“Why? Because we’ve always done it this way…”

A couple of blogs ago, one of my regular correspondents kindly laid down a challenge. He suggested that part of the answer to the problem I was writing about (i.e., how to manage data overload) could be found within Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”.

Why?I’m quite familiar with Sinek’s investigation of “Why?”, but I wasn’t sure it was applicable in the context of my topic. Don’t get me wrong – the “Golden Circle” is a great tool for getting leadership teams to explore and articulate their purpose, and it can help individual business owners to re-connect with the reasons they do what they do.

It can even facilitate new product and service development.

But, I believe it’s harder to apply at an operational or processing level, where the sorts of decisions I was referring to in my blog are typically being made: what tools to use, what systems to adopt, what software to deploy etc.

There are several reasons why organisations do things the way they do them. When undertaking a business process review, I frequently ask the question, “Why are you doing this?”

Here are some typical responses I’ve received (and my conclusions in parentheses):

  • “Because we have to” (compliance)
  • “Because we’ve been told to” (command and control)
  • “Because we’ve always done it like this” (inertia)
  • “Because everyone else is doing it” (cheap/easy/popular)
  • “Because our consultants recommended it” (cop-out)

In one experience, I had to implement a process change within a publishing team, comprising experts (writers) and technicians (editors). The problem was, that even though the content was published on-line, most of the production processes were done on hard copy, before the final versions were uploaded via a content management system. The inefficiencies in the process were compounded by a near-adversarial relationship between writers and editors, at times bordering on a war of attrition.

When I asked the team why they worked this way, their responses were mainly along the lines of “command and control” and “inertia”. Behaviours were reinforced by some self-imposed demarcation.

The writers felt it was their role as experts to demonstrate everything they knew about the topic (without necessarily saying what they actually thought); while the editors felt they were required to work within a rigid house style (to the point of pedantry), maintain writing quality (at the expense of timeliness), and to maintain content structure and format (over context and insight).

  • Both sides felt they were meeting the organisation’s purpose: to deliver quality information to their customers to help them make informed decisions.
  • Both believed they were following clear operational guidelines, such as production, technical, and compliance.
  • Both were passionate about what they did, and took great pride in their work.

Unfortunately, the procedures which they had each been told to follow were inefficient, at times contradictory, and increasingly out of step with what customers actually wanted.

Based on market feedback clients told us they:

  • favoured timeliness over 100% perfection;
  • preferred insights over data dumps; and
  • really wanted “little and often” in terms of content updates

Thankfully, the voice of the customer prevailed, and the introduction of more timely content management processes resulted in frequent updating (via regular bulletins) backed by the “traditional” in-depth analysis.

When starting a change management project, conducting a process review, or undertaking a root-cause analysis, if asking “Why?” doesn’t get you very far in getting to the bottom of a problem, I find that it can help to pose another question: “What would your customers think about this?” For example, if customers knew how many times a piece of data was handed back and forth before their order/request/enquiry was processed, what impression might that give about an organisation?

For most companies, their sense of purpose is driven by a strong or underlying desire to serve their customers better – it’s as simple as that.

Next week: The 3L’s that kill #data projects

#SoundCloud app update fails Product Management 101

The Golden Rule of Product Management is ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ (otherwise known as ‘managing expectations’). If anyone needs a case study on how NOT to release a new app upgrade, SoundCloud is proving to be a rich source of material…..

Background image via SoundCloud - post-production editing by the author

Background image via SoundCloud – post-production editing by the author

Last week, SoundCloud broke the Golden Rule by releasing a new version of its iOS phone app before it was finished. It did so without telling its customers in advance – not even the paying subscribers. Only after a considerable backlash on Twitter and Facebook (and a growing number of 1-star ratings in the iTunes Store) did the company start addressing customer complaints, via a rather anodyne blog. Based upon user comments, this response has failed to placate subscribers. While SoundCloud admitted that the shiny new release was not the final product, it was unable to give any indication when the rollout will be completed.

For the uninitiated*, SoundCloud is to audio what YouTube is to video. It allows customers to upload audio files that can then be shared with and downloaded by the community of users. It is entirely powered by user defined content:

  • content created and uploaded by content creators, and
  • content curated by users (via re-posts, playlists and social media interaction).

Audio content takes the form of:

  • music, mixtapes, podcasts, radio programmes and spoken word contributions.

Social media content takes the form of:

  • likes, feedback comments, and data on the number of plays, likes, downloads, followers and re-posts.

Many content creators are Pro Users, who pay upwards of $70 a year for the privilege. In return, they get a platform for hosting and distributing their content, and access to a global community of listeners. However, unlike other music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, SoundCloud does not charge listeners (yet), nor does it carry 3rd party advertising or sponsored content (yet).

Although SoundCloud has been highly successful (thereby contributing to the decline of MySpace?), it faces a range of competitors – from Twitter Music and Bandcamp to Mixcloud and 8tracks (as well as the aforementioned subscription streaming services).

In recent months, there has been some industry speculation about SoundCloud’s next business move, mostly in relation to increased monetization. There has also been some commentary about copyright infringement, a new cookie policy, and access to SoundCloud’s back-end data by major record labels. Leaving aside the usual conspiracy theories (Big Brother is listening in on you), future commercial relationships with major labels could mean that record companies with more marketing budget than talent may be given preferred access to listeners’ accounts and activity, in order to promote the next generation of Lady Gaga wannabes. And this prospect has no doubt contributed to some concerns among the user community, especially content creators that fuel SoundCloud’s platform.

From the start, SoundCloud has done a couple of things really well (in addition to the widgets for embedding sound files in 3rd party websites, and a few other technical tools): first, it has made it easier to discover new music; and second, it has enabled thousands of independent and unknown musicians to get some public exposure. The mobile app has now seriously compromised both of these features, because a lot of the existing functionality has been removed or suppressed pending the ‘full’ release (admittedly, these functions are still supported on the desktop version).

In short, the new app release has created the impression that SoundCloud is focussing on listeners (rather than content creators) and plans to make it much easier for major labels to connect with consumers, thereby squeezing out the independent musicians, producers and labels who have helped to make SoundCloud successful in the first place.

*FOOTNOTE: Declaration of interest – I maintain a Pro User subscription to SoundCloud under my nom de musique.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Credit is due to ‘Do Androids Dance?’ (itself a beneficiary of the SoundCloud user community) for continuing to cover this developing story