So for all my fellow SecondLife residents that are heavily involved in the Creator / Merchant community and are active Merchants in SL, you are very well aware of the disastrous and even on-going events that occurred on September 13th when the LL Commerce Team finally and with extreme levels of communication stealth deployed the first major fundamental Marketplace (MP) overhaul changes in preparation for the up-coming Direct Delivery (DD) deployment.
Prior to last week's fiasco there already had been a growing level of Merchant community mistrust and suspicion regarding the stealthy activities going on behind closed doors in the LL Commerce Team over the spring / summer. The traditionally LL loyal Merchant held out hope that even though Brooke's team refused any communications about her team's activities (especially the major overhaul of the MP delivery system to DD), they trusted that whatever was being done in secret would be done right, properly tested, deployed with little risk to the Merchant's ability to sell, and most importantly, it would be communicated very openly and transparently and with a lot of advanced notice.
Brooke's video captured presentation at SLCC when she talked about DD stated very clearly that - to paraphrase - "we are dealing with financial transactions here so we MUST get it right before we get it done quick..." may have given some Merchants a wrong sense of increased blind faith that THIS TIME LL WILL DO THINGS RIGHT.
Others like myself were openly and vocally expressing concerns and growing mistrust. We had already witnessed this team's (even past generations of this team) long standing rock solid reputation / history of poor coding, near zero basic code testing, horrid level of open communications with the community, and a well-practiced strategy to use their customers as their Testers by deploying beta-classed code into production.
So as we (the Merchant sceptics) watched how Brooke was running this DD deployment, the warning bells were ringing loud for anyone that would listen in our community that there was trouble brewing when LL starts to actually deploy DD. Her repeated refusal to openly share her team's progress on any activities - much less DD. Her decision to gag the DD Beta testers with NDA. Her refusal to openly ask for and accept inputs from the Merchants on even the requirements for the DD. And then last week when only a day before the dreaded Sep 13th deploy of the first DD code, Brooke posts a short and vague warning message to the community that - to paraphrase- "...some changes will be going in place tomorrow we wont tell you until after the change what we did".
Well the change was an utter completely deployment failure. Even the most basic bugs were not caught by the LL team. Merchants like myself that rely upon MP for 70% of our sales watched our already collapsed sales in August plummet to near zero sales in the days after the change.
Fully expected and justifiable, the Merchant community exploded in anger and frustration in the days and now weeks since. LL did not back the change out and go back and retest. They did what they are always known to do... they left the beta-code in production and didnt care how the bugs were impacting their customers. They decided to fix the bugs in place. Why? because that way they could use us Merchants once again as their code testers.
When this anger and frustration of the LL Commerce Team's pure incompetence was brought to Rodvik's attention, sadly there was nothing from the Leader of LL about this. He took no visible actions. He showed no leadership nor did he or has he spoke up on the bogs / forums and started to rebuild the lost trust the community has in his LL Commerce Team. Rodvik to date is following the same Blackout Communications strategy that his Commerce Team follows.
SOOOO.... among the countless things that LL has done wrong within the Commerce Team, what is the NUMBER ONE factor that has destroyed this team's and even LL's credibility within the Merchant community?
- Its not the proven inability to develop strong effective strategy for the Commerce Product group.
- Its not the proven long history of not being able to fully understand the requirements of LL's customers when developing new code.
- Its not the team's ineffective and bug-ridden coding.
- Its not the team's horrendous Q/A code testing - even though its proven again not to exist
Then WOW.... if its not any of these factors, what is the biggest hole in the LL Commerce Team's boat? What is the number one factor that has sunk all confidence and trust among the Merchant community and scares the Merchants the most in the week / months to come?
POOR INEFFECTIVE NON-EXISTENT CLOSED BIASED COMMUNICATIONS
When Brooke made her first presence in January and took over from the last generation of failed Commerce Management, she seemed to show signs of wanting to take a more interactive yet unemotional business-level approach to communicating. A great approach to stay calm and unbiased and interact even with those that might be your most vocal critic.
The first major problem was that the first major deliverable forced upon her by some out-of-touch Sr. LL management to deploy into MP was the poorly planned maturity filters. As we all know, the maturity filters (which were the MP execution of the disastrous Teenification of the Grid strategy of 2010) were already a sore spot for most Merchants. Then her team's deployment of the filter were poorly coded and QA'ed (as is the case with most LL deployments) and caused major disruptions and confusion and lost sales to large segments of the community.
This is not a good way for any Sr. Product Manager to start her career with her customer base. "Hi I'm Brooke and over the next few weeks I will start by making an even bigger mess of the new and infinished deploy of MP. I hope you all still trust and like me when I am finished."
For any seasoned Sr. Product Manager, this would have been a bad strategy but even if it was forced, he/she would have kept in mind that the #1 success factor to maintain trust with a customer is open, transparent and unbiased communication with the customer. In fact, even more communications - specially with the critics - would have been a major strategy component.
What was Brooke's strategy? Well shortly have getting through the angry responses of the maturity filters, you could visibly notice her new strategy was to:
- Reduce open communication with the community on forums to bare minimum updates of changes to MP
- Abandon any initial attempts to bridge all past attempts of establishing a healthy constructive method of communications with Merchants.
- Communications blackout with her most vocal critics - the ones with legit concerns. Me being one of them - I can tell you how blatant her snubbing of the nose is to me as I get fellow Merchants to get her to respond to my questions.
- Shut down any communication of strategy, direction, updates of even the most critical activities her team is working on. (ex. NDA secret Beta Test Team for DD)
- Downplay the details of any changes that were being deployed into MP in hopes things go right and no one will notice.
The climax the level of degraded communications from Brooke and her team was her handling of the change deployed on the 13th and the subsequent refusal to communicate publicly with the community on where her team went wrong, what they will do to fix the lost trust in her team, and to begin finally being open with Merchants (who have openly asked her to start answering question on DD) on what in store for us in the coming weeks.
Even if this Sep 13th change was properly coded and properly QAed by LL and the secret Beta team, the magnitude of these changes would have still upset the Merchant community for failing to adequately prepare us for the magnitude of the changes. But what compounded the level of anger was that her hope for a smooth clean bug-free install (which NEVER happens with LL) that went any way but right.
Brooke has assured that any trust of LL and the Commerce Team is DESTROYED.
When an entire product team's trust and community confidence is lost, the only solution is for the CEO to engage and visibly take action to start rebuilding this trust. Sadly, regardless of all the escalations to Rodvik on this critical issue, the man in the LL BIG BOY CHAIR has decided to follow the same strategy as the Commerce Team - refuse to take accountability, pretend the public doesn't see the serious issues, hope the community will settle down again, and take a quiet DO NOTHING APPROACH.
This is where Rodvik, the Sr. Commerce Management, Brooke all receive major failing grades.
The actions of Brooke and the Commerce Team are not surprising as this has been how all past generations of the Commerce Team have operated and with no cleanup from the LL Executives.
BUT, my biggest disappointment lies with how Rodvik is handling this critical issue. I really did have hopes the Rodvik "GOT IT" and understood that regained trust within his existing customer-base would be the #1 priority since a happy customer is a company's best form of PR. But I have lost a lot of respect and trust on Rodvik's ability based on his lack of handling of this critical growing issue.
So, Rodvik, its time to get out of your Big Boy chair, take accountability & visible action to prove you can deal not only with the fun toys of SL like Mesh, but also the tough burning fires within troubled product groups like the Commerce Group.