If you’re trying to make big improvements in your company, your team, or even your software systems, it can be a challenge to determine which steps to take. Sometimes there may be so many options that it can be overwhelming, preventing you from taking any action at all. Or you may try to fix all of the issues at once, not really making a dent in any of them.
But if you look carefully, you might be able to find one area to focus on, one critical missing piece, that could make a huge difference in whatever it is that you are trying to improve.
Let's start with a sports example. Living in Tampa, FL, I’ve been a huge Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan ever since I was a little kid. I’ve followed the highs and lows (mostly lows) of the team for over 20 years. This past season (2020) was one of the most amazing seasons in the team’s history, culminating in them winning the Super Bowl.
But for a long time, there was one key ingredient missing that prevented their success: A highly skilled quarterback. So after the 2019 season, they launched an operation to bring in the greatest quarterback ever, Tom Brady. That one change catapulted them from mediocrity to world champions in one year. Tom Brady was the missing piece, and he made all the difference.
This example shows us that it is possible for one change to have a tremendous impact on the success or failure of a team, sports or otherwise. One quick point of clarification: Missing piece doesn’t mean quick fix. Picking one missing piece is more about focus and thorough improvement, rather than speed. With that in mind, let’s discuss some examples of how we can put this into practice.
If you own a small business, you most likely wear many hats, and are constantly having to juggle various responsibilities to make your business run. But sometimes you may feel stuck and overwhelmed by the amount of work, and your business may start to plateau. Let’s talk about two potential missing pieces that can make a difference.
Many small businesses rely on lots of manual processes to run their operations, keep track of their customers, and track the tasks that need to be accomplished. Spreadsheets, Word documents, paper and pencil, or even (gasp!) memory can be the tools of choice. Over time, having too many manual processes can put a huge strain on your time and cause things to fall through the cracks. It’s the worst of both worlds: You feel like you have way too much to do and it’s extremely hard for you to get all those things done.
At the minimum, I recommend using a CRM or some other type of client management tool to keep track of your clients, and a task management system such as Trello. With CRMs, you can usually make notes about your clients so you can pull up pertinent information about them whenever you need it. And task management systems allow you to visualize and track the work that needs to be done so nothing is missed. There are even software products that incorporate all of these features (and many others) into one package.
Incorporating these basic features into your business can make a large impact, allowing you to get more done, have more peace of mind, and make your customers happier. And if you feel like it’s right for your business, you may even look into custom software development or some other type of automation that can help you run and scale your operations even more efficiently.
So now let’s say that you have operations down, the manual work isn’t really causing too much of a headache, and your customers are happy. Another potential missing piece is how you handle your accounts receivable.
Do you have an invoicing tool in place, and are you diligent about tracking who owes you money? Do you make it easy for customers to pay you, and are you following up to make sure that they do so? These may seem like silly questions, but there are many small businesses that have tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding invoices. Don’t let that be you. Many accounting software products, such as QuickBooks Online or Xero Accounting, have invoicing features that allow you to send invoices to your customers, allow them to pay right from a link in an email, and automatically follow up on unpaid invoices. If you don’t want to set all these things up yourself, one option is to hire an accountant to get you up and running.
If you own a small business, get your AR locked down. If it isn’t currently, think about what all that extra money could do for your business and/or your family. Remember, you are entitled to get paid for services rendered, and your customers are obligated to pay what they have agreed to pay. Adding the processes and tools to ensure this happens can be a game-changer for your business.
As a manager, you are in a good position to identify missing pieces. Most teams have areas in which they can improve, whether it’s through increased morale, more efficiency, or better metrics, just to name a few. Two potential areas to keep an eye on are process and personnel.
Similar to small businesses, your teams probably have some manual processes that can be made more efficient. See if you can identify one task or group of tasks that takes a disproportionate amount of time or that your direct reports dislike way more compared to the other responsibilities. Are there some software tools that you can use to automate these tasks, or make them more efficient and less tedious? Can you incorporate some type of project/task management software to prevent things from falling through the cracks?
The personnel makeup of your team is another area to keep an eye on. Is there one skill that is really lacking on your team, that can really improve their work? For example, sometimes the software development team for a web application may be very strong with back-end development, but have very little UI/UX and front-end skills. Hiring one UI/UX expert and web designer could take your whole team to a new level.
Unfortunately, there are also times where one team member can have a large negative effect on the overall team. Is there additional training or coaching that can be provided to bring this employee’s skill or production level up to the standard?
Software applications can also benefit from this process. In software, it’s not always so much that something is missing, but that there is one particular part of the system or the software development lifecycle that serves as a huge bottleneck or pain point. Software development managers can help find and resolve these issues.
Sometimes, one particular function or service call causes a disproportionate number of issues for the system as a whole. In one web application I worked on, one of the most common functions was a call to another web service in the company. This was a legacy service run by a different team, and it was a source of endless problems because the calls would fail all the time.. Upgrading or replacing this service would have caused a huge improvement in the overall performance of the system. So analyze your system to see if you can identify any of these misbehaving functions or services (internal or external) that are having this type of impact.
If you’re in IT, you’ve probably been on some late-night deployments. One of the least fun things about software development is being on a call late at night while someone manually deploys code to a server, runs database migrations, or completes one of the many other types of deployment steps. Thankfully, many companies have automated their deployment process, but if your system is still being deployed manually, it might be worth looking into tools such as Jenkins, CircleCI, or Amazon CodeDeploy.
Of course, these are not the only areas in which this idea of finding a missing piece can be applied. Whatever you want to improve, here are the key takeaways you can use from this post:
1. If you’re trying to make changes in either your personal or professional life, keep in mind that trying to fix everything at once is difficult and can be paralyzing.
2. Remember that even improving in one area can make a huge impact; try to find that one missing piece.
3. Once you decide on that area, try to thoroughly improve.
So find your missing piece, and see what difference it can make for you. And who knows, maybe this time next year, you might even be a world champion.
Diamondware Technology is a digital engineering firm dedicated to solving businesses toughest workflow challenges through customized technology solutions.