Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Trying new things



As 2013 nears an end, I have been reflecting on the things we tried and the successes we had over the course of the year.  For example, in 2013 Zerowait tried to increase the proportion of total sales in the areas of international service and support business and SimplStor products.  In reviewing our efforts, I can see how we accomplished our goals, but can also identify the many course corrections we made along the way.  The path was not necessarily straight.  Basically, I have found that there are 3 steps to success; and, while each is critical, success is never guaranteed. However, if  you allow your team to count learning and adapting from failure as a part of the process, improvement is always possible.

Step 1 is Vision:  Since we are in the service and support business, when I meet with clients I hear about their problems.  I listen closely and try to identify ways that Zerowait can create a solution for them.  In a typical year I visit between 100 and 200 customers at their locations, and because I travel so much I have time alone to think about possible solutions.  The result is between 20 and 25 new ideas a year that I try to work into something definable. Once I have identified the core idea, I present it to our team for review.  Most of the ideas won’t hold water after a few minutes discussion, but in a typical year about 5 new ideas will get turned into projects of one type or another. One of my friends considers this the law of 25%:  About 25% of my conversations will yield an interesting business idea, about 25% of those ideas are worth a business analysis sheet (which I do), and about 25% of those analysis sheets will actually be turned into a project at Zerowait.

Step 2 is Execution:  If you don’t execute then the ideas are just dreams. At Zerowait we create engineering projects to try things with defined completion dates, which often slip as we learn more information. What is interesting in researching new things is that often the course you are on can change as a new piece of information steers the project in a new direction.  That new direction can create something wonderful, but there is a chance it’ll just be a waste. That is why communication is so important with projects. It is difficult to stay focused on the objective while being flexible enough to be able to change direction a bit to meet a new information or opportunity.  As Zerowait doesn’t have unlimited financial or human resources, we have frequent reviews and are willing to pull the plug on a project if it is not yielding results of one type or another. 

Step 3 is Course Correction:  As we endeavor to create a new product or service I have frequent conversations with our customers to make certain we are staying on course with what they are looking for.  Sometimes things work in ways that you don’t expect, or someone leaves their job and that causes the project to wither on the vine.  Other times the “Hey – what if we did this?” conversation with customers will lead to Zerowait trying a new variation which turns into the final product, and that is very cool.  Unfortunately, most projects we try do not yield a new product;  they yield knowledge and often an incremental change in the way we do things to improve our customer service and support.

It is often very frustrating to watch what started out as a great idea struggle as we are unable to execute the idea and make it a success.  Even in  those cases, when we write up the report it is important to document  what we learned so we can add that to our knowledge and experience and apply it to the next round of projects. For example, this year we built a special 2U SimplStor Controller for a specific market niche but the customer went another direction.  A few months later another customer asked for a very similar product configuration because I had mentioned it during a meeting. A perfect example of how the first failure led to the second success, which looks like it will turn out to fit an even bigger market niche.

At Zerowait we will continue to try new things and find ways to help our customers. Trying out new ideas is always interesting and often frustrating, but in the end it certainly provides us with a wealth of experience and knowledge with which we continually improve our products and services.  From SimplStor to the Exporter of the Year award, Zerowait has grown and prospered because we keep trying new things.

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