Are You Building 1,000 Yard Football Fields?

Rob Sena
November 29, 2022

Rob Sena, Executive Vice President, JDA TSG
Marc Goldberg, Business Transformation Expert and former Chief Procurement Officer at Dun & Bradstreet

This is Rob and I am introducing this blog simply because it deserves some context. Marc and I met through a contact and we spoke several times about our mutual experiences with BPOs in our current and past lives. While we discussed many aspects – good and bad – this concept stuck with both of us.

Combined, we have spent nearly 50 years working for some of the biggest companies in the world, managing global teams and budgets of millions of dollars. We led teams of internal staff, outside consulting firms and yes, Business Process Outsourcing firms. The experience, as I’m sure so many of you would agree, was mixed. In many cases the firm overperformed, delivering not just what was asked, but even a bit more. They were rewarded with more business. Unfortunately, more of our relationships did not meet expectations and BPOs in particular failed more than they succeeded. But why?

We decided that it was the 1,000 yard football field syndrome.

For those watching the World Cup right now, we are referring to American football, not futball (though similar dimensions!). Neither of us has ever actually had to build a football field, so understand it’s an analogy.

Many times we have given specs for programs that are both complex, multi-functional and multi-year. Almost every one of our partners delivered on spec. In fact, often to precise SLA KPIs asked. The problem? Those specs often did not match the ultimate business objectives of a dynamic program.

They were given the blueprints for a 1,000 yard football field. For whatever reason, our client teams drew up the plan with the best intentions, but clearly didn’t line up specs with the needed outcome

The bad ones? Built us an amazing, pristine, modern 1,000 yard football field

The best ones? Stopped the build and asked the tough question – “why are we doing this? Let’s make it 100 yards!”

This is typical in the industry though. BPOs operate to the letter of the agreement. If you don’t update their processes they are rarely going to be motivated to do it for you. If there is a lack of communication, it just means they aren’t being corrected and there will be no penalties in the contract. These operating dynamics inevitably lead to a culture where changes are reactive and not proactive, they result from a problem that has occurred, not from planning ahead.

Exacerbating the problem is that if you find yourself in this seat as the client, you now have to fight an uphill battle. In addition to needing to correct processes, expectations and culture internally, you need to do damage control with your own teams. It will take more time, more money and impact reputation all around

The solution? Ask the right questions upfront. Not just if they have done this kind of work, but if they have stood up to their clients and risked their relationship to tell them the hard truths.

Those are the partners who will actively think through the problem that’s being presented to them upfront and ongoing. They can process information from onboarding through execution and involve senior leaders capable of counseling clients, not just taking orders. Your firm’s senior leaders need to be in the weeds with your team. Many consultant firms will come in with an expensive solution, present it to leadership, and then leave with the check.

To be successful, you are going to need a partner who rolls up their sleeves and gets in there with you. They have a stake in the game and your overall success and that shows.

Or risk developing the largest football field ever built!

Case Story
Case Story