Retail Is Detail They Say
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Retail Is Detail They Say

By: Stuart Freer, Chief Digital Officer, MECCA Brands

Stuart Freer, Chief Digital Officer, MECCA Brands

The problem with this statement, is that whilst it’s important to be in the detail, know everything about your business, it’s products and services and the customer, it often leads to what I have seen; analysis paralysis.

“Show me a full business case and I will fund it”.

What I have noticed, is the sheer fear of teams and leaders not getting out of their own way.

Often, strangled by politics, position, power and team size, hampered by measures that drive the wrong behaviours; Sales instead of NPS, ROC instead of sales growth, Annual increases in budget envelope, rather than cost out, and so on.

Why put the storage and compute team under one manager, when you've already been a VM Shop for 10 years and you're going converged or cloud?

Creating documentation and monolithic PMO's to add control, when actually you add waste, cost and lose control, filling in forms and writing documents, missing the opportunity entirely. Why not move the data scientists to work closely the technology teams that build and secure the platforms they use, when you can create a divide instead? So, let's go back a step.

How many times have you had a great idea? Your gut tells you it’s going be great for the customer, but you need to test it.

You’ve spent two weeks building a pack of analysis, it’s involved time from other teams, who believe it and you just want to try it. The cost is minimal; in fact, the cost of the trial is less that the time taken to produce all of the documentation that you need to take to the investment committee, but you know the process, hunkers down and just go with it, because if you don’t, you have no chance. Finally, the paperwork is done, you’ve spent the final two days, checking format, grammar, spelling, capitals or not for the brand name. You submit the document for pre-read, one week out from the committee date, so you're now about four weeks in.

The committee is here. You put on your best shirt, maybe a jacket, jeans and shoes. (You want that Digital Native look). You walk in confidentially; the committee has an air of Dragon’s den.

Will you survive, or will you retreat, broken?

The investment committee rejects the idea as they need a full business case. Let’s assume the role pays $100,000, that’s about $8,000 of time to produce the paperwork. Add in a few more people and you are probably up towards $20,000 of effort. This culture doesn’t support innovation, it prevents it.

You don’t see Amazon or Google doing this?

Now I am not saying, let everything happen, as the focus on the business can shift and resources can be wasted, but there any many great examples of innovation support. A business needs governance and good cost control, but governance can go too far. At Amazon, they have pioneered a Lean Canvas approach, no PowerPoint, but simply write down your idea, almost on a napkin, but in the style of the marketing pitch. What this does is, it stops you spending too much time on format and makes you reflect upon business value, what it really means to the customer. Writing a marketing pitch, forces you to step in the customers shoes.

What’s in it for them?

The other approach that I like is 20 percent time, the Google initiative of allowing you work on “Anything you want that will most benefit Google”. Now this could be seen as risky, a little outside of the norm, but the reality it’s where Google Apps (now G Suite) and Google cloud came from.

So, how do you stop your company methods and culture strangling innovation?

Some, have separated parts off. Woolies X (part of Woolworth’s Australia) for example have done just this, bringing to together, key online, technology, marketing and data businesses to solve these problems. Wesfarmers followed a similar path, by separating out the analytics and data science from its flybuys business into the Wesfarmers Analytical Centre.

These are great at driving innovation, but the question is, “How do you bring this back into the broader business, to change the culture?"

Ultimately it requires structural change, to set teams out in the right way. It requires effort to embed empowerment and a testing mentality. It often gets called failing fast, but it’s really about experimentation, trying ideas out, adjusting and trying again. Finally, it requires training on tools, techniques and mind-set. Agile fosters a short-term focus on value being delivered quickly, encouraging teams to learn, test and pivot, but the issue is, this can be a big shift for some. The Agile mind-set can be learnt, but it takes time. There are ways to encourage the change and I have seen this happen during a partnership with GlassRock Consulting and Peak teams.

A process called “adventure-based training”, encourages the team to take, fast, calculated risks, by putting them in fictitious life or death scenarios. A bit far-fetched you may say, but what it does, is, it provides the team with limited data and limited time to decide a way forward.

Move forward or fail

They have to make a choice. Do you fly to base camp at a financial cost with reduced time and energy, or walk, consuming energy, more time, but less of your financial resources?

You have 90 seconds to decide. This pressure drives clarity of decision making, focusing on the goal:

Getting to the summit

After Cloud training and agile training, this was my final formal training element. The team was left to self-organise, with the support of an agile coach.

The result

After sprint 0 (Building the DC on AWS) the team moved 18 applications to the cloud, including Active Directory. So it can be done, you can get out of your own way. All really makes for common sense, but they say “it’s not that common".

I see this is an issue with business’s not adapting and taking a leaner approach. It’s an absolute must in today’s climate, with digital players, built on a simpler system, from nothing, taking a somewhat scrappy approach, jostling approach.

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