Domain Capability Building on New Service Offering

Your sales team/management managed to win a project in a domain that is new to the organization. You have the technology resource who can implement and/or test the solution but there is a huge gap felt on the functional knowledge within the team. How should the organization ensure that the team gears up to this challenge and is not just comfortable with the domain but also adds value to the project/client and the organization?

The following can help. These are based on actual practices and are not fictional:

Stage 1: Client selection of the Team

  • Do a sweep search for resources within the organization who have the functional knowledge or project experience either directly on the domain or on related domains (this is usually done at the proposal stage and again comes to limelight when the project is bagged).
  • Assemble the potential team lining up the most suitable people available. At this point, get the team trained in the functional area.
  • If internal people are available with the functional expertise on the subject (or related functional knowledge), organize a series of interactive training sessions on knowledge sharing.
  • If there is no one available internally for the training sessions, invest in getting a suitable external trainer (and quickly to keep the momentum going)
  • Record the training sessions if possible
  • Inculcate an atmosphere of learning, sharing articles / URLs and sharing questions among this group [this is a good indicator to the organization on how effective the effort has been so far. The team is quiet and having no interaction could indicate fear/uncertainty while a healthy level of interaction (even if over email) is a great sign of motivation in the team to gear up to the challenge.]
  • Managers should watch out for positive sparks (like when a team member starts sharing something he/she reads on the subject) and have balanced / healthy comments for the team member so as to foster a learning/sharing environment in the team.
  • Prep up the team for client interviews (except the client to get into T&M mode with a few resources as they ‘test’ how things will work on the new engagement. Remember the client management is putting its stake in the engagement and should be expected to do what it takes to ensure strong resources are picked up).

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  1. Sales pitch raising client expectations during proposal stage with statements that imply that the organization ‘has’ (as opposed to ‘will train’) resources with the functional capability (too late to correct this at this point).
  2. Assuming certain key resources who were earmarked for the potential engagement will be made available promptly whereas they are in another project and cannot be released easily.

Stage 2: Account expansion – Keeping up the Tempo

Building the newly introduced functional expertise in the organization warrants a plan and an ‘owner’ to take it forward.

  • Introduce the functional training as a regular feature in the organization’s training calendar. Continue with the external instructor if required until you have a few internal people who can and are willing to step up.
  • Recognize the team’s effort. Engage them with the plan / Road Ahead.
  • In communication cascade (in whatever form the organization does – be it Town Halls or Quarterly Meet The Team, etc.) management should talk about the importance of that domain, its need in the market in general, bring it up in appropriate communication cascade so it reaches the ground level teams.
  • Set up internal certifications after the training sessions (this has a huge impact on the morale and encourages your people to consider getting into the domain).
  • At the team level, the project manager may introduce a weekly/fortnightly (whatever decent interval works for the team) knowledge sharing sessions within the team. Team members are to be encouraged to share whatever they have explored on topics of their interest that are related to the domain.

Tips on Knowledge Sharing:

  • Keep the knowledge sharing sessions simple and semi-formal and within the team for a start. Remember that most people in the team, if not all, will likely not be used to presenting even to their own team.
  • Let the team know that 5 points on a notepad are all you are looking for on any topic in that domain. Suggest a few topics but let each one choose what he/she tends to find interesting.
  • Be appreciative especially of the first steps the team takes and keep this practice going.
  • Publish the topics and the team members’ names in internal organization newsletter as a means of recognition and encouragement.

Over time (and with hope), the group working on the domain will be known (even be popular) within the organization for their work on the functional area and you will have a stable functional offering to both expand the current account and also offer similar service to other potential clients.

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