Monday, March 26, 2007

Two Quick Tips

I'm finding it much easier to work with "Page Breaks" in Word vs. "Section breaks > Next page." The latter seem to go away when I update my Table of Contents or Index references and/or turn on the paragraph marker viewer (I'm not exactly sure which). However, the Page Break seems solid.

Also, Highrise has yet to get the printing right. I tried to print a contact I knew I had to call and the "Tasks" section shows bullets but no text.

Highrise and GTD

Just a quick post to reinforce a great feature of Highrise--the new light weight CRM system from 37Signals. If you're into David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to time and life management and are familiar with how he suggests you categorize your tasks by context, you'll love the Tasks feature in Highrise.

First off, you get a drop box of intuitive time frames to choose from that make it super quick to determine the "When it's due" part of the task. Then you get a second drop box of commonly used categories and the ability to create your own (I've added "After Work" and "During Lunch" among others in my list). These categories or context cues are then placed in small black boxes in front of each task making it easy to scan very quickly.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Six Sigma Net Promoter Metric and Tom Peters TGR/TGW

I was listening to episode six of the Six Sigma Pointers podcast by Thomas Pyzdek, this morning, (which I highly recommend, btw) and he was talking about the Net Promoter metric. Essentially, you ask a customer if they would recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague--asking them to respond on a scale from zero to 10. If the customer marks a nine or 10 they are considered "promoters." If they mark a seven or eight they are considered neutral. And if they mark a six or less they are considered "detractors." The metric is derived by subtracting the detractors from the promoters.

The podcast elaborates on how closely this metric correlates with business performance and on how many of the Fortune 500 have adopted it. But what I found most interesting was when Mr. Pyzdek mentioned how one goes about improving this metric. Obviously from a pure math perspective one can either increase the number of promoters or decrease the number of detractors. But each group seems to respond to a different driver. Detractors seem to respond to just getting the basics right and not doing things wrong. Promoters tend to respond to providing a "Wow!" level of service and doing things right.

I think Tom Peters has the clearest description of this distinction in chapter eight (Beyond TQM Toward Wow!) of his book The Tom Peters Seminar. He gives some great examples and insights which I won't attempt to recite here (it's really worth picking up the book!) but his thesis is basically that we need both sides of the equation and when Americans began really looking at quality as a competitive driver we were almost entirely focused on eliminating the "things gone wrong" (TGW) from our systems and processes. And that's important. He makes the point you shouldn't have crumbs on the floor and missing towels when you walk into the hotel room. But that's not enough. We also need to look at "things gone right" (TGR) and find ways to "delight and provide even the unexpressed needs of the customer" (e.g., such as Tom walking into a hotel room where he would be giving a speech the next morning to find a projector and screen set with cables carefully taped down so he could practice his presentation.)

Dr. Goldratt mentions a similar paradigm in Beyond the Goal when he says there are really only two things to worry about:

  1. Things that shouldn't have happened but did; and
  2. Things that should have happened but did not.
It's simple, but hard to pull off. And it becomes even harder when you consider that Tom will probably expect a projector the next time he stays at that hotel chain for a speaking engagement. So now today's "Wow!" is tomorrow's expectation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Three Days: Product Overhaul or Just a Meeting?

I've been posting about the new CRM solution from 37Signals called Highrise and complained how the "Cases" feature was only available to premium accounts. Apparently a lot of others didn't like it either. So today, three days after launch, Signals sends out an email informing everyone they're giving cases to everyone, dramatically increased storage limits, even created a new user category and corresponding pricing structure. Their ability to take the pulse of the community and respond quickly and iterate is impressive. Imagine a "big" company doing that...naw, I can't conjure that up either. I'm willing to bet in most companies it would take three days just to find an open slot on everyone's calendar to have a meeting about if we should consider modifying the product.

It reminds me of Tom Peters' example of Paul Paliska's Professional Parking Service, Inc. in The Tom Peters Seminar (page 139). Essentially, Tom showed up to speak at a luncheon at a very busy Orange County Marriott and despite all the traffic and people he noticed everyone was parked in very short order. He complimented Marriott on it during his speech only to learn afterwards that Marriott hadn't parked the cars--Paul's subcontracted parking service had. Tom mused that since Paul and his crew were so focused on and good at event parking they probably got better insurance rates than "giant" Marriott. So he posed the question, "Who's really the big fish in this picture?"

