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Advancing Hotel Guest Loyalty for Soft and Independent Brands

At the recent Hotel Data Conference, a number of lodging leaders discussed the challenges and opportunities that both independent and soft brands have when it comes to innovation.

For independents, there is often more creative freedom, while the soft brands have a mix of brand standards combined with the ability to experiment more with technology.

For soft brands, there will always be corporate-driven solutions like uniform PMS systems, which have become very mature and somewhat commoditized. Conversely, we will see the application of some newer technologies like keyless entry become standard, which will continue to push all brands to find some differentiation.

Every brand needs to advance their identity through the creative use of innovation, which can be challenging in today’s commoditized technology arena. However, by focusing on new innovations that please the guest – both on and off property – it is possible to strengthen the overall brand.

For example, by leveraging systems that provide customized guest recommendations for restaurants and other events, it’s possible to standout and create lasting guest loyalty. For independent brands, these systems are very important, because guests have come to expect a high-touch experience during their stays.

In addition, for soft brands, these types of recommendation systems allow them to offer a customizable solution that will please the guest – and will not be considered a risky tech investment that offers minimal ROI.

Of course, pleasing the guest – whether face-to-face or through innovation – should always be considered a priority. By taking advantage of solutions that build out customized restaurant and attraction recommendations, it is possible to build long-term loyalty that will keep guests coming back, whether it’s an independent or soft brand.

 

New App from Marriott Will Connect Like-Minded Travelers

In a push to connect to a younger, more technologically savvy traveler, Marriott and MIT teamed up to develop a hotel app that helps Millennials have the best guest experience possible.

The new app, called Six Degrees, was the brainchild of the MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab – essentially created by undergraduate students, who aim to turn your hotel experience into something highly social.

Here’s how it works. By using LinkedIn, the app can match users with other guests who share similar qualities – whether it’s being at the same conference, a love of kayaking or finding someone who went to your alma mater to watch the game with at the hotel bar.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the guest who seeks out an event or outing through the app. The hotel employees can actually use the app to organize anything from a wine tasting to a spa day for guests.

By using LinkedIn, the app offers a more private way to match people, as opposed to using Facebook, which often reveals too much personal information.

According to Fast Company, hotels will have a large, interactive screen in their lobbies that will serve as the hub for this new app. When users place their phones on the screen, it will light up based on how many connections they have to other people seated at the table.

Hotel brands like Marriott clearly have their eyes on Millennial travelers, and Six Degrees could be the true differentiator that will spell long-term brand loyalty from this unique demographic.

 

 

Extended-Stay Hotels Have More Growth Than Overall Hotel Industry

For the hospitality sector, hotel revenue-per-available-room (RevPAR) is the driving business metric that is based on multiplying a hotel’s average daily room rate (ADR) by its occupancy rate.

Many hospitality providers use RevPAR to measure their performance over time, as well as to compare themselves to the competition.

For the extended-stay category, this business metric is typically very similar to traditional hospitality providers.  However, this year, there is a surprising development…

According to Mark Skinner at Hotel News Now, the extended-stay hotel average daily rate grew 7.2 percent in each of the first two quarters in 2012. This is considerably faster than the 4.4 percent gain the overall hotel industry reported for the first half of the year.

There are several possible reasons for this growth such as guests like the built-in kitchen facilities, more then one room and the overall residential atmosphere. Many of the services often include grocery outlets or convenience stores, and lower daily rates are more common.

This data also tells us that extended-stay providers can also see enhanced business results by investing in the right innovations to help retain and attract more guests.  Whether it is through more in-room technologies like iPads, enhanced WiFi or through new CRM techniques with “Predictive Guest Marketing” or PGM, extended-stay providers can further drive up overall RevPAR numbers.

Conversely, traditional hospitality providers can look at this data as an opportunity to enhance their business efforts by implementing the right innovations.  Of course, extended-stay guests have different needs than traditional hotel guests, but the core tenet of better providing the best service though technology has never been greater.

In any business, there are a number of metrics, extend beyond core revenue, that provide a snapshot into overall performance.  RevPAR does exactly this for the hospitality sector and investing in the right innovations that support overall business goals can help ensure that this number goes up annually.

