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.