It amazes me how much Microsoft has changed over the last decade. For instance, around a decade ago, I convinced Steve Ballmer to recognize companies that did well with Microsoft products at a huge Microsoft event. He went on stage and began calling people out and each one stood up looking like they had just been identified as someone deserving of the death penalty. IT folks just did not want their name associated with Microsoft. Things are very different now. I was looking at NASCAR news and ran into several posts about how Hendrick Motorsports’ NASCAR teams were using Microsoft Teams to become more competitive. They appear proud of the relationship and have become a showcase for how to effectively use Microsoft’s leading team management and coordination tool, “Teams.”
Why Sports Makes the Ideal Test Case for a Team Tool
What makes a sports effort interesting is that this is a team, not a group of employees, who typically would be called a department. The related competition effectiveness is vastly easier to measure than it would be in a company because you have recurring competitive events. In short, if your team management/collaboration tool isn’t working, you probably won’t win and rather than the months or years it might take in a company to figure this out, typically, with a sports team you know after one or two games.
What makes NASCAR interesting as a racing sport is that the cars are about as close to identical as you can make them. The technology used in the cars, compared to other racing series like F1 or Formula E, is archaic. The race tracks are generally not very technical at all. This makes these races more about the team, including the driver, than most other large-scale, well-funded efforts.
This doesn’t mean this is an easy race, far from it. But it puts more emphasis on the team than many of the others where there is a far higher use of more advanced materials, technology and advanced aerodynamics. Teams, particularly car race teams, do get sponsors and these sponsorships do result in them using the related product, but teams that don’t win don’t get sponsors and so a top team, and Hendrick’s is one of the best, would never use a product that didn’t add to its competitiveness.
I believe if you are going to test a broad-spectrum collaboration/team management product, which is what Microsoft Teams is, the best place to do that would be with a sports team because you will be able to measure the result through competitive performance. Hendrick’s seems to be doing very well indeed.
Modifying the Tool to Fit the Practice
Hendrick is using Microsoft Teams to enhance existing practices and then using what they have learned to improve over time. For instance, they created a Team Operations Center designed to optimize race operations, which appears to have been derived from what they were doing with Teams, but this enhanced existing processes. Once using the product, they found other things they could do to improve execution, but didn’t do a forced process change driven by Teams. They instead used Teams as one of the tools to improve what they already did well.
This is important because products like Microsoft Teams are generic and that means the developers know little about the businesses they go into. It is up to the users to determine which tool to use and then fit the tool to how they work, not the other way around, and then work to optimize the process. A tool like Microsoft Teams, which is a bundled offering, is good for this because it is a set of components that can be configured for specific use cases and that effort forces rigor. In short, you really need to think through how you will use it before implementation; otherwise, you’ll likely end up with a mess. This process helps you better understand the problems you are trying to solve which, in turn, helps you match the product’s components to your specific business.
And that, my friends, is a best practice.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle and on Facebook