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Managers – especially those with an entrepreneurial spirit – often encounter numerous issues when trying to get software projects off the ground. At Triggre, we regularly meet such managers, and we understand their frustration which stems from the fact that they want to accomplish their IT goals at a pace that their IT department can’t keep up with. But why is that? Why are IT projects a hassle?

A lack of understanding

Suppose you’re a forward-thinking manager with innovative ideas, and you ask your IT experts to adjust or develop something you consider to be minor. Their response? “That will take three weeks – at least.” You don’t get it. This should be simple, so why are they making it difficult? The long wait doesn’t help either; it only widens the gap between you and your IT people. The result: a mutual lack of understanding.

Other interests

If you’re depending on an external IT supplier, their interests differ strongly from yours. They don’t want to empower you to a level where you don’t need them anymore. Their business benefits from returning customers – which is why they want you to come back and ask them for solutions. At Triggre, this is not an issue, as you can realize your ideas independently. This means our success depends on our customers’ success – a very different approach than most software companies opt for!

New insights

As a manager, you gain new insights every day. Your IT experts, however, don’t offer room for these. They dive into an idea for six months, and once they present you with the result, your vision may already have changed fundamentally. At times, this can be very frustrating and cost-ineffective!

Insufficient involvement

IT people tend to respond to fresh requests in a very bureaucratic manner. A variety of forms need to be filled out and several meetings are organized, often restraining a manager’s innovative thinking process. As a manager, you can see the urgency or benefits of your idea, but you quickly find yourself bending over backwards to break through a bureaucratic, abstract wall.

Do you recognize these issues that make the realization of innovative software ideas a hassle? And are you tired of them? Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your opportunities. At Triggre, you can create your own software. It’s fun and hassle-free!

Together with our customers we have made quite some interesting process changes over the years. I wanted to share some of the most important insights we have gained and give a few examples that might help you rethink your processes.

#1 Simplification

It may seem superfluous to say, but many processes can be simplified. Many companies are doing things the way they do just because they have always done them this way. A good way to start, is at the data that is used in the process. Look at every field of data used in the process such as for example employee number, customer social security number, etc. For each of these fields find out why you need it. If you can’t find out why, simply cross it out.

We have noticed that many times data is used in a process that is needed by law. However, laws change and it is easy to then forget that the data in a process is linked to it. One of our customers was once still storing customer’s identity information while that was no longer needed by law. We changed the process to a much simpler one, which got rid of everything related to the customer’s identity information.

#2 Automation and exceptions

One of the most interesting changes to make in a process is to automate it so that it becomes manageable by exception. This means that most of the times the process is executed, it can be handled completely automatically. Only if there is an exceptional case should a human employee intervene. This may sound a little bit abstract so let me give you a real world example.

A customer had a process where they hired external people on a regular basis to supervise exams. Those supervisors would declare their travel costs and time they spent. All this information was sent by regular mail. The information was then typed into SAP after being checked. Before paying the amount the entire declaration was checked again. This took a lot of time obviously and was seriously error-prone.

What we designed together with our customer is a process that is almost fully automated. From their online exam booking system we get all the information needed to determine the declaration; home address of the supervisor, address of the exam location, the duration of the exam and whether the supervisor was present and the financial information to transfer the money to the supervisor. With this information we use an internet service to automatically calculate the travel expenses. The duration of the exam is used to calculate the declaration for the exam.

All declarations for a month are combined for the supervisor, who can then simply download the declaration for his administration. The declaration is automatically transferred to the supervisor, who has an option to file a complaint if he thinks something is wrong (which is an exception, because most information is provided by the supervisor in the first place through the online exam booking software).

In this example the success rate is higher than 95% which is a good rule of thumb to aim for when designing such processes. You want to be able to achieve as close to 100% automation as you can, but certainly not lower than 90%. The process in this example eliminates a lot of copying of data manually, almost fully automates the process and provides time saving for both the company and the supervisor. Win-win.

#3 – Responsibility and self-service

A final tip on automating and rethinking processes is to take responsibility into account. Some processes require some input from a customer, supplier or employee. It helps enormously if you can design it in such a way that the person who has most to gain, is the one responsible for supplying the information. This creates a natural pressure to perform, which can then be further helped by sending a reminder if the data is not yet supplied after a certain amount of time.

