Posts Tagged ‘performance’

4 Ways to Empower a Customer

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Out-of-the-box software systems from big-name software vendors are always a big contender for CIOs and other business decision-makers when selecting the best systems to power their business. As a customer, choosing what systems to best manage your business can come with unexpected repercussions. Software vendors often develop their products to “capture” their customers, tying them to the system by isolating and creating dependencies on their product and services. These tactics can result in limitations that confine and even cripple the growth of their business.

A great software product shouldn’t have to encapsulate and limit their users just to keep them “hooked in”; the product itself should be useful and attractive enough for users to want to continue using the program. So what kinds of “capturing” tactics should you look out for, and what can you do to have greater control over the software solutions you choose to power your business?

1. Request to know what kinds of integration and compatibility options the system provides. – Software vendors often take an all-or-nothing approach that often limits integration with other software products and services. This lack of integration results in manual conversion of data between software that hinders the efficiency and capacity of your business.  The purchaser should be able to use non-competitive 3rd parties where applicable. If the system does not allow for integration and compatibility for the products you’re already using or hoping to use to power your business, evaluating whether that trade-off is worth it is a must.

2. Request for training, documentation, and configuration. - Oftentimes, software vendors will either develop a “black box” application without access to the code of the program, or give you a product so complicated that it requires a vendor expert. Without access to the inner workings of the software product, the customer is completely dependent on the vendor for how the system operates (and in turn, how your business is run).  By requesting training, configuration tutorials and system documentation, you can ensure you’re getting the most control over the product as you can.

3.  Request to know how the products work together and to access training materials on configuring them yourself. – Compatible software products from the same vendor provide additional software functionality to your system, but they can also leave the customer clueless as to how to use the products together if there is no knowledge or training transitioned between them. If you choose to use the original vendor across multiple products (which you may be forced to), it’s important to understand how you can use these compatibility options to get the most out of your business processing system.

4. Maintain as much direct contact with the vendor as possible, and make use of any feedback service the vendor offers. Large, out-of-the-box software products from major software vendors rarely provide all of the functionality that you need to run your business exactly the way you want (despite the large price tag you dished out for a name brand product). Often times, the packaged system will come with plenty of bells and whistles, but falls short when it comes down to the real tools you need to build your business. Yet these large software vendors rarely allow the customers to direct the development of the products they buy, limiting the opportunities for feedback, compromise, and criticism of what they use (and put up with).  There are no guarantees that large-scale vendors will pay any heed to feedback, but it is the customer’s right to have an active voice wherever possible.

7 Ways to Get the Most out of your Off-Shore Team

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

In the IT industry, off-shore teams have been a major player in the productivity and the sheer work-force of a company. Yet companies continue to have mixed (or worse, no) approach to utilizing their potential for the greatest output. Some companies are happy with adopting a process-over-people approach, satisfied with consistent, standardized productivity in exchange for high turnover rates and impersonal communications; others demand a more robust, personal approach that maximizes individual efficacy and work ethic. In my two major successes with off-shore, I’ve come to realize the differences in productivity and quality lies in the way we manage all of our employees.

We believe that it is important to invest in human capital both in house and off shore. I’ve worked with many major outsourcing firms in India (as well as worked for one) and most have a “process over people” approach. Their main priorities are the hiring practices, training procedures, development process and rates (per hour/day) and not the quality of the individuals or throughput of expected output/deliverable. In my experience with these outsourcing firms, the ones that are the most successful are the ones where the people are treated like people. Point is — they are people too and when treated with incentives that reward their work and input, like anyone, they are far more productive.

How we got the most out of our off-shore teams:

1. Treat them like your own: By treating our off shore workers as if they were our on-site employees, they are enthusiastic about their contribution to our product and work more efficiently to meet our company goals. Some of the ways in which we have treated off-shore like our own are:

  • Pay for company outings
  •  Create a bonus pool to compensate them for their extra efforts

2. Invest in cultivating face to face relationships: By creating and investing in more personal relationships with the off-shore team, they not only feel a greater morale and loyalty towards the company, but will recognize themselves as a part of the big picture. Ways we’ve cultivated face-to-face relationships:

  • Brought them to the US to work in our headquarters in Edison, NJ
  • Sent our employees to India to work with the off shore team
  • Invited them to company meetings and parties when they were here in the U.S.

3. Conducting quarterly reviews to make sure the company and individual targets are met ensures that both the company and the employee are growing and getting the most out of each other

4. Real-time communication as much as possible – skype, IM, video, calls, etc.

5. Retain the good people: I strongly believe that the range of production you get out of an average person vs. good person vs. great vs. elite triples at each level. So, the range of productivity from average to elite = up to 27 times greater (3x3x3). So, when I get the good, great and elite people on my projects, I don’t want to trade them in for average (or god forbid “below average”).

6. Make sure everyone sees the big picture. Sub-teams are always necessary to break down tasks and projects, but they have to feel part of the overall team and understand the big picture. By creating an environment where they feel like an integral part of achieving the company’s overall objective, off-shore developers will take greater responsibility for the quality and success of the product.

7. Let the senior people do the work: many cultures want to be in “management” and not do the development, design or testing – incent people to “do the work” at all levels, and everyone will work that much harder to produce something they can be proud of.

Darwinism of Innovation: The Evolution of Automation and the Software Development Industry

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In 50 years, will we still have armies of programmers coding business systems for companies? Will it still be necessary?

In the history of industrial growth, the replacement of tedious production processes with automation is essential to the progression of invention and ingenuity. But we seem to have forgotten this key to innovation in software development. We are so caught up in creating new processes, new languages, new “big system” solutions to address the same old problems of tedious code-writing in traditional software development that we forget the true purpose of this industry in the first place – to replace tedium and inefficiencies of the paper-pushing era. We seem to have it stuck in our heads that software development is too complicated to automate.

The key to replacing expensive, labor-intensive and entrenched systems is not by engaging in expensive, labor-intensive big-bang projects, but in increasing productivity, flexibility, and function-leveraging. This is industrial Darwinism at its finest: instead of replacing one inefficient system with another, find a solution that eradicates the costliest, labor-intensive processes altogether. In short, creating dynamic software that will automate technical coding so that the user can focus on the functionality and conceptual use of the software is the true innovative key to the future of the software development industry.

Here at FAST, we have done just that. As a part of a four-person newly hired team of university graduates, we were assigned the daunting task of creating a fully functional application with FAST 8x in just four days, inclusive of training, configuration, building, and presentation. The exercise focused on showcasing how software development automation can achieve what normally would take a team of developers, analysts, and engineers months of code-writing to accomplish. None of us had any previous experience with software development; only one of us had any true technical knowledge of software design, and we were granted access to one engineer to assist us in the configuration process. By the end of the week, we had presented a production ready SOA based set of components that included 40+ database tables, 4 components, full user interface w/20+ business processes, 100+ web services, integration into other applications, 5,000+ test scripts (that are on a nightly regression cycle), technical documentation, and a how-to guide.

This proof-of-concept exercise is a reflection of what we’ve been doing for months on a larger scale with our life insurance client. In less than nine months, we were able to build an entire suite of legacy-replacing components which included 800 database tables, 35 components, full user interface w/25+ business processes, 700+ web services, integration into other applications, 13,000+ test scripts, technical documentation, and a how-to guide. This legacy system modernization process, which would have normally taken approximately three to five years to develop traditionally, is a remarkable step towards the breakthrough technology necessary to take software development to the next level.

Resolutions

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

It’s that time of year again.  Have you made your New Year’s resolution?   The practice gets a lot of attention – but it’s always in the context of the individual.   Can’t companies make resolutions?  Yes, I’m aware that business entities operate differently than individuals but surely they can join in on the fun.  Not all changes need to come from upper management.  Generally speaking, the smaller your company the easier it is to affect change in your workplace.  But even those working in large corporations can take it upon themselves to make improvements.

I’ve collected some of the most popular resolutions to see how they can be applied to companies in ways that do not require a massive company wide reorganization or even managerial responsibilities.

Lose Weight

Ah, perhaps the most popular resolution of all-time.  The company equivalent: trim the fat, that which serves no purpose.  Ditch what is rather useless and replace with something new.  It could be a copier, a server, or an outdated version of pre-packaged software.

