Lessons from FIFA

Some of us watched the recently concluded FIFA World cup during ungodly hours with dreary eyes. Some of you might have wondered on the definition this kind of fun – a bunch of guys run after one ball whereas everyone could have been given one  each. 

Whichever camp you belong to, there is a lot one can learn from these past 4 weeks of soccer action:

Philipp Lahm

Phillipp Lahm, the German captain summarized the victory rather well with a one liner paraphrased here “others have marquee players, we have a team.” If you ponder over this line from him, it is evident that despite huge differences in individual abilities, each member of the team has a role to play. If you build your strategy too much around 1 player, you still may not get close to your goal (well, pun intended). If you do not believe this,  ask Argentina, Portugal, Brazil and so on… (Teams need to identify and strengthen on the collective team’s capabilities.) 

Brazil team

You can be in love with what you do, but not to a point of exclusion of some realities. Passion is a key ingredient, but too much of this could break your back. Ask Brazil, it will be a while before they can keep their  back straight, sadly, too literally for their main player. It is OK to build a stadium by spending your tax payer’s money hoping that your team will play there (and become champions), but not without giving allowance for undesirable outcomes. Run with passion, but hold on to a grain of truth to guide you. (Keep our head balanced and eyes straight on tasks, but do make allowance for realities too) 

USA Portugal goal

It is not over, till it is over. USA was all ready for an upset of Portugal, but for a goal from Portugal in the 91st minute (yes, in the dying seconds of the game). USA supporters may have started to revel on the spoils of this victory, when they were shut out with this goal. (No work is compete till all possible exposures are plugged) 

Costa Rica team

Size or skill may not matter much without self belief. Minnows of Group D (Costa Rica) topped their group. They also extinguished the Greek flame and almost send Netherlands packing. Their  display of soccer was not just reputation in motion, but ambition and skill on a bed rock of courage. You can be God in your chosen profession, but without courage you cannot seize the day. See England, Uruguay and Italy – they were out of sorts with Costa Rica – a nation who does not even have an army! (Courage the virtue on which all other virtues are mounted)

Germany goal

Finally, knowing data helps. Germans studied themselves and the competition closely – they improved their ball handling time from 3.4 secs to 1.1 secs. Imagine  the power of this, each member of the team knows that they need to speed up. Everyone speeds up a bit, the entire team speeds up hugely. (A small act of efficiency by each team member goes a long way for the team).

We could go on with more examples. Key point being it was not just a soccer tournament, but an epitome of strategy and execution. Lot can be learnt from this.

Current Organization design

Four key contributors to the Analytics Chasm were mentioned earlier this week. Here we elaborate on “Why current organization designs impede business effectiveness despite the promise of Big Data and Analytics?”

Analytics Chasm - Organization Design

Big Data for businesses is akin to high octane fuel for engines: a promise of high performance.

Discovery of a “power fuel” which could revolutionize engine performance cannot be administered without considering design changes that the engine need to go through. This metaphor could well represent the current organization (engine) design and the promise of Big Data (power fuel).

Big Data offers several exciting possibilities – extensive availability of business data, predictive analysis of outcomes, rich data which reveal very granular operational contexts and so on. Thus, the promise of Big Data is staggering for the business to reinvent itself and be nifty while at it. Big Data (& ensuing Analysis) encapsulate multiple facets of business drivers which the organization need to act on to keep itself competitive and relevant to all its stakeholders.

Question is, does the current organizational designs & management models enable this “power fuel” to permeate across organizational structures, interfaces & processes to deliver the promise.

Organization decisions have a hierarchical flow. Big Data doesn’t have any.

Organizations continue to be pyramidal structures where flow of decisional authority is still (in most cases) unidirectional – from top to the lower layers of the pyramid. Within the authorization matrix stipulated by this hierarchical flow; there are no design considerations for infusing Big Data led decisions & actions. Big Data does not follow any hierarchical direction or pattern. By its’ very nature it will throw up information & insights which are not obvious & even counter-intuitive to the established wisdom. Despite these powerful revelations, variations from organizational processes still need to be “send up” for approval before actions. This could heavily impede business velocity.

How Big Data promises to revolutionize but is limited in its delivery due to the current organizational design arrangement could be explored through some examples.

  • A local manager’s effort to change regional sales tactics based on real time social data will be thwarted since it may need deviations from established guidance norms. Organizations are not structurally or functionally evolved to consider these variations quickly. People farthest from this data by virtue of their authority will continue to stifle these actions.
  • How many infrastructure and project management companies are wired internally to listen and include public domain data alerts on scarcity of ground water while executing ‘sustainable’ long term projects?
  • The food industry business which tracks obesity growth rates need to instruct their manufacturing units to progressively reduce sugar content in their products. Progressive reduction of sugar in the products (so as not to lose current market share) while developing a healthier taste alternative will be hard to come by since turf war, authority and “gut feel” will kill what the data conveys.
  • Survey mechanisms for designing employee engagement programs still come from a few “experts.” Company intranet discussions which has insights on the sentiments of the employees which is a guiding beacon for the organization often gets ignored.

Organization designs are from the 20th century. Big Data is from the 21st century.

In all the examples above companies may have invested or have access to Big Data Analysis. Their current organizational design are NOT wired to make directional changes based on the “surprises”, “anomalies” and “variations” that Big Data throws at them. The decision process continues to be limited to certain parts of the organization by virtue of their current functional/structural designs. Peter Drucker’s comment (though made before the era of Big Data) amply represents this design flaw “most discussions of decision making assume, that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives’ decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake.”

What is discussed here is only one of the many strands of organizational design – hierarchical decision models and how it limits the business effectiveness which Big Data Analysis can provide. Organizational designs and management models which have been followed without major changes since the beginning of 20th century, relies heavily on upper echelons of organizational hierarchy to take decisions. 

Though it can be argued that organizational design is archaic & unevolved even to handle “small data” decisions; Big Data further exposes the design short comings since businesses are investing heavily in Big Data with the ardent hope that that it will help to adapt and reinvent themselves even faster.

Though it is not within the scope of this discussion and beyond this author’s ken to define alternative organizational designs, but some techniques could be pointed out that will help to leverage Big Data more effectively within the current tenets of structural and functional design of an organization.

  • Democratize Big Data. Promote tools and techniques for many to understand what the Big Data conveys. More eyes “see” the data, more the chance of insights being understood by the organizations.
  • Wisdom of a few need to listen to the wisdom of the many. Do not use Big Data to validate existing decisions & operating procedures defined by a “few” in authority. Instead actively seek deviations which could even question established decision practices. While allocating resources based on Big Data Analysis; the decision makers need to promote differing viewpoints which will come from distributed teams who are functionally or geographically separated from the “think tanks.”
  • Technology upgrade is not the end but a means. Before embarking on Big Data journey at least identify, if not choose, some key areas where Big Data could bring large benefits. Complete the Big Data journey with key business results for these areas (not mere technology upgrades) and ride on the momentum to apply the learning to roll it out for the entire organization.

Some of the above techniques will help reduce the effects of “Analytics Chasms.” Management innovation could eventually prescribe a paradigm shift in organizational design to cope with modern business realities – till then, we will use techniques to tinker with organizational process and designs to maximize Big Data promises.