Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking Big and backing it up with Excellence in Execution

If you lead an organization or team, large or small, ask yourself these questions.
1) What is my BIG idea?
2) To Whom does it matter?
3) Have I backed up the vision with a credible execution path?
4) Are people following me?
5) How will we know when we are there?

Read these excerpts from Kennedy's transformative speech that continues to impact our lives today and then create your own pocket stump speech. Whether you actually use the speech or not isn't important. The thinking and discovery process is sure to help you clarify your purpose and passion, and then how that is projected on the people you expect to follow you. This will impact the stories you tell to all of your stakeholders.

See related post on Faith Based Execution

Excerpts from Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon” speech.

“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.” …. “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” ….

“Let it be clear-and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make-let if be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action-a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62 -- an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.”

“This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further-unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space. “

Is YourCo relying on Magic Genies?

Dream it and it will surely happen, somehow!

Ok, I’ve mentioned it a few times so it is about time I blog about it --> Faith Based Execution.
Simply put, faith based execution is execution that is not grounded in reality. It relies on supernatural forces and things unseen. If I were to say that I’m going to the moon but I have no propulsion vehicle or ticket with a space service then it isn’t likely to happen. Simply put, saying it’s so doesn’t make it SO! Or, words alone are not an investment.

Faith Based Execution is not new. For eternity, people across the planet have used words and actions to inspire others to get behind them in pursuit of the next big thing, whether that was a new religion, persecution of a people, building a canal or a new product, or the formation of a new government. Whether or not we value the outcomes of various historical initiatives one thing is clear, the ones that actually happened were indeed rooted in reality. That is how they happened. They didn’t rely solely on powerful, persuasive orators and other magical forces.

John F. Kennedy rallied people around the idea of going to the moon in his “man on the moon” speech, May 25, 1961. On July 20, 1969, almost six years after JFK's death, Project Apollo's goal was finally realized when men landed on the Moon. It was Excellence in Execution, not Faith Based Execution. [for relevant excerpts please visit the Kennedy's "Man on the Moon" Speech post]

From Wikipedia…[ “At the time of Kennedy's speech, only one American had flown in space — less than a month earlier — and NASA had not yet sent a man into orbit. Even some NASA employees doubted whether Kennedy's ambitious goal could be met.[14]
Answering President Kennedy's challenge and landing men on the moon by the end of 1969 required the most sudden burst of technological creativity, and the largest commitment of resources ($25 billion), ever made by any nation in peacetime. At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities.[15] ]

Many current and contemporary examples of Excellence in Execution abound but I use the “Man on the Moon” example and the subsequent Apollo program because of its historical significance and it continued impact on science and engineering. It also epitomizes “Thinking Big”. Kennedy backed up his visionary speech with well placed bets and then marshaled the resources of an entire nation. It is interesting to think about the fact that this was all accomplished in an early state of computing and communications. This was BG, BM (the last one doesn’t sound so good), meaning before Google and before Microsoft. In fact, Michael Dell was a whopping 4 years old when Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. landed on the moon.

Think of the possibilities when you combine Big Thinking along with the state of communications and computing today AND then Excellence in Execution. Perhaps a well coordinated Open Innovation initiative that marshaled the nation’s resources could cure Cancer, solve the climate crisis, and other vexing problems.

So why do I give this “Faith Based Execution” practice a name and call attention to it in the 21st century? Easy, because the costs associated with Faith Based Execution are burdensome, wasteful, and distracting. Faith Based Execution in companies burns out employees at all levels, diminishes the quality of products and services offered and subsequently the experiences of customers. It also burns precious capital, and most importantly prevents us from Thinking of and Solving BIG problems that matter. Think of less crap in landfills and more meaningful products, services, and experiences. Think of BIG, no BIGGER problems to solve.

This is more important than ever, given the state of the global synchronized recession, climate crisis and security crisis. And with organizations running leaner than ever we collectively need to be grounded in reality based execution. If you go from 300 employees to 50, should you have the same blind faith that things will get done at the same pace and quality? Of course not, unless your 50 are Magic Genies. But, last I checked that would only give you a combined total of 150 wishes granted. You might still need to temper your ambitions.

