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The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Part 2

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Who is Running the Asylum at Foundation Software?

The answer is NONE and ALL.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. At Foundation Software, we try to avoid inmate takeovers by first assigning a lead analyst to oversee design for each project. We then provide a design methodology to follow. This methodology can be best described using an acronym I coined called ROPE. ROPE stands for Research, Organize, Plan, and Execute.

  1. Research to gather information. This phase consists of consultation with Customers, Sales, Client Services, Quality Control, Programming and Management. Internet research, reading and analysis of our competition all come into play. Design considerations are not relevant at this stage.
  2. Organize the research. Our lead analyst organizes information into logical components and processes. This may involve continued consultations with those people previously interviewed. Features are prioritized as well as added and eliminated based on the benefits they will provide to the end user.
  3. Plan. The planning phase begins when our analyst designs the application from the user’s perspective. Usability and the correct application of features and benefits dominate the process. Depending on the nature of the application, there may be one or more review meetings for clarifications and revisions.
  4. Execute. Finally, the programmers that do the actual coding will receive the final specifications document. They will study the document and then meet with the analyst to thoroughly review all aspects of the specifications. Concerns, questions, and suggestions will be made. There may be fine-tuning at this point, and then programming begins.

Although the entire design process is time consuming and intense, it has three major benefits. First, it results in an application that specifically addresses the users’ wants and needs and does it in an extremely efficient manner. Second, it reduces the overall time it takes to release the application to the market. Finally, it stands the test of time.

Well-designed software provides a more powerful solution. It also allows itself to be continually enhanced while remaining clean, efficient, and powerful. The inmates may not like this, but our construction clients sure do!

By: TwitterButtons.com

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Part 1

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

NEWSFLASH: In the exciting world of construction accounting software, the inmates are in control. Chaos reigns and some very ugly accounting software systems have infected the back offices of construction companies nationwide!

I like to take the time to educate myself as much as possible. One of my very favorite books is Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, which takes an in-depth look into software application design.

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum—or in other words, “The Programmers Are Designing the Software.” Also, I realized that this analogy works like this, too: “The Sales People Are Determining Product Direction.” Under either scenario, you have a company (asylum) allowing their inmates (programmers and salespeople) to produce software that is poorly designed from a user’s perspective.

If programmers have their way, the product will never be released. On the flip side, salespeople would have product releases every month highlighting hundreds of new features. I’ve personally seen a number of our competitors fall victim to one of these two traps. Take these two examples:

The Programmers Are Running the Asylum
In the early 1990’s, one of our best-known competitors took several years to release a core module to their Windows® accounting software suite. At the time, why they could not find a way to put closure on the development process was a mystery to me. In this particular product, the entire process involved several complex and convoluted steps that even their own salespeople had difficulty performing. From my perspective, the programmers were clearly running the asylum.

Chalk One Up for the Salespeople
When designing FOUNDATION® for Windows® 3.0 in the mid-1990’s, Foundation Software was faced with a major decision—should we completely redesign and rewrite our DOS product? This path would take several years, and substantially more dollars. The cheaper alternative was to retain a substantial portion of the old code, database, and design and choose an “overlay” approach, which would result in getting the product quickly to market. Two of our competitors chose “overlays” which are feature-rich and very shallow. They provide weak solutions to a multitude of everyday processes. Our competition chose features over usability. Chalk one up for the salespeople.

So who is running the asylum at Foundation? Check back for Part 2!

By: TwitterButtons.com

Marketing Fundamentals and Tales of the Tea Leaves.

