Case Studies





 How to keep up with and make sense of competitor and market developments?


The Challenge:


Product and business teams were unable to process vast flow of public information about competitors’ products. This inability resulted in low quality data as input for the company’s own product development decisions.

Product and business teams, and their management, did not have good competitive intelligence data upon which to base their own product investment decisions.


Product managers and business leads for online products were not keeping up with steady flow product news from key competitors. The situation was aggravated by two factors. First, the teams were geographically dispersed, with offices on three continents. Second, interdependencies among products (e.g. search and email) required team members to know about competitors’ changes to many different products.


Efforts to capture and absorb the bountiful flow of publicly available data varied across the different product and business teams. Some were committed to the effort, while others were not. Any such information captured was handled inconsistently, thereby making it very difficult to retrieve and share historical information.

The Solution:


Three-tiered approach addressed need to (1) capture and share daily news; (2) provide quarterly detailed reviews of each competitor and the industry; and (3) create a cross-company forum in which to share information and respond to executive requests.

Decomposed the many issues into three discrete problems and created a solution for each.


Daily News Updates:

* On individual scours news sources, press releases, blogs, etc for competitor product announcements, reviews, and demonstrations / presentations.

*  Information distributed to appropriate product and business teams via email and logged into searchable database.

*  Database promoted in weekly newsletter distributed to all employees.

*  As needed, authored or contributed to ‘instant evaluations’ of newly launched competitor products.


Quarterly Industry & Competitor Reviews:

*  Report containing a review of key competitor operating and product metrics, new service launches, and financial analyst comments on corporate and product strategy.

*  Each report also contained an in-depth analysis of an important industry topic.

*  Report distributed directly to senior executives, product and business teams, and posted on company intra-net.

*  Follow on presentations to interested groups upon request.


Cross-Company Competitive Intelligence Forum:

*  Since competitive intelligence spans many areas – products/services, financial performance, business relationships, marketing channels, and more – created a cross-organizational task force. Representatives included corporate, international, marketing, finance, and product development organizations.

*  Objective of the task force was to share information across groups and to be a resource for management to address specific competitive or industry research requests.

The Results


Improved decision making and alignment of scarce resources.


The aggregate impact of the three efforts was to improve the quality of information being used to make decisions at all levels within the company. In doing so, employees’ understanding of competitors improved dramatically. Moreover, by eliminating the need for redundant, ad hoc efforts, scarce resources were redeployed to other high-value activities, improving speed to market.


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 In which products and technologies are our competitors investing?


The Challenge:


How to gain insights on future product and technology investment by competitors.

Executive and technology team management wanted to know in which products and emerging technologies competitors were directing incremental investments.


In fast moving Internet industry, it was important to understand which products (e.g. photo services, web mail, search) were the focus of competitors’ investment decisions. There was a similar interest in which new technologies (e.g. AJAX, DHTML, streaming) were moving into competitors’ operational plans.


Products / services and underlying technologies had significant potential to impact consumer engagement and business models for advertising, e-commerce, and subscription revenues. Moreover, demand for certain skill sets could had an adverse impact on the company’s own employees and its ability to hire new employees.

The Solution:


Monthly analysis of competitor job listings.

Monthly review and analysis of competitor job listing provided relevant, contextual information about future product and technology investments.


Qualitative and quantitative data emerge from analysis: 

*  Content of individual job listings provide many insights, including the internal organization (operational flow) of the company, business operating metrics, strategic direction and tactical initiatives.

*    By tracking listings each month, developed time-series data on the number of new listings, repeated listing, and total listing by job category / function.

The Results:


Dramatic improvement in being prepared for competitor product announcements, questions from the press and financial analysts about competitors’ products. The solution also made it easier for management to anticipate potential hiring or employee retention issues based upon changing market demand for specific skills.


Distributed monthly report to executive management, product, and business team leadership.


It provided relevant data for own strategic and tactical investment decisions in areas affecting consumer facing products as well as the underlying technologies used by the company and its business partners.


The report also enabled executive management and public relations team to be better prepared for questions from press and financial analyst community about competitors’ actions.


The information was also helpful in highlighting potential employee retention or hiring challenges as market demands for specific skills increased over time.





 How do we include a robust competitive assessment in our annual allocation of product development funding?


The Challenge:


How to ensure all product and business teams have a solid understanding of their markets and where their products fit in the market as they develop strategic product plans.

Product and business teams needed a consistent and disciplined methodology for assessing their respective markets (competitors, consumer behavior, etc). The information was needed as a key input to the annual budgeting and product planning cycle.


There was no consistency of approach or rigor across the company. In fact, most teams did not have a consistent approach for the products and services managed within their teams. This resulted in low quality and inconsistent data being used to make arguments for incremental investments in the products.  

