10 ways to use “little data” to help your organization make better decisions

It seems like every time you turn around these days someone is talking about big data. Big data is changing the way we live and work as people find correlations between things that in years past would have never been connected. While I have no doubt that the way that big data has a big role to play in helping organizations look at the enormous complexity of their operations I think people often miss the mark in their planning by not focusing on “little data.” What is “little data?”— it’s that Thin Layer of information that makes a difference when it comes time to make decisions for our organization.
Little data is the stuff that is the stuff you absolutely have to know because it drives organizational decision making. It’s little because while the volume of information that could be and is captured in most organizations is huge, most of it is just noise. It is crowding out the stuff that really matters. The things that help you make decisions every day about investments, programs, projects and resources. The Thin Layer is difference making information, its three columns from one spreadsheet and four from another. It is the things you absolutely have to get right in order to steer the ship. In your search for the Thin Layer you should avoid simply accepting all the default columns on the management report. People only have so much mental space…use it wisely!
In the same fashion organizations only have so many resources so use them wisely as well. Don’t spend time and effort processing unnecessary data, building unnecessary reports, or managing data quality on things that don’t matter. That time and effort is better put to the decision making itself. One of the biggest failures I see in decision support is that people spend so much time gathering information and building the decision making process that they never actually get to making the decisions.
In today’s resource constrained business environments good decision making processes start light weight and become more mature and robust through iterations. I like to think in terms of two week sprints with six week iterative time boxes as we build decision support systems. These short time frames ensure that you don’t get so caught up in thinking big that you fail to deliver or over build. So how do you get started? I’ve put together a simple 10 step approach to getting the most out of the Thin Layer.
Building the Thin Layer of Information that Really Matters
  1. If you haven’t already figure out your information marketplace, start by figuring out what the critical decisions are in your organization. 
  2. Once you know what decisions need to be supported its time to figure out who needs to be involved.
  3. Work with the decision makers to decompose thise decisions into the information you need to support those decisions. Hint: They probably already have some reports they are using now to support decision making.
  4. Work together to determine the best way to provide that information in order to support decision making (form, access, messaging, timeline).
  5. Identify the sources of information required to support the decisions and an approach to gathering it consistently and accurately (Accuracy is critical!)
  6. Pull it all together including the people, processes, technology and information.
  7. Make decisions using the information to drive them. The whole point of this exercise was making better data driven decisions. It only works if you actually use it.
  8. Measure results. This can be tricky, but understanding the outcomes of your decision making helps drive the next iteration of your decision making process. 
  9. Make changes. Decision making processes are living things and need updating in order to be successful. Make sure you are capturing your outcomes so you can update your processes accordingly. 
  10. Every once in awhile repeat the entire process. As your organization changes you are going to have new decisions to support and new people to work with in order to support them. Having an annual or other regular time frame for re-evaluating your information environment is critical to long term organizational growth. 

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

Good service is good sales

I live and die by screen sharing and today I died by it. After upgrading my desktop mac to Yosemite with no issues on Saturday I decided to break my own rule and bring the laptop along as well. I didn’t have any really good reason, I just was sitting around and decided to do it. Bad idea!

Monday rolled around and I headed into my first virtual meeting – a working session for our Salesforce solution -ExAM4Government.com. My screen sharing program of choice (5 years ago) died on startup. This began a series of desperate attempts to Google a solution followed by canceling the rest of the days meetings including a sales call. This is bad. Of course the first thing I learned (for about the 50th time) is never, never, never upgrade both machines at the same time. No matter how convenient the timing is or how cool the new features are…it is just a bad idea.

The second thing I learned happened on the desperate support call I made. While on hold I began looking at other screen sharing software. The options are many now several years after I did my first evaluation. I started thinking…maybe it was time to try something new. However once I got on the phone, the gentleman (we’ll call him Hector) was great. He seemed legitimately interested in my well being and dedicated to finding a solution no matter what.

As the time slipped away Hector stayed with me and seemed to really understand not just their software but my issues. He worked through what seemed like a pretty logical progression of steps before finally moving me up a tier in support, where they began to dissect the logs from my crashes.

The whole time I was worried about the next days meetings. What should I do? I literally had my credit card out and was simply debating between my final screen sharing options when it hit me. I needed to give Hector and Scott (Tier 2 Support) a chance to solve this before just stepping off into another product. These guys were working hard and really cared. I decided to wait it out.

