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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ten rules for developing knowledge management solutions

One of the hot topics in many organizations right now is knowledge management. Whether its in the context of customer service, business strategy, human resources, or information technology managing knowledge is a serious concern in most organizations. Whenever one of these projects or programs is getting ramped up the temptation is always there to try to create the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom. DON’T DO IT!
K.I.S.S is the right approach for knowledge management, especially as you get ramped up. Trying to do too much out of the gate or getting overly complex is where you run into trouble.
With that said I here are my ten rules for developing knowledge management solutions:
10. Keep it simple – People want a solution, not to be impressed by your eloquence or wit.
9. Keep it relevant – People care less about why than how.
8. Keep it standard – People like consistency. It’s boring but effective.
7. Keep it short (but complete) – People don’t want to click through to many hyperlinks or read too many articles in order to solve their problem.
6. Keep it accurate – People don’t need to find very many wrong answers before they stop looking for the right one.
5. Keep adding to it – People want answers to today’s problem today.
4. Keep it small – People don’t want to search thousands of answers in search of their answer, prune aggressively and often.
3. Keep it communal – People don’t just want your knowledge, broaden your community and lighten the load.
2. Keep it measured – People want the best answers, have an approach to understanding which answers are working.
1. Keep it easy – People can’t manage these things on their own, make sure you have the right tools.

Need help implementing your Salesforce Service Cloud or Knowledge Management Solution? Try our six weeks to success approach to Six Weeks to Success Cloud Quick Start

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.

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3 reasons the cloud is more secure than you think…

6 weeks to Salesforce Nirvana

When you are in the cloud business (as we are) you get used to people making some pretty bold statements about scalability, agility, cost and all the other miracles that are supposed to come with “moving to the cloud.” However one thing that I think goes unmentioned often times is that enhanced security may be something that comes along with a move to the cloud. Despite the fact that security is among the biggest worries for new clients moving to the cloud, I think security is often enhanced when you move to the cloud. I’m going to base the following statements on the Salesforce model so please don’t think what I say here applies everywhere but I think some of the same concepts apply. Here are three reasons why:

1. Nobody wants to be on the front page of the Washington Post for the wrong reason. In the case of a FedRamp approved vendor like Salesforce that provides a “walled garden” approach to development in the cloud in the way AOL did for the internet so many years ago the cloud is truly a safer place. This is because Salesforce enforces strict security policies for development on all of its tenants. After all if MB&A makes a serious mistake in the way we build an application on the platform we may be in the story but Salesforce will be the headline.

2. All the solutions are built on one solution. Cloud platform vendors like Salesforce that have a consistent infrastructure, patching, and security model based on economies of scale and a relatively homogenous IT environment are easier to secure. Even when you do almost 2 billion transactions a day across 130,000 clients like Salesforce you still can have less complexity within your infrastructure than are involved in a place like the Department of Agriculture with more than 700 systems each with its own infrastructure, support contractors, and other unique elements.

3. They are watching the big picture and the little picture at the same time. At salesforce you can always go to trust.salesforce.com and see how the platform is performing across the platform. In fact because of their size and scale when Salesforce is watching its tenants in the cloud it is watching the big picture enabling it to meet the evolving security landscape. Also, because of the Salesforce community which enables customers across the platform to interact and share information issues that might not see the light of day are vetted by the entire community helping create a safer platform for all.

I’d love to tell you that we built ExAM4Government.com and ExAM4Inspections.com on the platform because of the security but we did it primarily on the basis of its many features from being natively mobile to scalability to affordability. The security angle is something we really came to appreciate after the fact. Now with FedRamp and the many security concerns that government customers have we are glad we made that decision. If you are interested in learning how we can help you move your Service Cloud or Salesforce platform implementation along in six weeks check out our offer at: info.mbaoutcome.com/salesforce/ if you are interested in how we help public sector clients manage inspections, compliance, risk and forms check out: try.exam4inspections.com/demo/

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.

