What Drives Our Mission?

The new year means it’s time for a look back, even as we’re moving forward. I’ve had more than a few people ask me about the breakthrough thinking behind solutions like ExAM (which I introduced in a blog post on the MB&A corporate site last month).

Like a lot of comparable consultancies, our roots are in management consulting — but with a heavy technical slant. When I say technical, I don’t necessarily mean inundating clients with IT for its own sake. Rather, our mindset was how to use those tools to get a better understanding of organizational operations — and therefore optimize those operations.

Sure, that’s an objective many in our field share, and we learned how effective that kind of thinking can be once consultants and clients share the same goal. For us, that was improved operations thanks to reliable, real-time data collection and command. Our emphasis, from the start, has always been on helping any organization best discover, access and take advantage of its information. It’s the goal that helped us get client leaders and employees see us — the consultant — as an ally.

Tension between consultants and employees is pretty traditional, but our success came from putting that higher goal of building an extensive, effective data management solution as the top priority. We wanted clients to realize that they were very likely sitting on an internal goldmine of information. It was just tough to access, and even, at times, unknown. Find a way to get all that data gathered and routed through the organization and companies would become, in a sense, enlightened — being able to make much better informed business decisions that would have a direct impact on the bottom line.

This is how we got so intensely involved in Salesforce to the point that it went from being something we recommended to a the platform on which we built our business, the products we sell and services we provide our clients. Today we do less broad based management consulting and almost all hands on Salesforce implementation, app development and of course supporting our own Salesforce AppExchange products like ExAM4Inspections.com.

Today, we don’t come into organizations telling them we are bringing in some paradigm shifting approach to IT. We just concentrate on helping clients get the most out of information they were already gathering, we help them operationalize it and most of all we help them embrace the flexibility that comes with the Salesforce platform.The success we’ve had working with HUD’s HVC program is a perfect example.

Critical to its mission, HUD was already well-versed in gathering information. Their challenge was helping a widespread team of inspectors unify inspection criteria and get consistent in their evaluation process. Working with us didn’t change the reasons why they performed housing inspections — it made those inspections easier to execute, and it streamlined and universalized evaluation of results. Our impact was very concrete because it had a positive effect on standing procedures and protocols.

That’s a guiding philosophy at MBA. We’re not trying to find unknown problems as a result of some kind of in-depth IT performance audit. Our solutions address known needs for operational improvement. Clients come to us ready for answers to specific challenges. We’re helping meet known data management requirements.

What’s more, because our solutions are not built on a stiff, inflexible framework, we can customize the data collection and management process with a near-infinite combination of inquiry designs. We can map back to existing databases, preserving the value of any existing data, and we can get it all to play nice with the new information that’s coming in.

Coming up, we’re going to talk about how this capability can work for organizations as large as a major Federal government agency, or as small as a city school district. Regardless, the value is — as we hope to demonstrate — indisputable.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Measuring matters

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When I was little I made a lot of important decisions based on color. Choosing between a red shirt and a blue? I chose blue every time. Blue was a better color. Between Icee pops? Same thing. What can I say I liked blue.

 

Over time I learned that for somethings color wasn’t a great indicator of performance. Choosing a grocery line? It almost never pays to choose based on the shirt color of the last person in line. Typically I like to choose these lines on the basis of current line length and estimated shopping cart items. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t but as far as informal decision support metrics it does ok.

 

Most of us leverage these types of learned strategies everyday. We make choices about what lane to drive in, who to ask for help and where to go next based on models we have developed over time. These models become more fixed over time, although most of us have adjusted our models here and there to account for things like the “excessively talkative checkout clerk.”

 

The decisions we make in the office should be no different. They should be based on models that we build up over time and are updated regularly to take into account for new inputs. I think one of the biggest gaps many organizations have is that by failing to develop formal decision models over time, they fail to understand what led to success and what led to failure and of course because it is informal nobody can learn from either.