One example of such responsibility is when we designed a process for an educational institute where the participant could indicate his company would pay. In this case, we would send an email to the company asking them to sign off on paying for the education, which would expire after 7 days. This places the responsibility to make sure the employer will sign off right where it is best put: at the participant who wants to take the course.

This step greatly reduced the amount of time spent handling requests, both because the educational institute no longer had to call after the employer, but also because there were far less issues with people trying to get a course paid by their employer without permission.

Over the past years working with the amazing team at Triggre, I have learned a few valuable lessons on how to foster creativity in a team. Just because your team consists of the best people, doesn’t mean that they will be creative. And while it is absolutely true that some are more creative than others, stimulating creativity will nevertheless make a huge difference.

Define a clear goal

One of the most important things to do when increasing a team’s creative output, is to define a very clear goal. A clear goal doesn’t mean something that is defined in detail. Rather, it provides a guideline for the team to decide what to do. This means that a complete design document with all kinds of technical specifications is not a clear goal in the sense that I am talking about. “Making the world’s most efficient solar panel”, however is.

So a clear goal is a little bit further into the future, allowing for more ways to achieve it and doesn’t define details. Let me give you an example. Our product, Triggre, allows users to make software without technical knowledge. Our goal is to make our Designer as easy as it can be for those users, while still being able to make complex business applications.

This high-level goal has led our R&D team to come up with some fantastic solutions, including ways to prevent users making infinite loops in processes and a fantastically simple way of showing the user where something is wrong in his design.

Stupid ideas are good

The more stupid ideas, the better. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this is absolutely vital. As a team, when you’re trying to find a different way to do something, you need as many ideas you can come up with. Even if it is a blatantly obvious stupid idea, it needs to be shared.

While designing a new concept for our Triggre Designer, we would often brainstorm on some of the challenges. These brainstorms were often full of ideas that we knew wouldn’t work because they directly contradicted some part of our design philosophy. Still we shared those ideas and we would laugh at the funniest of them, all together. So how did that help us?

Well, the nice thing about ideas is that, even though they might not completely satisfy all the aspects you want in a solution. They usually embody a new way of solving the problem, if you have a clearly defined goal. Even if the idea doesn’t solve the problem, having a new perspective, no matter how silly, will trigger other ideas that may very well be the breakthrough you are looking for. So whatever you do, embrace stupid ideas. They’re worth way more than you might think.

Trust is absolutely vital

It takes a lot of guts for someone to share an idea, let alone one that is guaranteed not to be the solution. Especially if they’re not the one who’s in charge. On the one hand, saying you have a silly idea helps, but what’s more important is that someone actually gets to the point where they feel they are allowed to come up with ideas that won’t work in the first place. This requires a very high level of trust.

One of the best books I have ever read on creating a team, is The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni. It is a must-read for everyone who works in a team, leads a team or aspires to work in or lead a team. Yes, basically everyone, except hermits.

The trust needed ultimately comes back to the goal. Everyone on the team must understand that whatever idea is presented, it is done with the intention of reaching the goal. And that presenting an idea will never place them in a position of ridicule, but instead, the idea is highly valued no matter how wrong it may seem. This is perhaps the most important aspect of getting people to share.

As a leader, this means you never make fun of people’s ideas, never raise your voice because you think an idea is stupid, and definitely never take a shared idea as a personal attack. Because if you do, that sets an example for the rest of the team and trust will fade faster than an ice cream on a hot sunny day.

Kill your own ideas

If you are a team-leader, you will have to set an example. Not only by refraining from the negative, but also by showing the positive. One very good way to do this, is to go first with presenting an idea that won’t completely solve the problem, but gets people thinking. And then killing it, saying “Okay, that will never work. Can anyone else come up with another solution?”.

Do this frequently. Make sure you show your team that it is good to offer any idea, and that any idea can be dismissed, no matter who it came from. Keep doing this until you hit that one idea that simply nails it. You’ll know, because everyone agrees it’s the best way to do it.

Creativity is a process

Any solution is always just a step towards a goal. In one of my first blog posts, A guide from complexity to simplicity, I discuss exactly this attitude. It doesn’t matter if a decision you make turns out to be a step in the wrong direction. Just trace back your steps, and take a different approach.

If you want creativity to succeed, you will have to be open to the process of iterative improvement. That means sometimes you’ll find out something doesn’t work (anymore). Don’t get discouraged. A team that’s built on trust, is creative, and is willing to view everything as a prototype, will ultimately come up with a solution that is far superior to anything you can otherwise come up with.

