Office Organization

I see several internal categories of customers applications are developed for, and often the mistake is made of building a product with the wrong user in mind (often management or business intelligence is stressed over accomplishing the work — likely because these are the people with the purse strings.)

An arbitrary set of categories:

Strategic Planning
Product Development
Sales & Marketing
Services & Support

The CEO and top management need to know the big picture. Summary reports, sales statistics, product development & IT costs, customer satisfaction, profit & loss, etc. but are really outwardly focussed. Their job is to think about potential customers, competitors, investors, and decide where the business should be going. They mostly need reports, I’d argue not even reporting tools beyond spreadsheets, etc. for number crunching comparisons. Tools from all the other departments should make it easy for them to provide strategic data on demand, but I’d argue, not even have a view that a CEO could use. It’s a waste of his time to learn to use it anyway, and he’ll probably mis-interpret the data, or end up micro-managing.

Management tools should be focussed on managing their teams, not on gathering reports for decision making. A manager should not need to know time tracking information beyond that Joe is always late or work, or Judy always goes over budget. Interfacing with HR and Accounting are what they need, because that’s how they work with budgets and employees. Joe should be able to go to his manager about insurance or schedule concerns, and Judy should be able to procure what she needs. Management does need to budget time as well as money, but that’s limited level strategic info, and should be given to them as a report with comments, they shouldn’t be making their own reports or micro-managing their teams’ tasks.

Believe it or not, Product Development is the core of a business. It’s not Sales. Without sales, you couldn’t pay to develop your product, but what is sales selling? It’s what your business does. You make widgets. No one goes to a business saying “I’m looking for someone to sell me something.” Likewise, all the other departments are dependent on product development. These are the “employees” HR cares about. The things that fulfillment is fullfilling, support is supporting, and accounting is counting. Figuring out the *something* to produce is the strategic decision. Producing the product is core. Everything else is details.

Development, QA, and Project Management tools fall in here. It’s why automation is so big in industry. Insuring quality is key to differentiating from competition, and Project Management makes sure you know how these two tasks are going.

Probably the biggest tools market is in Project Management these days, and truth is they’re mostly all bad because they’re geared towards letting managers and executives (and accounting and HR) stick their fingers in the pot and grind the gears of development to a halt.

In the physical world, product development automation has the biggest pay off, and is probably the most mined. Quality Assurance is the hardest to automate, because their job is to make sure the development is done right. And I’m not just saying that because I have a career in QA. I may only know it because I do, but it makes sense — or else I’m blinded by my perspective.

But the better, cheaper, and faster you can verify quality, the better off you are. This is where things like time tracking, budget oversight, and quality control tests come into play. It should be outside of management, partially so management can make dispassionate decisions.

In the recent past, Customer Support was thought to be the big win. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but the truth is, it’s the support that’s lacking, not the tools. Support needs the tools to know about things like inventory, shipping, customer accounts, etc. AND THE POWER TO USE THEM. That’s the part that’s lacking. And the tools are pretty bad, to boot.

Sales consists of two types. Salesmen, and Point of Sale. They are completely different. One is going to customers, the other is handling the customers that come to them. One is trying to convince people, and the other hopes they don’t change their mind, because they are already customers, they just haven’t paid yet. Therefore, Point of Sale personnel need good information on inventory, accounting, fulfillment, and product features. (It wouldn’t hurt if salesmen knew them either, but let’s not expect too much.) Salesmen, however, need to listen to customers, and take back to Strategic planning and product development what the potential customers want. There are two sides to customers relations, and I think this is where a lot of tools fall down. Of course the idea is to cross-sell to existing customers, but that’s changing their mind. Service and Support (perhaps an extension of the point of sale) shouldn’t let a new product poach their customers, unless a strategic decision has been made that it’s worth risking losing existing customers for existing products to try and convert them. Don’t ever think you can have your cake and sell it too. If so, that’s great, but don’t count on it.

Infrastructure, IT (and I’d almost put accounting into this category too), janitorial, whatever keeps the business going. I know it’s an unsung field, but that’s a sign of a good job. The business isn’t about you anymore than it is about sales, but you’re just as important. Sales pays the bills, but you keep the product rolling, and everyone else humming. These tools are usually pretty technical in nature, and truth is, you have to be able to fix when tools break.

HR is mostly a growth of the legal environment. Managers should be able to make decisions, but there is just too much red tape for a manager to handle. The fact is, employees can sue, and so we need you. Gone are the days when accounting cuts paychecks and managers hire and fire. Maybe this isn’t a real category, but it’s a big enough element in most businesses that there are tools targets. People create data, and it’s often very complex. And if you’re not a customer, you’re an employee, and fall under HR’s purview. Departments like HR need to enter data and query it. They can probably get by with a file cabinet, even in the largest organizations (10,000 employee files an inch thick would easily fit into a medium-sized room, and could be retrieved within a couple minutes, if sorted alphabetically.) But this is the computer age. We don’t need the filing cabinet, and Joe doesn’t need to punch a clock, and Judy doesn’t need to fill out her expense reports in triplicate. This is the low hanging fruit. Regulation is the big issue here, but it’s simple forms and databases. What’s really needed are backup and security solutions.

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