Case Studies

Case Study: Innovation at Ticketmaster

One day I got call from an executive at Ticketmaster. They are a multi billion dollar company selling tickets to the world’s largest concerts and sporting events. Ticketmaster was having three problems.

One problem came from the marketplace: Lots of companies were trying to get into the online ticketing business, like StubHub and other startups. These companies, since they were small and nimble, could do disruptive things quickly, so Ticketmaster was scared of them.

The second problem was customer satisfaction: Too often, their web site went down. When it did, customers experienced a world of anguish. They were trying to buy tickets for concerts that were selling out in seconds, yet when they went to pay, their shopping cart would just hang, unresponsive, and they were unable to purchase tickets. Not only were these frustrated customers not getting the tickets they wanted, Ticketmaster wasn’t getting their money, and its reputation was taking a horrible hit. So Ticketmaster wanted to get its web site up quicker when it went down, and wanted it to be more reliable so it wouldn’t go down so much.

The third problem was technology: Ticketmaster relied heavily on decades-old technology. They knew that a newer technology platform could allow them to move faster, but they were terrified. The new technology platform held the promise of working better and alleviating some of the downtime, but they feared the incompatibilities and unknown amount of work to adopt the new platform.

So they hired me.

I spoke to their executives. I interviewed their technical leaders. I reviewed their structure, goals, and strategy. And I noticed something they weren’t seeing: Their product teams were often fighting each other. They were all vying for resources from the same pool, including time, money, and executive attention, often stepping on each other’s toes in the process. With all that conflict and tension, the important stuff just wasn’t getting done. And this issue was slowing everything down, causing their main problems: the hesitation to adopt new technology, the slow progress to create a more reliable web site, and the worrisome pace of their competition against upstart newcomers. I knew we would need to solve that one problem—the problem of teams working at cross purposes—and it would be a linchpin for relieving all three problems they were having. So I said, “If we give the product teams the ability to conduct multiple projects simultaneously, without conflict between them, the three other issues you’re having will be solved too.”

And that’s what we did. We restructured the organization to reduce interdependencies between teams, granting each product team full control over the financial performance, technical performance, feature roadmap, support, and work priorities for its product. We refined the product strategy in order provide more relevant guidance to these newly independent and empowered product teams, yet allowing them to set their own priorities within the strategic framework. And we established clear criteria for product teams to judge the value of the various investment options they faced simultaneously at any moment.

As a result, tension between product teams was dramatically reduced, allowing the work to proceed much more quickly and with a much more healthy mix of short- and long-term projects. This encouraged both maintenance of existing services—short-term investment—together with rapid innovation—longer-term investment. The newly-independent product teams were able to significantly improve the website uptime because they now had the time and inclination to work on addressing the underlying core technical issues, instead of firefighting the issues as they occurred—and customer satisfaction skyrocketed. Very soon thereafter product teams began to seek guidance on how to move to the new technology platform—now that they could invest in the long-term, they quickly appreciated the benefits of the new technology platform. And over the next several months large numbers of product teams migrated their software to the new technology platform. The pace of product development was dramatically increased, and innovative new features and services were coming to market more rapidly than ever before.

We could have solved Ticketmaster’s three problems by creating multiple problem solving teams, but that would have been duplicate work. What I saw allowed them to solve the one problem that had a cascade effect on solving all the problems they had with minimal effort: If the teams were freed up to work without conflict, they could take on all these problems in the normal course of their work. And that’s exactly what happened.

And today Ticketmaster is still number one in their space.

Case Studies

Case Study: The Slowed-Down Startup

After enjoying initial success, a mid-sized tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area began faltering in the face of bold competition and an increasingly crowded market. The company’s R&D was encumbered by numerous shortcuts taken to patch up issues and could no longer deliver value as rapidly as their customers demanded.

In our work with the CEO we pinpointed the essential elements for his operation to regain its innovative spark. We realigned the priorities of the business, shifting investment away from underperforming areas and toward a streamlined R&D process. We helped the client take the unprecedented step of ceasing new R&D efforts for a period of six months in order to clean house. Along the way, we ensured that short-term thinking did not imperil these investments. After this period we restored normal operation.

