At the recent Intuit QuickBase #EMPOWER2015 conference, group marketing manager Tim Riedel assembled five individuals responsible for developing and launching new software applications in their organizations.
The panelists included Josh Miller, program manager for FedEx Office; Michael Wacht, vice president of operations for Helm Incorporated; Paul Katz, communications and creative services manager for PartyLite North America; Joyce Weaber, application architect manager for Accenture; and David Hunter, managing director for QuickApps. They first discussed their rollout methodology.
Processes Vary Significantly
At the automotive publication company Helm Incorporated, Michael aims to extend, educate, and empower his users. He does not provide documentation and training because he believes apps should be intuitive enough that people can just start using them. “If an app doesn’t work right away, or if it’s difficult to figure out, people will just delete it. We pick beta testers who we know will be resistant and ask them to beat up the app and give us feedback in real time,” he says. “Using rules-based forms, we make changes within hours to keep them engaged.”
Consulting behemoth Accenture has a much more formal process. “Everything has a lot of steps and deliverables, so the workflow is complex and training is important,” says Joyce. “Getting buy-in from leadership is critical because you need supportive sponsors who can help drive adoption.” Currently, Accenture is developing a course delivery tool that allows employees to identify instructors close to their locations and schedule classes accordingly. Her challenges in rolling out new apps? Ensuring that what stakeholders ask for is in line with business requirements and containing scope creep when developers get overly excited by “cool.”
Although PartyLight is an older company, Paul stays cutting-edge by employing best practices he learned working for other organizations. He says that whether or not a formal rollout is needed depends on the app’s complexity. Regardless, Paul tries to make it fun by giving the app a clever name and logo, and promoting it with posters and tee-shirts. He agrees with Joyce that endorsement is necessary for adoption, but he suggests just going as high as you can. “It’s not necessarily the CEO. Powerful people a few levels below can drive usage.” What does Paul look out for post-launch? “Once the app is out there, there are warning signs that people are not on board. For example, we might get a request to create a spreadsheet or turn off app notifications.”
At FedEx Office, Josh recognizes the necessity of socializing an app. “You have to make sure people understand it and know how to use it,” he says. “For feedback, I always include a suggestion box, and I make sure I create a blueprint for people who inherit an app. The documentation describes where it came from and why it exists, and how it has been updated over time.”
When creating new apps for QuickApps, David makes frequent use of the QuickBase Exchange. “I’ll grab a pre-built table so people can easily communicate their change requests. Just filling out the form gives them a sense of relief,” he says. David also manages stakeholder expectations by writing a communication plan that keeps track of rollout content, and he drives adoption by training the trainers – or power users who will advocate widespread adoption.
All Apps Are Not Created Equal
Most panelists agreed (with the exception of Accenture, which has a standard 12-16 week process for all application development) that rollout strategy varies depending on the size and complexity of the app. Paul commented that he might roll out a large app in phases and a small app in one shot, while David said he may suggest a secondary app if the initial analysis of requirements points in that direction.
Regardless of size, all of the panelists cautioned against developing apps on a whim. “I’ll always take the time to ask the question: will this app solve a problem or streamline a process?” Josh says. “I want to avoid Frankenapp, or the crazy program that works for one person and is useless for everyone else.” Paul too is focused on rolling out apps that address business issues rather than creating more red tape.
Michael adds: “We want our people to understand basic development concepts, because that will result in stronger programs. The future state executive has to be able to build a single-table app, so we encourage everyone to be technically competent at that level.”