Tag Archives: Innovation Blog

How Software Developers Learned from the Food Service Industry

2 Mar

We had a kind of odd Leap Day celebration this year at OST – we ran a one-day-only pop-up restaurant from within our headquarters in Grand Rapids. I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, what?” I’ll say it again. We served breakfast and lunch to nearly 80 customers, including a Rice Krispy-crusted French toast, an eggplant, squash and zucchini tower, and perhaps the fanciest lasagna roulades I’ve ever seen.

Why would a technology firm – a company that prides itself in our Design to Datacenter delivery framework – spend the last Monday of the month running a restaurant? It’s a fair question, and something I spent a lot of time thinking about as I stood in our lobby, decked out in my Café OST t-shirt and seating guests and clearing tables.

Here, then, are the three most obvious lessons learned:

We succeed and fail together. Whether you’re taking orders, plating lunches, running food, or clearing tables, you can’t run a restaurant without counting on the rest of the team to support you. What would happen if, every time a customer gave an order to the waiter, your waiter said, “I can’t cook that, so I don’t know what you’re going to get.”

It’s true, though. Your waiter isn’t going to cook your lunch, but they are trusting that the kitchen staff will, and that trust is so strong that they make recommendations, take our orders, and never hint that there is any chance that things won’t go exactly as planned.

Is that dishonest? Is it wrong that I’m confirming details that are outside of my control? Absolutely not. It’s essential to our success. As a team, each of us has unique abilities and responsibilities, and we’re trusting on each member of the team to fulfill their role. The sales team can’t write code, and the delivery team isn’t responsible for selling; but without the two working together, trusting that they can do their jobs, we’d all be out of work. Whether your work is in a restaurant or you’re part of a complex software delivery team, whether you realize it or not, we succeed and fail together.

Details matter. One of our customers today had a silverware roll that was missing a fork. Something as simple as a fork has the ability to define or deny a customer an enjoyable experience. How can I eat a salad – even the best salad in the world – without a fork? I can’t. Paying attention to those details, working to ensure that no detail is overlooked that nothing is taken for granted – that’s the most-basic building block of successful service.

I don’t make forks. I wasn’t even responsible for forks today. I’m not even sure that I know where the forks were kept – but I know that forks matter. And I was on the look-out, every time we reset a table for the rest of the day – to ensure everyone had a fork. We each have our individual roles and responsibilities, but we’re all responsible for quality control. They say the devil is in the details – the details matter, and it’s everyone’s job to keep them in focus if our goal is to deliver quality.

Service is service. Whether you’re waiting tables, baking quiches, or plating lunches, you’re in service. Whether we’re writing code, configuring RAID arrays, updating a virtual environment or providing strategic assessments, you’re in service. Whether we think of it that way or not, we’re a service provider, and our (unspoken) commitment to all of our clients is the exact same in our real lives as it was in Café OST today – to deliver exceptional service.

We have the luxury as consultants to define our customers’ expectations. Then we get the pleasure of delivering on those expectations. That contract defines what we do, and defines everything we do in the service industry. I am proud to have dedicated my life to the service industry, and thankful that I got to spend the day reminding myself of this.

I’m thankful that I work for a company where we’re granted that luxury to learn. There is so much to do, and only so many hours in a month – how great is it to have been given the grace to spend a whole day of that time focusing my energy on the core of what we do?

Here’s my call to action for you: Find the time. Every moment you spend learning is a moment that will reward you tenfold. Every minute you spend exploring why you do what you do is a minute that will color all the minutes that follow it.

Your order is in the window.

Eat up, while the plate’s still hot.

_ _ _

Andrew Powell edited photo

Andrew J Powell, Application Development Principal, OST

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Great Feeling of a ‘Click’

17 Feb

Do you remember the satisfaction as a child of finding the right Lego piece to make that perfect construction,? Or when the snap-together model finally snapped together?  Perhaps it was the satisfying interlocking of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with a bazillion pieces and the circumference is complete.

In each case, the right piece in the right place creates a sense of completion that is so tangible you can feel it.  You know it’s right.

Great systems architecture can be the same way. 

When you have been analyzing the market for months, and when a vendor finally offers up something that really begins to solve a problem in the industry and it has a capability to solve a thorny problem at scale, it clicks

When you have been wanting to create a strategy but you didn’t have the right combination of skills and capabilities, when the right people and insights come together around the white board, it clicks.

