At Factora, nearly 50% of our customers come to us after having failed to succeed with another provider. It’s made us hyper-aware of what’s required to build a solution that earns converts and becomes entrenched in operations.
In my time with Factora, I’ve gained a lot of experience in replacing systems that didn’t make the cut. Essentially, we follow four rules to build sustainable solutions that answer the customer’s needs, build trust, and win over users and business leads.
1. Listen to end users and management
It all starts with listening. Quick question on buy-in – which of the following will suffice on its own?
- Email question and response
- Buy-in from one person or group
- Telling the people involved what your solution will do
- Sign-off from management
- Buy-in from operators
- None of the above.
You got it, the answer is 6. What does work?
What works is earning buy-in from both operators and management. So – ask questions. Listen carefully. Engage. Let as many people as possible tell you what they want, plus get their hands on a prototype before too many design decisions are locked in.
To show you how seriously we take this at Factora? On my most recent project, our Chief Innovation Officer, VP of Sales (now CEO) and Delivery Leader all took part, on-site, in the meetings with the operators – in fact, all four shifts of operators. We had their IT team and business leads sit in as well.
Ultimately, the people who use the tool have to be satisfied with its operations. And managers must be able to use the tool for reporting on the metrics they care about.
2. Go forward, not back
It seems so obvious. And yet in the complexity of designing a new tool, part of the old functionality can be lost. And even if the new system is 100 times superior, in 1,000 different ways, you can bet that that missing functionality is the first thing your testing operator will notice: “Hey, how do I ___ now? The old system had it right here!”
Similarly, if you don’t pay serious attention to the old pain points, they can creep back in.
UX (User experience) is the de facto starting point
The answer is to make those two concerns – all the functionality of the old system, plus none of the major pain points – the starting point of the new design. To put it another way, UX (User experience) is the de facto starting point.
We’re big on UX at Factora. In everything we design, we consider what the operator will actually do – rather than simply ensure that the software can achieve what it’s supposed to. As we build our new touchscreen solutions, we visualize operator actions to create intuitive sequences that make sense.
With thoughtful design, it’s possible to eliminate many of the repetitive, irritating click-then-scans of an operator’s job. This makes their job more enjoyable, them more efficient, and their work more error-free. Triple play!
3. Be on site
When I started with Factora, Brent Seely, our Chief Innovation Officer, drilled it into me that operators must know a real person is addressing their needs. Face it, there will always be operators who resist the new tool – anger will escalate if they see the designer as faceless and remote.
But once you are there, side-by-side, face-to-face, trouble-shooting and problem-solving, it’s hard for anger to build. You mutate from being them to being us. And as part of that rise in status, you’ll be told when problems are still in the minor stage, rather than after everyone is too angry and frustrated to solve the issue.
Be on site. Be visible. Address feedback instantaneously and implement it ASAP. Because once you start collecting feedback through middlemen, you lose sight of your real client – the operator. You’ll get errors and misunderstandings, you’ll lose trust and engagement. Do not allow operators to feel that their “bug reports” lie ignored in a meaningless, vacant part of the space-time continuum.
Not to mention, use the tool yourself! Would you want to work with this tool? Why or why not?
One of the best heads-ups I know of for my own work is an awareness that I am reluctant to test it. Right away, I know it’s time to get back to the drawing board. This is also true if you find yourself spending too much time testing one particular aspect of the tool. Un-fun as it is to fall back and re-design, it’s much, much faster and cheaper than continuing with a flawed solution.
4. Ensure supportability
First off, test thoroughly. As my colleague Austin says in this recent Factora blog post on testing at Factora, it’s “an under-rated step on the journey to manufacturing excellence.”
In fact, if you’re in the process of hiring a systems integrator or IT partner, grill them hard on their testing process! Ask for their policies and procedures. Anecdotes too. The quality of the testing is a par excellent indicator of the quality of the product you’ll get.
Next, help your customer take over support as soon as possible:
- Find out who will be doing support. In every way you can, ‘teach them how to fish.’ To start, make sure they have access to the same knowledge base and toolsets that you use.
- Walk them through support issues, rather than solving the problem yourself and sending an email
- Teach them SQL queries to find common issues. Make sure they know the places you usually look first.
All of the above helps the internal support person to solve problems themselves and to cut down on the amount of support hours their organization has to pay for. It’s interesting, many people don’t reach out because they’re afraid of messing things up by trying to solve things on their own. While you’re still on site, help them to get their feet wet, to feel confident that they have the skills to crack the case.
Change will always meet with resistance, from one or more stakeholder groups. But as our chairman and founder, Charles Horth, is fond of saying: “Delivering is selling.” You can create a solution that sticks by making sure it delivers the needs of the stakeholder groups, and that your client can easily work with and support it.
And of course, it never hurts to create something that looks sharp – that your operators are proud to work with and show to a co-worker. Beauty can be more than skin-deep!