A System Approach to Business Strategy – “Our Outcome Is Winning” or Business Lessons from the Court

Organizations can achieve routine success by defining and employing the right process or system – which can be a true competitive differentiator – and having the discipline to stick with it. This post gives an example of a successful system from college basketball…and reflects how systems can work for your organization or division.

It is safe to describe the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Program as legendary. The program has been led by Coach Geno Auriemma since 1985 and over that time has won eight NCAA Division I championships, advanced to 14 Final Fours and won over 30 Big East regular season and tournament championships. The UConn Women’s basketball program also has the longest winning streak, for women’s or men’s basketball, in the history of the game.

Why are they so good?

I attended a Middlesex Chamber of Commerce meeting where Coach Auriemma was the guest speaker. As expected, he gave his appreciation to the Chamber leadership, people in the community, the UConn athletic program and the people who were and are influential to the program. He then spoke about the current season, the upcoming NCAA tournament and his thoughts on winning. He wasn’t concerned about UConn’s placement in the tournament brackets. He also wasn’t terribly concerned about the competition. Why was that?

When he scouts for talent, Coach Auriemma travels throughout the country and it is an understatement to say that he watches a lot of high school basketball games. In his address to the chamber audience, he said he just returned that day at one in the morning from a scouting trip. Someone in the audience asked: What kind of player do you look for?

One may conclude that he must stack his team with the best talent in the land to win so consistently. But that assumption is simply not true. Sure, he does find very talented players–but he answered the question admitting that there is a threshold for talent. So, beyond the obvious talent and physical attributes necessary to be able to play college basketball (height, speed, court sense), what does Coach Auriemma look for that is perhaps different from other coaches?

“All of the players I consider are good enough to play competitive basketball at this level”, Coach Geno answered. “What I look for is someone who is unselfish. What do I mean by unselfish? A player that passes the ball to another teammate on a chance to score, one who doesn’t complain and doesn’t argue with a ref over a call, one who doesn’t have to play 40 minutes of every game. Our players usually are not in the top national ranks for individual scoring. They are team players. Our outcome is winning.”

Jim Collins in his wonderful book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” writes about the critical importance of having the right people on the bus–staffing your team with the right people, letting go of the wrong people and getting people in their proper seats. The approach to employing the right people, however, is only one part of a larger system. Not a complicated system, just a system that includes, as a component to it, a distinct method of considering talent. The system includes rules that, when followed with discipline, ensures the accomplishment of a desired outcome.

Coach Geno is not concerned about competition. Other great teams recruit star players–players who feel they need the 40 minutes on the court. Those star players undoubtedly help their teams win some games. That kind of player does not fit the criteria of Coach Geno’s system. His desired outcome is the win, every time. His system dictates a certain kind of input (player) and it is this system that creates UConn’s competitive advantage. Coach Geno is highly disciplined in working his system–which is clearly defined and aligns with his desired outcome–and his system rewards him.

Do you have defined systems of success in place? Here are some introspective questions to ask yourself about your organization, company or division:

• Have you clearly defined your desired outcomes? Are they communicated? Do they align to the company’s vision and strategy?
• Do you have systems (people, processes, procedures and technology) in place and are they aligned to accomplish those outcomes? How do you know? Are they documented, have you measured them, are they working, are they effective, are they efficient?
• Are you disciplined in working your system? Is your system rewarding you–by resulting in your desired outcome? Have you set yourself up to win–consistently, every time?

Jim Harper is a director in BlumShapiro’s consulting group, Jim specializes in middle-market/large client offerings including CFO solutions, shared services, process re-engineering and business process outsourcing (including control and internal audit) for the firm’s business solutions and technology consulting practices.  He has diverse experience in finance, finance transformation, accounting, reporting, controls and operational management.

Customize Related Items field in SharePoint 2013

Related Items

SharePoint 2013 introduced a new field to the Tasks’ list called “Related Items”. This field allows you to link other SharePoint items and/or documents to a specific task. The association occurs by using a wizard to look up and relate items anywhere within SharePoint.

Figure 1: Related Items Wizard

Figure 2: Related Items field with one relation

It’s a welcome change from prior versions, where one solution might have been to create a lookup into another list or library. A solution like that was not only restrictive (to just one library), but also not restrictive enough (all items in that list). So if the item you were trying to reference was located in a very large list, trying to find that item or document becomes a hassle since you only have the title to search upon. The Related Items wizard allows you to search using the different views, filter on columns, and even add new items!

