Marc Lehane on April 9, 2013
Many people think the answer to a business problem is implementing “better” software and getting rid of what already is installed or deployed. I often wonder what makes the software better to them. Is it because so many people use it? Because the software is implemented in so many Fortune 500 companies? Or is it because they read something, once, about how great this software was? From listening to customers, I sense that the reasons are typically something along those lines. But it very rarely is because how well this software fits their business.
The real question is: How did the business get here, and why did it decide that the processes and software they are using must be replaced? Have you hired a consultant like me to come in and make these determinations for you? Have you just shot from the hip and made this decision based on an increased frustration with the limitations of your current tools? How much involvement have your end users and true stakeholders had in coming to this conclusion?
As a business engineer, it’s my job to help companies do more than implement a standardized solution into which to shoehorn their business. It’s rare to find an out-of-the-box solution that fits every company’s needs. My goal is to help a business to develop a solution that works within its processes and basic structure – well, as long as the processes make sense. The remainder of my post discusses my beliefs regarding getting to this intersection of needs vs. believed needs and how to choose which direction to go from there.
It all starts with some indication that, in its current state, business or productivity is being compromised. Once we make that realization we need to do something, but what? To start, we must gather key players in the process and put them in a room. The meeting also needs at least one key influencer or decision maker who can implement agreed upon decisions and take the credit for saving the business millions. Additionally we need one or two outsiders who can see the business process through an unbiased perspective: a respected employee from within the organization, and someone with a history of organizational process review (maybe a Mendix business engineer?).
Once this super group is assembled and committed to improving the business, we can begin.
Let’s all get into a locked room surrounded by whiteboards or other means by which we can document everything about how the business works today. We then start with the entry point of the most important business process. Whether it’s a customer call, a fax, email, etc. Follow the business workflow, everywhere the process might take to complete our business cycle. Along the way, we need to document the steps, the time it takes to complete each task, and how many people are involved.
Once we make a high level outline as to how the business is run, we need to confirm the accuracy of the information we gathered.
How do we find out if our workflow documentation is right? Well, go to the source! Team members should sit with the people involved in our processes and find out if this is indeed what they are doing. It’s a very delicate situation, as many people who are interviewed or viewed are hesitant to give the truth of how things are truly done. It’s our job to educate them on our ultimate goal:, to make their lives easier or make them more valuable to our organization. The reduce section of my philosophy does not always mean reduction of the work force.
While we’re documenting our processes we need to recognize if the steps are absolutely vital (whether or not they add value), if they can be removed completely using our current system, or if a new solution could eliminate or make these steps easier. If so, we need to compile these potential time/cost savings to help us with ROI justification.
Once you have these items laid out in front of you, make it clear what the next move is. Remember, this could be a double edged sword. After this evaluation, you may realize that you do not have the justification to make a move away from your current system.
Typically, the first realization is that we are doing way too many things way too many times. Sometimes there are easy obstacles to remove, such as redundant entry of data, or relocating printers, or changing an approval process. These steps alone probably justify the time spent in this process.
Now let’s look at all of the items we’ve decided could be reduced and figure out how to proceed. Could a new solution truly eliminate our headaches? Are we just thinking “Pie in the sky?” Or is it somewhere in between?
Every business executive wants the business to run like a well-oiled machine. Often times we mistake activity for productivity, but activity doesn’t add value to our business. If everyone is running fast but in the wrong direction, are we even getting anywhere?
Everyone also wants to minimize effort, while maximizing customer satisfaction. Whether these customers are internal or external, it doesn’t matter.
How do we achieve everything now? If we realized that we can justify expenditure on a potential new system, how do we get there? First, establish a solid requirements document based on the research we’ve just done. With those goals in hand, we can research vendors that fit these needs.
In my experience, it’s truly rare to discover any vendor package that fits your business needs so closely that it’s a no-brainer purchase. Most business needs require customization; this is typically the scariest situation to get into. In the past, that meant you either hired people to write code forever to come up with a custom solution, or you bought an out- of-the-box solution and had it customized by the vendor. Internally designed-and-developed systems typically go over budget and way beyond deadlines. Customized out-of-the-box solutions are not upgradeable and you end up stuck in a legacy state. So what do you do?
Call in Mendix. All our solutions are build according your business requirements but can be easily changed and ongoingly supported with the Mendix App Platform. What about time-to-market? Our solutions are delivered as quickly, if not faster than an out of the box solution can figure out how to fit your round peg into their square whole. Are you concerned about scalability? What better than an agile provider who rapidly prototypes designs on the fly? Put software, deployment and implementation cost together you typically see a much better and faster ROI than packaged solutions. You won’t see Mendix advertised in every airport you go through, but you may get more business… which will put you on more planes visiting customers.
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