When you have a very complex combination of business issues, scaling and design and the architecture comes together in a profoundly simple and elegant way, it clicks.

Sometimes, when people share something with me and the discussion ensues that illuminates a problem space deeply, it clicks

Is it subjective?  Yes.  And because it is subjective, you have to test the assertions and hypotheses rigorously.  You cannot allow bias to creep in and promulgate a problem simply through your force of will where you desire something to be true.

Because the solutions, design or plans are simple; they can easily be undervalued.   I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr., “I do not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

The OST Cloud strategy is clicking with the integration of Managed Services for Cloud and hosted IaaS/PaaS for IoT and AppDev.  Microsoft’s Azure on-prem solution is beginning to click.  Helping clients with a roadmap to the cloud, I hear the faint sounds of clicking there.  And our largest data center clients are starting to ask for help in their realization of cloud benefits (click). 

Failures or semi-formed solutions are necessary as we iterate in complex problem spaces because the process of hearing from customers, testing our ideas, investigating the market will allow us to sift the good from the bad and our messages will become more mature and fully formed.   Some offerings will disappear under the weight of low customer adoption, and we will say, “it was good we didn’t invest too much there…” but they will be a rung on the ladder to the place where we will be ultimately successful, if we keep learning and are willing to move quickly, and when it all comes together, well, it will click.

The same processes have worked in the past, I have a long list that I quickly made that reflected on many of our long-term relationships and most valuable customer engagements.

It takes work.  It takes listening.  It takes knowing enough about the goals and long-range objectives so that you know how the pieces should fit together even through the state of the industry or the maturity of OST isn’t where you want it to be.  Great artists do it.  Great architects do it.  Great designers do it.  Great technologists do it.

Click.

_ _ _

Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey has served as VP of Technical Operations, CTO and now Chief Innovation Officer for OST. Jim has provided the technical leadership and product strategic planning for the organization since the very beginning. Jim is a technology visionary who sets the long and short-term direction for OST. He specializes in seeing the “big picture” of technology, industry trends and the business objectives supported by IT. As OST has gained an international reputation, Jim has taught and spoken at conferences in Europe, Japan, and throughout the US. Lastly, we must confess that some of OST’s peculiar culture is a direct derivation of Jim’s unorthodox style.

 

Start Somewhere

11 Feb

snow-shovel

Snow Business

Winter is here, at last, and as the primary snow shoveler in my family, let me say I’m none too happy about it. The past week brought me a foot of snow, and it’s not gonna shovel itself.

Staring out my kitchen window at twelve heavy inches of snow burying my driveway, it was daunting to imagine how I’d get the driveway clear, and just thinking about the work involved seemed more than I thought I could take. I’m not as young as I once was, and it sure seems like they’re making heavier snow than they used to. Plus – when did my back start to hurt all the time?

I didn’t do it. I didn’t shovel. I put it off for nearly a week, thinking it wasn’t really winter yet, thinking it would melt on its own, thinking the snow fairy would grant my wish for a clear driveway, thinking – somehow – that, if I just came up with the right plan, I’d be able to eliminate the snow without sloughing through it, one shovelful at a time.

Time to get to shoveling.

No matter what end result you seek, there’s only one way to get there. You’ve got to start. It may sound silly, may sound obvious, may seem like advice not worth giving … but we’re an easily overwhelmed species. Nothing ever got finished that didn’t first get started.

Come to think of it, that’s a foundational step in every project we work on at OST. We help our clients get things started. Our clients aren’t in the IT business – they’re looking to us to HELP them make smart IT decisions. That’s not easy – for them or for us. When you’re working with complex corporate systems, trying to determine where (and how) to begin can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. It can seem impossible to know where to begin, and sometimes it’s easier to maintain the status quo out of fear that anything else seems overwhelming.

My simple advice? Start. Start somewhere. Just start. You don’t have to know where you’re going to end before you start, and accepting that you DON’T know is powerful – it opens you up to opportunities for discovery that’d you’d be blind to if you thought you had to figure out where to end before you started. Start somewhere. Just start.

That driveway’s not going to get clear without a first shovelful. Dig in. Get that shovel down to the pavement and give it a good toss. Put your fear and loathing aside, toss away your anxiety and paralysis, and I bet you’ll discover the same thing I did:

It feels good to get started.

_ _ _

Andrew Powell edited photo

Andrew J. Powell

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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28 Jan

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