Figure 3: Lookup field

I will say that lookups do have their place, and they are very handy with their cascading/restrictive delete functionality. Related Items which are deleted, will automatically be removed as a reference.

Customizing Related Items

As SharePoint fields go, the “Related Items” field is quite shy. By default, it’s located in the “_Hidden” group, which means when creating a new column on any list, it will not appear.

Note: You have to change its group in order to use it in other lists.

Figure 4: Related Items site column

Not only that, it only shows up on the “View Properties” page, and not even on the “Edit Properties”, which makes it such an under-utilized field. One that could be overlooked entirely!

And when viewing it on the list view page, it doesn’t even want to reveal what its holding! Two related items? Which two?

Figure 5: Out of the box view of Related Items

Note: its actually stored as json: [{ItemId:'[ID]‘,WebId:’[GUID]‘,ListId:’[GUID]‘}]


Customize Related Items

Now, let’s try to get “Related Items” to come out of its shell a little bit, and show what those related items are. In order to do this, you will need to override its view display, which SharePoint easily lets you do.

For this example, I’ve modified the sp.ui.relateditems.js file to do our bidding which is to list the related items, like on the edit form, removing the “Add Related Item” and “Remove” links.

To use my example, you will need to upload the sp.ui.relateditems.custom.js file into your site collection. Copy the URL. And then paste it in the “JS Link” box on the list view page.

Figure 6: List View webpart properties

Note: I uploaded mine into the Master Page gallery as a “Design File” for simplicity sake. And used the JS Link value of

Now, instead of the “2 related items” text, we get the actual items and what they show! No more guessing what the related items are, because they now render (asynchronously).

Figure 7: Related Items custom template

This is just the starting point. You can easily override it even more, starting with having the Related Items field appear on the edit form.




Refining Unstructured Search Results in SharePoint 2013

SharePoint search is awesome. It gives you the ability to search content inside of SharePoint, as well as outside of it. Plus, it gives you the ability to search for other employees in your organization. And quite easily!

Though, what it also gives you is a window into your organization’s disorganization. How many times have you taken a look into Active Directory only to find that users have job titles like “Mgr”, “Manager”, “Senior Manager”, etc.? One person’s naming convention is rarely ever exactly like someone else’s.

Now what happens if users actually want to refine these results. Say they want to pull back a list of all managers. They’d need to create a query similar to this:

Not very intuitive, is it?

Another option is to go back to your IT department and ask them to standardize this naming convention. Which wouldn’t be that difficult of a task for them, except they are already over worked and don’t really have time for another non-mission critical task.

So what does that leave? How about trying out a custom entity extractor? What is that you say? A custom entity extractor is a keyword mapping for a managed property, allowing you to customize the search refiner. In laymen’s terms, it’s a way for us to map our unstructured data (Mgr, Manager, Senior Manager) into a single term (Manager). Which allows you to add it as a search refiner so you can easily filter on just the “Managers”.

Our Example

For our tutorial, I’m going to use baseball as an example. Our people search returns the following players.

Each player has a unique job title, “Designated Hitter”, “Right Field”, and “Second Base”. We want to search for these players by “Infield” or “Outfield”. This would be akin to having “Mgr” / “Manager” / “Senior Manager” as job titles and wanting to filter by just “Manager” or “Partner”.

Create the Custom Extraction Dictionary

First we need to create our Custom Extraction Dictionary. This a comma separated (CSV) file which will define our mappings. I’m going to name this PositionsDictionary.csv and have all the infield positions map to “Infield” and all the outfield positions map to “Outfield”.


Import the Dictionary

Next we will need import the dictionary into our search application. Here is where we need to decided what type of extract it is. Should “First Base” match exactly to our values in AD, or should it just match part of it, and is it case sensitive? You can view the different types over on TechNet. For this example we will be using the Word Extraction type which is case-insensitive and matches the full word exactly. Run the following PowerShell cmdlet as an administrator on your SharePoint box:

$searchApp = Get-SPEnterpriseSearchServiceApplication
Import-SPEnterpriseSearchCustomExtractionDictionary -SearchApplication $searchApp
-FileName \\UNC-PATH\PositionsDictionary.csv
-DictionaryName Microsoft.UserDictionaries.EntityExtraction.Custom.Word.1


The FileName argument needs to be a UNC path. The DictionaryName argument needs to be exactly whats defined on TechNet (if you follow the link above). And if done correctly you will see a “Dictionary imported successfully”.


