Email creates unnecessary “surprises”
In 1998, my business partner Aaron Goldstein was really annoyed with the dumbness of e-mail as a communication tool. He hated that it had no prioritization, no context and no workflow. Think about it. The last message in your mailbox is assumed to be the most important. You can send a message to multiple people, promoting confusion on who’s accountable. You can forget important details like key artifacts and what’s downstream. There’s no way to provide clarity on who should verify completion or even a mechanism to explicitly mark a deadline. And I’m sure nobody reading this has ever participated in a conversation with 5 people commenting on a 20- bullet email…right?
Let’s not make email better. Let’s find a better way.
One of our key differentiators since inception was higher predictability and consistency. Our desire to eliminate surprises was being systematically undermined by the preeminent communication tool of the time. It is rumored that Henry Ford said to never do market research because if he asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. Well, email is actually the ultimate faster horse. Email is a faster way to deliver a letter or memo. I still clearly remember the conversation when we decided to put an end to faster horses by critically thinking about what’s possible using the most modern technology. In other words, instead of automating outdated approaches to “efficiency”, we realized we needed a totally new way to improve effectiveness.
A caveat here: if you believe that it is possible to run a perfect business, please skip this post. You’re either way ahead of us or totally delusional. That said, we believe the next best thing is a business equipped with an incredibly effective early detection system to identify any issue, and that allows you to course-correct early in the process. It’s slightly more boring to not to try and
“brute force your way” through problems, but your clients will appreciate the increased predictability and consistency. Our clients prefer surprises on their birthdays, not on their projects!
Data. Data. Data.
If you’re curious about the mechanics, first we need to explain its genesis. At first, we leveraged a simple system that used “tickets” to move around our most basic work units. But once we started building tools to manage basic workflow, we couldn’t ignore an incredible insight: by monitoring the patterns and trends of these tickets, we could accurately predict outcomes. Check our logic on this for a second…imagine you have a simple task bouncing back and forth in a ticket between two people. Maybe it’s because the task is really complex or ambiguity in its requirements. It could be the first time that this team has been challenged this way or that one of the parties is being a total shmuck. Shhhh…it could even be an unreasonable client or an impossible task. The reality is that it doesn’t matter. If the task isn’t being closed, this is the perfect time to get experienced coaches to help with rapidly resolving the issue. As you can imagine, we were pretty excited when we realized we could add an unprecedented level of precision to how we intercepted issues before they snowballed.
Using data as our crystal ball became instantly addictive. We immediately realized that if our most basic work units were candidates, there must be other creative applications of data to improve our performance. This started a journey that we continue to this day. You see, an individual task bouncing back and forth is indicative of a need for an intervention, but it isn’t predictive of a program overall. Now imagine a different scenario. This pattern is emerging in 20 places in the organization in parallel, all on the same program or portfolio. Well that’s indicative of a program that needs the handbrake pulled immediately.
What’s fascinating is that before we had these sensors on the business, ten separate teams would have been running into issues, not realizing that there was something more fundamental at play, like bad requirements. Essentially, we realized that by creatively applying data to patterns inside our organizations, we could use technology to watch our blind spots. We later realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg. We recognized that we could use technology to keep people forward-looking, help our team make better decisions, and institutionalize all of our organizational battle scars.
At the end of the day, we believe technology should empower people. BUT MOST TECHNOLOGY IS LIKE THAT LOUD REFEREE THAT TELLS YOU WHEN YOU’RE OFFSIDE. We want to build technology that’s more like that COACH WHISPERING IN YOUR EAR: “have you considered…”
Unfortunately, email isn’t the only fundamentally unproductive tool that increases the administrative bureaucracy in most business. In fact, today we believe that most enterprise software is just faster clipboards. In the coming posts, we’ll reveal how you can take inspiration from the tsunami of consumer technology that transformed our lives as consumers and apply their methods.
The patterns of behavior in your enterprise provide an early detection system, if enabled by the appropriate sensors. These tools result in higher predictability and consistency. They do so by adding precision to how we coach our people to optimal performance.
It turns out that to win a Formula 1 race today, you need more than the best driver, car and pit crew. You need a sensing and actuating center. A place where ~30 data analysts are monitoring millions of data points to provide feedback to their driver in real-time. Ask yourself, how precise is the feedback that you are providing to your drivers?