Stephen Smith's Blog

All things Sage ERP…

Sage Innovation Process

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Introduction

Sage is always redefining and working to improve its software development methodologies. We’ve transitioned from using Waterfall to using Agile development. We’ve incorporated User Centered Design into all our development. We’ve spend much more time having everyone in the organization connecting and talking to customers. We bring customers into our offices for “coffee with the customer” chats, where the whole development organization can hear what is working well and what is causing our customers pain.

We are now endeavoring to transition our development process to be more upfront User Centered Design and to introduce much more creativity into our processes. To some degree having creativity and processes in the same sentence sounds contradictory; however, we do need to have organized creativity that results ultimately in shipping software. The goal is still shipping software and not producing PowerPoint’s. What we want to do is ship software that aligns very closely with what customers require and which delights users in how appealing, friendly and easy to use it is.

What we are really trying to avoid is:

http://www.dilbert.com/2012-05-07/

which unfortunately happens in far too many products.

Generating Ideas

We started this process with a number of “idea jams”. We ran these as all day events at our various development center campuses. We picked half a dozen product categories, like manufacturing, and created a team for each one of these. Participants then volunteered for a team. The team then had the day to generate ideas (usually 100) then narrow them down to the top three and prepare a business case for their ideas. These were then presented to the whole group with some very original and animated presentations. Then everyone voted on which they felt were the best.

We don’t only take ideas from our idea jams, but also from customer feedback, competitive analysis, disruptive new technologies, business partners, development partners and any other source we can think of.

So out of these processes we accumulated hundreds of great ideas. Now what?

Narrowing Our Focus

Now we want to pick the best ideas to actually implement. So how do we pick and choose? As a first pass, the Product Management teams picked the twenty or so best ideas.

For the second pass we set up interviews with the CEOs of companies (generally of companies that already run our products). We hold these interviews as Webinars and generally for each interview run three ideas past the CEO using artist’s conceptions, mock-ups and verbal descriptions. Basically we want ideas that will excite the CEO of a company. After all the CEO has the ultimate buying power and if the CEO wants our product then we have the best chance of successfully selling to that company.

As you can imagine, getting an hour of a CEOs time for this sort of interview, can be quite difficult. CEOs are very busy and often barraged by huge amounts of sales pitches and spam on a regular basis.

Call to Action: If you are a CEO or know a CEO who might be interested in these sort of interviews, please contact me, by e-mailing me at Stephen.Smith@sage.com.

The following diagram shows this narrowing down process. We are now moving a number of ideas into the “Experience Testing” phase. Where we really want to focus on the overall experience to ensure we are delivering great business value to our customers in a very pleasing package.

Overall Process

All this initial idea generation, customer validation and experience design then become the first steps in an overall Software Development Process as shown in the next diagram.

This diagram emphasizes the initial phases, so the usual Agile Product Development then is the black box between “Experience Testing” and “Early Adopters”. However with modern development techniques all the boundaries in the diagram are very blurry and there is quite a bit of iterative improvement in each phase.

Basically we want to keep getting continuous customer feedback through the whole process. We never really know how well something will be received until the customer is running the real product on real production data in their real environment. We need to get to that phase as quickly as possible. Development needs to be oriented to delivering a minimum viable product as quickly as possible to get it to the early adopters. This then leads to real feedback and to the all-important “persevere or pivot” decisions that need to be made in any innovation process.

In any iterative process with lots of feedback, it’s very important that we achieve lots of “validated learning”. Where all the truths from all this feedback are documented and incorporated going forwards. So we keep moving forwards and don’t just iterate in circles. The Lean Startup people have very good processes for doing this, so you really do learn from your mistakes and don’t just keep repeating them.

Summary

The goal of this initiative is to make Sage’s product development process more innovative and creative. To incorporate much more structured design into all aspects of development. To really encourage far more stakeholder involvement in all parts of the software development process. To really get and incorporate feedback as validated learning’s that greatly enhance our products.

And remember anyone that is or knows a CEO that might like to participate in our concept testing, please let me know.

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Written by smist08

May 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Pardon my synicism for not believing what I just read from having tried, as an “end user” to engage with Sage to provide feedback for future version releases of their ERP & CRM products. I am still skeptical about Sage’s true motiviation when see that they are inviting CEO’s to engage (my perception is to get 10,000 foot view product endorsements). CEO’s are not usually “end users”. Where is the invitation for a service manager to get involved in the design process who has been using CRM software for many years to process tens of thousands of service transactions?

  2. […] our first Hackathon here with the Sage 300 ERP development team. We are adding Hackathons to our Sage Innovation Process as an idea generator and a concept […]

  3. […] are still doing Hackathons, Ideajams and our regular innovation process. This is just another initiative to further drive innovation at […]

  4. […] product ideas come from our Innovation Process, but before converting an innovation idea into a larger development effort there is usually some […]


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