The Solution:


Developed and implemented program to be used by all product teams. Provided templates, training, and helped identify data sources.

Developed and implemented program for annual product-level competitive reviews. Program required each Product Manager to fill out a template of required information and then to work with his / her management to complete a category assessment.

*  Created templates for Product Managers to use as basis for evaluating current product position (e.g. lagging, on-par, leading) and for projecting future position based upon what was known about internal development efforts and competitors’ likely next steps.

*  Templates included:

*   Competitor Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOTs)

*   Industry and internal data on product consumption / usage

*   Third party and internally-funded research results

*   Analysis of feature functionality, ease of use, and integration with other products

*  Initiated category-level competitive reviews (e.g. all Communications products) for Product Leads to roll up individual product reviews for higher-level assessments.

*  Trained Product Managers and Product Leads in how to complete assessments.

*  Helped identify data sources for  Product Managers to use in completing the templates

The Results:


The new program provided executive management with the information needed for annual budget allocations. Moreover, the effort to produce the data resulted in raising the skill levels of employees.


There were several direct and indirect benefits from using a consistent and rigorous methodology across all product groups.

*  Executive management had more robust information about the distinct product markets than was available in prior years. This helped management allocate scarce resources for the coming year with greater confidence.

*  Individual employees and team members became more valuable to the company as they gained new insights into their own markets and were better able to make the countless decisions required of front-line workers.

*  The detailed data contained in the product assessments was available for use by marketing and public relations groups to help communicate the strengths of the company’s products and services.



 How can we respond to competitive price changes more quickly?


The Challenge:


Lack of timely and accurate data about competitor pricing undermined MCI Consumer Markets advertising claims and ability to meet profit targets.

Inconsistent approach to obtaining and analyzing competitors’ tariff changes caused MCI Consumer markets to be slow in responding to competitors’ pricing changes, resulting either in a loss of competitive position or foregone profits.

The Solution:


Contracted with supplier to deliver competitor tariff filings daily and set up internal team and system to review and respond to any price changes..

Defined and implemented new tariff tracking & response procedures:

*  Contracted with external party to deliver copies of competitor tariff filings on the day they were filed

*  Recruited and trained employee volunteers who would review and analyze tariff filings on a rotating schedule

*  Established rapid response practice that provided executives with information needed to respond to competitor price changes within one business day

*   Proposed response

*   Financial impact

*   Estimated effect of pricing change on the competitor’s P&L

The Results:


Allowed company to sustain advertising claims while capturing incremental profits > $500K per year.


Reduced time required to review and analyze competitor tariff filings from 10 days to one day.


Enabled MCI Consumer Markets to maintain competitive price position after a competitor reduced prices (required to support advertising claims) and to reap incremental profits when a competitor raised prices. Incremental profits were > $500K per year.



 How to create an integrated product plan for consumer-facing, internet services that identifies strategic imperatives and includes the tactical steps to meet longer-term objectives?


The Challenge:


New executive leadership at a product-driven company needed a comprehensive and consolidated view of the strategic direction of product development and interim milestones for a rolling 18-month period.

Inconsistent operating practices resulting from legacy organizational structures resulted in disparate approaches to product development planning. As P&L pressures grew, the need intensified for a rationalized approach for product planning process.

The Solution:


Created and implemented new, holistic planning process that met the specific needs of the company.

Created and implemented a robust process for writing a comprehensive product development plan to cover an18-month period beginning at the start of the next calendar year. There were several components to the process:

*   Established standard planning templates that included key inputs (consumer needs, technology capabilities, competitive position, and corporate objectives).

*   Over a six month period, guided Product Leads through stages of the planning process via a series of group training meetings, offsite ideation and scenario playing sessions, and one-on-one meetings

*   Met with individual Product Managers to help them work through required exercises

*   Reviewed draft plans, provided feedback and recommended changes

*   Aggregated submissions and synthesized them into a comprehensive plan that included thematic, quarterly, resource, and financial summaries

*   Presented plan to executive management and internal teams

The Results:


Delivery of the new product plan was a huge milestone for the company, providing executive and operating leaders the information they needed to begin the turn around of the company.


The consolidated, comprehensive product development plan became a foundation document for the operational turnaround of the company. This was true at several levels:

*  A new executive management team was charged with reversing negative financial trends and improving the company’s competitive position. The new product plan gave the executives the summary and detailed information they needed to execute their mission

*  Operating executives benefited from having the plans of disparate organizations developed and presented in a common process. This enabled them to eliminate redundant efforts, identify interdependencies, and create new business opportunities by integrating work that would be done by other groups





 Financial and Business Planning


Internal Reorganizations


*  Contributed to resource assessments and evaluations.

*  Provided impact analysis, including financial and operational.