 

The American Traveler: Developing Innovations to Meet Needs of this Unique Market

By having a true picture of what truly motivates travelers, hospitality providers can develop innovations that further meet guests’ needs and drive additional revenue growth.

Though, in an ideal world, the right market research, which is often a significant investment, can help provide the guest insights that will help drive both technology developments and marketing strategies.

In the meantime, Peter Yesawich, Vice Chairman of MMGY Global, one of the largest integrated travel marketing firms, recently shared some compelling insights and market intelligence during a panel titled, “Spectator Trends: Challenges and Opportunities” at the recent International Society of Hospitality Consultants’ 2012 Annual Conference.

Specifically, Yesawich said that three-fourths of Americans agree that taking a vacation is the one event they look forward to the most each year.  And, that keeping one’s finger on the pulse of those changing travel habits could definitely be an advantage for hospitality providers.

Overall, he provided 16 findings during the panel, and here are the top insights:

  • Leisure demand is dominating:  Approximately four out of 10 Americans took at least one business trip during the past year. Roughly eight of 10, however, took at least one leisure trip during the year.
  • Affluent driving demand: The affluent traveler is driving much of the demand. Thirty-two percent of households with more than $250,000 annual income plan to take more leisure trips this year than last, while only 5% said they plan to take less. This compares to the national average of 19% and 13%, respectively.
  • Aging demographics brings new opportunities: More than 20% of active travelers are grandparents. Of those, 40% have taken a trip with a grandchild during the past year. And eight out of 10 times that a grandchild comes along, so does a parent.
  • Not all vacations are created equal: Seven out of 10 Americans have gone on a “celebration vacation,” or those that are tied to specific life events, during the past year. The two most popular events are milestone birthdays and anniversaries.
  • More people are taking last-minute trips: Approximately 30% of Americans have taken one during the past 12 months. That number is up from the “teens” a few years ago. The average advance booking period for last-minute trips was 6.2 days.
  • Mobile usage is going up: During 2010 and 2011, 23% of Americans had a smartphone; today more than half do. Tablet usage is picking up as well. Whereas 7% owned a tablet device during 2011, this year more than 27% do. Basically, one out of five Americans own both devices.
  • Online Travel Agencies Still Dominate:  Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz are the “big dogs” in the world of online travel search. The ones to watch are the meta-search sites such as Kayak in particular.

When hoteliers are building out new programs and other innovations, understanding your target audience is tremendously helpful.  These are definitely key insights that we will keep in mind when helping our hospitality clients develop new innovations.

 

Hoteliers Can Personalize Services with Master Data Management (MDM)

Hoteliers are embracing new ways for providing more personalized services that are data driven to the point where front desk staff can wish a guest a happy birthday, or correctly pronounce a guest’s last name.

This level of personalized service, though, can be a challenge for large organizations. Unrelated systems across multiple touch points throughout a property, each with different data formats and required fields, can make accessing and integrating guest profiles difficult.

However, a recent article in Hospitality Upgrade, touches on a new effort, called master data management (MDM), that leverages operational data to deliver personalized services that can help increase operational efficiency. MDM streamlines personalization by providing real-time access to key information about guests at the point of contact.  All employees have the same information needed to make the right decisions about how to treat each guest, in real time. The information can also be used to streamline data entry, and to make operational decisions.

As an MDM example, the article highlights a large Las Vegas casino company that has recently implemented MDM to support its goal of differentiating its customer service capabilities.  Its call center and reservations agents use MDM to streamline the reservations process. When a guest calls the call center, the casino’s phone systems use the MDM processes to perform a lookup based on the phone number.  If the phone number is associated with an existing record in MDM, then it sends all the master data to the call center agent’s application. The information is displayed as the agent answers the call, so he or she is ready to begin the reservation process, with knowledge of patron preferences and eligible offers without having to be retold.  All identifying information is ready to be entered into the Lodging Management System (LMS), avoiding any keystroke mistakes. Any relevant interactions during the call are sent to the MDM hub, and the record is updated.

