We help organizations to tackle the challenges that arise when business meets software. Whether buying, selling, designing or implementing software, we help management teams to make well-thought-out decisions, and then run projects to make things happen.
Clear thinking is crucial. We ensure that all our projects are well aligned with our client’s business direction. Often, that means helping the client develop, refine or clarify their strategy to ensure the alignment.
Earlier in our careers, we saw too many projects fail to achieve what they set out to do. Often, this was because the project was not well aligned with the business strategy in the first place. However good the team, it’s hard to succeed if the project is fundamentally doomed to failure. So we each learned to ensure that we had a good understanding of the bigger picture before launching off on a lot of hard work.
Later, we worked in consultancies that explicitly dealt with the impact of new technology on business strategy, from the simple end of creating a web-site or selling on line, to the complex end dealing with the transformative effect of technology on an entire sector, for example the impact of digital publishing and eBooks on traditional publishers.
Now we bring all of that experience together to help ensure the success of all of our projects, large or small.
We run workshops that make you and your team think clearly about a new strategy or initiative. The workshops are thorough and focused, letting you grapple with new ideas and their consequences. You and your team will emerge with a good common understanding both of your goal and of the plan for reaching it.
Choosing new systems to help you improve your business is difficult. We can guide you through a selection process that is clear, short, cost effective, and most importantly, will result in good choices for your business.
Organizations often waste huge amounts of time and money running projects to select between similar products from competing vendors, but use a process that is not well enough designed to differentiate similar products.
We have all worked both sides of the software fence – for software vendors and for companies that have bought software. We use that experience to devise a vendor selection process that will help you make informed, reliable choices. The essence is devising a process which ensures clarity – clarity about what you are trying to achieve and why – which in turn leads to clarity about which products and vendors will truly help your organization to make things happen. We do this for many kinds of software, for example:
- Till systems for retailers (also known as EPOS systems)
- Manufacturing control systems
- Integrated business systems or ERP Systems
- CRM systems
Having also worked for vendors, we can also advise during negotiations – we have a record of helping our clients to save large amounts of money.
A typical vendor selection process might follow this pattern:
- Conduct internal workshops to clarify what you aim to achieve and why
- Develop insight into both key enabling characteristics and critical limiting factors
- Use internet research to create a long-list of possible vendors. Assess them against the critical limiting factors to leave a medium list
- Develop business scenarios which will test and illustrate the key enabling characteristics
- Issue an RFI to medium list vendors which invites short responses to illustrate how their product will satisfy the business scenarios
- Eliminate unsatisfactory responses to leave a short list
- Develop a workshop script based on the business scenarios. This will ensure that
- Vendor demonstrations are framed in your own business terms, so that your participants can truly understand and evaluate what they are seeing
- Each vendor demostrates the same things – so you can compare apples with apples
- Run workshops with short-listed vendors to investigate in detail how they will enable your organization to operate
- Consider not only the product and vendor capabilities but the impact on your organization.
- Adopt a simple but powerful natural-language scale to rate accurately the likelihood of achieving an outcome with a given product
- Rate the product openly with the vendor using the natural language scale. Allow them to respond to ensure that mis-understandings are eliminated.
A new system must be forged into the right shape to suit the business exactly. There are two essential part to this:
- Plan the project to achieve the right outcome in the right part of the business at the right time
- Commission, configure and customise the system
Projects often fail at the beginning not at the end. Good project design is key to success. Using the principles of goal directed project management we will help you properly scope your project to ensure it remains customer, people and organisation focussed. As professionally trained engineers we will convert your ideas into practical solutions and then work with your staff and suppliers to execute a realistic project plan.
We will help you design and deliver your project by establishing your key business objectives and then selecting appropriate technological solutions, not the other way round. We will also work to ensure your project is designed to suit both budget and time-frame. Our approach is to include people throughout this process – whether they be customers, staff or shareholders and to talk to them in plain English.
All this means that you can be sure your project is built on firm foundations.
To make things happen you have to make things usable.
Good user experience is like good film editing – you don’t notice it. It gets out of the way. It allows you to focus on what you want to – the task at hand – without being held up by frustrating delays, confusing instructions, or information overload.
