Article Written by Stewart Gray - 12/09/2019
One of the most valuable activities we do as a company is to analyze our clients' processes - the way they do things - and ask some very important questions including, why do you do that? Do you need to do that? and how can we do it more effectively?
Sofware is a powerful tool, especially when used to the best of its ability for a given situation. If you have read my blog Application Overload, you will know there are certain bad practices and corner-cutting that have been thriving from the saturation of developers available to help companies and their needs, but... The ability to develop software does not guarantee any business knowledge or understanding, and in this case, if the specification isn't detailed enough, you're at risk of not getting what you need!
When I started Kaber Helm, I knew businesses would need software development carried out, especially those still stuck in the '90s or those who are seeking competitive advantage within their market. Once again there is a but here; To deliver systems which had true business impact, to managers, front line staff and those in support positions, an element of business knowledge was required.
One of Our Boards During a Discussion About Datasets
Working as a data analyst and a continuous improvement engineer in fast-paced manufacturing & production environments helped ground simplistic and complex understandings of how businesses work - what works well and what doesn't. This was something I was anxious to make part of the Kaber Helms value proposition to its clients. I have always been an advocate of data-driven decision making and I am still to this day, It's the right way to do it! Adding reporting, data and metrics to our client offerings was easy and bought into by most companies and managers, at the end of the day with the right data your company can improve it's own offering quickly and focus on real (validated) pain points for the business.
Once we managed to incorporate data analytics into our offering, the last piece to work out was the benefits of integrating principles of lean and continuous improvement into our service. Our decision, based on adding value to Kaber Helms service, was to get into the environments where our systems would be used and get our fingers on the pulse! A major selling point fo any system or solution is the user experience, is it intuitive? Is it self-explanatory? does it reflect the way the users physically do their jobs? Furthermore, we had to examine the savings to the company. When trying to save money it is important to focus on non-value added activities of the business, especially those that produce waste! Most value stream maps will show that the majority normal businesses operate on a 1% - 3% value add model... meaning if we focus on making the value add activities faster, we actually increase the percentage of non-value added activities.
Now that we have covered a bit of background and have dropped some knowledge bombs, I think it's time to look at how we engrained this into our problem-solving culture and created our development process for delivering tailor-made systems with a complete focus on customer success while implementing a continual development framework for digital transformation. As a client, you will be involved at all steps of the project! This process walkthrough is one of our more detailed descriptions to give you an idea of the customer journey and the work that goes into developing systems engineered to better your workplace. To see a summarised version, check out our bespoke solutions page.
Engagement is the first major step! If we don't know you have a problem or requirement, how can we help? All the team will need to be prepared for the meeting that will follow this is the kind of system you are looking for or an idea of what the solution that will solve your problem is. Once we get some of the basics covered we will arrange to have a meeting at our offices or yours to get into the nitty-gritty bits!
This is probably one of the more exciting bits of the project. The specification meeting allows our team to understand what the real requirement for a system is. Sometimes it can be simple, for example needing a website cause you don't have one. In larger companies, the need for systems usually stems from compliance reasons or process driven issues. We want to understand your needs fully!
Now that our team has a much clearer picture of what you require it's our job to research any additional requirements, and sometimes just to validate we have prescribed best practices. In many cases, such as the P2ML inspection app, our research centred around non-physical data sharing and reliability. This is often done on a case by case basis as each project we take on is different from the last. Usually, all software applications we build contain unique client complexities or functions somewhere.
Currently, our proposals are given in a document format - we are spicing this up at the moment though! Our proposals cover a range of areas including a scope breakdown to ensure we have aligned ourselves on the project objectives, a more in-depth plan of how we will get our hands-on research and use this analysis to help us design the system and testing periods and procedures are also discussed at this point to ensure our timeline expectations are the same!
This step does not apply to all projects. When it is applicable though, I highly recommend this is carried out, especially when trying to implement foundations for continual development cycles and in businesses aiming for competitive advantage. We need to understand all outcomes, all possibilities and all exceptions to the rules. The more we know and understand the more robust your solution will be. Matching your physical and digital processes is crucial for maintaining a competitive advantage.