By having important profile information about each guest, MDM provides hospitality companies essentially with the actionable intelligence they need to provide completely customized services for each individual guest.

SoLoMo: New Frontier for Hoteliers to Attract and Retain Guests

SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile), otherwise known as location-based services, is the new frontier for hoteliers to enhance guest engagement and retention.   The term SoLoMo defines a new kind of mobile shopper and represents the intersection of behavior, technology and culture.

SoLoMo is not just another fad.  It has become a critical part of today’s marketing landscape, which has considerably changed since the introduction of smart phones. In the United States alone, the penetration of cell phones is nearing 100 percent, according to Nielsen.  Smart phone penetration is approaching 50 percent and growing. In addition, in the five-year period of 2010 – 2015, mobile commerce revenues compound growth rate will be over 58 percent.

And with the use of check-in services such as Foursquare, Google Places and Facebook Places, on the rise, hoteliers can use these new mapping-oriented channels to develop strategic plans for attracting and retaining guests.  And there is plenty of opportunity.

In fact, according to Asif Khan, Founder and President of the Location Based Marketing Association, today, 114 million people use check-in services, and that number is expected to grow to 1.4 billion by 2014.  Smartphone manufacturers will drive that growth, Khan said, as well as Google and Facebook, each of which is boosting SoLoMo initiatives.

Khan also indicates, that of those who are using SoLoMo applications today, the primary functions are: navigation, finding nearby friends and restaurants, checking public transportation and looking for special deals.

However, I believe that before a hotel implements a SoLoMo strategy, it is best to first assess its existing business model and target audience. It’s also critical to have a mobile website strategy in place, including mobile search-engine optimization and mobile advertising.

SoLoMo implementation will require a different mind-set within the organization.  Empowered front-line staff will also need to know and embrace all marketing and promotional objectives.

Many hotel guests are social, mobile-users who demand convenience. SoLoMo allows people to share information, tips and experiences with each other, right where they are. When done right, SoLoMo can support overall business objectives for hospitality providers by providing a new guest engagement channel.

COTS Versus Custom Solutions: It’s Not a Black and White Decision

By Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

We live in a world of convenience that caters to our immediate needs and whims.  As technologies have become ubiquitous forces in our lives, we have grown to expect quick results that lead to instant gratification.

In the business world, organizations searching for system solutions often look for instant gratification by preferring to use turn-key software because the initial costs of implementation are sometimes lower than creating a custom solution.  I am speaking specifically about the question of using Commercial-Off-The- Shelf (COTS) solutions versus the development of custom solutions.

The reality is that this choice is not black and white.  The decision to use COTS versus custom software should always come down to the business goals of the effort, as should all technology decisions that an organization needs to make.  This means that business requirements and overall costs/benefits must be considered to determine the best choice for the final IT solution and having a bias toward a specific option could cause you to make a bad decision that you will regret in the long run.

In the world of web-based applications, which are usually the preference for organizations looking for a new system solution, new COTS offerings are continuously becoming available in the marketplace.  This is to be expected, for just as IT needs moved from the mainframe to client-server and the desktop in the past, we can anticipate more turnkey offerings as the market for web apps matures.  This will especially be true for solutions that address common functions which are performed across many enterprises and therefore provide the economies of scale for web app providers to build a product that can be sold to a large market.  Some of these solutions are now being offered in “the cloud” and are the most efficient choice for a given need.

In many other cases—usually those in which the complexity of the need is greater—the decision is not so simple.  For example, when organizations have highly specific needs or their websites/applications have to interface with numerous other systems, a more customized solution is usually required.  And here is one of many areas where the question of COTS versus custom apps goes from black and white to grey: oftentimes custom solutions utilize some level of turnkey products to accomplish the ultimate goal.  So, it’s better to think in terms of the best solution rather than have a bias toward COTS or custom software.

So, which choice is better?  The answer is that it depends on the problem you are trying to solve and you will only come to the right conclusion if you invest the time to define your goals.  Regardless of what technology is ultimately used, the point is that many IT projects have a level of complexity that require an IT team that has the expertise to understand the business goals and formulate a solution that meets the need.  And if you are partnering with an outside provider, it’s important to determine if you need them to have the expertise to help you with this decision or whether your organization is capable of doing so.

