A Lesson from the NBA: Test the Product & Consult the Players

There are business lessons to be learned everywhere, and the latest comes from the NBA. That’s right, the National Basketball Association.

On June 28, the NBA introduced a new Official Game Ball for use in the 2006-07 season. The new basketball, manufactured by Spalding, got a lot of hype. “Technologically-advanced game ball has new design, better grip and consistency,” reads the headline at the NBA site.

The basketball is synthetic as opposed to leather. To read about it, the change sounds like a good thing.

“The new ball features Spalding’s Cross Traxxion™ technology, a union of revolutionary design and breakthrough material. The design is comprised of two interlocking, cross-shaped panels rather than the eight oblong panels found on traditional basketballs. As a result, there is more material coverage. The material is a microfiber composite with moisture management that provides superior grip and feel throughout the course of a game. Additionally, the new composite material eliminates the need for a break-in period, which is necessary for the current leather ball, and achieves consistency from ball to ball.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern praised the ball: “The advancements that Spalding has made to the new game ball ensure that the best basketball players in the world will be playing with the best basketball in the world.”

Except it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Some players got cuts on their fingers from the synthetic basketball. Others didn’t like the feel of the ball. The players ended up filing a labor grievance because they weren’t consulted about the change.

On December 6, Jerry Stackhouse, the Maverick’s guard, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “it’s one of those things where it is directly affecting our workplace.”

The New York Times indicates the NBA Commissioner admitted regret over not consulting the players beforehand.

Well, score one for the workers. On December 12, the Los Angeles Times reported that old-style basketballs will return on January 1.

What does this story have to do your business? A new year often brings an opportunity to acquire new systems and new tools. The message from the NBA is twofold: test the product and consult the players.

Terms like “revolutionary” and “breakthrough” are meaningless unless a product actually delivers. It’s why technology consultants recommend that companies demo products, even if those demos take several hours. They also advocate getting staff members involved in the review process, especially people in critical impact positions. Their involvement not only helps with selection, it will also reduce blockages to success.

Such advice applies whether you’re in charge of a company, a team or the NBA. When it comes to acquiring a new product for the workplace, it’s important to make sure you don’t drop the ball.

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Adapted from AIRS

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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Sandra Schwan

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