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Zillow.com recently reported 2011 Q1 results for the national real estate market. As the owner of a firm that is both licensed as a builder and is home to a Real Estate sales brokerage as two parts of our three main service offerings, these stunning statistics hit home to me. Right square in the backside! I can only be discouraged by the continued erosion in demand and pricing as well as the astounding statistic of 28.4% of homes considered “under water”. Negative equity is not a good sign for any segment of our market – new construction, existing home sales, new construction, commercial work as well as the support services that cater to the real estate market. A real estate recession has reach far beyond the housing market alone. The full result can be found at http://www.zillow.com/local-info/
On the commercial side, there are plenty of Private Equity funds set up to purchase Class A facilities. The trouble is that banks often don’t have the capital cushion to foreclose on large properties and take the hit against their lending limit. So they don’t foreclose or pursue the property. This may be the first time in history in which the struggling or defaulting borrower can’t get a return call from their lender! Whoever would have thought the day would come when a borrower in distress couldn’t get their lender to talk to return a phone call? This leads me to think that the best intentioned government programs, such as the first time homebuyer credit, only served to temporarily prop up the market and sustain the situation for an even longer period. The fact is we need to get rid of this inventory before demand will increase. Enough said about that.
Topline National Results )from the Zillow.com website):
• U.S. home values posted their largest quarter-over-quarter decline since Q4 2008, falling 3 percent. Home values have fallen 29.5 percent from their peak in June 2006.
• Negative equity reached a new high with 28.4 percent of all single-family homes with mortgages underwater, up from 27 percent in Q4 2010, due to accelerating home value declines.
• New data reveals bottom in home values unlikely to appear in 2011. Zillow has revised its forecast and now predicts a bottom in 2012 at the earliest.
What this means for us as constructors is simply this – projects will continue to be scarce and the competition for these projects will continue to be intense. And here comes my opportunity to discuss the obligatory “Business Fundamentals” that I have yapped about for 3 years in this blog. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to hone your processes to the point where you are making profit on even small projects. Continue to review from top to bottom the manner in which you deliver your service or product to your client. Cut waste where necessary. Invest in technology tools that will help you become more efficient. Get educated on the bleeding edge products and science in our industry. Become an expert. Invest in staff training from the newest helper to the most seasoned project manager. Remember, doing things right once costs much less than doing it twice incorrectly. Don’t assume your carpenters know how to hang a door – give them a class so that you are all operating on the same principles with the same toolkit.
Also, we have to continue to get our staffs involved in our marketing efforts. No, that doesn’t mean they have to go on every sales calls with you, but occasionally doing so is not only a great morale boost but also conveys the importance that they play in marketing your company and generating leads, referrals, sales and revenue. The best salesman in the world cannot overcome shoddy workmanship and poor field processes. Likewise, the best run field operation will sit idle without a quality sales program managed by good salespeople. It truly is a team process and every member of the team needs to be on board in generating leads and jobs.
At the end of the day, I feel as if all I write about is bad news. But I hope you don’t take it that way. To the contrary, those of you still in business are the top notch performers in our industry. Those of you still getting leads, converting those leads to projects and projects to sales already must have excellent fundamentals. But don’t rest on those successes, because our market is due to change again. Define your processes, refine them, jettison the awkward and unprofitable components and guerilla market whenever possible. Remember that the best marketing program must be backed up by unbeatable service or you will be spinning your wheels. Even a lion can’t rest after a wonderful meal, but must continue to tune up for the next hunt. In this particular metaphor, I would much rather your organizations behave like the lion than the caribou.

Always Be Sincere, Whether You Mean It Or Not

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

As a secondary schoolteacher in the 1970′s, I taught math and business courses to more than 160 students each year. I coached cross country, wrestling and track, attended numerous extra-curricular activities and parent teacher conferences, and just plain interacted with other teachers, counselors and administrators. I had to deal with a wide range of people with different backgrounds, personalities, and communications skills. Since joining the business world in 1981, some things remain the same. From employees and customers to professionals, vendors and competitors – I have met, talked, worked and socialized with literally thousands of people in the business community.

It occurred to me recently, that with the pressures and challenges of growing a company, it is the interaction with people that can be the most difficult. Human beings are a flawed species and at times, I certainly top the list! Hence, when I read the motto:  Always Be Sincere Whether You Mean It or Not – as ironic as it sounds – it made perfect sense to me.

Over the years I have met people who simply speak what is on their mind and the message is far from accommodating. You hear things like: “It’s my way or the highway,” and “That’s just the way I am and if you don’t like it…”

These are the people who claim to be authentic, but in reality, they come across as insensitive…or just plain rude. I have said things that I deeply regret. Last year I upset a client by being a little too blunt, and in more than 26 years as the owner of Foundation Software I have unnecessarily caused some employees to lose sleep over something I said. Heck, I’ve lost plenty of sleep over things I’ve said! Perhaps I delivered the message improperly.

Sure we should show respect to people we come into contact with, but there are plenty of times when the cold, brutal truth is necessary in business. One of the most brutal is when you terminate an employee. Or fire a vendor who also happens to be a friend. The more subtle occasions are when you need to reprimand a subordinate or deliver some bad news to the CEO…

There was a famous football coach who was criticized for treating some players differently than others. His response? “Well, they are different.” Obviously in business, you cannot show bias or prejudice, but the bottom line is: everyone is different and the delivery of your message may need to change with the person and the circumstance. At my company, for example, I know that there are some employees with whom I can just flat out say what is on my mind, while with others I must choose my words more carefully. The point is that the message gets delivered properly.

The most successful and greatest business people walk the perfect tight rope – they get things done, and they are always sincere, whether they mean it or not!

By: TwitterButtons.com

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