Now, before I provide my thoughts on what to consider when determining a solutions provider for your specific project, I want to give you my overall perspective on the importance of IT solutions from a strategic business standpoint…

A firm will only gain true advantages in the marketplace if it embraces at some level the use of custom IT solutions that will allow it to differentiate itself from its competitors.

Think of it this way: If all competitors in your market used the exact same systems applications as your firm, do you believe that you would significantly outpace them with what your organization offers to your customers?  Perhaps your other assets, such as your people, product, distribution channels, etc. would provide a competitive advantage.  However, don’t you want your people — especially your management team and knowledge workers — to have unique tools with access to pertinent information that will allow them to make better decisions than your competitors?

My point is that the IT systems your organization uses can be an integral means for providing a competitive advantage and that viewing pure turnkey apps as your best solution can limit your ability to differentiate your offering to your market.  Stated differently, while saving money in the short run, you need to be careful that the use of COTS solutions may ultimately make your firm’s IT infrastructure converge towards being a non-differentiating commodity that will not greatly establish a competitive advantage in your marketplace.

Keeping this philosophy in mind, here are my suggestions for determining a solutions provider for your next IT project:

1. Define your goals / requirements– As Stephen Covey suggests in one of his “Seven Habits”, begin with the end in mind.  Make sure you invest the time to define your business goals and put them into a written document that represents the requirements of the effort.  Doing so will give you the discipline and means to evaluate the options presented by the service providers you consider and will prevent you from buying into the hype that a pure COTS / turnkey solution will meet all of your needs.

2. Be realistic about the level of complexity and associated costs—The more complex your needs, the more likely you are of requiring outside help and you may need the assistance of more than one solutions provider.  In addition, the greater the complexity, the greater the chance that custom solutions are required, even if some turnkey elements are used.  Both of these will likely translate to higher initial project costs than if a pure COTS solution is implemented.  Be realistic about these factors and make sure you can commit to making the right decisions about them.

3. Determine the expertise you need and choose a solutions provider that has it—If you have already made the decision to implement a pure COTS product, then you may just need a provider that has the best product and they don’t need to do anything more than give you access to the application.  But if you realize that some level of a custom solution is required, be sure that you pick a solutions provider with expertise in the area required.  Can they build a custom solution from scratch or do they just help implement turnkey products (often referred to as an “integrator”)?  The greater the sophistication of the effort the more you need to lean toward a custom solutions provider.

4. Don’t make a decision solely based upon the initial IT cost—Of course you need to consider the solutions provider’s proposal costs, but you also need to think about achieving the goals of the project, which may include enhancing revenues or operational cost savings.  So, the longer term net benefits to the business should be the ultimate consideration in determining the solutions provider(s) you choose, rather than the initial hard-dollar implementation costs.

There is also the element of risk that leads to costs that are sometimes difficult to quantify.  For example, going with the low-cost provider may seem good on paper, but if they don’t have the expertise to do the best work, the hard dollars you save may impact your bottom line in ways you didn’t consider—through internal resource usage, delayed deployment dates, and a poor final solution—and you are likely to feel that you have invested in a solution that fell short of your expectations, one for which you may need to live with for many years.

So, the bottom line is that the bottom line should be the driving factor in determining the best solution, as well as the best solutions providers.  Invest time upfront in considering all of the business drivers before you make your decisions and you are likely to have a favorable outcome.  In doing so, you’ll probably find that it’s not a simple black and white decision to determine if the solution should entail COTS versus custom apps and which provider(s) you use.  Instead, it’s likely that the decision will entail a grey area that requires the appropriate level of expertise that will determine if the end results put you in the red or the black.

The NetLink Adaptive Process™: An Iterative Approach for a Successful IT Project Implementation

Interview with Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

Many IT vendors and integrators often forget that the path to a truly successful IT implementation is paved with baby steps.  All too often, the traditional method for managing a project is to show the client the result of the technical effort at the very end of an engagement.  This project management method can cause delays and even derail entire projects.