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Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – This is Stones Throw Records

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

I watched Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton – This is Stones Throw Records last night about avant-garde Los Angeles-based record label Stones Throw Records. As someone who has always loved music the movie is exceptional because it gives you some rare behind the scenes look into some of the better off the beaten path musicians that aren’t being pushed by major labels, but that are putting out some of the most unique and truly new music available today. However, as an entrepreneur and for anyone looking for the guts to see their ideas through to the finish this is a great film because of Peanut Butter Wolf.

Peanut Butter Wolf (Chris Manak) had a vision and stuck with it until it succeeded. This is very much a story about an entrepreneur who believed in his own vision through thick and thin. He continues to innovate within the music business to achieve success for artists who otherwise would probably not be able to get their music out into the mainstream…or at least as mainstream as Stones Throw Records audience is.

The film includes live concert footage, archival material, and in-depth interviews that show the charismatic leadership and innovative thinking that has powered Stones Throw for more than 2 decades as so many other independent music labels have been acquired, gone out of business or otherwise faded away. For myself and I think for anyone who has worked hard to build something on their own it’s always refreshing to see someone grinding it out, sticking with their vision and succeeding. Stones Throw is a great reminder that there’s more than one way to do things and that going with what everyone else is doing isn’t always the secret to success.

When we started ExAM a lot of people thought we should stick to management consulting…after all what do a bunch of strategy and technology nerds know about inspections and compliance. Two years later our software powers the second largest school district in the US, our Nation’s Capitol, the largest non-DoD public sector organization in the US and many other organizations large and small. If you haven’t seen it yet you can get a demo of our summer release here and save 10%.

 

 

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.

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Just change the name already and start working forward

I grew up a Raiders fan. My Mom’s side of the family is from El Segundo, California where the team practiced for years and it was just a natural thing for a kid to grow up love Marcus Allen and the Raiders. When we moved to DC, I tried to hold out and stay true to the Raiders but eventually the home team won out. I converted to the burgundy and gold and never looked back…until now.

I’m a sixteenth Blackfoot which isn’t enough to become an official member, but my opinion on this has nothing to do with my tiny drop of Indian heritage and everything to do with something most people learn in kindergarten. Step one to getting along with people and being successful is just being nice. My mom would always say “Just start by being nice and think will generally be ok.” I’m pretty sure the team didn’t choose the name to be hurtful. So why should they change it? Because if a large group of people are hurt by something you should stop doing that thing if you can.

Rather than debating who is in charge of who’s feelings or talking about the “storied” history of the franchise. Just change the name. This isn’t going away and eventually the name is going to change. The question is when and how gracefully.

For management this is an opportunity to do make the right decision. I guarantee there are people in the organization that know this is going to happen and will be relieved when it does. There are also those thinking that changing now is an admission they were wrong to not change the name before. That changing is an admission of previous guilt and wrong thinking. There may even be a few who think the name is ok and don’t understand why choosing a name for their team that a large number of people find offensive is ok.

I think its the first two groups of people that need to think hard about what the future holds. The third group missed the just be nice lesson in kindergarten and probably isn’t going to change their minds anytime soon. In business there is the concept of sunk cost and I think that applies here. While the team’s management has expended resources both real and emotional on keeping their tradition and their name, that time has passed. It is now simply a matter of when the name change is going to occur. The sooner it happens the sooner you can begin the process of building new traditions and focusing on the game and their on the field product. Instead of spending precious time and resources fighting change and maintaining this link to the past the team should be working to move forward.

In management clinging to the past and tradition can often hide a fear about the path forward or how to change. I’m not saying there aren’t people in the organization that believe that keeping the name is ok or that don’t understand why anyone cares. I’m just saying that I don’t believe the team will be called what it is today in five years and rather than focusing efforts on pushing that date out further management should embrace the inevitable and begin working towards a new era. I think that the team’s focus on maintaining its name shows an unwillingness to understand that this is unwinnable fight and a lack of thinking about the opportunities a name change might bring. Great managers know what battles to fight and find opportunity in challenging circumstances.

Until this team figures out how to move forward I’ll be putting the silver and black on and trying to stay up late enough to re-discover my Raider roots.

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.

