Turn to The Last Word, where software professionals who care about quality give you their opinions on hot topics. This month, read how adding gauges to your software can show stakeholders how well it is meeting their goals.
Say you're one of a dozen VPs of MegaCorp International. You've sponsored a software project to improve the time it takes customer service reps to take orders over the phone. Your marketing people told you that doing this would increase order sizes, improve your reputation, and, ultimately, add more customers. Your finance people told you it could earn the company several million dollars this coming year.
But things are looking rocky just now. The project delivered a few months late and a few hundred thousand dollars over budget. There are bugs-big bugs. The customer management people are moaning because they have to learn something new and they are already asking for changes and improvements.
And to make matters worse, the executive team is hassling you to stop the hemorrhaging and shut the project down. Then it hits you. You can make sure this thing is on the right track by making sure the time it takes to service customers did in fact decrease and that order sizes are increasing!
Slapping your forehead and muttering to yourself, "Why didn't I do this before?" you run down to the development department and ask, "How do I see the average time it takes to service customers and check the average size of orders placed through this new system?" Your lead developer responds: "Um . . . er . . . well, I'm not sure. I guess we could write a report. Well wait, we don't really keep track of that time-to-service-a-customer thing, and the system can't tell the difference between orders placed over the phone or via the online service. We'll have to change the software. But we could get it
done in a month or so." Ouch.
I've seen this scene played out too many times. We set out with good intentions to build a piece of software to solve a business problem. We then focus on the people who'll be using the software to do their jobs and forget the reasons we built the software. When the time comes to prove the software is worth its weight in code, the software can't really tell us.
Suppose when you are building your software you consider your stakeholders as first-class users. Then suppose you build in functionality that allows your stakeholders to observe the very things that concern them.
As you're starting a new project or as you add to an existing one, ask:
- How does this software earn our organization money?
- What can we measure and report to prove it?
- How do we track those measurements over time?
- How do we know when things are going poorly?
- How do we know when things are going well?
Design your software to gather and retain sufficient information to answer these questions-as it's busy earning you money. To keep stakeholders informed, design software with reports, status screens, executive dashboards, and email notification.
In addition, something magic happens when users can monitor their activities. If users are able to see information about their performance, they often work to improve it-speed up their own transaction times or increase their average order size. Give users a way to keep score and they'll try to improve it.
Think of this as adding gauges to your software. Just like your car can tell you how fast it's going and how many miles it's been driven-your software should be able to tell you details about how it's being used.
There are a lot of examples that show this sort of thinking is becoming more commonplace. Search the Web for "executive dashboard" and you'll find the companies that are already building software
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