During the 1980s, BCG embraces implementation with clients, developed practice areas, and created time-based competition.
After more than a decade of success, the firm’s emphasis on strategy had largely played itself out. Brilliant insights were no longer enough. Many clients were now looking for help with organization design to realize the opportunities discovered by strategic analysis. Thanks to its decentralized structure with autonomous offices, the firm developed a number of approaches to helping clients make changes on the ground level.
To support this in-depth organizational work, the firm needed expertise on specific industries and organizational functions. Accordingly it established six practice areas, which has since expanded to nineteen. The practice areas had the side benefit of giving ambitious partners a goal for continued career development, helping the firm retain high-level talent while preserving its fairly flat hierarchy.
Expanding to implementation and practice areas was a risk for BCG, as these were areas where the firm was catching up with rivals. Some partners had argued against the move, preferring to keep the firm as a strategy boutique. But thanks to its collaborative, analytical culture, the firm made the shift and put its own stamp on these activities. Clients liked the result, and the firm has been aggressively expanding its offerings ever since—while preserving the underlying BCG approach: meeting the challenges of complexity with insight, collaboration, and integrity.
Even as the firm was emphasizing implementation, its partners continued to analyze business developments with a strategic eye. A team of consultants in Tokyo, led by George Stalk, realized that Japanese manufacturers had overcome the longstanding trade-off between product variety and affordability. Combining BCG’s strategic sophistication with its new attention to organizational dynamics, they created the concept of time-based competition, which teaches clients how to keep up with speedy Japanese rivals through flexible factories and lean production.