Seth's saying about the same things these days. And I expect we'll get more of that with his new book The Dip coming out in May. Excellence comes from focus. The question is how big can one get before you're no longer nimble? Maybe when you can't pass the rework and relaunch your whole product in 36 hours test?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Follow-up on Highrise: Emailing Notes--Where Have You Been All My Life?

Highrise has this feature where every account is given a unique "drop box" email address. Simply include this address in the Cc or Bcc fields and the email text is sent to the appropriate contact as a new note. It then shows up as a mail icon in the contact's overview.

I mentioned in yesterday's post about Highrise that I'd had some exposure to evaluating enterprise CRM systems. When I was investigating various options and interviewed a number of existing users and their managers about the adoption rate of whatever system they had installed, one issue kept coming up over and over again: integration with Outlook.

"My people just live inside of Outlook. They already have to have one or two other windows up for silo systems that allow them to view or perform transactions, when we gave them another CRM window--they just didn't use it."

Even if you try to use Outlook Contacts to keep notes on and set flags for every significant contact you have with a person, it was always double entry: send the email, log that you sent it in their contact notes pane. Even if you use the MS CRM product you still have to toggle the "save this email" off and on. So once again, 37Signals has embraced constraints and found a simple solution where others wrap lots and lots of features and code around it. And I haven't even tried emailing tasks yet...

Now as a caveat I will say this feature is not "perfect." On my first attempt it missed the body of the email and only included text from my auto signature down. After consulting the Help screens I realized the feature was optimized for Plain Text emails (and I insist on using HTML). I switched the format to Plain Text, forwarded it to my drop box, and that did work perfectly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

37Signals Launches Highrise, I experience "just right"

It's here! We can finally give Highrise a spin. After doing a fair amount of analysis on commercial CRM packages for past employers I was really anxious to see how 37Signals would approach this. I wasn't disappointed (except for the price [more on that in a second]).

I logged in and started pulling business and 3x5 cards out of various pockets where I'd been keeping notes and reminders about my upcoming move and had it all into Highrise in about five minutes. Then I looked around a bit and experienced something I rarely get to experience with software: I was done. There were no more pull-downs to explore, no features I'd yet to uncover, no stubborn formatting hacks I had to research on Google to learn how to work around, I came in, did precisely what I needed to do, and that was all there was to do. I was done. Beautiful.

Now, I really wish I didn't have to shell out fifty bucks a months to get access to Cases. But I've run the budgets on other systems and know this is literally pennies compared to most CRM systems. It's just that I'm using it to keep track of our family's move so it's not like I had to compare this with installing a Siebel system. Seems like they should want individuals to use all the functionality so they'll want it at work.

Also, I wish I had the same formatting options in notes that I have in Basecamp.

And finally, I'm going to be really interested to see if Highrise was necessary or if the new features could have been rolled into Basecamp as optional settings.

But overall, good job guys!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Using Basecamp for Requirements Analysis

I'm working on a project now where we're moving from System A to System B and 17 groups within the company will be affected. We naturally set up meetings with each group to explain the motivation for the changes, outline the proposed architecture, and more importantly analyze their current processes and requirements so we can foresee their needs in the new environment and the impact the intended system would have on their workflow and systems. Usually at each meeting we'd have representatives from the stakeholder as well as from the sponsoring business unit who are responsible for the new system--all taking notes.

I wanted the requirements to reflect all of our notes so I set up a Basecamp site for the project and created a Writeboard for each of the 17 groups. I then posted my notes as Version One of the Writeboard and invited the members of the business unit who attended to review/edit them by a deadline (which I posted as a Milestone). This worked remarkably well. Some went in and edited the text while others just added comments at the bottom, but it saved us from having 17 Word files with track changes turned on bouncing around several people's inboxes.

When the deadline came, I simply exported each Writeboard to a network drive and summarized the notes into a requirements document (which I posted in the Files section).

I used this same approach with the project charter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Email Inbox Hack

I've found the GTD principle of keeping your email inbox clean does help me focus on the task at hand. I'm finding that when I have a pile of emails in my view I have the tendency to always be in what David calls the "emergency scan" mode or surfing back and forth over this list instead of just buckling down and getting one thing done.

I always try to use the two minute and touch it once rules but despite my best efforts, after a few days of cleaning my inbox down to empty I've got 15-20 just sitting there again. Usually I've looked at them and know what project they pertain to but they would have taken longer than two minutes to complete and so they sit.

What I've been doing lately is to set up a "1.0 Need to File" folder under each project folder. I then stick emails from my inbox into the appropriate need to file subfolder. I know when I block off time to work on Project A one of the Next Actions is to tackle that folder.

, , , , ,