Obvious lagging indicators for Faith Based Execution is things don’t get done at all or on time or at an acceptable quality level. But, there is a leading indicator as well. I call it the Nearest Neighbor Phenomena. It turns out in resource constrained environments people like to look to their neighbors as an additional resource that might be able to get stuff done. After all, if I am at capacity then why not tap my neighbor. Problem is, everybody is at capacity, including your neighbor. And, if your ask isn’t one of your top priorities then it is hard to imagine why is should be #1 for your neighbor. Record the magnitude and frequency of Nearest Neighbor requests and you have a leading indicator that lets you know your strategy is going down the path of Faith Based Execution.

Other ways to ferret out Faith Based Execution includes creating an Execution Audit that identifies execution gaps. Then you have some choices, you can decide to accept those gaps, leverage outside resources that can benefit by closing them, or prioritize to close the gaps. But above all, please don’t have the blind faith that these execution gaps will be closed by magical forces not on the payroll. Thinking magic is Faith Based Execution and it is sure to disappoint stakeholders and ultimately, yourself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A brilliant example of “Sensors in the Ground”

Mafia Wars from Zynga Games

This is a brilliant example of using Sensors in the Ground to increase customer delight . What is the result you ask. Duh! More loyal addicted fans and revenue for Facebook. I’m not certain what the business deal is between Zynga and Facebook but I’d guess there is a revenue share in place. If this is the case, both companies win.

Unlike my recent CrackBerry post where I chided Sprint and RIM for a lack of sensors and meaningful experience, this Zynga example positively impresses me.

Here is why I am so impressed:

#1 Zynga asks players for feedback right in the product. The Sensor in the Ground is established, visible but not obtrusive. You can choose to give feedback or simply ignore it. I suppose many do ignore it but in the recent bout of feedback 12,858 people chimed in on what should be done to improve the game.

Kudos – Zynga. Kudos.

#2 Zynga not only listens, they appear to have a systematic and agile development process by which to prioritize and put in place feedback received from game players. And, they do this in a reasonable period of time. I’m sure their development path is rife with ideas for the short run as well as the long run, but they deliver results along the way. I notice this as a game player. I believe others do too.

#3 Then, once changes are made, Zynga communicates to players to let them know of the changes. This “Game News!” update is prevalent on the Home page of the game. This isn’t a page to be skipped by players since "Limited Edition Loot" and "Player Updates" are listed here as well. Again, brilliant architecture and experience delivery Zynga.

For this experience I rate Zynga:
Sensors in the Ground =
a whopping 10
Brand Perception =
I really feel that Zynga cares about me, my Mafia Family, and all of the competing families. They are sincere in their aim to be the #1 social gaming company on the web.

Learn more about Zynga

Now if only I can get Zynga to cross train those folks at Sprint and RIM!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CrapBerry – When your CrackBerry takes a Dump!

Ok, so I’m at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas and using my Sprint BlackBerry 8830 to get me around, check email, make calls, visit websites, etc. At some point I receive an on screen error message (shown above) which really caused me great angst. If Sprint had Sensors in the Ground to detect this they would know that I’m aiming to add myself to their churn list and go G1 with TMobile or iPhone with ATT. Trouble is they’ll only know this after I’m gone.

So, let’s examine the message that I received on screen.

First, the "HTTP Error 413: Request Entity Too Large." Oh, the dreaded 413 error. Your kidding , right? Ok, thanks, Sprint or RIM or whoever. I really don’t care who is to blame here. I have a reasonable expectation that my $400, 2 year contract, $150/month device will display a web page when I request it. And, if there is a problem, I’d like to be able to make some sense of the error message that I receive and probably more importantly be tipped off that the company that provided me the message knows there is a problem and they are doing something about it. For an example of a company that gets this part right see my related post on zynga, the makers of online games for Facebook and MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, and Hi5. This company “gets it” so I’m happy to give them praise.

