Archive | January, 2013

Planning a Customer Product Roll-Out?

7 Jan

First, Walk in Their Shoes

(So you don’t have to swim in them)

Joseph Konrad
Senior Business Analyst


When the Titanic’s captain was asked how her maiden voyage would go, he reputedly said, “Swimmingly.” Her construction was considered the acme of civilian ship architecture, and her voyage in 1912 carried a Who’s Who of high-society Americans. (Many had been in Britain for a year experiencing the glamour of a coronation and also, more importantly, marrying impoverished nobility willing to confer a title in return for refilling the empty family coffers.) This new maritime product’s ‘rollout’ was to be every bit as confident as its construction, expressing an ideal captured in the Japanese word ‘shibumi’, a movement of effortless perfection. Everything would perform well by its nature.

Instead, in the epitome of disaster, we got a Leonardo DiCaprio film.

Step One: Boring, Methodical Preparation

Success may be so uneventful as to look easy, even banal, but failure can be spectacular. Given the choice, I’ll take banality.

In creating a product and introducing it to its customer, a desire for effortless perfection can’t hide that we live in the world of Murphy’s Law, and supreme confidence is no legal defense. Reality demands another approach at every step of an endeavor, Rigor. It may not result in even the appearance of ‘shibumi’, but it can prevent us from going to the bottom. This form of QA may be doggedly dull, but it’s also essential in the process of successfully creating and deploying a product to a customer.

This imperative was on display during the spring, summer and fall of 2012, when, at the request of one of our most important and growing relationships, Fortigent expanded its suite of reports to include more fixed income data, income projections for both bonds and equities, and the use of sector/industry data for equities.

When the new reports were being developed, numerous constituent parties had to be identified in their relationships and organized. Within Fortigent, this endeavor included our consultants interacting with the outside customer. It needed people with industry and business analysis knowledge (helping to design specifications) and developers (creating the new reports). Expansive integration testing meant growing the test team beyond its normal core of professionals to include consultants, Operations team members, developers and analysts. The final test was (and remains) the ultimate user acceptance test, by the customer.

Through it all, we worked to follow an orderly plan (tailored as events required) and to keep constituents positively engaged. We had to know who the customers were for each component. If the report developer needed improved report requirements, she was my customer and it was my job to provide them. To the suppliers of vital meta-data that feeds these report beasts, it’s we who are the customers. To the developer of the data integrity controls that helps Operations shoulder responsibility for the data garden, Operations was the customer.

Step Two: Boring, Methodical Expansion

Our initial thrust was outward, to one customer. Now these reports will be made available to another of our largest customers. It’s become a redeployment process.

On this second cruise we start by identifying the prize: As trouble-free a roll-out of this new product to a customer as possible. A satisfying experience includes keeping the customer engaged, educated, and happy with their initial and subsequent experiences of the new tools.

How do we ensure that last bit? By pretending to be the customer ourselves and living their experience through a dry-run, by taking a walk in their shoes. We identified 20 of the most sizable composite portfolios for which these reports will be run, created sample report packages for them, and started running them as of a recent date. We surveyed the quality of the meta-data associated with the securities. Were their ratings ready? Their effective durations? Was call schedule data up to date?

The first reports were surprisingly good, but had rough edges. Where we found gaps, we filled them, and simultaneously improved our internal QA tools to keep them filled. After upgrades, the second batch was better, and we started looking for the non-obvious at the granular level. Starting big, we worked our way down into the nitty-gritty of the customer experience. Anything we found benefited not only this second customer, but meant an incremental gain for the first as well. If you have to make mistakes, never make the same one twice. Make educational new ones.

Soon it will be time to bring the customer in more directly. We’ll prepare a real-world demonstration with real client data and engage in energetic interaction, fielding questions, capturing ideas, and creating expectations both realistic and positive. Finally, as confidence in data quality and its utilization rises, there will be more formal training and education: Here’s how this works. What do you think? What do you need? Can we make it better? The second customer, like the first, will be a partner, not a passenger.

In effect we want the go-live date for our customer to be ho-hum. In fact, if we have done our part rigorously, they will have been effectively ‘live’ without knowing it even before the roll-out date.

Step Three: Boring, Methodical Follow-through

Something unexpected will always happen. It probably won’t be a shipwreck, but internal redundancy expects – in fact, demands – every effort be made to find problems with data quality or utilization long before an external customer might. And if snags are found, it means having a trained, experienced team to work the problem, inform the customer, gather feedback, and energize the solution at every step of their experience.

These are living products and long-term commitments. They don’t get sold, then forgotten. Each successive deployment, each ‘sale’, becomes easier until the new feature is part of the essential fabric of our product offering.

Methodical analysis. Thorough planning. Rigorous multi-disciplinary testing. Flexible thinking and resource allocation. Customer engagement. Committed, energetic follow-up.

These are all essentials in the rigorous alchemy of customer satisfaction. It may not be effortless perfection – these things take work – but it can be a comfortable and profitable non-event, free of icebergs.

Joseph KonradJoseph Konrad started at Marine Midland Bank (extinct) as a trust assistant. From there
he worked in portfolio accounting, performance measurement, trading and operations
management before joining Fortigent as a
business analyst.