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Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard…

Be better, not just bigger

Be better, not just bigger

I never missed a meal growing up…ever. As the oldest of six kids you can tell who made the dinner table a priority. Our family has five skinny kids and me, the guy who never met a menu item he didn’t like. Along with it came all the stupid big kid nicknames like Moose, Big Poppa, and BigUn. One thing you get told over and over again when you are always the biggest kid is to be careful not to hurt the other kids. Of course it wasn’t all bad and being a bit bigger helped me get recruited by schools and pay for college, something that was otherwise going to be a challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and taken up jiu jitsu as a means of staying in shape I’m still often the biggest guy which still means being careful not to hurt people. It also means focusing harder on technique and the proper way of doing things. One thing that is easy to do when you have a 100 pounds on the guy you are working out with is to become focused on the outcome and use size to ensure you win. This may make you feel a little better about yourself in the near term but it is a surefire way to slow your development. In fact it completely ruins any feedback loop you may be trying to establish that would enable you to measure your progress. One thing I have done because of this is to really try to focus on proper execution over results and ensuring that I’m doing things correctly so that I can compensate for some of the natural advantages that size and strength bring, so that I’m prepared should the day come when I don’t have those advantages. I’ve also made it a habit of finding people who are better than me that can expose my weaknesses despite any physical advantage.

These are the same challenges that many of us face in developing new skills as managers and executives. Its sometimes hard to tell if we are getting better because the power of the position makes the feedback loop a bit more fuzzy. Nobody really wants to tell their boss that the new skill they are working on really isn’t hitting on all cylinders. Because of this is is critical to focus on your execution and really try to build your own ability to gauge your progress. It is also critical to identify and encourage those that are willing to provide you with constructive feedback to be forthcoming. As we move through our careers and advance it becomes harder and harder to get feedback on our performance because there are fewer opportunities and individuals that can provide that feedback. Contrary to the popular belief that things get easier as you advance in your career, increasing your skills often actually gets harder. Figuring out ways to ensure that you continue to progress means improving your internal capability to critique your performances and cultivating relationships with others that are willing and capable of providing this feedback to you becomes more and more critical as you refine your skills and advance in your career.

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.

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People power: Our LA schools project is succeeding because of the people

EXAM logo
I got a chance to spend the week with a great team this week in LA with the LA Unified School District. We are implementing our Extensible Assessment Manager (ExAM) solution to support inspections and compliance across the 2nd largest school district in the US. The mission is simple and complex at the same time – provide a safe and healthy environment for thousands of Los Angeles staff and students to prepare the next generation to succeed and lead. Our application is just a part of this task helping to ensure that mobile inspections can be conducted electronically with analysis and workflow enabling real time decision support across more than 900 schools.
I’m often impressed when I get on a client site by the passion and dedication our clients have with regard to their work. Maybe this is because our clients are generally those that are looking for a better mousetrap and are willing to change in order to get there.  LA has been exceptional in this regard. Sure we’ve hit snags along the way as we try to move their operations from a 10 year old Access database into our bright and shiny Salesforce platform based app (ExAM4Government.comExAM4Inspections.com), but at every turn we’ve been able to find a solution.
In working with them this week, I’ve noted a few things that I believe have helped us along the way that are probably true for every successful transformation project:
1. We have an internal evangelist. Every project needs someone who sees the solution to an internal project clearly and advocates strongly on its behalf even when times get tough. In LA we have a strong internal advocate that really believes that this project is going to change things for the better and is passionate about ensuring it comes to fruition.
2. We have executive commitment. An evangelist can’t operate without authority and if you don’t have an executive in your corner you won’t get the access to resources you need to succeed. In LA our internal evangelist has been given free reign to support the project because it is being backed by an executive who has bought into the program.
3. We have a committed team. It takes more than two people to change complex organizations. Our internal evangelist has sold the project to the broader team making it so that we get the right people in our meetings and the active participation every project needs to be successful.
I don’t think the three things above are all you need to be successful, but I’ll argue that it is awfully hard to succeed without them. Obviously, you need the right tools, technology and knowledge to make things go, but without getting the people side of things right you are asking for trouble. I’m excited about the next few weeks and about working with this team to finish what we’ve started. There is no better feeling than feeling than succeeding with a great team.
Check out our Spring 2014 Mobile Inspection Video! ExAM & Salesforce1: Mission Attainable

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.

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