizational challenges are often solved through process improvement, technology or a combination of both. These solutions may end up costing millions of dollars over their full lifecycle. A good, actionable, thought-out plan to get from point a-to-b can help you get more than the pretty tree, but get solution that meets all your needs – at a very low additional cost.