 

I’m certainly not advocating for turning every decision into an overly formal exercise in data gathering and evaluation that leads to analysis paralysis. I do however think that identifying key decisions that your organization makes repeatedly and then developing set criteria for evaluation can lead to improved decision making over time. It certainly does hurt to have this information available to others within the organization as well.

 

When we go started with ExAM (ExAM4Enterprise.com) our focus was on data collection and analysis with the belief that by making it easier to collect information about their organization and then helping them to develop decision models based on that information we could be part of changing the way organizations did their business and help them achieve a higher level of performance.

 

What we didn’t know then was that it would lead to so much work in the inspections and compliance space. Looking back at it now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Most inspections are exercises in data gathering that are supposed to support decision making (No working refrigeration, No Food Service permit).

 

In the end I’m happy that we’ve managed to help so many organizations support these types of decisions. Unfortunately, outside of compliance I think that this type of ongoing evaluation and decision support that is talked about more than implemented. Getting better results requires identifying key decisions, the information required to support the decision and ideally a method for weighing (scoring) that information to support decision making.

 

Of course if all else fails, you can always fall back on choosing blue.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Every Kickoff needs a Pre Kickoff

Everybody loves a good kickoff meeting and a lot of planning goes into making them go well. I agree…a great kickoff meeting gets everything moving in the right direction. However, I think the process should actually be backed up a step. Many times before starting an engagement I will ask for a Pre-Kickoff meeting. The purpose of this is threefold:

  1. Facilitate discovery – How many times have you started working on a project only to find that you left a critical stakeholder out of the first three meetings? Ever discover that the solution you are working on fixes the problem at hand but exacerbates a problem somewhere else? A good Pre-Kickoff provides enough free flowing dialog to help capture these types of scoping issues.
  2. Determine the appetite for change – Every transformation is going to have real and perceived winners and losers. This is a fact. You can sugar coat it, but doing so doesn’t make that fact go away. Having an open forum helps you understand where people feel they fall. Once you get a sense of where people are actually going to fall or perceive they are going to fall in the “Winners → Loser continuum” you can work to address that perception or reality.
  3. Gather the stuff – Yep…you can’t have transformation without stuff. The bigger the effort the more stuff that is usually involved. Creating an inventory of helpful materials can be a key step in ensuring that your project isn’t a net new effort. Getting the reports people are using to manage the business today, process models, system diagrams and other items helps you to get a jump on your project. It also sends a signal that you value the input of the existing stakeholders and the effort they put in before you showed up.

Pre Kickoff Homework

I admit it, I am a pretty informal guy. I like my pre-kickoff meetings to be pretty informal events, but a little structure isn’t a bad thing. Here are ten things I ask people to bring to my pre-kickoff:

  1. Your existing reports and management tools. This helps us understand how you are managing your business today so we can help facilitate this in the future. Discussing a particular spreadsheet can often uncover the manual, multi-system processes lurking beneath a management approach.
  2. A conceptualization of the role your organization, group, etc plays in the overall value chain. Organizational transformation needs to happen in the context of the big picture. Your Pre-Kickoff should play a key role in helping people think about it in those terms.
  3. Your stuff. Got process models, system diagrams, etc? Bring them. No matter how rough they help us get insight into how you are thinking about the As-Is and To-Be environment.
  4. Your questions. If you don’t come into this meeting with some burning questions something is wrong. If you are at the meeting you will be affected by this…if you don’t ask questions I can only assume you aren’t doing your homework.
  5. Your listening ears. I try to focus on the quiet folks in my Pre-Kickoffs because they are typically being underserved. I always ask participants to remember that multi stakeholder projects require everyone’s participation to be successful and that means listening to others input in addition to providing your own. Projects too often serve the squeaky wheel.
  6. Your own voice. On the other side of the folks who can’t say enough are those who aren’t saying anything. When you are contemplating doing something,new asking questions is a natural part of the process. Verbal participation is a must.
  7. Someone who actually does the work. Pre kickoff meetings and planning meetings tend to be dominated by managers who are often not quite as up to speed on how things actually work as those in the trenches.
  8. One person instead of two. Every time you add a person to a meeting it becomes less productive. Nobody knows why but it just happens. So keep it at a minimum. I know I just said to bring more people in number seven, but really less is more so choose wisely.
  9. Food and beverage. I always get a laugh out of this because of my size, but I hate breaking for lunch during a day long session. It destroys the whole flow and many times the best bits of the meeting happen over a sandwich tray in the meeting room.
  10. An open mind. The whole point of a Pre Kickoff is to get a level set across all parties and kick the tires on the way you are thinking about potential solutions. Nothing kills this faster than someone whiteboarding the solution end to end in the first 30 minutes of the day.

