October 2009

To see how these concepts played out in our project for this client, please visit Overhauling Job Quoting with Process Standardization and New Technology.

Todd Herman

The path an idea follows is always interesting – sometimes, I feel like an explorer piloting a sailboat in uncharted waters, knowing how the journey will likely progress, yet somewhat unclear about the length of the voyage or the final destination.

The project in this case study initially looked to be an application development project for the BlackBerry platform. This company's CFO knew my firm had experience developing BlackBerry applications, and likely remembered the one we had developed for ourselves to look up detailed information from our main Contact Management database (see: Turning "techspeak" to "business use": Using Web Services to Deliver Information to Mobile Devices, July 2006). So the original idea was to use a BlackBerry application to allow the outside sales representatives to lookup key inventory and customer information – pricing, availability, purchase history, and other information – on the main business system.

Our custom application development projects always include one or more client sessions to assess the current state of things – in terms of People, Process, and Technology – and to envision the desired future state. Such sessions bring together the various stakeholders of a project – the targeted users, their managers, persons from Finance and Information Systems, executives, and others who have a stake in the outcome of a project.

For this client, we brought together the relevant parties in various configurations – some small group, some full group – for a total of 7 hours in 3 sessions. We used various techniques to ensure all stakeholders contributed ideas for consideration, and then shared opinions and rankings on the ideas compiled. These structured discussions produced many outstanding ideas, jotted on sticky notes and doodled on chart paper covering their conference room walls.

In these sessions, we helped our client explore the implications of their choices – and our frequent follow-up question to do this was "And then what?" Our client originally wanted to use BlackBerrys to lookup information from their business system. "And then what?" Well, it would be nice to use that information to prepare a quote. "And then what?" We'd like to send an electronic version of it (in PDF format) to the customer. "And then what?" Once a quote is sent, we need to flag it for followup and track its status and ultimate disposition.

In short, our client quickly realized the BlackBerry solution would only address a very small part of how they really envisioned their future state. The end result of these sessions was a true "ah-ha" moment – what was initially desired was only the start of what they really wanted to do. Our client decided what they really wanted and needed was to overhaul their entire quoting process, standardizing disparate processes and introducing technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

How much did our client value the ideas from those early sessions? They affectionately termed the sheets of chart paper "The Wall of Knowledge!" What a great name – and what a testament to how much they benefited from the clarity achieved through structured thinking.

Our client initially envisioned a certain destination. And, in plotting the course – holding "The Wall of Knowledge" meetings – we jointly decided on a new destination. The application featured this month commemorates our client's maiden voyage in overhauling their job quoting system.

Sincerely,

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman