Are your software systems out of sync with your expertise?

What does it look and feel like in an organization where software used for daily work really doesn't understand the organization's expertise or culture? Could you imagine a digital work environment that does?

You're proud of your expert approach and the strong processes that you’ve developed over many years. Experience, a mature process, and your specialist skillset enable you to provide your clients with what they really want: the peace of mind that comes from hiring experts.

What your clients don’t see, or at least you hope they don’t, is the amount of internal friction and frustration experienced in the implementation. Your teams work diligently to wrangle the inherent complexity that comes naturally with highly specialized work. They’re also, often silently, other times very vocally, struggling against the systems they need to use each day to actually get that work done.

How could the software systems that power the day-to-day work of your highly-skilled employees be holding them back?

Here’s what it can look like when software systems are out of sync with your organizational expertise:

  1. Onboarding: You’ve hired a bright new employee and are dreading the lengthy and painful process of onboarding to your systems. Sometimes people even suggest delaying onboarding for awhile because doing it in the beginning is too overwhelming.
  2. Getting stuck: the help desk is always getting people out of jams and finding workarounds. Too often it’s stuff they have done a million times before.
  3. Context switching: it happens so much as a necessary part of using the various software systems people are losing valuable time, getting lost and distracted.
  4. Not presentable: you may be able to run useful progress and status reports, but because they are designed so poorly, nobody would actually show them to your clients in a meeting.
  5. Lack of insight: You keep running into questions that you can’t answer because you don’t track detailed activity within a project (who did what or when they did it) or usage and trends across projects.
  6. Process inconsistency: from one project to the next, from one team to the next, things aren’t done the same way, and the reason is that everyone is responsible for enforcing the process themselves, the tools they use provide little real process guidance.
  7. Vocal frustration: whether in a hallway or in slack, people outright complain about how frustrating it is to feel like they’re working against the grain by using the software they’ve been given.
  8. Resistors: People don’t use the tools they’re given out of protest. They’d rather work around it or do tasks manually than learn something so cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes done discreetly, other times not so much.

Employees are frustrated. They’re wasting precious time each day and finding it hard to focus on the actual client challenges they are paid to address. They have the skills, you have a strong organizational culture, but the software systems are a liability.

If you get your clients results, and are proud of your work, but these symptoms still resonate, then there’s likely a gap between your organizational expertise and the operational expression of that expertise.

To start to fix this you need to stop thinking about the software you use simply as tools and start thinking about software as the foundation of your digital work environment. The digital work environment is a real place and it’s where your employees spend a good chunk of their time each day. And when that place is inhospitable, you simply can’t afford to let them live out their day-to-day lives there.

Let’s imagine away your current system completely. Whether it’s manual, legacy, SaaS or a combination of all three, just set it all aside. You still have your unique approach and your proprietary process, but its current expression is completely gone. Now, imagine a new software platform in its place: a collaborative, role-based web application that features specialized tools, workflow and guidance built on your process. It is smoothly integrated with other key systems and has useful analytics and thoughtful reporting.

This is a description of a digital work environment that, by directly integrating your expertise, puts your organization on a strong foundation for getting work done. The idea here is not to reactively keep patching things up, but to step back and reframe your digital work environment so that you can:

  • Eliminate the unnecessary complexity and overhead introduced into your work environment by systems and tools that don’t understand your organizational environment.
  • Discover (and in many cases, re-discover) your organization’s expert approach, articulate it as approachable, useful software and put it at the front lines of everyday work.
  • Create a stable, productive digital work environment imbued with your values, culture, tools and practices for better process compliance and simplified onboarding.

Imagine an app that serves as a reliable and accessible source of truth for project and task status for all people involved in the project. Not only are the features highly functional and accurate because they were designed with you in mind, they provide you with helpful guidance along the way and detailed feedback if something doesn’t look right. Employees only see and have access to features that make sense for their role on the project, and those features are laid out in an organized fashion.

It has comprehensive meta-data so you’ll always know who performed any given action and when they did it. The reports it generates are presentable to clients without a bunch of extra work. The application uses the same organizational vocabulary that you would use when talking to another employee or even a client, so it doesn’t feel like an app, it feels like doing useful, satisfying work.

Isn’t this the digital work environment our teams deserve?

  • Employees have an improved day to day sense of contribution and agency
  • Increased collaboration and visibility within and across teams and departments
  • Increased depth of understanding and compliance in processes and tools
  • Clear and adoptable process means better employee onboarding and retention
  • More consistency in practices across projects
  • More space in the workday created to apply expertise to client problems in novel ways
  • Employees feel seen and heard and set up for success in their daily work lives
  • And, of course, the help desk won’t have to solve the same problems over and over anymore

I’m not saying that going down this path will be easy. There will be a lot of hard work involved in getting it right. But by using the concept of a digital work environment, you’re much more able to keep your focus on the things that truly matter and stave off the unnecessary complexity that comes from software that doesn’t directly understand your organization’s expert practices.

Ian is the founder and CEO of Enliven, where he focuses on making technology more accessible, personable, and useful.