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Live Long and Prosper (How to be the best S.P.O.C. for your custom software project)

I know, it’s bad, but I couldn’t resist. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, (not really, I’ve got a ton more where that came from) let’s look at what it takes to be a great Single Point of Contact for an Extensitech custom software project.

Here’re the facts:

  • Custom software is complicated
  • It’s detail oriented and the details show up by the thousands
  • No software developer will ever know your organization as well as you do

Because we know these things as well as we do, we’ve created the S.P.O.C. (we can’t take credit for the phrase, heck, we can’t even all do the hand symbol thingy, but we’ve certainly given it a lot of special meaning that’s all ours) as a role in each of our projects to be filled by someone from the organization for which we’re consulting.

Who should be your S.P.O.C.?

Single Point of ContactBecause our clients tend to be small, niche businesses, non-profits or support operations, the owner/director usually plays the role of S.P.O.C., but this is by no means the rule. In some of our most successful, long-lived, prosperous solutions, the S.P.O.C.s are COO’s, department heads, office managers and production managers. In short, people with their fingers on the pulses of their organizations, even though there’s a Captain Kirk calling the shots. Essentially, the best S.P.O.C. is the person who’s deeply immersed in the functioning of the organization. Not necessarily policy makers, but more accurately, policy interpreters; the go-to people when you don’t know how something should be handled. The S.P.O.C.’s got to have the “know-how” to answer tough questions about your processes; has to be able to negotiate all the “if this, then what’s?” we’re going to throw at you.

How much time is your S.P.O.C. going to need for this?

Short answer: A lot. We depend on the S.P.O.C. for everything. No kidding, the S.P.O.C. can make or break a project by giving the right amount of time to the process.

Development: During early development, we ask our S.P.O.C.s to meet with us once a week, usually for an hour or two, to review the work completed, discuss open questions and plan the next steps. After those meetings, we ask our S.P.O.C.s to spend time testing the features that we’ve added and to get acquainted with the general operation of the system. So early on, a good S.P.O.C. should realistically expect to spend three or four hours a week on your project.

Testing: As development draws to a close, the S.P.O.C.’s involvement in testing the new system is inestimable. Like all phases of our projects, testing is an extremely collaborative process and we continue to work hand-in-hand with the S.P.O.C. to identify and resolve problems and omissions. Depending on the complexity of the system, and what impact it will have on your organization, the S.P.O.C. may need to devote much more time than in the earlier stages of the project. In some systems, testing is really simple but the S.P.O.C. is responsible for ensuring that the new software meets your organization’s needs and works as intended so there’s no limit or prescription for how much time the S.P.O.C. will need to spend testing. Certainly, this is the phase where our influence on the success of the project starts to become overshadowed by that of the S.P.O.C.

Training: As testing starts to wind down, the S.P.O.C. will need to invest some serious time in training the future users of the system. Again, the S.P.O.C.’s efforts here have a massive impact on the outcome of the project. Because training users to do their jobs in the new system is very specific to your organization and often involves changes to existing processes and policies, the S.P.O.C. has to interpret how the new system affects these things and design the training that will be necessary to give the users the right tools to be successful in the new environment. As always, we’re ready to offer our experience in training and implementing software but we can never be as effective as your S.P.O.C. at knowing what training to give your users.

Making sure your S.P.O.C. has enough time to devote to your project must be a priority for your organization. Custom software is sometimes a significant investment and making sure you’re accounting for the time it takes to do it right will go a long way toward making that investment pay dividends.

What other characteristics can make my S.P.O.C. more successful?

KnowledgeableThere are a lot skills involved in being an effective S.P.O.C. and the better your S.P.O.C. is at each of them, the better your project outcome can be.

Organization: As mentioned before, there are a ton of details to be managed in the custom software process and no matter how good we are at managing our projects for Extensitech, we can’t possibly manage your project for you. Your S.P.O.C. will need to juggle a lot of information and responsibilities and doing so without dropping a ball isn’t realistic unless your S.P.O.C. is well organized.

Anticipation: During every phase of the project, we’re going to be asking a lot of your S.P.O.C. and making sure that we’ve got the answers to our questions, artifacts and other deliverables we’ve requested will keep your project on track and help us deliver on time. Looking ahead and being preparing will ensure that each project meeting can run smoothly and we can avoid lags in the timeline; i.e. Proactivity = Productivity.

Communication: …and this is the big one. Being an effective communicator is absolutely the key to castle when it comes to being the best S.P.O.C. and, therefore, delivering a software system with longevity that will bring prosperity to your organization. The thing about communicating well is that even if you’ve got to communicate something negative like, “I forgot about that” or, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, we still need to hear those things at the right times so we can adjust and account for problems before they get out of hand and the project gets off-track. Likewise, sometimes our discussions get pretty intense and making sure we understand your organization and its unique requirements for software often means discussing some pretty complicated stuff in excruciating detail. If your S.P.O.C. can pull off that mind-meld thing, this process would be much easier on everyone. So, unless your S.P.O.C. is telepathic, an excellent ability to express one’s thoughts verbally can overcome just about every other shortcoming that your S.P.O.C. may have.

Make the call

I know you’re thinking to yourself that this sounds tough, and possibly like overkill, since after all, your bottom line wasn’t doing all that bad before now, right? But what I’d like to impress on you if you’re reading this because you’re considering an Extensitech custom software solution, is that we wouldn’t go to all this trouble to create this role, and insist on it project after project, if we didn’t know that it works – and not just that it works, but that the outcome of the project often hangs in the balance. A lousy S.P.O.C. can take a slam-dunk project and make it late and over-budget so fast your head will spin. Despite our best efforts, we’ve seen bad S.P.O.C.s kill projects entirely, sending months of time and countless dollars down the pipes. But we also know a great S.P.O.C. can make the most demanding project with a massive scope and the most unrealistic timeline spin like a top.

Trek ReferenceIf you’re thinking of being the S.P.O.C. for your project, then make sure you’re ready to do it – all the way. Don’t sell your project short because you don’t allow yourself enough time to handle your S.P.O.C. duties. Don’t choose a S.P.O.C. who’s not up to the challenge; it will be reflected in your finished product, we guarantee it. Your system will be totally unique, hand-crafted for your purposes and will set you apart from your competitors if it’s done right. So, if you want to boldly go where no organization like yours has gone before, to seek out new efficiencies and profit margins, you’d better have a great S.P.O.C. on board. (I know, groan.)

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