The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action
Watching the English Premier League (EPL) this season has been fantastic. New records have been set and others soon to be broken. The exhibition of play and teamwork has been outstanding especially by the teams in the top four including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One record that may fall by the end of the season is the most goals scored in a single season. Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC has already scored 22 goals in just 16 appearances. The reason? He is well supported by his team with unselfish play and Luis can be counted on to play his position.
When a player is moving the ball down field, he may be challenged by a number of defenders at one time. To keep the ball in play, the player may need to blindly pass the ball to where his team mate is expected to be. This has happened time and again with the Liverpool club when players such as Steven Gerrard or Phillippe Coutinho are moving the ball forward. They can count on players like Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to be in their position, blindly pass the ball to them, allowing them to take a shot on goal. Of course, the players receiving the ball need to be counted on to fulfill their role and they have done so exceedingly well. Hence, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently 2 of the top 3 scorers in the EPL.
Most organizations today are global. Complementary personnel needed to finish a critical deliverable may not be in the same office, but rather, in different locations across different time zones. There are instances when a blind pass is critical in order expedite the expected deliverables.
There was one instance when a sales person needed a data sheet on one of our products. The existing one was horribly outdated. The sales person was in Europe and the key subject matter experts were located in various regions with one in Asia, one in Europe, and other in the United States. In order to expedite getting the product data sheet completed in time for the presentation, it was going to require a tremendous amount teamwork including communication and cooperation.
I proposed that I create a new draft of the data sheet, have each of the SME’s review it and provide comments and feedback by following the sun. This is exactly what happened. I completed an initial draft and performed a “blind pass” to my colleague in Asia. They provided their comments and feedback and sent it to our colleague in Europe. They incorporated their feedback and sent it to the colleague in Chicago. By the time it got to me, it required some tuning but we were able to get it produced into a final format that day and over to the sales person in time for their presentation. The net result? The sales person had a successful meeting and was well positioned to submit a proposal to the customer.
What makes teams great is the ability of individuals to apply their own unique skill sets while fully supporting the other members of the team. In this case, there was an excellent combination of skills that included technical depth as well as the ability to define and articulate essential value propositions. The team members also showed great flexibility through a temporary adjustment of their priorities to support the needs of the business. With personnel scattered across different locations, it is essential for companies to leverage the “virtual” team.
Corner Office Wisdom:
As individuals face challenges in meeting customer demands, they should be able to count on the support of their team members and their expertise. Critical to that effort, each individual will need to be flexible to adjust their priorities in support of the overall goals of the organization.
Big Data: Mountain of Differentiation
There have been many discussions on the topic of Big Data over the past couple of years. Is it being over-hyped? The Gartner Group thinks so.
Big Data has become the generic term for the massive amounts of data businesses have accumulated during the course of their operations. There are ongoing discussions on how useful it might be and how it can be used. By applying the right analytics software to the data, most believe it can lead to new efficiencies, improved business processes, lower costs, higher profits, improved customer experiences, services and loyalties.
Communication Service Providers (CSP) have an absolute mountain of Big Data within their domain that is clearly untapped – or at the very least under-utilized. Is this a missed opportunity for differentiation? Let’s take a closer look at their current business model and assess if there are new possibilities.
Mobile CSP’s revenue streams are based on service usage and their major costs are subscriber churn, device subsidiaries and keeping their networks current. To differentiate themselves from their competitors, they focus on devices, price plans and network. The problem:
- They all have the same or similar devices and price plans.
- They all claim the fastest 4G/LTE network.
Within their domains, they have available both real-time and “static” or near real-time data. A small subset of available real-time data includes:
- Currently active identity and device(s)
- Current location, presence, availability
- Active content
- Charging preferences, prepaid balance
- Minutes and data usage
A small subset of “static” or near real-time data includes:
- Real Name and Billing address
- Number of devices
- Web-sites accessed, searches made
- Friends and Family, Business associates
- Defined preferences
- Content and genre purchased and downloaded
For CSP’s that also offer wireline, broadband and video services, this list can grow to include number of devices in the home, devices active, channels watched, time of day, days of the week and many more data items.