And now for the ridiculous “The page you requested could not be loaded. Please try loading a different page” message. Are you serious? Come on, load another page? Really? This is much like making reservations for a restaurant, showing up on time and then being told that you have to go to the joint next door for your meal. This is crazy. Techno people – PLEASE, these are solvable problems. Please put your customer centric hats on, walk in the customers shoes and address these poor experiences.

The last part of the message was an option to choose between accepting "OK" or "Details." Honestly, I didn’t have the patience to do anything other than turn off my device and try again. Some Redmond based company schooled us well to believe that cycling the power on our devices is sure to fix most problems.

I imagine a different world where Sprint (and maybe RIM) has sensors in the ground that tell them that I had a bad page load experience. Perhaps they have an invisible sensor that captures this error over all of their networked users. If that is the case they ought to communicate the fixes.

"Argh, paralyzed in place by my DumbSmartphone."

Oh wait, perhaps that is why I received an hourglass for nearly 15 minutes while I stood on the gi-normous show floor attempting to check my calendar notes for the location of my next meeting. Argh, paralyzed in place by my DumbSmartphone. As the old Virginia Slims Ad used to say, “We have a long way to go baby.”

For this experience I rate each company for Sensors in the Ground and Brand Perception:
Sensors in the Ground: neither company appears to have any Sensors in the Ground to capture these problems as they occur. Score = 0, goose egg, nada, zip, zero.

My Brand Perception of RIM: I think they don’t care about my experience. They appear to insulate themselves from any responsibility given that my customer relationship is with my carrier, Sprint.

My Brand Perception of Sprint: I think they don’t care and I have no confidence that they will solve this problem in my customer lifetime. I will defect to another carrier and device when my contract is up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Chronicle of Customer Experience – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Where is the Customer delight?
Where are the Sensors in the Ground?
Which companies appear to care about their brand?

Recently, I traveled from Seattle to Las Vegas for CTIA Wireless. Along the nearly week long trip I played customer to many company’s products and services. Not only did I have many different types of customer experiences, those experiences varied wildly in quality. Here is a brief summary of my experiences though I’ll embellish on each in future posts including how these companies could have easily put sensors in the ground to improve the experience.

My experiences included parking in an off airport lot and riding a shuttle to the airport. At the airport I checked in, checked my bag, navigated security and made it to my gate. I boarded the Alaska Airlines flight, had an in-flight experience that included the purchase of drinks and a snack pack using my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card.

Upon landing I picked up my bag from baggage claim, stood in a lengthy line for a cab, while trying to shortcut the line by sharing. Unable to locate a fellow traveler heading to Harrahs or nearby I occupied the cab alone, empty seats around me, and headed off to Harrahs, my hotel casino conveniently located near the monorail and the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Over the course of the next week I ate meals in and out of the convention center, ordered room service, finished reading Tribes by Seth Godin, met with different individuals and companies, attended educational sessions, listened to speakers present ideas and share opinions in panels. I attempted to use my BlackBerry to navigate the show floor, take notes, make calls and reservations, surf the web, and stay connected to my peeps back home. With the winding down of each evening I returned to Harrahs, plugged into my social network to reconnect, communicate and play online games.

Nearly a week later I checked out of Harrahs, headed to the airport, then returned home to Seattle. Along the way there were some very striking customer experiences, some good, some bad, and some ugly. I also had some insights as to how these experiences could have been more delightful for me and fellow customers. We are in an age where customer delight and brand perception should absolutely matter, given the sad financial affairs of many companies and the heightened competition. Truth is, all of the insights to creating more delightful customer experiences that I had are achievable given the vast amount of talent out there. Companies that are “at capacity” and cannot identify and solve the correct problems to increase customer delight, need only crowdsource to tap into external talent that is willing and able to share feedback and implement relevant and needed solutions.

I'll follow this post with other posts depicting my customer experiences and brand perceptions with specific companies and products. I’ll also note whether or not the company had “Sensors in the Ground” to capture any feedback about my customer experience.