As an MES consultant, I partner with clients to help them collect and make sense of the
large amount of data available to them. With time, I’ve gained a lot of experience in replacing systems that didn’t make the cut. Essentially, there are four rules you must follow to build sustainable solutions that answer the customers’ needs, build trust, and win over users and business leads.
1. Listen to end-users and management
It all starts with listening. First…answer a 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. So, what does work?
In my experience, the key is to earn buy-in from both operators and management. Ask questions. Listen carefully. Engage. Let as many people as possible tell you what they want, and encourage them to get their hands on a prototype before too many design decisions are locked in.
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 may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies fail to follow this simple rule. And yet in the complexity of designing a new tool, part of the old functionality can be lost. Even if the new system is 100 times superior in 1,000 different ways, you can bet that the missing functionality is the first thing your testing operator will notice. Similarly, if you don’t pay serious attention to the old pain points, they can creep back in.
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. In everything that is designed, what the operator will actually do must be taken into consideration, rather than simply ensuring that the software can achieve what it’s supposed to. With thoughtful design it is possible to eliminate many of the repetitive, irritating click-then-scans of an operator’s job. This makes their work more enjoyable, more efficient and less prone to error.
3. Be on site
When I started with Factora, our CCO taught me that operators must know that 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, face-to-face—troubleshooting and problem-solving—it’s hard for anger to build. You mutate from being them to being us. 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. Once you start collecting feedback through middlemen, you lose sight of your real client—the operator. Do not allow operators to feel that their “bug reports” go ignored in a meaningless, vacant part of the space-time continuum.
Likewise, be sure to use the tool yourself! Would you want to work with this tool? Why or why not?
If you find yourself spending too much time testing one particular aspect of the tool, this means it’s time to get back to the drawing board. As cumbersome as it is to fall back and re-design, it’s much faster and cheaper than continuing with a flawed solution.
4. Ensure supportability
First off, test thoroughly. As one of my wise colleagues says, it’s an underrated 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, procedures and anecdotes. The quality of the testing is an 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 in charge of support. In every way you can, teach them how to fish—that is, how to help themselves. Make sure they have access to the same knowledge base and toolsets that you use.
- Walk them through support issues.
- Teach them SQL queries to find common issues and make sure they know the places you usually look first.
All of the above helps the internal-support person to solve problems themselves and cut down on the amount of support hours their organization has to pay for. Many people don’t reach out because they’re afraid of messing things up by trying to solve issues on their own. While you’re still on site, help them get to a place where they’re confident that they have the skills to crack the case.
Ryan Burns is an MES consultant with Factora.