NetLink Resource Group prefers an “iterative approach” for managing the implementation of  web solutions that  mitigate many common risks of IT projects and enables their project teams to deliver superior solutions to clients while staying within schedule and budget commitments.  Steve Short, who became President of NetLink in April 2004, has used his more than 20 years of IT management experience and the company’s close interaction with clients on project implementations to develop the organization’s unique, six-step approach they refer to as the “NetLink Adaptive Process™”.

The following is an exclusive Q&A with Steve Short, where he discusses the details of the company’s Adaptive Process.

Interviewer: First, tell us about NetLink Resource Group.

Steve Short: NetLink develops web solutions for our clients, although our role typically extends beyond just providing programming resources.  Essentially, we are a consulting practice that provides web strategy and technology solutions to support our clients’ business goals and efforts. It’s really all about developing web solutions that have tangible and measurable business benefits.  We can handle any project in terms of size and sophistication, although we tend to focus on efforts with a high level of complexity.

Interviewer: Great.  Tell us about NetLink’s iterative approach to project implementations that you call the Adaptive Process.

Steve Short: Sure. The Adaptive Process is all about getting solutions in front of clients sooner rather than later.  This means that we have a system for meeting the goals for projects by doing more upfront project planning, defining requirements– with plenty of client input along the way.

Once you do this, you are more apt to meet the requirements of the project, accomplish key goals and milestones more efficiently, and come in on budget.  This also allows us to be in sync with what our clients have defined as their needs or their requirements.  By doing this, we mitigate any serious problems that can arise during the life cycle of a project.

Interviewer: Tell us why your project management approach is unique.

Steve Short: The iterative approach is well-known and documented in IT circles, so most business sponsors are familiar with the terminology.  Unfortunately, their experience with IT projects that were supposed to use the iterative approach often leaves them wondering about the benefits, and often feeling underwhelmed with the final product.  Every consulting firm claims to have their own unique methodology, so I’d rather say that in using our Adaptive Process, we focus more on execution, or where the “rubber meets the road.”

We spend a tremendous amount of time upfront trying to understand our client’s project and business goals at the very outset of the engagement.  By strict definition, this is the “requirements” part of the implementation and it is one of the most critical times of a project.  This is where many of the early problems can arise because both business and IT people can’t often differentiate requirements from solutions.

My experience of managing IT efforts over the last 20 plus years is that project teams tend to stab blindly in the dark by coming up with a solution first without really listening to the client’s requirements and business needs.  What’s needed is a project leader that listens to the project sponsors, differentiates requirements from solutions, and documents them in a language that is understood by the business people as well as the IT folks.

This allows the IT team to use their experience to formulate a solution that is better in terms of usability, functionality, and architectural flexibility that would have been missed if they relied upon pseudo-solutions proposed by the client at the onset of the project.

The reality is that for any one requirement, there can often be multiple solutions.  So, once we truly comprehend the goals and requirements of an effort, what our project teams bring to the table are creativity, an understanding of the technology available to meet requirements, and experience to formulate solutions that are better than those conceived by the client at the onset of the project.

Interviewer: Great.  That covers Step One of the Adaptive Process, which is the requirements definition section.  Now, let’s discuss Step Two, which is the technical analysis portion.

Steve Short: In some ways, the technical analysis overlaps with the requirements definition portion of the process, because we need to inform the client of what might be accomplished from a technical standpoint when requirements are being defined.  In other words, we take a “blue sky” approach during the requirements phase by asking the client for their ideal goals of the project but settle on needs that can be realistically met based upon current technology constraints and budget.  This is where the process for implementing a successful project is not fully linear– while the methodology defines distinct steps along the way, you have to use experience to suggest basic approaches that keeps the project moving forward.

Once the requirements are nailed down, the technical team determines the best way to architect the actual project.  Because we focus heavily on the requirements portion of the process– including taking future requirements into consideration– this step is fairly easy for us.

As I mentioned, this is really all about making sure that the technical team understands the requirements and develops an architecture that allows us to formulate the best solutions. It is our lead consultant’s job to bridge that gap between the requirements and the technical approach to ensure that we accomplish this.  Doing so often leads us to consider how we plan to execute our proposed approach, which is the next step.