Finally, after another 20 minutes or so they got it solved. Changing a setting here and there and I was back in business. I’ve been a customer of this company’s for at least five years now and I’ll continue on. Maybe I should give the other options a chance. Maybe I should do a real evaluation. I won’t do it though. They won me back as a customer with their support. I have had plenty of bad support experiences, so the good ones really stick out.

If you really want customers for life, support them like you care and stick with them until you close the case.

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

Jiu Jitsu for the Office: Don’t think try. Think do.

rhall

One of the things that my Jiu Jitsu instructor Ryan Hall stresses repeatedly in classes is the importance of believing in what you are doing and expecting success. When he goes to execute a technique on someone, he knows it will work and therefore it does.

Beyond the martial arts this idea is alive and well. I took a class on Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) in college and the instructor said in similar fashion that the key to reading Old English like a pro was selling that you knew what it should sound like. After all nobody else in class had been around long enough to tell you with any authority that you were saying it wrong.

The ideas above are mostly about confidence and how it can profoundly impact the outcomes we achieve from our efforts. You hear all the time that the first person you need to sell on an idea is yourself. I am a big believer in this. If you don’t believe why should anyone else?

Getting others to by into your idea of course starts with having a good idea. But once you get that part right you still need to convince others in most cases to get that idea into practice. This starts with believing in it enough that others can sense your confidence and feel comfortable buying in themselves.

The next time you are heading to a big meeting armed only with a powerpoint and a great idea…take the time to remind yourself of why the idea is great. Make sure you have yourself convinced before you try to convince others. Once you have that firmly in mind speak with confidence. It may not make your idea better, but it will make it a lot more likely to carry the day at the meeting.

*Please do not use the technique above to get your bad ideas approved. Only use these powers for good.

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

Lightweight project management made easy with Asana and Harvest

Asana & Harvest = Better Project Management

Asana & Harvest = Better Project Management

As we have grown and scaled one of the biggest challenges we have faced is ensuring that we maintain the type of collaborative environment we had when everyone sat in the same small office in Arlington, Virginia. Now with team members, partners and clients spread across time zones and the world we have had to work a little harder to keep everyone working towards the same goals. We’ve tried a bunch of different tools and combinations of tools with varying levels of success. While I’m sure this is something we will continue to evolve over time, I think what we have now is worth sharing.

We recently started using Asana  and Harvest to manage our consulting services projects and internal product development. Asana is a web and mobile application designed to enable teamwork without email and Harvest is a time tracking tool that tightly integrates with Asana. The combination is a great lightweight project management suite that while probably not capable of handling a heavyweight project management style marries nicely into our very agile and lightweight execution process. Basically Asana lets me assign tasks to team members, track progress and if necessary bring partners or other external stakeholders into a project simply by inviting them in. These partners can be provided access to just the task they are assigned, the project or the entire workspace (all projects).

One a project member has been assigned a task the first step for that person is always to estimate the time to completion and register it as a comment in against the task. When scope changes or if the assigned resource is going to exceed that time frame we ask that they provide an amended time estimate and an explanatory comment.  This is not meant to be punitive, in fact we expect 10% deviance within task estimates. The goals is to improve our estimating internally so that we can provide better estimates to our management team and to our clients. Understanding over time the level of effort associated with a particular type of UI change, data exchange or configuration task enables us to bid projects more competitively and understand where we may want to invest in order to reduce repetitive tasks. As a side note we also ask that resources request more information if they can’t provide an estimate without additional information. This helps us tune the type and level of detail provided by business analysts, project managers and other team members feeding requirements into the process.

Once the estimate has been provided its time to start working! Team members “check into a tasks” which directly tracks their time against the project.

Check in to track time.

Check in to track time.

This enables me to have literally up to the minute understanding of how our resources are being expended and better manage our budgets and client side execution. If a team member forgets to check into the task, they can simply log into Harvest directly and put their time directly against the assigned task.

Add time directly to Harvest

Add time directly to Harvest

As the time flows in I’m able to track what our resource means from a budget standpoint and maintain a tight control over resource allocation. For clients requiring weekly status reports I can automate much of the reporting requirement as the time keeping system (Harvest) also pulls in data from project management system (Asana) in order to enable a richer detail around what is actually being done during time keeping increments.

That’s really all there is to it. Our rollout of both was literally done over a weekend without any special consulting services needed. I simply imported pulled our existing projects list into Asana and then followed the very simple instructions for integrating the tool with Harvest. A month later the system is functioning fairly simply with very little instruction having been required to onboard internal staff or team members on the use of the application.

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

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.

Be Sociable, Share!