In our previous blogs, we discussed the importance of determining the happy flow and addressing the bottle necks. Once you’ve asked all necessary questions, you can take concrete steps towards creating your own application. Key to this process is a nicely timed series of ‘what ifs.’

Alternative scenarios, subsequent steps

What if we would leave these process steps out? What if we would add another step? What if we would create an application that sends text messages in addition to emails? Such questions allow you to broaden your horizon and come to an actionable plan of improvement.

However, it is essential to write down all subsequent steps, because one single change in your process will likely cause a so-called ripple effect: many other steps will be affected by it. Therefore, you need to check if this change will not result in any problems later in the process and if it will create a desirable overall outcome.

By way of example, let’s have a look at the above mentioned text message solution. Suppose an employee with a commercial position receives tons of emails each day, which often causes new account requests to end up on the bottom of the pile. This, in turn, leads to unwanted and unnecessary delays.

So, you could try to create an application that first sends out an email, but that also sends text message reminders at set intervals. And if said the employee does not respond to the latter, the application may ultimately send the request to an authorized co-worker.

Now, it is important to ‘tell’ yourself the subsequent story: write down exactly what would happen next, taking the smallest steps into account. That way, you can see if the application you have in mind will work in practice!

Making decisions, drafting a plan

If all the steps lead to a desired result, you can definitively opt for a specific solution. When writing down your plan of improvement, be short and concise: in most cases, one page will suffice. Using this plan, you can create the first version of your application, which you will continuously improve.

The reason why it’s important to make something tangible quickly is that once created, your application will allow you to make improvements by trial and error. If it does not yet yield the hoped-for result, you can easily go back to your series of ‘what-if questions’ and adjust the application where needed!

Keep in mind that changing a lot at once can make your improvement process very slow. You’d want to offer your users new features as soon as possible, so it’s recommended that you divide this process into phases. Keep an eye on our blog to read more about this subject!

“Where can we make the greatest impact?” It’s a question that sets you off in the right direction when automating your processes. Once you have selected a problem or process to start with, you need to get all your stakeholders on board.

After all, you want your co-workers, customers and/or suppliers to quickly see the added value of the application you wish to make. To achieve this, addressing the biggest bottleneck helps you to create support for your digitalization endeavors.

Reveal the bottleneck: get to the root of the problem

Where does it often go wrong in your process? What action costs a lot of time? What is a major point for improvement? Usually, it is necessary to keep asking questions for a while. So go out and do interviews and create a brainstorm session, to reveal a key bottleneck within your process.

Moreover, it is important to align opinions on the subject matter: three people may have three different answers to the same question, as they might experience a process differently.

Once you’ve decided on a major bottleneck, it’s time to focus on the ‘how’ and ‘why:’ How do you carry out the process and why do you do so in this particular way? By asking these types of questions, you discover the root of the problem.

This allows you to look for a solution. Remember that the most logical one isn’t always the best option. So, join forces and brainstorm away to figure out what solution best fits your organization.

An example: on-boarding new employees

Is the above still a bit abstract? Here’s a practical example: the on-boarding process of new employees. Usually, this process starts in the HRM department when a vacancy is posted. Once a new employee has been selected, certain actions need to be completed before he or she can start working for the company: a new laptop and cell phone must be arranged, and the new employee will need their own account to access the company’s data.

Multiple people and multiple departments are involved in the process, and any delays cause the entire chain to stagnate. If, for example, the new account is requested through email, it ends up on a large pile, where it is bound to be forgotten. This can be a major bottleneck.

Now, if you build an application to control and monitor the process, that automatically sends reminders and forwards the process to the next person responsible upon completion of each step, you will instantly see a huge improvement – in terms of both speed and efficiency!

If you want to jump on the digitalization train, you will quickly find that it’s key to define your own process before turning it into an application. An effective way to do this is by asking the right questions. In this new blog series, we will guide you through this process step by step – starting with the happy flow!

What is a happy flow?

What does your process look like when everything goes the way it should? If you answer this question, you will get grip on the core of your process. We call this the happy flow. This is the most important thing to know about your process because it will keep your initial digitalization project small, completed on time and it will prevent loads of double work. But how to go about it?