Interviewer: Let’s talk about Step Three, the next phase, which is planning.

Steve Short: Yes, this is an important phase.  Once you have determined the requirements and come up with the technical approach, it all comes down to developing an actionable project plan.  Many iterative processes have the planning step listed first and you obviously know you will follow the basic steps taken for every project, but we believe we need a firm understanding of requirements and technical approach to develop a project plan with any credibility.

For us, a very important part of project planning is identifying high-risk areas and determining how best to mitigate them.  More specifically, it is vital to identify the highest risk elements of the application or project before any significant development occurs or you risk exceeding your schedule and budget commitments.  With that in mind, we develop a plan that mitigates these risks by effectively dealing with high-risk tasks and deliverables as early in the project as possible.  Most of the detailed planning revolves around the development tasks.

Interviewer: Can you give us an example?

Steve Short: OK.  Take the development of an e-commerce website, for example, since most of us have made purchases over the Internet and it’s something we can relate to.  Let’s say we’re most concerned that the page where the customer chooses products will have the greatest complexity because it needs to be easy to navigate but requires a great deal of dynamic decision making in the software to provide the best customer experience.  In addition, we may have concerns about our proposed approach to the technical architecture behind the scenes, where we want to be sure that response times are adequate for the functionality occurring on the page.

We would want to tackle this work first because the rest of the site’s functionality will flow from this page and the site won’t be as effective as it could be if we don’t determine the best solutions for it early in the project.  To assure we’re heading in the right direction, we want to get a first iteration of this page delivered to the client as soon as possible, so they can let us know if the proposed solution really works.

I have an MBA with a concentration in marketing and one of my favorite MBA courses was in product development.  Some core strategies for product development are prototyping, proof of concept, getting feedback on solutions, and reiterating as often as possible to develop the best product.  I think that the development of web solutions should use the same approach.

Interviewer: That makes sense.  So, finish up the planning phase for us.

Steve Short: Sure.  Once the riskier items have been prioritized, the plan can focus on getting the rest of the deliverables completed.  Throughout the course of the project, you need a plan that everyone can understand, in terms of concrete tasks and deliverables.  And when I say everyone, I mean the client — sponsors and stakeholders; the lead consultant managing the project; and the technical team implementing the solutions.

We’ve found that it’s usually best to have deliverables relate directly to the core requirements to make this possible.  This makes it easier for everyone to track the progress of the work throughout the project and it avoids surprises in terms of schedule and budget.

Now, it’s important to point out that project plans are rarely static — they need to change based on new information that is derived throughout the course of the implementation, so we have to be nimble as well as linear in our approach.  For example, plans change if the proof-of-concept had outcomes that you weren’t expecting or they can change if items got done sooner rather than later.   In addition, the client may add requirements that are deemed essential to the success of the project, so the plan needs to go through iterations just like the software.

What we know is that when you don’t have a formalized plan that you follow and update as necessary, the pitfalls are tremendous.  It can cause the technical team to develop solutions without any real strategic direction or without the business goals in mind.  More often than not, in these types of situations, the work needs to be re-done and projects go over time and budget.

We’ve seen this in cases where we’ve been brought in to consult on projects where the IT effort is way off course.  In addition to a poor definition of requirements, the root cause of problems usually stems from the lack of having a project plan that has been maintained and used as a tool for managing the effort.  Oftentimes the project sponsor requests a project plan with the RFP response or at the onset of the effort but doesn’t realize that the IT team responsible for the implementation should be using it as a means to direct the project.

If the intent of the IT team is to create a plan solely to satisfy the client’s desire to have one and it’s not used to manage the effort, it really provides no value.  In effect, it becomes nothing more than an approach document.  Telling a client your approach at the beginning of a project but not tailoring it as the effort evolves with a living, breathing plan is not a viable way to manage a project.  Having a plan that is regularly evaluated helps you track your progress, review resource allocations, and assess risks to allow you to mitigate them.

Interviewer: Great.  Now let’s talk about Step Four of the Adaptive Process, which is development, Quality Assurance (QA) testing and delivery.

