The virtual team - drawing on the collective expertise of a number of organisations - can provide creative, cost-effective solutions which are one step ahead of the rest. Logica Globe investigates one such venture headed by Reuters, the world's largest news agency and provider of specialist information to the global financial services community.
"I didn't care where I got the best people from, I didn't want to feel guilty about hiring and firing, and I only wanted to pay for what I needed."
In 1993, Greg Garrison returned from Reuters Singapore operations to head the London-based usability group. His mission - to enhance the user-friendliness of the company's financial information products, which analyse, interpret and synthesise the electronic data fed to dealers the world over.
In an increasingly sophisticated and competitive trading environment, Reuters needed to ensure that its information products, while offering unrivalled levels of functionality, are simple to understand, quick to learn and easy to use.
Working towards the company's usability objectives - a common look and feel
across its desktop product range - Garrison calculated that he would need a
team of 24 experts in ergonomics, psychology, market research, screen design,
customer training and software prototyping for five years.
His bosses told him he could have two full-time Reuters staff instead. They did, however, also allow him a generous budget for "cherry picking" the top talent from anywhere in the world.
Further assessment convinced Garrison that no single company could provide the eclectic blend of expertise required. So he approached different consultancies with his skills shopping list. In three months his team grew to 20, then to 55 two months later. In December 1994 it stood at over 80, but has since reduced again to 30.
Outsourcing taken one step beyond? This "virtual team" spans two continents, drawing on the collective brainpower of 12 companies around the world, and it has a life and momentum of its own. Based on individuals and skills, driven by one person's vision, it is organic and transcends organisational boundaries.
"During the day, we have the hearts and minds of these people," says Greg Garrison. "The barriers between organisations such as Sema Group and Logica, Microsoft and Admiral, are broken down because people are inspired to work together towards a common goal. Nondisclosure agreements have been signed, but in any case no individual can possibly divulge more than they can gain. Information and skills are freely shared."
Group members were told, "Park your egos at the door before you enter." No one organisation had all the skills needed for Garrison's mission, and as each company had its own focus, different project managers would be assigned for different tasks and would be prepared to swap roles or defer to subordinates where necessary.
The result has been a high-calibre team of creative, innovative people - and an emerging product range that is easy to learn, flexible and customer-driven.
The success of the venture is doubtless due in no small part to the charisma and leadership of Greg Garrison himself. With a background in corporate finance, marketing, training and sales, he describes his role as "leader and coach."
He insists that, with the team's mission now gaining a momentum all of its own, no one member is indispensable "not even me" - and yet the motivation and enthusiasm of the members mirror his commitment. He even outsourced his own management job to concentrate on the group.
"The biggest problem we have to manage here is burnout," he claims. "There's so much creative energy that we literally have to throw people out at night. With this level of momentum you will get exhaustion and illness." Tight financial control is also essential in a multiple project environment with a high degree of personal responsibility.
Greg Garrison is convinced that "cherry picking" experts is the way to "get to the future first" for Reuters. He is also pragmatic about its merits. As well as bringing with them the skills and resources of their "home" organisation, virtual team members are a lot easier to pick up and put down.
"I can access the skills I need almost instantaneously but if someone is not fitting in with the rest of the group, I can pick up the phone, talk to his or her manager, and that person doesn't work for me any more - I don't have to feel guilty about it." Without the overheads and infrastructure traditionally needed for a team of this size, Greg Garrison also reckons he pays only eight to fifteen per cent above the market rate for his virtual employees.
Garrison boasts every project manager's dream -100 per cent utilisation, value-for-money guaranteed and total customisation of the workforce against the requirements. His creation also gives him early access to the latest technology: through Microsoft's US product research laboratories, the team had access to a software tool not yet on the market. Logica was able to adapt its user interface design manual, developed by usability experts to assist on software development projects, to meet Reuters needs.
Tapping in to these latest developments, and drawing on the creative alchemy of the team, Greg Garrison is ensuring that Reuters will succeed in its mission of getting to the future ahead of the competition.
One of the team
Logica's role in the usability group is to help to:
- construct the usability laboratory, where actual users contribute to product usability
- assess product ranges for usability
- develop a user interface design manual to ensure a common look and feel across Reuters products
- train software developers on how to build usability into their product development process
- produce prototype functionality