Software is a Cornerstone of Growth Companies

Business Growth

Business Growth

I had a great conversation with a gentleman last week. It was such a great conversation that feel compelled to quote him, with his permission.

He said, “If you want to grow a business you have to have a good foundation to make it happen. Software is a cornerstone of that foundation.” That was George Farrell, Director of Operations, Perryman Co.

George and I were talking the other day about his company, the value we can add creating custom software applications and business intelligence/reporting solutions for construction and manufacturing companies. He talked about their software applications used in-house, how they changed to adapt better software tools and practices, and implementing them deeply into the company. George gave an example where one person today is able to produce several times more output compared to what she used to create several years ago. She is able to get the work done in less time and with greater accuracy.

That is fantastic! That is truly what is supposed to happen in a business…efficiencies increase and the team works as much or less so they can focus on more important work.

I believe this is a strong sign of a company that is experiencing solid growth and improvement, and likely delivering immense value to their clients and financial stakeholders (i.e., owners, shareholders, partners, etc.).

How did they do this? By realizing the value of getting the software and the business to fit together like a glove. If a company realizes how important software can be to their success, they will then do the work necessary to have a phenomenal implementation. That requires:

  1. Having a vision of how the company will operate
  2. Confirming in honest and open internal conversations that software is appropriate to reach milestones in their growth towards their vision
  3. Defining the optimal outcomes of of implementing a software application
  4. Determining what software fits their needs best (off-the-shelf or custom, or a combination of both) through deep assessments and evaluations
  5. Working together as a whole company team to get the software embedded into their every day operations
  6. All team members using the software the way it was intended

Only then can a company with growth aspirations know they’re on the path to success. Make software a cornerstone of the foundation of a growing company.

How to start up more successful custom software projects

Have you heard the majority of software projects end in failure? It’s an oft quoted fact. One of several ways to prevent that is to start off on the right foot.

A key to starting off well is with a project launch mtg. Get the right people in the virtual or physical room at the same time, talk about why the project is being done and why it’s important, ask questions, and keep the length of the meeting appropriately short.

Right People

Once you have the SOW and the general roadmap of what you are going to build, have a project kickoff with the developers, testers, analysts and UI/UX folks. You may not have people filling all these roles, of course, but you probably have some of these on every project, even if it is one person wearing multiple hats. Sometimes not having the customer in the kickoff meeting is best. During the internal meeting you can discuss all ideas and ask questions openly. After the internal kickoff meeting a couple key staffers from the team can then conduct a launch or kickoff meeting with the client, giving them a conduit for getting on the same page, asking questions and getting answers, etc.

For smaller projects often a single project launch meeting with everyone on the internal and customer team is appropriate…since the whole inclusive team is so small.

Start with Why
Everyone should get a good understanding of why the project is being done, and also what is the end goal. Teams are much more productive when they know what they are doing and the end result they are trying to achieve. It is also REALLY helpful for everyone to have at least a general understanding of the ‘why’; understanding why the customer needs the project often helps guide decisions on how to implement it in the best way to achieve the customers goals.
Ask Questions
Everyone should be encouraged to ask as many questions as they have. You may not have all the answers but getting those things on the table will help the project be successful. If you are lucky, you do have answers for almost everything at the kickoff. Though, more often, you will be following up with the client to fill in some of the blanks that maybe no one thought of before the kickoff meeting.
Not Long
Project kickoff or launch meetings don’t have to be long – usually half an hour (for smaller projects) or an hour for bigger ones is all it takes to get everyone moving in the same direction and having a sense of ownership in what they are producing.
Keeping these points in mind helps start a project on the right foot, and provides a greater chance for project success. Keep in mind though, custom software projects are really complicated…this isn’t the only task to perform to make the project a success.

Are you strategic with your technology?

Being strategic is one of the most important approaches that a business should have for themselves, their customers, and their vendors to grow the business. Is your company strategic in their approach to growing the business? Is technology a part of that strategy?

Technology can be a huge part of a company’s success, if used strategically. Unfortunately, technology is only used like a utility…keep the servers and computers running so we can send our emails.

When I discuss strategy I’m referring to the principles, policies, ways of thinking that are used to decide upon and implement plans of actions, which will allow a company to achieve it’s goals and reach it’s future vision of itself.

Yesterday I saw repost on LinkedIn by Manfred Woodall, someone we’ve worked with for several years, of a WSJ blog post on how CIOs are often not part of the strategic plan of companies. The article essentially states that too many companies are not forward-thinking enough to include their CIOs in the activities of becoming strategic. Instead the CIOs are left to mind the shop, keep the lights on, provide a utility service of keeping the servers, computers, and email service up and running, i.e., simply keep the lights on. CIOs that want to facilitate a company’s success of being strategic have to do it on their own. Of course, there are companies that intentionally hire and initiate strategic work with their CIOs but this appears to be less common than one might think.

When we work on custom software projects with our customers we are often brought in to simply get the project done…fix this existing custom application, create that new web application, create a bunch of reports to give the leaders the data they need to steer the ship. Sure, no problem, we can do that, that’s what we love to do.

But more often than not companies often don’t have an established strategic plan for how technology (hardware and software) can play a key role in the company’s success. We get into conversations with companies that are on the verge of including technology in their company’s strategy for growing the business and sales. Prior to that they simply had servers and computers to maintain the business, simply keep up with the Jones, Inc’s of the world. When companies are more open to talking with us about their vision, goals, and strategy, then we can have some really interesting conversations about they can do to use technology as an impactful tool to grow the business.

If you are leading a company and think that technology can be a key piece of the puzzle to achieving success, what are some of the next steps? Here are a few keys to being strategic with your technology:

  • Vision and Goals:Make sure you have solid vision of where the company is going and SMART goals for the company.
  • Where: Consider where technology can help you. Could operations stand to be more automated than they are? Are there some key back office processes that could be digitized including hiring processes in HR, procurement of products or raw materials from vendors? Could a well considered and implemented CRM application have a serious impact on a receptive sales group? Is there a lot of high quality and highly valuable data in the company that, if analyzed, can lead to major new insights with your internal processes, typical customer profile, product fit to the market, etc.?
  • Consult your Vendors: Consult with your technology vendors, hardware and software alike, to see how they could help in the strategy. They might have some really fantastic ideas.
  • ROI: Look closely at the ROI of the technology changes. They will likely be pretty expensive. But if done right, the payoffs can be even bigger…they could be a game changer.
  • Plan: But sure to plan carefully but don’t over analyze…analysis-paralysis too often holds a company back from potential success.

Regarding considering where technology can help you, you could look at companies similar to yours that are achieving great success. How are they using technology to their advantage. It might be:

  • Moving from local servers to the cloud
  • Moving from local software to SaaS
  • Taking a hard look at the data you have now and doing data analytics
  • Going mobile
  • Putting appropriate technology in the hands of your employees, and so forth.

On the topic of seeking input from your technology vendors, please be open with them about where you want to go with your company. Share your vision and goals. Ask them their opinions on how technology can help. You might think they won’t be able to help, but you might be pleasantly surprised by how they respond and the ideas they come up with. If they aren’t able to understand what you’re really asking when discussing your vision, goals, and strategies then maybe it’s time to consider a new vendor…or maybe a separate technology advisor.

Strategic thinking is a huge part of nearly any company’s success. Technology can play a big part in that strategy. So, be sure to have a plan and consult with those that can help you, and you’ll be another huge step closer to reaching your goals and vision.