Steve Short: This is the nuts and bolts of the project — the phase where the development team does the majority of the work.  To the average business person, the development part is somewhat of a mystery.  The developers go off and plug away at coding, and then suddenly the client has something to review.

If you are a stakeholder, what can be frustrating is when you wait for a long time while this mystery phase is happening and you wonder how the effort is going and whether the deliverable will live up to your expectations.  If the project is not complex and has a relatively small level of effort, it may be reasonable that you see a first pass of the entire solution in a single delivery.  However, when the effort is larger and more complex, you should expect more portions of the solution to be delivered incrementally, rather than getting everything in one shot.

If you’re not getting this, then the IT team that claims to be taking an iterative approach is not really living up to the methodology.  Their interpretation of the iterative approach is that they deliver everything and then make adjustments based on your feedback of their single delivery.  If the development effort requires 100 hours that may be reasonable, but if it’s closer to 1,000 hours, do you want to wait that long to see what the developers are coming up with?  It all comes back to risk.  The role of business people and managers is to mitigate risk — it’s a consideration in everything you do.

So, is it reasonable to risk waiting for an IT team to spend hundreds of hours of development time before you have seen what they have accomplished?  We don’t think so.  At least, we don’t think that our clients would be comfortable with this kind of project methodology.  But it all comes back to the planning phase and the IT team’s responsibility to build a plan that determines which portions should be delivered for client review before the entire, integrated solution is ready for testing.

Something that is equally frustrating to business sponsors is when the development phase of a large effort goes on without any questions from the IT team.  Regardless of how well-defined the requirements are the developers should have questions about the details.  Going back to reasonability — is it reasonable to think that a group of developers would have no questions about an effort that requires hundreds of hours of development time?  We think not, which is why we would expect our clients to anticipate an ongoing dialogue with us while we are in the process of developing a solution for them.

The only way to make this happen is to have a team of seasoned web developers with a mindset of knowing when to ask questions.  Even in cases where there are detailed specifications, questions should arise.

And, of course, the QA testing of the project is vital before we deliver anything to the client.  We actually think like the client and see if it truly meets their needs.  Rather than focusing on testing to see if the application or project works, we take it one step further by determining if we actually solved the problem, or met the goals highlighted in the original plan.

Interviewer: Tell us about Step Five — client evaluation and testing.

Steve Short: Yes, we actually get to see the project come alive when the client conducts their initial evaluation and testing.  By following our Adaptive Process closely, we are often just tweaking and refining.  However, with a larger and more complex project, we would typically be delivering a module or “chunk” for the client to evaluate while we’re off developing the next module.  It’s possible that the feedback we get from the client at this point will impact the next deliverable we’re working on or at least the remaining work that needs to be accomplished.  This is often needed because clients add on new requirements and that is totally fine.

This is where a complex project implementation requires us to be flexible so that we accomplish evolving goals for our client, yet disciplined enough to follow our Adaptive Process.  It entails re-evaluating our plan based upon the client’s feedback and adapting it to the current needs of the project.  This is Step 6 — address client feedback and re-evaluate, where we come full circle in the process.

Interviewer: And then you deploy?

Steve Short: Yes, but let’s take a step back.  Before we actually deploy, we have gone through the full Adaptive Process — especially when new requirements are introduced — as many times as needed.  This requires reiterating on all of the steps to ensure we stay true to the methodology and provide a solution that meets all of the client’s goals.  Once we have achieved this, it is time to officially put the project into production.

Interviewer: Thank you for walking us through the Adaptive Process.  Anything else you would like to add?

Steve Short: Yes, I would note that it ultimately comes down to execution, discipline, and attention to detail.  You may have a defined process but you really have to have the people in place that understand it, believe in it, and follow it.

That’s not as easy to accomplish as it would seem, especially when a project has a high level of complexity.  It’s probably why many executives and managers are often skeptical about undertaking IT projects that try to accomplish business goals and you can’t blame them.  Fortunately, we’ve found that when we stay true to the Adaptive Process, the projects we undertake are successful in meeting our clients’ business objectives.  And, that’s what it’s really all about.