In the end Pre Kickoffs are about sharing perspective, finding the gray spaces and ensuring you understand the complete problem statement. Sure that includes talking about solutions, but don’t try to “get ahead” by getting a jumpstart on the solution or you may find you’ve missed the value of the Pre Kick Off completely.

 At the end of the day a successful Pre-Kickoff may leave you with more questions than answers but that is a good thing. One of the major goals of the session should be to leave knowing you have uncovered all of the questions and identified the gray spaces so that you can plan your kickoff and project to address them.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Back to The Lab again

Exterior_patio_of_the_National_Ignition_Facility

I went back to Lawrence Livermore national laboratory again this week and this time I got to get a tour of the National Ignition Facility…aka the most powerful laser on earth. The simple scale of the facility is awe inspiring as is the science. We are talking about a laser capable of replicating the birth of a small star. Commissioned in 1999 the lab is a cutting edge facility but one that brings home the pace of innovation across the globe but particularly in a facility like this. One of the things we were shown was the the next generation laser. At a tenth the size of the current version it is capable of being loaded onto a semi truck rather than being housed in a massive facility. Looking back across time this “tiny” laser’s output would have required a mile long facility in the 1980s.

For myself and Andi the working with the lab to develop a next generation proposal system has been exciting because it has let us feel like we are a small part of helping deliver scientific benefits that a place like LLNL a is uniquely capable of providing to a broader audience and to ensuring that the best use of this limited resource is made in order to ensure that every shot (firing of the laser) counts. Working with a dedicated team within the lab we believe that the social capabilities of Salesforce a well as its flexibility will help the lab not only make tough decisions on how to expend resources but also enable outreach to a broader community of scientists and institutions in order to bring in proposals from around the world that ultimately push science farther, faster than ever before.
When you think about it for any institution the proposal management process is critical whether in the realm of academic research, as it pains to public sector contracting and in the everyday commercial contracting occurring in businesses large and small across this country. Casting a broader net means more competitive proposals, more ideas and if done correctly better capabilities to vet those proposals such that the broader reach doesn’t become overwhelming.

This was our last week at the lab on this project. I’ll miss the people and the atmosphere. It is truly a unique place that is is chasing answers to some of the most complex lines of scientific inquiry that exist today. Playing even a small role in that is something I will always remember and treasure.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Three things to think about before you build your next app

Everybody seems to be building an app these days and we spend a lot of our time helping those people achieve that goal. However, I am consistently surprised by how little thought has gone into basic things like the platform the app should be built on. The following isn’t an exhaustive list of things to consider, but it is a good starting point to help you frame your thinking when you start thinking about building an app for your organization:

1. Do other people use it? The community of people who are also building and using apps on your platform makes a big difference. It contributes to determining how available talent will be to work on your app, how comfortable people will be with the user interface and what the network of other apps that you may be able to connect to bring more value to your stakeholders will be. Bottom line the value of your app is in some part tied to how popular it is to build on top of the same platform.

2. Is it secure? This is a huge consideration that often doesn’t get the same attention as other factors until you start talking to the security folks in your organization. Then secure connections, two factor authentication and a myriad of other considerations start to get really critical.  Unfortunately, this is often well after the decision on where to be built has happened.

3. Can it scale and evolve? Even if your app is built in a cloud environment it is important to take scalability into account. Can you go from tens of users to thousands in a reasonable time line? Do you really get the economy of scale the cloud promises? Will success ultimately mean failure because it comes with lengthening response times and an inability to meet new user requirements?

The above are just a starting point, but I believe these simple questions are a good starting point for thinking about what to do BEFORE you decide to build your organization’s next app. If you want help thinking through the above get in touch.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Using Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) to provide better customer service

Webinar: Service Cloud – Understanding Knowledge Management

One of the things most of us have experienced is the “newbie” customer service rep. Stuttering, sputtering and robotically reading from a script the rep stumbles through a time sucking call that inevitably ends with you getting disconnected en route to tier two support.

Whether it’s calling a company about a product or a government organization about a citizen service it’s always frustrating to hear confusion on the other end of the phone.

Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) is a methodology that focuses on knowledge as the key component of the customer service organization and it has been linked to significant decreases in the time it takes to onboard new staff, resolve customer issues and increases in customer satisfaction.

Salesforce’s Knowledge is KCS verified solution that can and should be married into your entire case management process. In particular organizations that have or require complex, compliance driven or standardized interactions with stakeholders can benefit from Knowledge. This video is part of a series built out of a training session on configuring Knowledge to support a generic Customer Service Knowledge Management process.

I think it becomes very easy to understand why knowledge management needs to be a consideration at almost every step in a modern case management process. When you start to look at each step in the case life cycle the opportunities to either build, edit, provide feedback or leverage become obvious.

 

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Customer Contact Forms: Reducing complexity is important for everyone

I hate it when I’m on a company’s website looking for help or support and I reach the Contact Us form and it stretches for miles. It makes me suspect that they are raising the bar for engaging by making me write War and Peace to submit a question or begin an inquiry. Given the huge focus on customer engagement I doubt this is actually the case. I know from having been on the other side of the form is that what often happens is that in a misguided attempt to ensure proper routing of customer requests the organization’s asks for too much information and loses the ability to effectively engage with customers.

I have included a video above with my quick breakdown of Publix’s Contact Us form which I think is a pretty good example of hiding complexity from the end user.

They do it in two ways:

1. They reduce the amount of overall information they collect

2. They hide the complexity of certain customer paths unless the customer chooses to go down that route.

For example hiding they hide information that is required to complete certain menu options unless the user specifically chooses the option. This reduces complexity and presents an overall interface that is fairly easy to navigate and understand with a low bar to customer engagement.

Of course I’d like to see it even simpler but for every piece of information that you don’t ask for up front you risk pushing users down an improper internal organizational path or delaying the handling of the inquiry. So what do I suggest? Here are the rules I try to follow when gathering customer information:

1. Gather the least amount of information you can to support the requirement in your first engagement with a customer. This lowers the bar to engagement.

2. Remember that you need to gather enough information to accomplish the requirement. This is a balancing act.

3. Hide the complexity of multiple routes to customer objectives if possible. Remember that the customer likely doesn’t know how your business works.

4. Customer choice hierarchies are bad! How many times have you waded through three tiers of drop down menus to try to find the appropriate option? Just give me one big list, I don’t know how you think!

5. Speak their language. Unless your customers are all expected to be experts in your business they need to be spoken to in a way they can understand.

6. Engage! Don’t be afraid to reach out to customers and ask them how hard it is for them to contact you or to find the information they are looking for.

This is a pretty short list that covers the key points for starting to achieve better customer engagement from your contact forms. Engage, experiment and look around. The world is full of these forms and once you start paying attention you will start to recognize how much the way different companies engage with you even in simple ways like contact forms shapes your opinion of the overall interaction.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.