Toques & Trucks

Murray Pratt Blog Leave a Comment

Okay, so first thing’s first. This is not an April Fool’s Day Blog. It’s a real blog done in all earnestness. Some of you may actually think my blogging is just one big, long joke. While that might be the effect, that is certainly not my intention…I think.

The other day I met with one of my young programmers. I have to say, I love our programmers. When I spoke with them and asked them ‘how’ and ‘why’ they got into programming, it became very clear to me that it was a great passion for them –  a personal mission. Very much a creative endeavor that can be intoxicating – powerful and challenging at the same time. Making something from nothing. (Again, because I blog so much I realize the power of reverse engineering in which I make ‘nothing’ from ‘something’)

But today I have figured out something profound in our business – in what we do as a software manufacturing company. Going into my third month as President – a Sales/President that is – I realize that my job is primarily that of bringing the ‘toques’ – and the ‘trucks’ – together.

When I first saw the trend of wearing toques (aka: knit caps) – even in summertime, indoors, at work – I thought it was some wayward snowboarder that got so engrossed in his day that he forgot to take off his toque. You see, as a kid growing up in a northern Canadian city, we used to play a game called ‘pom-pom’ pull-away at our local outdoor ice-rink. A toque was more of a practical necessity than fashion statement per se.

But then I realized, that I was in fact…well…old. But I like the style because I used to ski a lot and I loved the lifestyle and vibe of the whole ski-scene. And I liked the newer more austere toque styles better than the old toques with ‘pom-poms’ on the top.

So if you run a software company in the transportation industry, it is incumbent upon you to find away to connect the ‘toques’ with the ‘trucks’. But these are two very different work cultures.

The average age of a trucker in North America is 57. He tends to be somewhat less proficient with computer technology but well schooled in operating a truck and navigating traffic safely to the benefit of all.

The average age of a programmer, armed with the latest technology, is under half that age.  He has graduated from college or university and he likes trucking primarily because truckers with sleepers also keep their beds close to their workplace.

Both of them have to deal with this sleep thing, don’t they?

But, what is really exciting, is if you can find a programmer who grew up in a trucking family…who has some affinity to the trucking industry. Someone who remembers what it was like when dad was away for the week on a long-haul trip. Someone who remembers what it was like when mom would have to toil at home, not only taking care of kids and running the house, but doing some, or all of the paperwork, associated with running a trucking business.

The biggest complaint of people that use software is that the programmers don’t understand the industry, or the business at all.

To which a programmer in a toque might respond and say

‘Ya, you’re right dude – go program it yourself’.

If you are 57 years of age (I am close)…in the late 70’s you will have had access to computing power at your school or college that is eclipsed today by the computing power in a musical Hallmark card. If you are like me, you realized this at age 34 while attending an adult-education class to learn keyboarding. Yes, keyboarding, because you knew it was the gateway into the computer. And if you did, you too could have been the worst student in your class!

‘d-a-d, s-a-d,– asdsagahglalghalghahl………….grrrr……….*&^%^%^! Stupid damn class…….ahhhhh!’

You had 30 lessons to go through and you couldn’t progress to the next level unless you completed the previous one correctly!!! But I will have you know that the doctor in class quit the course after two lessons…so technically I wasn’t the worst one. (‘Who the heck needs typing when I can scribble prescriptions!’)

So what is the answer to the eternal question?

How do you reconcile the two worlds? The world of the people who are driving trucks, and running trucking companies, and the world of the younger folks who are more facile and skilled in the newer technologies – technologies that are going to profoundly change the industry. Technology that is going to create the ‘internet of things’, mobilize business, and make information more shared and transparent to all?

The only way to do it is to communicate. To create systems and processes to foster communication. A way that allows each to truly understand the needs of those using the software and the possibilities, and sometimes, the limitations of those who make software. There are always trade-offs. There are always choices.

In our Development sessions when I hear one of our programmers make an assumption about the customer’s technology abilities, I will ask them?

“So is that something your mom or dad would be able to do?”

They start laughing.

At the other end of the spectrum I will ask those people in our business – our trainers, support people, salespeople – those closest to our customers – to speak to the programmers in terms of ‘the problem’, to give them context in which a customer is requesting something. I don’t want them to tell them the feature they need as much as the problem needing to be solved. Sometimes I simply ask them to ‘share the story’.

But more formally it is the effort and activities to systematically manage and track on the ‘User Experience’…the UX. To have someone on point – working directly and indirectly with trucking software users on the experience they are having with the application. And then making improvements as needed based on bona fide customer feedback – and on observed customer behavior. And certainly not the opinion or ideas of some 55 year executive who learned to type badly at age of 34!

To me, great software is not born in the minds of genius programmers, nor is it found in the unique insight of those closest to the users, but rather it’s the way in which you create a process for systematically improving the way in which the people who produce the program, ENGAGE with the people who use the program.

To that end, I very much like the Software-as-a-Service model because it focuses on continuoous short-term improvements. It joins the ‘developers’ and the ‘users’ at the hip and has them move lock-step manner together. It’s a ‘just–in-time’ model that is more attuned to an ever-changing, interconnected world.

As for me…the guy who comes from the part of the business most likely to get distracted by shiny objects, or chasing after a ball, I am reminded of the quote by famed German politician Otto von Bismarck who said:

“Laws are like sausages, It is better not to see them being made”

 

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