*  Designed and implemented new operating models, including new organizational structure, roles and responsibilities, and protocols for how work would get done in the new structure.


Pricing Consumer Telecommunications Services


*  Created models and managed others developing models that produced accurate estimates of the timing and magnitude of the financial impact of any proposed pricing changes. The models enabled effective scenario testing and forecasts that were rolled into the monthly and financial quarterly outlooks for the company.


Software Development Resource Planning and Allocation


*  Created tools and processes needed to roll up software development resources by function, organization, and location in a geographically disparate, highly matrixed organization.

*  Output from tools provided insights into actual allocation of resources, enabling management to reassign resources to highest priority projects. The tools also increased visibility for when the resources would become available; helping managers better forecast when new projects could start. 


Project Intake and Change Management


*  Directed a small group that was asked to coordinate project intake and change management for projects across global software development organization.

*  Previously, function was not coordinated across groups, creating inefficiencies in development and testing queues.

*  Developed standard processes and reporting vehicles to ensure accuracy of data and consistency needed to minimize unnecessary and counter-productive confusion.

*  Attempted in all cases to make processes a ‘light-touch’ so that operational groups could focus on delivering results and not be bogged down by overhead activities.


Product Line Profitability



*  Product-level analysis enabled evaluation of incremental and fully-loaded contributions.

*  These standards served as inputs for business case evaluation of marketing and retention programs.

*  Created easy-to-update models that provided consistency in methodology and accuracy in outputs over time.






 How do you measure consumer engagement with online services?


The Challenge:


Executives had no source for reliable, cross-comparable data on consumer engagement with products and services supported by legacy systems.


Legacy systems and operating practices fell short in three key areas:

*  Disparate systems provided inconsistent data that was hard to obtain and store for easy retrieval

*  Maintaining legacy systems was expensive

*  Organizational structures and practices made it difficult to compare and assess product usage and engagement across the spectrum of products and services


The new executive management team needed the information to make strategic investment decisions, while operating executives wanted the information to educate and provide incentives for their teams.

The Solution:


The approach addressed the three relevant business areas: technology, governance, and analysis. Believed it would take two to three years to see company-wide impacts given the scale of the challenges to overcome.

Three elements created for a comprehensive solution, comprising technology, governance, and analysis.


*  Created a cross-functional technology group, ensuring expertise from all appropriate systems / organizations that defined the requirements and established roles and responsibilities in the development and delivery of the individual components of the solution

*  Funded, staffed, and trained a small group of analysts that played the role as the primary customer for the technology solution. This group would be thought leaders during the development phase and would become the primary analysts using the data post-implementation

* Group became responsible for producing a Quarterly Metrics Book, the company’s first ever comprehensive analysis of usage across products based upon internal data.

*  Established a governance board that was responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the technology solution. Its roles included:

*  Refining requirements

*  Coordinating implementation of the system and adoption of the solution by individual product teams

*  Final arbiter for decisions impacting timing, features, functionality, etc of the new system

The Results:


Meaningful positive impacts affecting business decisions (more robust information) and operations (reduced complexity and cost).


Significant positive results delivered over the three years following the inception of the project.


*  Business Information & Decisions:

*  Consistent data now available for cross-comparison among products and services enabled management to make better informed judgments on resource allocations

*  Existence of common data sets eliminated use of conflicting data on products, making it easier for management and employees to focus on underlying business issues instead of debating whose numbers were accurate

*  Quarterly Metrics Book became a common reference point for discussions about how overall company strategy was resulting in changes to actual usage of products and services

*  Technology & Business Practices:

*  By migrating to a common platform, legacy systems were shut down. This eliminated costs and reduced complexity in the operations environment

*  Standard solution made it easier to train new employees and for existing employees to apply the solution to a new product or service

*  Much easier to calculate total costs of obtaining and storing usage data. Costs of prior systems were hard to isolate





 Mergers and Acquisitions Implementation


Announcing a Transaction


*  Contributed to financial and strategic communications planning

*  Established working relationships with proposed partners

*  Implemented communications plan, building support among all constituents: outside parties, partners, employees

*  Captured relevant feedback from all groups and worked with executive management to address in future communications


Managing the Transition Period

*  Worked closely with executive management to update and advance ongoing communications plan

*  Developed trusted relationships with new partners

*  Originated integration plans and secured buy-in and approval through iterative review-and-revise process

*  Contributed to SEC filings and other regulatory review requests

*  Prepared for launch of combined company by developing operational and communications plans

Post-Transaction Implementation

*   Launched new phase of financial and operational communications plans with external and internal constituencies

*  Implemented new organizational models

Creating Partnerships


*  Served as member of teams negotiating aspects of cross-company relationships, ranging from alliances to equity investments

*  Developed and executed financial and operational communications plans