Implementing Business Applications When Time Is Something You Don’t Have

Every once in a while you probably hear a new business application has to be implemented with a deadline so close, that you’re thinking about moving into your workplace for good. Or… maybe you’re the one who needs a certain business solution so quickly because that’s the only way to maintain your competitive edge is by implementing business applications.

In any case, there are ways to speed up the implementation process and not to get hospitalized due to exhaustion in the meantime. In this article, I’ll focus mostly on the IT perspective.

1.   Think about big picture, make a good investment into the future

Your goal is to implement a business application based on SharePoint. Since time is of the essence, coding from a scratch is not an option. Hence there is such a huge market for SharePoint-based applications, it seems natural to find existing solution that would satisfy your specific needs.
But don’t you think every time you save time on “not-coding”, you (or company in general) spend it somewhere else? For instance on:

•    market research (solutions, vendors, etc.)

•    RFP preparation

•    price negotiations

•    agreement negotiations

•    end-user trainings

All right, but the solution is working just fine and everyone is happy… Until something happens: a bug, a need for change, a failure of a system that this solution was integrated with, etc. Then you have to call your vendor and make him resolve the issue. What if you have 10 different applications like that and 10 vendors to call? This could be a definition of hell…

Having a quick-fix is good short-term, but those solutions tend to become black-boxes – hard to maintain, even harder to develop further. Plus, in many cases you have to take care of the integration between them, which again, takes time (and money).

If your organization is growing or mature already, big picture thinking is what you need. That’s why choosing a platform that could solve not only your current needs but also those that will emerge in the future, may be just the approach you need. A flexible BPM platform will allow you to develop all desired applications much quicker, and at the same time skip steps listed above.

2.   Don’t ask (too much), implement!

Having clearly defined goals and requirements is the key to success. But going too deep with analysis, may result in indecision, delays and ultimately – a failure. Take the interface for example. If you ask about how the application should look like, your audience will feel obliged to chime in. Usually almost everybody will have their own idea on how should it look like. Typically, it results in a litany of requests, possibly one contradicting another. Deciding on final look & feel takes precious time, which you don’t have. So what to do? Don’t ask about the interface!

Once you have requirements regarding business logic, just communicate: this is how the application will look like. Why? Because maintaining customized applications is way harder and time-consuming than maintaining out-of-the-box solutions. Why? Because the priority is to make it work, instead of making it look pretty. Why? Because there is no time.

3.   Smart interface is what you need

Anyway, the interface is something that you cannot completely ignore. That’s the factor that may decide on the success or failure of your project. If it’s crude and unintuitive, nobody would use it. At the same time the clock is ticking and the situation requires to be extremely efficient. If the biggest advantage of the solution you’re considering relies on ability to customize its interface (e.g. forms) in any way you want – you may want to consider something else. Otherwise your precious time will be spent on something that can be avoided.

Choose a solution that looks good enough out-of-the-box, and additionally makes your life easier. For instance by inheriting SharePoint masterpage settings and adjusting automatically to the look & feel of your existing SharePoint sites. As a result, you won’t spend a minute on customization, and end-users will not have a strange feeling of using yet another solution that has to be learned and mastered.

Plus, if you followed the tip in the first point of this article, every time you implement a new business application based on the same platform, the interface will be already well-known to the end-users. That means no training, high adoption rate and again – no time spent on customization.

4.   Make mobile your friend

Nowadays everyone wants to have everything available via mobile devices. It’s no different with business applications. At the same time saying “access it via mobile web browser” will not satisfy the majority of requests.

Therefore choosing a platform that will allow you to make the business application available on any mobile device with little or no work is a way to go. Otherwise, you’ll get yourself into an extra work you don’t have time for.

5.   Manage expectations, show progress frequently

Sometimes the biggest obstacle is not the technology, but people. To ensure success, you not only have to take care of senior sponsorship for the project. You also have to manage expectations. How to make people excited and at the same don’t set a bar too high?

Simply organize frequent implementation meetings during which you’ll show the progress of your work. For instance, an already usable prototype of the business application you’re working on. That will allow all involved parties to voice their opinion and steer the implementation process in the right direction in real time.

The right software will allow you to show progress anytime and also implement changes into the application immediately and show results. There is no better way to manage expectations than actually showing a product of your work, and adjusting it to actual needs in real-time

Otherwise, you’re risking whole time spent on implementation to be summarized with “seems fine, but this is not how we wanted it to work. Here’s a list of what we want to be different…”.

Facing the challenge

In a perfect world, you’d just buy a software that would respond exactly to your company’s business requirements. One that is instantly integrated with your existing infrastructure and wouldn’t require any maintenance and further development would be as easy as assembling LEGO. But the perfect world does not exist.

When time is crucial, there’s no room for comprehensive analysis, lasting months. During solution development business requirements will probably change. Once new business application is developed, new ones will be needed and old ones will require modifications.

To manage such situation successfully proper approach and right tools are required. The proper approach will allow you to distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves. The proper tool will allow you to implement must-haves quickly and add nice-to-haves along the way. At the same time, maintenance and further development is much, much easier.

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