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Agile Digital Transformation Insights Organisational Change Scalability

Excel: So useful it’s dangerous? Here’s the solution…

Excel is probably the closest thing we have to the perfect tool for analysing & reporting on data. It’s greatest downfall, however, is that it doesn’t really scale beyond a single user, and the result is organisations find their data and IP locked up in un-verifiable (but easily shareable) files.

James Diekman, who’s recently joined the Digital Village network as a Producer, sat down with DV co-founder Luke Fabish to share his solution.

[Luke Fabish] Hi James, we’re pumped to welcome you aboard as a DV Producer – could you tell us a little about yourself?

[James Diekman] Thanks! I’ve been in the IT industry my entire career, starting out in support to more recently becoming a Microsoft specialist consulting to government agencies and large enterprises which has been super exciting. I’ve got a passion for business applications and leveraging them to solve business problems and getting involved with the Power Platform community and also not for profits.

[LF] Hey, that’s great James. Recently we were talking about one of the technologies you work with, Microsoft Power Platform, and about how it has the potential to solve one of the biggest problems affecting IT in organisations… Excel is used for everything! What are your thoughts on that?

[JD] Completely agree! Use Excel for what it’s good at – analysing data. Don’t use it as a store of record, it simply wasn’t built for that and you’re missing out on turning your data into valuable insights. Also it’s not just Excel… We often see Word, OneNote and good old Microsoft Access heavily used because it’s all the users had at hand. These products have been around for eons.

[LF] So could someone who’d normally open up Excel to get a job done use Power Apps just as easily?

[JD] Absolutely. Organisations, however, need to look at PowerApps as a better way to capture data that can be stored in a common data service. From here organisations can start to automate processes they were never able to before because the data is stored in one place in a structured format. Start adding more applications and more data and you start to build up a valuable data estate that you can analyse and interpret by levering new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

[LF] That sounds amazing! So what you’re saying is we can solve some of the problems introduced by the pervasive use of Excel as a data store?

[JD] Yes… from simple problems such as versioning, multiple users, and data corruption to relating and querying large data sets. Thousands of disparate Excel files are of little value. Leveraging tools like PowerApps and the Power Platform allows you to turn data into business insights you previously didn’t have available to you before.

[LF] Thanks so much, James. For me, the big takeaway seems to be the ability to remove complexity and open up a way more collaborative approach to data than is possible in Excel on its own.

I know we’ve barely scratched the surface here… The Power Platform is at heart a powerful system for rapid digital transformation that can provide deep and integrated value across an organisation’s entire digital landscape.

Want to learn more? We have an upcoming live event with James where he’ll be highlighting the breadth of capability that Power Apps can bring to an organisation (plus he has some great tips for getting the I.T. department on board with it as well).

So to learn more about rapid innovation and digital transformation with Microsoft’s Power Platform, register for our upcoming event here.

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Accelerating Digital Transformation
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Agile Customer Success Digital Transformation Insights Lean Startup System Engineering

What Dev Teams Are Missing.

UX designers, check. QA designers, check. Developers, check. The list goes on… but most highly-trained dev teams are missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

Software development is an inherently technical activity but without solving a real human need a project has no purpose. So why are those with the most immediate needs, the arbiters of purpose in this instance, missing from the team?

Standard processes for software development demonstrate the issue (sometimes jovially).

@johncutlefish

Customers and end users, the foremost experts on the business and its goals, are the critical missing piece from software development.

Aren’t they included already?

Well, yes… but not enough.

Towards Customer-Centric Software Development: A Multiple-Case Study found that, even in organisations with a high level of customer focus, that customers were only present at the beginning and end of the development process.

The authors found four key challenges with this approach:

  • Indirect access to end-users led to a lack of understanding of the reasons behind customer requirements.
  • Feature prioritisation is done based on employees’ opinions and is not continuously validated with customers.
  • Testing is seen as an opportunity to identify defects but not to validate mismatches between customer needs and product offerings.
  • A lack of systematic ways to collect, analyse and incorporate customer data into the product development process.

What’s the real problem?

By omitting the customer and end-users from the delivery team you are working on hypothesis (and to some extent guess work).

Even projects undertaken with extensive and painstaking research are based on what a potential solution could look like. This hypothesis isn’t tested until the end of the development phase when complete features are presented to the users and customers.

And now for the grand reveal… The software has been built to the customer’s specifications, or has it been built to the team’s interpretation of the customer’s initial specifications? Without fully understanding the customer’s situation there is a high chance of building the wrong software.

This of course has a huge impact on budget, schedule and, worst of all, the trust between the client and team.

So how does putting the customer and users into the project team help?

Shortening feedback cycles is a central principle of Agile delivery. By embedding key stakeholders within the team, feedback cycles are reduced from weeks to days.

Developers can demonstrate early prototypes and benefit from the unique expertise and feedback that only customers and end users possess. Rather than thinking, “what would the customer want?” at key decision points they can be asked directly.