#1 Start at the end

If you first describe the end – or, the desired outcome – of a process, it’s much easier to define its starting point as well. The end result could be a quote or a document of approval. The next step is the starting point. The latter can be an employee taking initial action, a customer submitting a request, or a supplier specifying a certain need, for example. Whatever the specifics of your situation may be, it’s important to first determine your end result and starting point, respectively.

#2 Determine the in-between steps

Now, it’s crucial to keep asking questions about the process, so you can fill in the gaps and reveal the in-between steps. By doing so you visualize both the happy flow and the exceptions in your process. The easiest way is to use a whiteboard or a notebook, so it’s easy to connect the dots and visualize your process.

#4 Components of the happy flow

There’s no need to do this chronologically; simply jot down every step or action you believe to be standard and important to the process.

#5 Exceptions

Whenever you feel that you’re describing an exception rather than a rule – for example, a step that’s only relevant if the amount involved exceeds 10.000 euros – you simply write them down on the exceptions list, you will need them in another stage.

#6 Create the entire flow

Once you’ve distilled all the standard important process steps, list them chronologically on a piece of paper. That’s your happy flow: a useful overview that provides insight into your process. This will serve as the framework for the first version of the application you want to create. When this application is tested and approved you can decide if and where you want to add steps from the exceptions list.

Curious about other important questions you should be asking? In other blogs, we’ll tell you how to use this approach to reveal the bottle necks.

In many companies, organizational departments are separated. As a result, marketing employees, for example, never come anywhere near the ICT division, and vice versa. In such organizations, it is generally assumed that software development is too difficult to engage with, anyway.

However, this gap is unnecessary and it’s a shame that it still exists so widely. Because if companies manage to bridge it, they unlock a wealth of opportunities, making software creation easier, more accessible, and more fun.

Outside the box, into a broader realm

A little outside-the-box thinking can go a long way. First and foremost, companies should stop pigeonholing. Considering the inquisitive, exploratory mindset of millennials, restricting employees to a rigidly defined task list is outdated.

Most people possess a skillset that stretches beyond it, and although they don’t necessarily need to put it to use, it’s important to allow them to think and act broadly. In terms of software development, creating a company culture that encourages non-IT employees to delve into the subject makes it less scary and therefore more accessible.

Once you involve people in IT-related matters, they will have the courage to take subsequent steps. Don’t throw them into complex coding languages. Simply show them that there are more possibilities than they think – for those without a technical background as well.

Building bridges (and applications) with the right tool

Of course, bridging the gap between departments requires the right tool. Although creating software is often presented or referred to as an arduous endeavor, it doesn’t have to be.

Triggre, for example, gives you the opportunity to make software without the hassle: you can build your own application quickly and easily, experimenting with new ideas along the way – regardless of whether you’re a marketing employee or a business manager. If you want to make an adjustment later on, you don’t have to call the IT department, as you can conveniently do it yourself.

In other words, the right tool can work wonders: it makes the traditionally complex field of software development approachable and fun to virtually everyone!

Once you have decided which processes you’d like to automate, it is time to build your application. There are several ways to do this: you can deliver it all at once or break down the process into short time intervals, completing small steps every two or three weeks. No matter which route is right for you, at some point you will be ready to launch the first version.

In this blog, we’ll tell you how to go about it – and we’ll explain what’s next.

Going live: from first version to perfection

It is recommended that you launch the first version for a small number of preferred customers or suppliers who are thoroughly familiar with your company culture. By processing their feedback, you will eliminate major hurdles and inconveniences.

After doing so, you can make the application available to a larger group of users that continues to grow over time. Such a ‘phased launch’ is always preferred, as it avoids peak loads (which may occur when you receive all user feedback at once) and allows your organization to gradually switch to a new way of working.

Next steps: one idea leads to another

You are likely to notice potential connections to other systems during the development and launching process. Of course, you can try to incorporate these immediately, but often, it is wise to ensure that the application runs properly first.

Once it does, employees – even those who were initially skeptical about automation – will actually experience the benefits. For example, your application probably speeds up efficiency and eliminates the need for completing tedious manual tasks.

As a result, they will be on board with it. They might even come up with some fresh ideas for your next automation steps. And in this stage, it is easier to start new initiatives or make adjustments to your existing application, which is now running smoothly.

