What Good RA Training Has In Common

In a perfect world, everybody would get one-to-one tuition that was tailored for their every need, whenever they received any kind of education. In this imperfect world, our kids go to classes where one teacher takes a lesson for many children, students may fill large halls to listen to the same lecturer, and lots of different people will read the same book to get the knowledge they need. In this imperfect world, what is common to good RA training, and what should every RA practitioner learn?

I started out writing this post as a response to Gadi Solotorevsky’s comment on Mike Willet’s excellent post about training. It grew and grew, so I decided it would be best to just include this as a new post! In short, Gadi wrote that good training is not ‘one size fits all’. I want to rebut that assertion, partly because I do not think that is what Mike was suggesting, but mostly because it fails to address a much more serious issue in RA training. The more serious problem with most RA training is not that it fails to be specific. RA training is often very specific, sometimes to the point of not being relevant to the student. The more serious problem with most RA training is that it is overly specific. By being over specific, and lacking any common and universal principles, it does not train practitioners to be versatile and to cope with the unfamiliar. Because revenue assurance is about dealing with problems that people did not even realize were there to begin with, we cannot train people to be good practitioners by only giving them skills relevant to a few problems we now know to anticipate. The good RA practitioner must be able to adapt their skills to the unanticipated too, and must learn how to find issues even when nobody else has anticipated they can occur.

If revenue assurance is anything, then the specific instances of revenue assurance must have something in common. Shakespeare makes a similar point about dogs, because dogs can be very different but still have something in common:

“… hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves are clept
All by the name of dogs.”

Good training will be based on what is common to every situation. This includes the situations that the student is not familiar with, and even includes the situations that nobody has experienced yet because they have not happened yet. Tailoring a course for your organization sounds efficient, but how useful is the course if your organization is changing? How long will its value persist? Even if tailored, the course must be based on principles that can be applied outside of the specific examples that are covered.

Universal principles, once understood, are more valuable to the student than lots of specific packets of unconnected knowledge. However, the clearest failing in the revenue assurance world is that lots of people know lots of things about lots of particular detail, but struggle with what is RA in general. Take them from their comfort zone, and they fail. Present them with a new problem, that requires skills they lack, and they run from it and search for an old problem they have solved many times before. This observation was one of the driving motivations for setting up talkRA – to force people out of their narrow silos, get them talking to each other, and make them realize that RA is bigger than the skillset and experiences of any individual person.

At core, any training should be based on universals. Practitioners have more valuable skills is they learn methods and techniques that can be applied to any situation, instead of learning how to do just one task. It is the same as the differences in how we might teach history. I can teach somebody history by making them memorize a list of dates and events. I can teach them a lot more history without mentioning a single date or event, if I teach them how to do their own research. If the student can do his own research, he can then find out the detail that he needs, when he needs it. The most valuable kind of training ensures universal principles are explained, and then made specific and relevant to the audience, depending on what kind of audience is receiving the training.

Unless specific training is consistent with universal principles, then two specific training courses simply do not teach the same thing. If you wrote an RA training course for one telco based on one set of principles, and wrote a second RA training course for another telco based on another set of principles, then you have no consistency in what you are saying RA is. They may both be good courses, but they cannot both be good revenue assurance courses. The better the underlying the principles used to create a course, the more universal the principles those are, the better the training is for the recipient. Why? Because the student will be able to reapply those principles to new situations, if their business changes or if they move to do the same job in another business. Otherwise, they will just need to be completely retaught every time the situation changes.

As per one of Mike’s examples, you can teach people to do a job a certain way, by training them which buttons to push and how to use some software. They can do that job perfectly well if they keep pushing the same buttons, even if they have no idea why they are doing it. Then swap them over to new software, a new company, or a new product to be assured. You have to train them to push new buttons, and the training begins right back as if they learned nothing before! Better that they understand what is common between the two scenarios. It is not just about being efficient with training, it is about developing people as people – encouraging them to think and be adaptable, teaching them principles they can observe and reapply, and not just to be mindless drones who need to be reprogrammed for every new task they are set. Of course, you can make more money by exploiting mindless drones: they will be made to pay over and over again for more and more training…

There is lots of bad training in RA, and we need to identify why. There are lots of people, with very limited experience, offering to teach people who work in situations that are very different from any they understand. There are also lots of people happy to be trained in a kind of RA where they just want to be told how to push the buttons, and not to think for themselves. Those people might do okay in their job, but they do not understand RA and will be little better than a complete novice when they change job. Worst of all, this sector is full of people who know how to do one thing, and then pretend that one thing is the same as RA, and is equally powerful and relevant to every business and every situation. They train other people to do that one thing, fooling them into thinking they now understand RA as well. As Abraham Maslow said:

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

The good RA practitioner has many tools in the toolbox, knows how to use them, knows how to adapt them to be used in new and unfamiliar situations, and even knows how to make and adapt his own tools to fit the task. You cannot teach that by telling people how to bang the same nails over and over. You teach it from first principles. First, people need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Then they need to understand the choices they have about how they do it, so they can pick the best tool for the job. That is what good RA training has in common.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.   Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.   Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.
  • Eric,

    I agree to most of what you wrote, however it seems that both of us read the same article, but gave it two very different interpretations (Mike?)

    Let me start with an analogy; medicine is a quite well established discipline, but you will give quite a different training to nurses, paramedics, doctors, and hospital managers. And certainly a doctor that will work on an ultra modern hospital needs a different training, than one that will work in a rural zone with very limited resources. A eyes doctor will require different training that a pediatrician, etc

    Mike said

    “Firstly, technical training on how to use RA software tools is essential.”

