Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thanks for inviting me!

Ok, so I wasn't really invited - I kind of just showed up.

Yesterday was a long day, but I accomplished the mission I set out to do. A few weeks ago, David C. Cook went live with Firebrand's Title Management software. The install and data conversions went smoothly, and a lot of successful configuration had been completed. It was a bit quiet in the beginning, but then we started to recieve hints that all was not well. Communications had diminished due to changes in job responsibilities at Cook, so we weren't dialed into these problems that were brewing. Sure enough, they boiled over into bigger confidence problems before we reacted to the smaller technical problems.

Throughout this project, we have had a great time working with the crew at Cook, but especially Wendi and Ken who have taken the lead. We were in sync, both sides delivering whatever was needed. Then suddenly, we were out of sync. As soon as we heard from Wendi in no uncertain terms that it wasn't going well, it was like an emergency reaction team. Wendi is highly credible so all of the firebells were ringing and lights were flashing. But we still weren't getting down to the root causes of the problems. In a cordial way, from both sides of the country, we were talking past each other. Is it a performance problem, is it a software bug? What is really going on?

So yesterday, I got on a plane from New York to Denver and essentially showed up at Cook's front door in Colorado Springs. Of course, that makes all the difference, and in a 1/2 hour quick lunch with Wendi, followed up by a 1 hour meeting with their users and our Firebrand team on the phone, we had identified the root cause of the problem (I won't bore you, but it has to do with some new Ajax refresh behavior in certain areas of our web application).

But more importantly, I was able to see and hear first hand about some of the changes taking place at Cook as staff members take on new responsibilities. The team is excited about their future - especially with new directions they are taking in product development. It was more important to understand and appreciate the challenges they face, in order to put some context around the problems they were having with our software - mainly that they have less time for more responsibilities. When the system is not dialed in and running smoothly, frustration mounts as time is lost.

So we can fix the technical stuff, but the trip reinforces a key principle that everyone in business (and life for that matter) should adopt with vigor - there is nothing like seeing someone in person. Even if it takes 23 hours of travel, for that 1 crucial hour being in the right place at the right time with the right people.