Friday, 19 August 2016

Building A Cloud Professional Services Practice – The Sir Alex Ferguson Way - Part I

At Openworld 2016 Oracle will be highlighting its success and exponential growth in the Cloud market as it strives to become the Number 1 Cloud provider in the market. Thanks to the recent Netsuite acquisition this goal has probably now been achieved (depending of course on how you wish to measure it) which is fantastic news for all those involved at Oracle and those in the Oracle eco-system as someone has to implement all of this and deliver on the promise made. Those Consultancy practices that made the leap into Oracle Cloud early have the challenge of now scaling their business to meet demand, whilst those who have sat on the side are still trying to work out how to enter and play the game and to be honest will now struggle with the challenge of building capability quickly, addressing the issue of reference-ability and learning to adapt as winning business in the Cloud is vastly different from the traditional on-premise deals of the last two decades.

Certus being a 5 year veteran in the business of Oracle Cloud we thought we would lift the cover on our organisation and share how we are rising to the challenge and scaling our business to cope with the increase demand for our services. In providing this we hope we can give you some real insight as to how we are building our professional services delivery capability and more importantly how we maintain its integrity as we grow.

So before we lift the lid and let you all into our family this post will be in two parts and is a collaborative effort between Richard Atkins, Certus Solutions EVP Oracle Cloud Applications Practice, myself with the blueprint for success” provided kindly by Sir Alex Ferguson - and if you think this is something we have just dreamed up - well your wrong so please read on with interest…

The Blueprint for Success
All my life I have followed and supported Manchester United. I remember when Liverpool and Arsenal were the dominant teams of the 1970’s and 80’s and United came up short year after year then Sir Alex Ferguson arrived in 1986 and after a slow start the rest is now of football legend.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United managerial career spanned 27 years where he won 13 Premier League Titles; 5 FA Cups; 4 League Cups; 10 Charity Shields; 2 UEFA Champions League Titles; 1 UEFA Cup Winners Cup; 1 UEFA Super Cup; 1 Intercontinental Cup; and 1 FIFA Cup World Cup – and in all of that was the famous treble of 1998-1999 with the Class of ’92 (Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, and the Neville brothers), a feat that will probably never ever be repeated.

Not only recognised as the greatest club football manager of all time, but a true leader, master tactician, and the ultimate “portfolio manager of talent”. On his retirement in 2013 Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably himself now a Real Madrid legend, whose early career he shaped and developed simply said “Thanks for everything, boss”.

So when Sir Alex Ferguson published his book “Leading” last year, I was first in the queue to buy it and to also go and listen to the man himself. My own career and experience has taught me that you need a vast array of different skills as a company grows. Running a £10m turnover global company is a lot different from £5m and from the days when it was £1m and only based in the UK. Everybody in the digital economy constantly talks about growth but you simply cannot grow a business unless it is stable and similarly United’s success under Ferguson came after 4 hard years of the club’s foundations being ripped up in the late 1980’s and completely reset with no immediate visible success on the football pitch.

So when devising how we at Certus were going to create a sustainable business ready for managing exponential growth and the demand for our services which we knew was coming I referred back to the teachings of the maestro himself and in doing so found we could apply the same setup Sir Alex used at Manchester United to Certus. Now trust me this is not as far-fetched as it may sound and something today we now swear by to the extent we are embedding it into the company.

Blueprint For Success - The United Model - Positional Coverage & Depth Chart
Whilst the overall United blueprint for success was much wider than the first eleven and looked at every aspect of the management of the club our focus is on the structure of the first team squad. (for more of this please see the Harvard Business Review article -

Ferguson’s model was born out of the situation he inherited, where the academy structure and the entrance point for new talent into the club had been completely dismantled and he had inherited an aging squad of players that he knew could not achieve the immediate goal of the club - to win what today we now call the Premiership title.

Ferguson’s squad itself was circa around 35-40 players in total, including around 25 full internationals, and separated by age groups with each cohort comprising “depth” across each position on the Football field. United’s enduring ability to develop young players and bring them through and play with the older members of the team, has been one of their foundation stones of success since the Busby Babes of the 1950’s.

Cohort 1: 17-22 year olds
The entrance and transition from the Academy structure into the first team and also the entrance point for those recruited through the world-wide scouting system that was put in place to identify the best and potential talent from around the world. Here you would not only learn your trade from a technical perspective, but also learn to bond with your fellow team members. In effect this became United’s “Centre of Excellence” for talent development.

Cohort 2: 23-29 year olds
Players would be at their prime of their career. Natural footballing intelligence and technical capability would be honed, leaders forged and the core engine of the team formed to deliver constant success on the pitch.

Cohort 3: 30-36 year olds (unless your Ryan Giggs!)
This group would be the “masters”, the leaders in the dressing room and on the pitch, often referred to as the “Old Guard”. The ones who would not only give advice and guidance to the younger players, but the ones using all their experience could always be counted on when the going gets tough and will pull the team through in moments of difficulty. The ultimate standard for any aspiring Manchester United player.

Management of the Squad
Now this is the clever part. If a player did not make or maintain the standards United set; or got injured; was traded; or retired then the opening in the squad would be sourced and replaced “like for like”, thereby ensuring the squads equilibrium was always maintained. Naturally if the right player could not be sourced, then the position would be left open until it could be filled. Even for Manchester United a bad hire would be disruptive. What would not happen would be a squad member being prematurely promoted as this would equally upset the equilibrium.

Benefits of the Blueprint
The benefits of the approach and squad structure are obvious and include:
  • Balance of squad by age, creating longevity for the years to come, with a focus on maintaining consistency
  • Builds a natural path for career progression from the academy through to first team, allowing players to grow up together with the view of delivering consistent success
  • Protects the club against injury of a key player or if a player departs prematurely
  • Creates a succession plan from the outset as younger players develop, and older players eventually retire
  • Skills gap minimised through coverage and depth chart across the three cohorts
  • Fosters greater teamwork, whilst maintaining healthy competition for places and ensuring standards are maintained, stretched and exceeded
  • Ability to rotate the first 11, keeping his players fresh over a long season
Now think about the above for a moment, and think about scaling a professional services practice where your greatest asset on the true balance sheet is your people’s capability and delivery experience.

As we were asked by Oracle only last week "Can Certus scale?", we explained Ferguson's philosophy and their response was "Well it didn’t do Man United any harm, looks like you have it sorted". So in Part II, we will explain just how we applied this to Certus and established our modus operandi…

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