Monday, October 21, 2013

Walmart’s Back to Class Cyber Monday: The New Strike Force Approach

A new type of cross-functional team is emerging: a short-term strike force to address specific issues and produce results faster than ever. 

Cross-functional teams are nothing new in Corporate America. A product of 1980’s business management theories, cross-functional teams have been leveraged to improve communications between teams by minimizing silos, to improve problem-solving and decision-making by collapsing production timelines and, of course, to increase efficiency.

Rather than teams working together over a period of months – and in some cases, years – to assess and implement, a new type of cross-functional team is emerging: a short-term strike force. These are formed to address a specific issue and resolve it in a short period of time.  

What makes these teams effective is that their organizations, and its leaders, have given the team members the authority and the responsibility to make and implement decisions that move the project to a speedy conclusion.

One example of this new cross-functional team in action is Walmart’s recent “Back to Class Cyber Monday,” a program that came together in a mere 14 days, thanks to a highly effective strike force style team.

According to Walmart eCommerce Marketing Director Sarita Yeldandi, “During a Marketing team meeting in late July, we reviewed retail industry data, including projections that the back to school season was shaping up to be a rather lackluster one. We started tossing around ideas to create excitement among our customers.

“Someone asked why we couldn’t re-create the excitement and energy of ‘Cyber Monday’, but instead of ‘Christmas in July’ as other retailers have done, focus our event around back to school?”

It was a great idea, but a tough one to implement in a short period of time.

Said Sarita, “The team knew that they needed support from Merchandising, Site, the @WalmartLabs Mobile team and Public Relations  to address the biggest deciding factor with a one-day event: ‘How can we do this, and how fast can we make it happen?’ The clock was ticking – many school systems start classes in mid-August.”

With the target date for Cyber Monday set for August 12, they needed a cross-functional team, and they needed one fast. They tapped associates from Marketing, Merchandising, Site, @WalmartLab’s Mobile team and Public Relations, with each team member serving as a lead for their respective area – coordinating support efforts within their own teams – and empowered by their leadership to resolve any and all issues which arose during frequent team huddles.

According to Sarita, any initial resistance the team encountered quickly turned to support.

“At first, we had mixed reactions. Some people thought it was a good idea, but there was no way we could pull it off. Others just balked at the idea in general. But our leadership team told us that they would help us overcome any barriers we might encounter, which made it easier to persuade people that this would work.”

Time was the biggest challenge the team had to overcome. Walmart’s regular Cyber Monday event requires months to prepare for and test on and the Mobile app. This team had 14 days from conception to execution.

“Whoever said that ‘it takes a village’ was right,” said Sarita. “We just asked everyone to believe in the idea and work as hard as possible to make it happen.”

Sarita commented that the Walmart team was very happy with the Cyber Monday results. “Back to Class Cyber Monday proved that we can pull off the impossible, with the right people and the right support.”

The success of Walmart’s Back to Class Cyber Monday event serves as a great example of the benefits to any organization, regardless of size, when business and technology teams work in close collaboration.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Power of Crowdsourcing

Bio: Ram Rampalli is a hands-on product manager working on large scale data projects for @WalmartLabs and Walmart eCommerce. A true believer in crowdsourcing, Ram has spent the past five years of his career leading and supporting initiatives that use the power of the crowd to help solve problems for consumers and the Walmart eCommerce business. 

Most of us know the saying “many hands make light work,” meaning that the more people who work on something together, the easier and faster it is to complete. This simple saying defines the concept and the appeal of crowdsourcing in today’s digital world.  At a global company like Walmart, tapping into the crowd around the world for online crowdsourcing helps us achieve things more efficiently than we ever thought possible.

What does crowdsourcing at Walmart mean? It means we’re working with people all over the world to help us with tasks like quality evaluation and product data collection. We need this data to help make sure the products on are easy to find and that searches on the site deliver the best results. It also means that tasks that once took weeks to complete are now ready in days. I rely on people all over the world every day to help me solve global business problems like this and more.

