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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Bridge Too Far

If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a classic and although the film is about a group of soldiers being dropped at a bridge further than they are supposed to, the part I relate most to business these days is the scene when they are asking what is on the other side of that bridge. No one knows, but someone is going to have to go over there. Of course no one wants to, but eventually a brave soul takes the steps to cross the bridge ready to try and blow up the bridge but fully expecting to be shot before they get there so he goes in with guns blazing. You will now be asking what does that have to do with people and technology. Put simply, the way we work can sometimes feel like that bridge too far.

In my own journey, I have worked in sales functions, led products and marketing teams and most recently, headed up operations – all disciplines that have a unique view on the business that they are tasked with supporting. From my time in sales, we focused on ensuring we could get the deal done and ask the products team to figure out how we build a product around it. In a products and marketing capacity, our focus was very much on understanding how we could best define the product and throw it over the wall to operations who will figure out how to build it. And in operations, it is the task of figuring out what has been requested and how this is going to actually work with the systems, tools and people a business currently uses. When an operations team then hands it back to sales – proud that they have been able to deliver the customer requirement with a marvelous “Ta-da it’s ready” to which sales may responds with a “That’s not what we asked for”. This is kind of like playing Chinese Whispers as a kid and giggling at how the message became so fragmented when it reached the start of the circle again. But in business we don’t tend to giggle – well not as much anyway!

For those of you familiar with the film “A bridge too far”, and equally familiar with these functions, you may be thinking a bridge crossing a river doesn’t do these differences justice. I would agree in fact that we sometimes view these as worlds apart instead of merely crossing a river. So let’s extrapolate this analogy. You aren’t merely trying to cross a bridge between functions, but actually we are asking people to don a spacesuit, board a rocket and cross a space bridge not knowing how they will be received on the other side or even if they will understand us. But don’t worry we are armed and dangerous with our own knowledge of how things should work in the business in order for us to do our job, right?

Start-up businesses provide a great learning for established businesses, in start-ups you simply don’t have a choice. You have to cross that bridge or otherwise see your start-up fail. And often in start-ups, it requires people who are working across functions in order to keep the business moving at pace. If the business loses momentum, market confidence can rapidly decline and in turn customers may be lost, resulting in a negative position for the business. Employees of a start-up have no fear because there is simply no time to be fearful or worry about how requirements will be misinterpreted. A start-up ensures these worlds overlap so as decisions are made quickly and together to ensure the business is on board with the outcome we are looking for.

I am sure there will be many of you out there thinking, but a start-up is easier they don’t have the scale we do, they don’t have the complexity of services and systems. Well who put that complexity there, or the systems that you are using? What if we could sit together and redefine what that way of working could look like? Forget who was the person who made the decision or who created the complexity, imagine a world where you could change the business model you work in, below are a few of my suggestions on how you can improve that collaboration.

Stop focusing on the customer and think about the one element you have in common no matter what your function is – the customer. It doesn’t matter if you are the lawyer, IT manager, finance manager, marketing manager or sales manager, this is the one aspect that any function will have in common. I would challenge anyone to identify a function that doesn’t impact a customer directly or indirectly. If you are going to say janitor then my answer is first impressions are everything – what if your customer visited a messy office or overflowing bins? What would that perception mean for your initial conversation?

Take a walk in the other team’s shoes – I will always remember a quote from my coach (you know who you are). In any discussion, no matter how much we disagree there will always be at least 10% truth in what the other person is saying. Pause for a moment and reflect on that concept, what could be that 10% from the other function, once you start there you may quickly find there is more truth or more importantly more alignment between your functions you are merely looking from different lenses toward the customer.

Define what is truly important. I am always amazed at the resolute stand we can make between functions to say we can’t change this or this is a deal breaker, with people left scratching their heads wondering where did that come from? Consider as a cross functional team what are key factors for success as well as failure for any activity undertaken. Agreeing these as a group provides guidance to a business and encourages ideation to be brought into a forum seeking to help realise the benefit vs. attending an episode of Dragons Den (Don’t know what it is … watch some of the video’s gulp!)
These are just a few examples based on my experience and I am sure there are many more suggestions from people out there, but the purpose of these examples is to get you thinking, looking out beyond your realm of influence and seize the opportunity.