In conclusion, we’d like to repeat what we’ve said throughout this blog series: start small, so you’re able to show tangible results quickly. When selecting a process that will benefit from automation, opt for a department that adopts a welcoming attitude towards it.The rest of the organization will follow once you can show them the advantages of your application in practice!

Now that you’ve discovered your own processes and have a clear idea of processes that can benefit from automation, it is time to roll up your sleeves and get something tangible off the ground. In other words, it is time to automate your business. Answer these four questions and you’re off into the right direction.

1. Can you sketch an overall picture of your processes?

Many people don’t know much about company processes that extend beyond their own department. However, it is paramount to familiarize yourself with processes at the overarching organizational level. Only then, you will know who should do what at which time in a process.

Once you’ve acquired this information, you need to focus on the so-called happy flow: What do things look like when everything is going the way it should? Don’t focus on incidents that hardly ever occur. The effort and money spent on automating these incidents can cost you more than it saves.

Users are often happy with less and simpler options if it results in easier use of the system. Ask your stakeholders the question ‘how often does this occur’ and ‘how much time does it cost you to solve this by hand’, to really estimate the value of automating the step.

2. Why do people perform certain actions (and should you rethink these)?

If a process is carried out in a certain way ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ you might be holding on to an inefficient flow of actions. Try to track down and rethink such processes early on, because translating analogue or ineffective processes to digital versions is often a waste of time and money.

Sometimes, it is wise to eliminate certain steps or reverse the order in which things are done. A question like ‘Wouldn’t it be more efficient to do this much earlier in the process’ can be very helpful in optimizing the process. Be flexible in this regard, so you can truly benefit from automation.

3. What are your acceptance criteria?

What should the outcome of a process look like? As with the first question, it is important to leave out any details and focus on the big picture. Define a broad yet crisp-and-clear answer to this question to ensure that everyone involved understands the ultimate goal.

Of course, to achieve this, several smaller goals can be defined, for instance for each of the stakeholders.

4. Can you create a simple design to test it with stakeholders?

To explain your plan to all the stakeholders, break down your process into five to six steps (at most) and summarize it on a single page.  At this point, however, you don’t know what your application will look like, so make simple, tangible sketches to add further details to the steps.

This will allow stakeholders and/or key users to visualize the process and ask for any clarifications right away. For example, ask why a form field or button is at a certain place or stage in the application blue print. Not only is this a great way to test the waters with them, you also involve them from the very start, ensuring that they’re on board.

Last time, we wrote that discovering processes is an essential first step if you want to embrace automation. Once you’ve gone through the three-step plan that we described, you’re ready to answer the next question: Which processes will benefit from automation?

In this blog, we have listed five processes that commonly require automation!

1. Repetitive tasks

Every company has to deal with tasks that are repetitive in nature. For example, you probably have an on boarding process in place for new employees. This might encompass a variety of actions, such as setting up a new email account, creating a personnel file, and providing a new employee with company regulations.

If you create an application that takes care of, or reminds people of all these steps, including a check-mark list for must-do tasks, you will work more efficiently and save a tremendous amount of time.

2. Increased insight for customers and suppliers

Whether you’d like to increase the efficiency of your customer ordering process or your contact with suppliers, automation provides the answer. You can build virtually everything: from a web portal which always shows customers the current status of their shipment to an application providing suppliers with all parcel requirements (including codes and dimensions), which smoothly leads them through the shipment process.

3. Manual data entry work

Optimizing your customer service is always a good idea. If customers email you certain information, it is very inefficient and time consuming to manually enter it into your own system. It would make much more sense to provide customers with login data so they can register their questions, remarks, or complaints in a system, which allows you to respond faster.

Another benefit of this method, is that you automatically have a log of old items and it’s exchangeable between employees.

4. Focusing on people’s interests

Your employees are more likely to cooperate on automation projects if their own interests are involved. So try to find processes that would probably concern them, such as the submission of receipts for work-related expenses.

If you tell them to upload all receipts to your system by the end of the month so you can process these more easily and pay them sooner, it is a win-win situation: they will get paid on time and your accounting department saves time.

5. Deadline-sensitive processes

Wherever deadlines must be met, automation comes in handy. Suppose your quoting process involves multiple people who need to approve a variety of things, from price to delivery time.

As you don’t want to keep the customer waiting for a quote, you can make an application that sets approval deadlines and sends automatic reminders. This makes it much easier to meet your customer’s expectations!