It’s also good business. A good experience for customers leads to a positive brand association and increases the likelihood of repeat business. Internally, systems that provide a good user experience improve efficiency and communication, and allow more space for creative thinking and problem solving.
A good user experience is intuitive, engaging and simple. However, simple to use does not mean simple to make. In today’s world, and in particular in today’s software, complexity proliferates. To make something simple you have to remove complexity – and that is often a complex process in itself.
User centred thinking
That’s where Thinkers can help. Removing complexity, clarifying and simplifying is what we specialise in. We achieve this by continually asking questions that put the user – customer, supplier or employee – at the heart of the issue:
- What is the user trying to achieve? Overall? Specifically at this point?
- What do they need to know to complete their task?
- What don’t they need to know right now?
- Can they communicate with us easily and get a relevant quick response?
This approach recognises that users’ needs are the business’s needs. We can help you shine a spotlight on these needs in a structured way and then translate that thinking into tangible improvements. To do this we use both our technical and aesthetic skills in areas such as:
User interface design Information architecture Document design User journey development
Experiences happen whether you design them or not. By paying attention to the user experience at all stages of a project you have the best chance of making sure it’s a good one.
How we do it
Our key skill is to help you to think clearly, agree what needs to be done, plan it and then do it. We help you make things happen in and around your organization. All our efforts are underpinned by some common themes and skills.
Changing the way things happen in an organization is notoriously difficult.
Our focus is always on achieving organizational outcomes which embody the desired change. We ensure that the right people are involved in discussions and informed about decisions. Documents have an important place, but only if people know what is in them, so we don’t rely on documents alone. We look at the problem through the eyes of the people involved, and run meetings, workshops or training sessions to help people understand and tackle change. We train people, and work with them to identify and remove obstacles. We don’t call a job done until the business is getting the result it wanted.
We run workshops that enable teams to think through a new initiative and grapple with new ideas and their consequences. We use simple but effective techniques to ensure that you and your team will emerge with a good collective understanding both of the goal and of the broad-brush plan for getting there.
We design each workshop according to the business circumstances, but the style will follow our fundamental principles:
- Choose the right community of people to participate
- Hold the workshop in a venue that minimizes operational distractions
- Consider the goal. Explore it and probe it to specify it with insight
- Promote the sharing of ideas and the creation of new ones
- Use impact and achievability analysis to qualify ideas
- Use stakeholder analysis and visioning techniques to really understand what constitutes success
- Identify constraints & conflicts
- Commit to make things happen
We normally capture and write up the results of the workshop.
Planning a project is all about trying to predict the future. Presenting a Gantt chart as a precise statement of what will happen is a dangerous thing. So whilst we can use MS Project, we believe that planning a project is more than being able to use a piece of software.
Our approach is to keep it simple and focus on communication – sharing the vision, letting people know about what is planned next, biting off no more than we can chew at a time and reviewing things before sinking our teeth in again.
Executing a project is about being agile and responsive to change. We use our own issue tracking methodology that balances priorities, objectives, and capabilities, we’re able to make things happen when they’re needed.
Most of all, we help you stop to think during a project – to take time to decide on the right thing to do next.
We all come from backgrounds where the ability to write clearly was prized. We talk and write in plain English, explaining our terms and avoiding jargon. Clients and vendors have praised the clarity of our documents, whether they be internal discussion documents, Requests for Information (RFIs), workshop briefings or training manuals.
When a client is adopting a new system, we think about how the users are going to be trained properly.
We like to deliver training in manageable chunks, at the right time. Why? So that your staff can learn and then put into practice what they’ve learnt straight away.
Exactly how we do this varies according to the circumstances. We have designed and delivered formal end-user training programs, linked with an Investors in People strategy, and we have provided one-to-one tuition and mentoring.
Our approach always has some key themes designed to make it highly effective
- We set the training in the context of the business situation and the trainee’s role.
- We cover an entire business process, including both system and non-system elements
- We use plain English
- We always show the process working smoothly first so that the trainee understands the whole picture, before then moving on to exceptions and errors
- It is quite staggering how most software vendor staff talk about errors and exceptions right from the outset, which is desperately confusing if you aren’t familiar with the normal path