Map the Property

We now have to link our dictionary / mappings to the Job Title managed property. To do this, head over to the Search Service Application in Central Administration. Click on “Search Schema” link in the left navigation, which is found under “Queries and Results”, and search for the managed property “JobTitle”, and click on it to edit it. Then scroll down to the “Custom Entity Extraction” section.

This is where we need to link our managed property to the dictionary. Since we used the first Word Extraction dictionary, we need to check it off. If you used a different one, you will need to choose that one instead. Click “Ok”, and run a full crawl.

Add the refiner

Since we cannot change the default People Search page, I’ve created an exact replica of the People Search page in my Search Center, and changed the “People” link to that new page. The only difference, is that in my refinement webpart, I used “WordCustomRefiner1″ instead of “JobTitle”, which I also gave it Display Name of “Job Title” just like the actual JobTitle managed property.

Click “Ok” and Save / Check In / Publish the People Search page.



Now to test it out. If we do our search again, you can see that we just have two different job titles, “Infield” and “Outfield”. Which we can refine our results based on that.

And just like that, we’ve managed to filter our employees exactly as we desired without updating Active Directory or bothering IT.

The “Newness” of Practicing Fundamentals

My clients often ask me, “What’s new Jim? Show me something new.”  They are looking for a guide through the Cloud or a new way to manage a process.  Perhaps a “new” competitive advantage you could give your company is mastering the “old” fundamentals in every process, with every employee.

In other words: Get great at the basics first.  Basics can be fun, basics can be “new” to some (or many) of your processes, basics can be your competitive differentiator!

Here’s a great example…I don’t play basketball, but I respect the value of a good coach.  John Wooden, one of the most winningest coaches in college basketball (winning 10 national championships), is a stalwart example of the power of fundamentals.  Coach Wooden was famous for taking the best players in the country and making them practice 500 layups or 500 free throws over and over – the basic fundamentals.  Why?  So they would, unequivocally, make those shots in the clutch moments of the game.

Is winning 10 national championships a differentiator? You bet!  Is winning 10 national championships dependent on being the best at the fundamentals?  Of course! Ergo, being the best at the fundamentals is a competitive differentiator!

Working Capital Turns (WCT)

So, let’s get back to differentiating your business by practicing fundamentals relative to Working Capital. Working Capital Turns (“WCT”) is a fundamental metric…one many companies do a poor job of managing.  It takes understanding the levers that move WCT and employing a systematic, consistent approach to managing those levers.  Systematic consistency are fundamentals and it takes a focused, disciplined approach to ensure they are embedded in the processes and culture of your organization.

Let’s do some simple math to illustrate the point.  Let’s say you are now an owner of a manufacturing company (congratulations!) with working capital turns of 4.  This means that given the efficiency, or lack thereof, of the current state of your processes, you convert your Receivables, Payables and Inventory into Cash four times per year. So, every 90 days or so, your net working capital is deposited into your bank account to be used for strategic acquisitions, re-investment or whopping bonuses.

This also means that a full quarter of your sales are hung up on your balance sheet…It makes for a stronger looking balance sheet, but that cash is not working for you like it should!

What if you practiced some fundamentals…and focused on increasing those turns?

Extending the illustration, if your manufacturing company generated $200M of sales, a one-turn increase of working capital would free up $10M in cold, hard Cash from your balance sheet.  What could you do with an extra $10M right now?  Use it to buy out a competitor?  Merge with a supplier – become more vertically integrated? How about invest in new technology? How would you use extra capital to deliver more certainty of success to your business?

Practicing the fundamentals is often passed over in favor of something “shiny and new” – but when it comes down to getting results – it is often consistently practicing fundamentals that makes all the difference.

Let me leave you with a timely example of the importance of consistency and practice: Steven Holcomb is considered the best bobsledder in the world.  In the 2014 Winter Olympics, why did his team only take the Bronze, while the Russian team took Gold?  Answer: the Russian team practiced more.  Being from the area, the Russian team was able to practice the run many, many more times than any other team, so they knew the nuances of the track in all kinds of weather.  That’s what gave them the advantage.  Take a hard look at your processes…is your company set up for Gold?

Jim Harper is a director in BlumShapiro’s consulting group, specializing in middle-market/large client offerings including CFO solutions, shared services, process reengineering and business process outsourcing (including control and internal audit) for the firm’s business solutions and technology consulting practices.  He has diverse experience in finance, finance transformation, accounting, reporting, controls and operational management.