With all the research, process flows and scope documents in hand, its time for us to chunk this down into manageable tasks for the development team. Project planning is also important to give an indicator of progress, we like to work on a milestone basis to ensure key areas of the system are completed and tested first, encase changes are required. These steps will usually be transferred to a digital system such as Trello to allow for transparency and for both parties to see outstanding actions & dependencies
Now the real exciting bit of work starts... Bringing your creation to life! Using the project plan and the documents produced during the process scrutiny and project planning steps, the developers begin designing all the individual elements of the system. Changelogs, version control and back-ups of the code are updated daily for continuity planning or a worst-case scenario! Depending on ownership agreements, you may have access to these!
Reflecting back on the start of this whole article, software development is a great skill, but the ability to understand business needs and implement this into software is an expansion on just developing a solution. We ensure alignment on the system build not just through reporting, but also by hosting updated development builds on our labs every week for clients to go in and play with their systems. This allows early critique, identification of misunderstanding and an additional angle of bug finding.
Though we test the system as we build it, we are the worst testers! We know what the system is meant to do and usually focus on these aspects. Using robust automated testing, including capacity and stress tests and doing walkthroughs with the future users of the system, we work through a dynamic test procedure created especially for your solution. Knowing the system is reliable is a vital piece of any implementation, quality is key!
Code, build and test is a repeated loop of activity that relies on information provided in the pre-development stage. depending on the project/system setup we are working on, this stage can either be the latest stable version of a system that includes modular updates or a completed system if this is a one-off build. Once a stable build is ready we are ready to move on to deployment. Multiple copies of stable versions are created and stored.
So, we have a working system now, brilliant! Let's get people using it... Once the system or update is completed and stable, we need to deploy the latest code. This can be done in a few ways and will be covered during the initial planning stage of the project. Variants include whole system deployment, staged deployment and rolling deployments. At this stage, Kaber Helm provide clients with work instructions documenting all aspects of the system and maintenance.
Using the system is the next step! Even though work instructions are provided, training sessions can be arranged prior to deployment to ensure all team members who are going to use the system are familiar with areas they'll be working in - the more proficient the team is with the system before deployment, the smoother the transition. Using the system is the best way to generate any new feedback on reliance, ease of use and any oversights from initial scope made apparent by real scenarios.
Monitoring the live system is essential to its continued operation. Security and system back up measures are taken as standard and reviewed regularly. Additionally, reports on usage can be provided to help understand any pain points or system efficiency. As a success measure, processes should be scrutinized again at this point to validate the impact of system deployment against the original process state. This has given some amazing results in the past for other clients!
Like with most good processes, they are repeated and looped. The final step before looping back to the planning stage is to evaluate the change, evaluate the user experience and the feedback provided by the team. Using this collected data will give you the foundations for making the system leaner, more engaging and more valuable in terms of the information it provides to management or its users. Always use this step drive improvements.
Our process was designed to aid businesses who looking for efficiency wins, cost savings or to revolutionize their processes for competitive advantage within their industry. This breakdown doesn't show all the back and forth and interaction between our team and our clients' team, nor does it express much of the planning documentation we use or the questions we ask, that bit is part of what makes Kaber Helm different to other software companies. What this breakdown does highlight though, is focus on:
Preview of P2ML Proposal Document - Branded in Their Colours
GEMS Work Instruction - Showing Extensive Contents Page
Processes are what power your business, they are extremely important to all businesses! Understanding them and what they affect next, as well as what affects them is a vital piece of knowledge. We want to help people understand their own processes and help to level them up by delivering strategic changes made with the needs of the business in mind. Having learned through many first-hand experiences and working with a wide range of business types and models, we have gained a plethora of methods and best practice procedures, not just from the lean toolbox, but also some ingenious internal processes changes built for specific issues.
To summarise, processes are important. They can be responsible for costing you money when they should be making you money, but they also need to be nurtured and developed. With the right attention to detail and focus, your processes can also become more efficient and start feeling less like work! Sometimes you need to think outside of the box and be radical to make highly effective changes.
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