You can imagine how having a huge online crowd to help with this is driving all retail companies to work faster and smarter. At Walmart, it is helping us take a localized approach to solving global issues, too, since we can work with crowds all over the world to address needs in specific locations.

Our @WalmartLabs team uses crowdsourcing all the time. The Get on the Shelf program encourages creative minds to submit product ideas, helping the team tap into this audience to uncover the next big items to hit Walmart’s shelves. They rely on crowdsourcing to test enhancements to, help classify products correctly and more. These are just a few ways the team uses people across the globe in their everyday work.

Looking ahead, I see crowdsourcing becoming an even bigger part of the work we do @WalmartLabs and in retail. As eCommerce software becomes more complex and global, we will rely even more on the crowd to help us with things like product classification in multiple markets. For instance, we’ll need crowds in Europe to help us find or validate EAN numbers rather than UPC’s that we use in the U.S.  

I believe crowdsourcing is a better way of getting things done. By using the many hands – and knowledge – of the crowd, we can work faster and smarter to benefit customers everywhere. Learn more about crowdsourcing and the other work we do @WalmartLabs on our website.   

Friday, October 11, 2013

Making the Leap: From Start-Up to the ‘World’s Largest Retailer’

@WalmartLabs' Vijay Raghavendra admits he had questions about moving his 21-person start-up to a company with more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. But the opportunity to leverage his company’s software to positively affect customer experience at the world’s largest retailer – as well as his first exposure to the dynamic and collaborative culture of Walmart eCommerce – overcame his initial concerns.

Vijay’s resume includes both large companies (eBay/PayPal) and small (Nextag, Zynga); before joining @WalmartLabs he was one of the co-founders of Palo Alto-based start-up Inkiru, a predictive analytics platform for big data which was acquired by Walmart eCommerce in June. We asked Vijay to give us his thoughts on making the leap from Inkiru to @WalmartLabs and any advice he might have for anyone considering that type of change.

Q.   Did you have any concerns about culture fit, moving from a small start-up to a global retail giant?

A.   “Just a few but they were quickly addressed as we progressed through the due diligence and the first few months post acquisition.  I had worked with many of the @WalmartLabs staff before, so I knew we would be working with top-level talent.

My concerns about culture fit were alleviated by our interactions with the due diligence team prior to the acquisition, when we spent a number of days at our Palo Alto office and in San Bruno working through details of technologies and platforms. I was very impressed by the due diligence team’s professionalism, business and technical acumen. It was great to see our two teams respectfully debate opposing points of view (in the small handful of instances where there were opposing points of view) and quickly work through differences of opinion.  Any remaining concerns I had about how a small, nimble startup would mesh with such a large organization disappeared post acquisition.”

Q.   It’s been four months since the acquisition began. How are you feeling now about the decision to move to @WalmartLabs?

A.  “For the most part, the past four months have been a blur. Three months from the date of acquisition (June 9) we were live; our platform was fully integrated into the backend of I think our progress has been phenomenal, and it certainly is a testament to the fact that Walmart may be a big company, but it has the ability to function like a start-up – nimble, collaborative and focused on achieving the end goal.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of working in a larger company that we’ve seen so far is that, in addition to having the ability to pick and choose the best technology and tools, you have the resources you need to get the job done.
There was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. We work with multiple people who own parts of a process. The result is awesome support that allows us to collaborate at a scale and speed we hadn’t experienced before.”

Q.  What would you say to anyone who is considering making the jump from a small start-up to a larger company?

A.  “I would tell them to look for large companies that combine the best parts of a startup and a large company because these organizations provide:

  • The opportunity to positively affect the lives of millions of customers/users on a daily basis.
  • The ability to work with an amazing amount of data, cutting edge technologies and algorithms to solve tough problems at massive scale.
  • The opportunity to work with a talented team that works together to make quick progress towards a common goal.
  • A collaborative, fun work culture that should be an easy transition for anyone coming from a start-up.
  • In short, I would tell them to look for a company that will provide them with the opportunity to fit right in and start adding value right away.”