As a result, within ten months the company quickly regained its position as an innovator in the market. The company achieved a 90% reduction in time to market and began delivering new value to customers at a pace unrivaled by their competitors. As a result of its improved reputation as an innovator the company was able to increase sales dramatically and attract new talent.

Case Studies

Case Study: Cloud Services at KT

In late 2010, KT, South Korea’s second-largest mobile phone network operator, was in the process of launching three IaaS clouds and transforming itself into the first cloud service provider in Korea. Executive management, middle management, and line staff were unfamiliar with the ramifications of this transformation and sought the advice of a seasoned consultant and cloud expert.

KT engaged the services of Orchestratus, led by Shlomo Swidler. Shlomo acted as IaaS Product Manager and Cloud Application Architect. Shlomo diagnosed these specific challenges:

  • An unfamiliar target market. IaaS is consumed directly by system administrators and developers – a very different audience than KT’s usual customer, mobile phone consumers and corporate IT departments. KT needed to ensure the cloud services would appeal to its potential customers, and to ensure it could effectively sell to this audience.
  • Appropriate tools, processes, and skills. Operating IaaS demands updated tools, processes, and skills in order provide reliable service – which KT lacked.
  • Technical expertise. KT needed to migrate existing applications into its clouds in order to benefit from the cloud’s elasticity and agility and in order to develop their own PaaS offerings, but lacked the expertise to do so.

In order to ensure the service would appeal to its potential customers Shlomo shifted R&D’s priorities to focus on the areas with greatest customer impact. He educated KT’s sales and pre-sales engineering teams to understand the cloud customer’s concerns. To internal and external developers, Shlomo evangelized cloud-appropriate application architecture and solved application-specific design issues for application scalability and elasticity. He mentored R&D teams to guide the design and development of PaaS services. Shlomo also set guidelines for the most reliable service level guarantees KT could provide.

With Shlomo’s help, the KT Cloud Service Business Unit successfully released its IaaS services on schedule and won significant customer adoption. Hundreds of employees were trained to operate the service, to support customers, and to sell effectively. High-profile applications were successfully reengineered to use the cloud service, saving millions of dollars in hardware costs. And KT’s reputation as the leader in Korean cloud was firmly established.

Case Studies

Case Study: The Case of the Stagnating Organization

“I feel like we’ve been stuck for the past year and a half,” the director said. 18 months prior, the startup company he founded was acquired by a large multinational firm. All twenty employees chose to carry on as members of the new corporate division, and the director went from being a controlling partner in his own business to being a middle manager. Since then, the director had overseen the integration of his product into the parent company’s offering. But the startup spirit had gone: his team could no longer deliver product improvements rapidly, nor could they delight customers with fast complaint turnaround time – and employees were increasingly frustrated at having their hands tied. Market share had fallen, and a new competitor had begun to make significant inroads. The director was concerned that his organization was losing its ability to innovate where it mattered most: for the customer.

Shlomo worked closely with the director to determine the underlying causes of his organization’s stagnation and to remedy them. Through a brief series of interviews with the staff, Shlomo quickly discovered that the organization was expending an inordinate amount of effort internally focused, at the expense of externally visible initiatives. In addition, the organization had become very inflexible, following rigid processes that were not suited to rapid turnaround. Shlomo coached the director and his team to restore a sense of engagement and excitement about their work. He helped the director “manage up,” explaining to his peers and management chain the harm that the current approach had done to the business, showing what they could do to support a turnaround, and gaining their commitment to help. Shlomo and the director jointly created specific initiatives to increase the organization’s customer involvement, restore employee empowerment, and realign their values toward flexibility and external focus.

After several weeks it was clear that a remarkable change in the organization was happening. Team members reported feeling more supported by other departments. The director gained the trust and influence among his managers and peers to elicit their support for his initiatives. The organization now resolved more customer-reported issues in a single week than they had previously closed in an entire quarter. New product updates were now delivered in under 24 hours. And within several more weeks, customers began noticing too: several customers expanded their use of the product specifically crediting the newly introduced improvements and the speed and stability with which they were delivered. Over the next few quarters the director recorded a marked increase in sales. “It’s a completely new organization now – a much better one!” he said.