At the start of new year 2020, we all makes wishes or plans. It is always good to set a target and aim for it. Same applies to organization as we all told to make wishes in terms of “forecasts”, though it is a matter of art for a company to make such “wishes”.
From a traditional management stand point, as an organization has grown bigger in scale, more and more regulations were set up to make sure the big machine is “manageable”. To get a better knowledge of future resource demand, growth plan, market strategry, the upper level of managements will request those under their reporting line to make forecasts. When it goes a bit extreme, the performance for a management role is evaluate based on the accuracy of the forecast he/she made. The variance from forecast will be regarded as an impact to the resourcing and a signal that the business is out of control, therefore management wants to avoid that.
In order to make the forecast “accurate”, especially when the “KPI” (another evil when it is not set properly) is somehow the percentage of variance of actual result from forecast, the middle-levels tend to manipulate their team to make a very conservative forecast (therefore an expensive quote to client), and get the team to work towards that easy target. Even the team eventually delivered with a better timing, the supervisors will told the team to input the timesheet / resource log to fit with the forecasted value (so that the variance is 0%). The frontline team is not encourage to strive for self-improvement and find an efficient solution.
Nowadays: Forecasts But Not Number Games
As highlighted by Eric Ries in his book The Startup Way, many industries are facing rapid and disruptive changes. Forecast would not be as helpful as it used to be in the old times. Within a few months, a game changer may completely turn the game upside down. It is quite applicable to OTT, or even, in general, media industries, too. We could see new OTT players every quarter in different countries and we could see demands for professional services for application development, consulting, solution architecture…etc come out all in a sudden. In this new world, we need to have a mind that failure to meet forecast is okay, just that we need to prepare for it, learn fast from it and act fast.
Don’t get me wrong. We use forecasts and we still need forecasts. Just that we should stay away from the number game to set a safe forecast and meet it. Instead, we should always try to beat tough forecast and stay agile for the unknowns. Here are some suggestions:
1. Encourage Dare Forecast
In a technical services company (human intelligence intensive industry, right?), the technical staff are supposed to grow and learn all the way through multiple projects. They are supposed to be working in a more and more efficient and intelligent way (If not, think about what happened with the trainings). When we estimate the effort required for an upcoming project, we should take into consideration about the similarity of the tasks and the knowledge we gained from the previous projects. We should not set up “golden thumb rules” for estimation, like: if there is A we have to be that amount of B.
If the team eventually beats the forecast, we should internally announce and celebrate it. The time and resource saved should be re-invest into staff development, new technologies, market trends or internal products.
2. Reusable Components + Standardized Product Offering
When a company focuses on one single entity, in our case OTT, there should be some specialty. To stay competitive and build up barriers to entry from new competitors, a company should always invest on better tools and process. That could help with beating forecast too. For OTT (and other industries), we should also focus on customers’ common needs, observe the upcoming trend and bring about universal solution that could cater them all. That is not as easy as it sounds when most of the customers ask for some “tailor-made”, but there is always some tricks to get our products / components being modular and plug-and-play.
3. Job Rotation
Think about the start of a company, there were only a few members of staff serving for multiple purposes. When it grow bigger, there was labour specifications and multiple departments (a.k.a. silos) being set-up. You may have support, operation, development, quality assurance, consulting …you name it. Interestingly, they all tend to hire from similar batch of tech candidates. Each departments tend to hold their budgets (i.e. forecasts) and they need to be responsible for the utilisation of their staff. It is common to see some temporary imbalance of resource from time to time when one departments having no assignments for staff, and other departments’ team are overloaded.
To stay agile for any resource requirements, a company should break these silos and do more sharing. A job rotation scheme could be a good trial. A technical staff could be rotated to multiple departments to pool the resource demands. For example, some functions, like support and operations, may have some amount of working hours waiting for customer’s support requests (when our product was well delivered that there was no failure). They could simply pool their man-power with others. Project teams could lend their hands to product development if they finished the project early.
From the staff’s perspective, a staff in rotation could learn different skill sets. In the long run, they could have a bigger picture on how a company work and contribute constructive ideas.
Happy New Year and wish you all have a great 2020.
Photo Credit: @abiismail – Unplash.com