What I am saying is this is a call for volunteers, volunteers to cross the bridge, unarmed, vulnerable and open to helping the other-side achieve their outcome with the knowledge of not what your world needs but what your world can provide. Take the leap and move to a role where you can challenge yourself to help another function succeed based on your diverse skills. In time, this bridge crossing will be two ways so when you are volunteering you will need to encourage others to follow your example and cross the bridge the other way. This mindset of adding value to encourage collaboration and ultimately drive the outcome the business is looking for namely sustainable growth and serving your customer, all of this resulting in a business realising that no bridge is too far. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

There be gold in them hills!

A new gold mine has been established, okay not a traditional one, but it is yellow at least! “Pokemon Go” has started a global craze similar to what we saw with games like “Angry Birds” and “Candy Crush”. It’s not uncommon to see people randomly walking around the streets or parks with their phones held up looking for monsters! So where is the gold in that you ask? Well how about the 200 million USD of Net Income that Nintendo saw from the game in just the month of July and this was even before the game opened up into some of the biggest gaming markets like China and Korea!

But this blog is not about Nintendo’s success – that is pretty evident. What I am more interested in is the amazing appearance of the ecosystem around “Pokemon Go”, which is very similar to the pop- up towns that appeared at a new gold rush location. The game itself has been running for roughly three months and, in that time, we now have dating applications so as you can hunt monsters with that someone special (seriously!), or get access to maps showing key locations where monsters hang out and even go to online stores where you can buy Pokemon clothing so you stand out when hunting for monsters. I didn’t realise until my kids were running around an airport that apparently Pokemon monsters are trying to now even board planes! 

We have truly moved into a digital era, one where entrepreneurial individuals are ready to respond to the latest craze and set up their own version of a bar, tailor, supply store or even more mature entertainment. Our world has clearly shifted from the physical to the virtual and these pop up ecosystems are testament to that. What is interesting though is that unlike the gold mining towns of old, these digital pop-up ecosystems will disappear faster and leave almost no evidence that they even existed. This is because the technology of our era has caught up with our childlike behaviour when it comes to our digital lives.

I think Bill Connolly said it best with “I want it now, I want it yesterday and stay awake because I will change what I want tomorrow!” We have always wanted immediacy and, as adults, we grow to accept and understand we can’t always have what we want. However, the digital world changed that with information, collaboration, games and shopping. Hence businesses have always been keen on capturing this market, but much like a child, our interests tend to be brief before we will move on with something else (don’t believe me? Well did you know the average use of an application you download is only 4-5 days? – brief indeed).

For businesses to be able to leverage this opportunity they need infrastructure to be available to spin up and spin down. They also need access to high speed connectivity to ensure their temporary services are always accessible and lastly they need to access both of these elements all over the world in order to ensure they benefit from the breadth of interest these opportunities bring albeit briefly.
Fortunately, our word has never been more connected and as such these pop up businesses can thrive profitably for short periods of time and then quickly pull back on the throttle when interest starts to wane. Of course there is no guarantee of success with these pop up businesses, but because of the elastic availability and pay-as-you-use commercial engagements, they can afford to fail and that confidence can help to increase a willingness to experiment with different types of services. Imagine if you tried to do that in a gold rush town – how many unused buildings or wasted supplies thrown out the back of the building as they tried to forget what hadn’t worked!

In today’s day and age it is all about the here and the now, and I believe it will become increasingly common to see businesses where there purpose is to build capability akin to running a short term project. Their success will also be determined by how long they can ride the coat tails of disruptive market developments by being agile and relevant and equally how many of these initiatives they can run in parallel before scale becomes a burden to their agility. The digital boom town has arrived and I am sure it won’t be long before we start seeing a map of the digital gold mines that exist in our newly created digital world to provide budding entrepreneurs with directions on how to find the nearest pop up town and set up their own shop. Ultimately, where there is gold, there is business to be done – albeit in the virtual hills!