Manage Stress

Individuals can become stressed, and so can departments.   Is a shortage of developers causing problems?   Are people happy with the furniture, lighting, and seating arrangements?  Does your vacation policy encourage employees to take time off?  There are dozens of ways to reduce stress in the office place, and quite often taking action increases productivity.

Take a Trip

Is there a client you’ve neglected to visit?  Perhaps some off-shore folks would benefit from a trip to the US – or maybe a flight in the other direction for an on-shore resource is in order.  Upper management won’t necessarily know if there’d be benefit in people from different locations coming together.  The employees generally do know (or know first).

Volunteer

Does your company give back to the community in some way?  Perhaps it’s time for another blood drive, a scholarship program, or a community service initiative.  This is most definitely something any employee can drive – it need not come from the top.

Pay off Debt

Take action on paying off technical debt – the obligation that a software organization incurs when it chooses a design or approach that’s expedient in the short term but increases complexity and is more costly in the long term.  Every software organization has it.  You can pay now, or pay later.  Pay now.  While large endeavors do require budget, it can be tackled in ways that allow employees to slowly refactor that which they understand well.

Get a Better Education

Does your workforce know what it needs to know?  Are you cross-training?  If there’s room in the budget for formal training, encourage employees to apply.  And if there isn’t, having employees conduct training at lunch time costs virtually nothing.  Documentation, while not a complete substitute for formal or informal training, is often lacking.  Stressing its importance and demanding solid write-ups almost always pays off in the long run.

Quit Smoking

More generically, kick a bad habit.  Individuals have bad habits of all sorts, as do workplaces.  What bad habits can you find in your office?  Meetings, in general, are often thought of as time wasters.  Do your meetings start on time or do people stroll in 5 minutes after the designated start times?  Are people dialing into conference calls while driving or from locations where it’s difficult to give undivided attention?  Is there a designated scribe who types up the notes for distribution to the participants and other interested in the topic?  Do people listed as optional consider themselves optional?  There are plenty of ways to make meetings more productive.

Take a look around and you’ll see there is room for improvement everywhere – not just in your personal life, and not just in your own work life, but in the workplace.  Everyone from the CEO down can take the initiative to better an organization.  Are there any resolutions you’d like your company to make this year?

Jim Buckridge

FAST

Napkins

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Last week I grabbed lunch at a local fast food place.  I knew the drill.  I ordered, paid, and filled my mega-cup with Diet Coke.  Everything went as planned, until I attempted to get a napkin or two.  Napkin dispensers are brilliantly designed to dispense napkins one at a time.  But there is one simple caveat:  the napkins must be placed in the dispenser properly.

When the napkins are placed in the dispenser backwards, upside-down, or backwards and upside-down the customer cannot obtain just one napkin.  The customer is forced to use the brute force method of jamming a hand into the dispenser and to grab a wad of napkins. There are two problems with this.  First, the customer is inconvenienced.  The inconvenience may not lead to a loss of repeat business, but it is an inconvenience nonetheless.  Second, there’s the issue of wasted napkins and its associated cost.  It’s not a huge cost; however, pennies do add up to dollars.

The real question is this – why were the napkins placed in the dispenser improperly in the first place?  It was a simple task.  Did the employee not know how napkin dispensers work?  Was the employee trained properly?  Did the employee not care?  It could be ignorance or apathy, but when your job is to put napkins in a dispenser it should be done correctly.  After all, it’s not that hard.

On the surface it’s easy to criticize something simple like this – a menial straightforward task carried out improperly.  With some additional thought, there’s a lesson here for everyone – for those at the very top of an organization to the minimum wage employees.

What part of my daily routine am I not performing correctly or efficiently?  What am I glancing over that inconveniences my customers in some way?  Is there something I am doing that wastes resources?  Am I unknowingly inconveniencing my coworkers on a regular basis?

I may not be filling the napkins, but I might be glancing over some things without much thought.  With some introspection and honesty, there’s room for improvement.    As an example, why do I wait until the last minute (or beyond) to submit my timesheet?  It doesn’t take much additional effort to submit it daily or at least on time.  I’m generally punctual, but it’s equally important to give someone my undivided attention.  Too often my mind is still focused on what I was looking at two minutes earlier.  Both result in inconveniences and ineffective use of resources – specifically others’ time.

So what are your napkins?

Jim Buckridge
FAST