    “leakages seem to be some variation of these. What you want training to do is improve your efficiency and effectiveness at finding revenue leakage.”

    “Training in revenue assurance often seems centred around ensuring that the students have an adequate understanding of how a telecoms operator is “put together… I suggest any RA training you undertake needs to go beyond this and if it is too weighted in this area…”

    My claim is that Mikes observations are not an absolute truth, but that they are valid for meeting certain goals, when given to a certain audience, and not valid when you have other objectives, or audience. Just an example some operators want to focus on prevention techniques, and not on finding leakages.

    This does not say that the principle of RA should change between trainings, but that the same principles should be presented and emphasized in different ways.

    I also do not argue that any RA training is a good training for somebody in some circumstance. There are terrible, bad, and good courses, all I am saying is that the selection of an appropriate good training depends on your goals, audience and budget.

    Gadi

  • Hi Gadi,

    I think our difference of opinion comes down to what I was saying about a perfect world vs. an imperfect world. In a perfect world, I would not disagree with anything you wrote or have just written. Probably this means I think the world is a lot more imperfect than you!

    Your analogy is very helpful for explaining why I think the world is a lot less perfect than you. You mention training for health professionals. On the surface, it is a very good analogy. However, I feel there is only very major flaw: there is no comparison in terms of scale. The health profession is enormous and generates lots of money. The RA profession is the opposite end of the scale. The health profession can afford to invest large amounts in specialized training, creating different kinds of doctors and supporting staff. The RA profession cannot.

    Let us put some numbers to this. I will begin with some figures from my home country. The National Health Service in the UK serves a population of about 60m. It has a budget of about UK£105bn (US$174bn) and employees 1.3m people. That is Britain alone. Globally, the WHO estimates 13 physicians for every 10,000 people, or 8.4m physicians in total. In your country, Israel, there are 37 physicians for every 10,000 people. Africa averages 2 physicians for every 10,000 people. Global expenditure on health is about 8.7% of GDP, or about US$716 per person. Again, the amount in each country varies widely. So, health is an enormous business, but bigger in some places than others. If you were responsible for training doctors in poor countries, what would your strategy be? It would be train lots of the type of doctors who, in your analogy, are generalists and can work with limited resources. You would train a much higher proportion of generalist doctors because that is the most effective health strategy for your limited resources. Only in a richer country would you spend more on specializing people.

    The same principles of economic investment apply to RA, except we are far poorer still. Again, to borrow from your analogy, far more money must be spent globally on training pediatricians. Are there specialisms within pediatrics? Most probably. One can always keep on specializing further and further until you simply run out of money and it is no longer cost effective. That is where we disagree. Your position is that it is cost effective to produce lots of specialized training programs. I do not believe that. Your position is that we are like doctors in a rich country, each trained to do the best particular job we can, for the particular patient we have. My position is that we are country doctors, with limited resources, treating a whole variety of problems in a very simple, unfussy way. I would not train a send a doctor to Johns Hopkins to learn cosmetic surgery if I was planning to make him work in a refugee camp afterwards. The training needs to be appropriate and cost-effective for the end use.

    If nothing else, overspecialized training is a nonsense – somebody has to do the work, get the experience, create the science, and become an expert in a specialization and only then can that person turn around and train others. There are lots of medical specializations now, because invest in medicine has been going on for hundreds of years. A doctor a few hundred years ago would have been a generalist too, like a modern country doctor. All I am saying is we should be a little bit more humble about what we are doing in RA. We are not specialists who have benefited from the training of Johns Hopkins. We are country doctors, using simple and sensible techniques that will generate lots of benefits across a wide range of problems. We do not have the science to be much more. Because of that, pooling our limited resources into devising training programs based on good, common, universal techniques is more cost-effective than creating many specialist training programs. Over-specializing might make us feel good about ourselves, but is not really that useful for the range of patients we intend to cure!

  • Mike Willett

    Hi Gadi, Eric,

    I understand the issue Gadi is raising and would add that my own bias about RA came out in this (on re-reading) in that the blog was focussed (albeit subconsciously) around detection of leakage, using detailed data analytics. I agree one size doesn’t fit all as, for example, there is little point being trained on an RA tool if your job is to help product design prevent leakage from occuring.

    Having said that, my views were more in alignment with Eric’s subsequent comments. Though I have no statistics to back it up, my experience has been that most RA practioners are focussed on detection and finding leakage. Few would have the luxury of specialising in leakage detection in specific products, infrastructure or systems. As such, training needs to equip people with an understanding of the principles of effective RA work. This goes beyond showing them how to push buttons on existing systems and also beyond war stories about leakages in other operators that the trainer has worked with. Of course there is some value in these, but to be really valuable, training needs to discuss the issues and dilemnas faced with acheiving an RA outcome that meets the business need.

    What are these then? Well, I haven’t really crystalised that but let me throw you one key, and often relevant, example: sample testing vs full population.

    Some considerations of which one to choose weighing up data extraction costs (including effort), effort to acquire and configure business rules, time to process data, time to analyse exceptions, ensuring you will find all leakages vs finding all significant leakages and also what the opportunity cost may be of doing this activity vs doing something else.

    Good RA training will teach you to consider these things and give you a process for being able to identify the salient ones (and any other ones relevant to your business) for any detection orientated piece of work you choose to do.

    Mike