By William Pleake
Senior Manager, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting/Government – Product Management USA
A lot of buzz words fly around nowadays that sound like great concepts and, in general, are things we can all nod our heads about and agree we want to encourage in our teams – things like collaboration, design inspiration and product innovation. But it got me to thinking: From a process perspective, what’s the best way to go about accomplishing any one of those items, let alone all of them? Granted, working collaboratively with our colleagues and teams takes a certain mindset, but implementing this concept is pretty straightforward.
Yet innovation and inspiration can be tricky. Is that something I can just go out and decide to do on my own? Can I just sit down one day and decide: “I’m going to be innovative”? If I’m not already doing these things, how do I go about the process of becoming inspirational, or helping others to be creative in a way that would allow them to develop a solution or a design that is truly innovative?
Fortunately, I don’t think it is quite as impossible to accomplish as it may sound at first. From my experience, innovation and inspiration often follow as a natural byproduct of effective collaboration. Let me provide a case in point, as illustrated by some recent work that we have done in Riverside.
We have been working with one of our California partners, Riverside County – one of the largest jurisdictions in the US – to implement our CAMA software, Aumentum Valuation. One of the required design features has been to develop a mass appraisal process to help them manage their Prop 8 revaluation assignments.
Seeing buzzwords in action
We initially worked on delivering a solution, but with our first delivery, one thing became very clear. We understood from a requirements perspective what needed to happen – that is mechanically, what users wanted the tool to do – yet something was missing from our initial design and implementation. What, you may ask? Incorporation of user feedback into the design. Needless to say, our initial design didn’t hit the mark.
We had to collaborate more effectively with the County. So, we went back and listened to several of the County’s end users explain what they needed the tool to do, and just as importantly, how they wanted to interact with the software. Once we understood the County’s use cases and their business processes, we went back to the drawing board. We wanted a flexible solution, since we have modular pieces that can be configured from one customer to another, but while using the same code.
We also had some internal goals, such as answering questions like, “How do we make this work for the next California county without requiring code changes?” and “Is this something only a California county would want, or could it be developed in a way that it could be applied in other use cases across the country?”
We approached each aspect of the design process with a new mindset. We then drew up the new design and described our concept to our partners, the Riverside users. Knowing that this would impact our other partners, we also took it to another stakeholder client, San Diego County. We captured all of their feedback, updated the design and moved into the development process.
The end result is a flexible tool that eventually appraisers across the country will be able to use. Riverside has embraced the Prop 8 valuation tool and has chosen to use it for other property valuation scenarios, as we had hoped our users would do. Through the test case acceptance process, they have found several other business processes – outside of the original intended scope – where the tool enables them to work more efficiently because it’s so flexible and easy to use. When we shared the concept of the data analysis tool at our SYNERGY user group conference, customers outside of California were interested in it too.
The whole experience goes to show how innovation and inspiration happen naturally when colleagues effectively collaborate. We’ve taken what we learned in the Prop 8 redesign and modified our business processes. Now, we try to understand as much about how the user performs a business process as we do about the mechanics of what’s required complete a business process. All of this helps us better define the scope and acceptance criteria before going to engineering.
The Prop 8 redesign marked a paradigm shift in how we approach the design and development processes. Our model is straightforward: To develop a genuinely useful tool for customers, we have to listen to what they need and incorporate that feedback into our designs.
Collaborating more effectively with the County on the Prop 8 process brought a stronger level of customer support to Riverside. Equally important is that our partnership resulted in a tool that will be useful to appraisers and constituents throughout California and across the US.