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Management Software business

Follow the paper trail

Everyone has heard the phrase “follow the money”. There’s a reason for this – it leaves a trail to the truth. Similarly, business processes reveal themselves and who is involved when you follow the paper.

Yep, I’m referring to software estimates. Software people are generally terrible at creating estimates. Or at least, creating accurate estimates.
Software people know this, of course. You’ll hear “double or triple it and add four” as a joke. Except it’s not a joke when you’re paying the bill.

Do you have a process?

Software people need a process for creating estimates – but most don’t have one. Typical result: Estimates that are often inaccurate.

“Do you have a consistent process for creating estimates?” is a good question to ask someone you’re considering for such work.

Estimates created using a consistent process may still be wrong. A process lends a consistency to them. Over time, an attentive team will notice the consistent inaccuracy and work to fix it.

When we don’t have a process for coming up with an estimate, our estimates will lack consistency. A consistent process should create consistent estimates, even if they’re inaccurate. That consistency allows us to learn over time how to adjust them to make them more realistic.

Customers “lie”

Bad estimates have other roots.

I say “lie” because you hear this from software people, but that isn’t what they mean. They mean that what customers tell them isn’t what they need, but the customer doesn’t know that.

Customers unwilling to provide a detailed description of the problem cause bad estimates. Being unable to describe what you need produces the same result.

The right software people can make this process easy. Those who do this make it clear they understand the importance of this part of the process.

Signs of trouble

A bad process sends signals. Someone makes assumptions. Things get glossed over or ignored with comments like “Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it later.” There’s a resistance to digging into the details.

Would you hire a drill press operator who says “Oh, I know where the holes belong”?

Would you hire a loan officer who says “I can tell who pays their bills by looking at them”?

I doubt it.

If they won’t take the time to immerse themselves, they won’t understand the work you do. They won’t know what questions to ask. They won’t “find out where the bodies are buried.” (ie: essential knowledge)

A bad process results in more work after project completion.

We’re not talking about good ideas discovered. I mean the original work isn’t what you needed.

If I’m McDonald’s software guy and all I know is that they sell burgers, what I create will have gaps.

What’s a good process look like?

I like to follow the paper, or in today’s world, the paper’s surrogate.

When the phone rings, a piece of paper appears.

When a customer walks in the door, a piece of paper appears.

When you get a lead or a sale online, more paper appears.

Of course, there might not be an actual piece of paper, but there will be something. It might be a new record in your CRM. An email. A text message. An order on your system that needs pick and pack. A PO appears.

Something provokes the next action you and your staff take – and it leaves a trail.

Do they follow the paper trail?

Your software people should be asking about these things. They should be following the paper trail – at least those pertinent to the project. They should be asking about things tangential to the assets and processes involved.

Everything touches something else – including things we may not consider important.

Describing the reality of your business workflow requires following the trail. In businesses with no paper, something leaves a trail.

Following it will help you explain the roles your new software must fill. It will show the gaps that software must bridge. It will tell the software people things you don’t know to tell them.

Whose responsibility is this?

It’s yours. And sure, to some extent, it’s theirs.

If their actions don’t make it clear they’re the right team, you have to be strong enough to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is the wrong people on the bus.

Photo by Richard Burlton on Unsplash