Each service provider also has multiple third-party partners that augment their services. These partners are also going to have more information about subscribers relevant to what, how and when services and content are accessed and utilized.
With 10, 20 or even 100 million plus subscribers initiating a combined millions of transactions each day, all of which gets distilled into data records, that is a massive amount of data that can be used to establish insights and intelligence about subscribers and understand their preferences.
Identity and Master Data
All of the above data items are tied together by the mobile number/account number which acts as the common Identity or primary key of the subscriber. By using master data management techniques such as centralization, virtualization and federation, CSP’s can establish a single, universal view of the individual subscribers.
With ongoing advances in analytics software, CSP’s have at their finger-tips the means to truly understand how their services are used and by whom. They can also define, redefine and fine-tune market segments, demographics and buying characteristics. As a result, it doesn’t take much imagination to brainstorm a list of ideas for service providers to:
- Personalize the service experience
- Develop enhanced loyalty management programs
- Enable targeted advertising specific to the individual’s preferences
Are there opportunities for service providers to differentiate themselves beyond just price plans and devices? Absolutely. There is a mountain of Big Data available to make it happen. With just a subset of the available data, there is much more that a service provider can do to enhance the experience of their subscribers. The category of personalization alone can create a whole new set of ideas and innovation.
Corner Office Wisdom:
In order to think outside the box when it comes to finding new opportunities and enhancing your business, sometimes you just need to look inside the box.
Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup
Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.
There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.
In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.
In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.
We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:
1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.
As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.
Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.
Do you multitask? Not very well!
A colleague of mine thinks they are the ultimate multitasker. Because of their well-honed skills at multitasking, they also believe they are extremely productive. One day, I walked into their office and I saw it in action. My colleague had:
1. A webinar going on their laptop about a new set of use cases for telecommunications.
2. At least two different email reply’s open and “in progress”.
3. Four different instant messaging panels open and blinking waiting for the response from my colleague.
4. A speaker phone dialed in to a conference call. The phone was on mute.
5. A mobile phone with an ear-bud stuck in their ear while responding to a call.
Were they really at the peak of productivity? Or were they deceptively sacrificing quality for quantity?
Since the 1990’s, experimental psychologists have examined the idea of human multitasking to identify our capabilities and impacts. In summary, what has been determined is that our brain’s working memory capacity does not allow us to multitask successfully – in spite of the confidence we have in our own abilities.
Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to actually complete a given task and they are more error-prone. The impact to business? Employees are less efficient and quality suffers. Overall productivity is diminished.
Here are some interesting studies highlighting some results:
• A study by the American Psychological Association indicates that we lose as much as 40% productivity when we attempt to multitask.
• A study by the University of Utah in 2013 showed that people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities – and tend to be less capable of doing it.
• A 2008 study by the University of Utah showed that drivers talking on the cellphone missed their exits and turns more often that those talking with a passenger.
• A different study by Stanford University found that even trying to talk on the phone, send an instant message and read email can impair your cognitive control.
• A 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates that multitasking works against the processes that generate the “a-ha” moments of creativity and limits problem-solving.
With so many available channels of communication, we have an over-developed expectation of immediate response. We feel the need to immediately respond to others and we expect an immediate response from them. The result is we respond to the volume of communication but sacrifice value. Our brains are maxed out and we diminish our ability to solve problems and lose creativity.
And my colleague? Were they really successful in multitasking? Not very well!
1. The webinar was recorded so they could listen to the replay later. They likely didn’t get anything out of it the first time.
2. Having been the recipient of a few responses, the email replies were likely sparse and incomplete. The instant message responses were unintelligible and some of the replies were directed to the wrong person.
3. When they heard their name on the conference call, they had to unmute the phone and ask for the question to be repeated. It was later they heard about any action items.
4. The mobile phone call was the only real task that was completed with success.
The idea of multitasking is a great one. We just need to be more serial about it and focus on task-switching. By task-switching, we are able to get the task that needs to be done completed with high-quality, efficiency and minimal rework. This will make us more productive and more successful.
Corner Office Wisdom:
To do a task and do it well needs focus and concentration. Take just a few seconds to get your mind centered on what needs to be done. You will find you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with higher quality. Quality is more important than quantity with errors.