No grand reveals, no surprises. A product is developed in collaboration with the customer and ultimately the people that will be using it.

Customers and users are busy people – do they have two jobs now?

Obviously we can’t expect the customer to be turning in 40 hours a week, that would be slightly impractical (and rather unnecessary). Attending weekly team meetings and being able to respond to questions from the team is enough.

The point is to ensure the developer feels comfortable making a call to the customer or uses to clarify a requirement or gain feedback on an early version. Essentially, you remove the subjectivity and guesswork to ensure the right product is being built.

Sounds nice – does it really work?

Digital Village recently completed the first iteration of the Race Around Australia project and was rolled out for a successful pilot in NSW schools. Program manager Emily McLachlan was deeply involved in reviewing the work in progress and making critical feature decisions and prioritising application features.

Her involvement allowed the delivery team to frame technical decisions within the needs of the department, schools, teachers and students, which reduced uncertainty around the product to practically zero.

You can read about the project’s success here.

Next Steps

Convincing busy professionals to attend another meeting/ create time for the demands of a project team sounds, well, trick. In fact, the hardest part may be convincing people who feel somewhat out of their depth in a technical project to participate in delivering it.

With the right support, however, non-technical stakeholders like clients and end users can provide invaluable contributions to a project delivery team.

The first step, of course, is a conversation with project stakeholders. Luckily that conversation will be about how they can save money, reduce risk and enjoy the benefits of their new software as soon as possible. We have a suggestion…

Working closely with the customers means the team will share the customer’s disappointments and triumphs, and hopefully shifts the team’s mindset from focussing on feature delivery to customer success.

Categories
Insights meetups Organisational Change

How to see more to fill the gaps in our perception

The ability to see more is always an advantage. 

Hence telescopes and microscopes, x-rays and satellites and so on – a massive amount of our energy goes into seeing more of the world.

But our ability to perceive the world isn’t just limited to physical sensing.

No matter how many details I perceive, they’re no use to me unless I can understand them.

This of course is where my mind is the limiting factor on my ability to perceive the world. So we all go to school to hopefully learn things that’ll help us understand the world.

(Or at least give us the tools to widen our perception in the future – like reading and mathematics).

This is great, because now I don’t have to be smart enough to work out everything by myself – if I want to calculate the perimeter of a circle I can do that because a teacher told me how.

(Often repeatedly)

But there’s a third kind of limitation on perception – or understanding – though.

Luckily, at Digital Village’s March Meetup, the good people at This Thing of Ours introduced us to a way of addressing that limitation.

 

But before we get into what that is – why make a big deal about perception anyway?

This is how I think about perception: if I were alive 50,000 years ago, what would improved perception mean to me?

  • Physical senses: they’d allow me to see, hear or smell food (and anything that wanted to eat me)
  • Understanding: it’d allow me to avoid dangerous things to eat, or to know how to prepare them properly

(And hey, if this COVID thing goes on long enough, this might become relevant again!!)

But what about now?

Our society is full of signals: we get them from the news, from talking to people, social media, and our own observations too.

But they amount to the same thing that the ‘me’ from 50,000 years ago cared about: some of these signals represent opportunities, and some of them are threats.

So it’s good to be able to see more, and understand more of what we see.

So getting back to that limitation I mentioned earlier.

This comes back to the natural frame we use to understand the world.

Everyone has their own, unique way of evaluating, and understanding the world:

  • Sometimes it’s in terms of understanding who’s winning, and who’s losing.
  • Or it may be a matter of understanding what people are afraid of, and what they’re greedy for.
  • Or seeing the systems that people operate in, and how those systems affect peoples behaviour.

Whatever your natural way of understanding the world is, wouldn’t it be good to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world the way they see it?

So what happened in our March Meetup is that Phil, Rachel and Chris from This Thing of Ours introduced us to a technique for doing exactly this.

 

 

The technique comes from Integral Theory and is a very straight-forward way of understanding any kind of situation the world throws up.

It’s pretty simple. I won’t go into to a lot of detail (The This Thing of Ours gang are the subject matter experts for that) but basically we create something that looks like this

So we end up with these four sections: 

  • Behaviour 
  • Systems
  • Culture
  • Mindset

And the amazing thing is, there’s not a single human endeavour that can’t be completely described by those four categories.

Let’s imagine we’re targeting a new customer, and we wanted to use this system to understand our customer better.

We’d go through each of those four sections one at a time – Behaviour, Systems, Culture and Mindset – and write down everything we could think about that particular aspect of the customer.

If I do this, what it forces me to do is step outside my normal habits of thinking and consider the world from new perspectives, and to do it systematically.

If I were doing this to understand a new customer, I’d end up with a quadrant covered in notes which I could then analyse for themes that cut across each quadrant and can become the source of powerful insights.

If you’d like to know more about analysing your own organisation, customers or anything else using the quadrant model, contact This Thing of Ours.

To learn more useful techniques for analysing and understanding the world of business, technology and people, be sure to come to Digital Village’s next Meetup!

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