Go Tim!

Back in January, I drew a few comparisons to Tim Wilkerson’s NHRA Top Fuel Funny car in my blog entry called “Make It Fast” – This week; I couldn’t help but notice another way in which our approach to success crossed paths.

“When old is new, and new is new, and both old and new run like new, good things
can happen. Tim Wilkerson brought out a brand new 2010 Levi, Ray & Shoup
Shelby Mustang here in Gainesville, and under that sleek beautiful body he
placed a reinvented version of his 2008 chassis, featuring a new front half.
This combination worked like a charm. At the end of the weekend, under sunny
skies in Florida, Wilkerson and his LRS team had vanquished Jeff Arend, Matt
Hagan, Tony Pedregon, and their alliance partner Bob Tasca to take home the
Wally in Gator Country.” (from announcement on Team Wilkerson Facebook page)

If you’re not a fan of NHRA, the “Wally” is the trophy the race winner receives. Before you start questioning my attempt to hang onto their 300 MPH coattails, let me say that I know there is no real similarity between Team Wilkerson and my development team. But, two of us on our team follow Tim and I had to find a way to mention his success this week in one of my blogs, and this did seem to fit. Seriously, read on:
While Tim was beating up on his fellow racers with a combination of old reliable and new stuff, we were having an analogous (see, I know we don’t have a race car) experience in the low-speed world of systems development. In fact, we had two separate such experiences.
The first combination effort came as we explored the changes we need to make to the reports from the activity tracking system we recently moved into SharePoint (see previous post). Prior to that move, the users entered information into a system (daily), and accounting generated reports (monthly). The people entering the data had no real use for the reports, other than to verify accuracy. It seems a recent change in their department has given them a reason to use this data for analysis so they asked for different and more frequent reports. It occurred to me: “they have never seen the data.” In a typical fat-client system, the data is in the back-end database with views presented in various GUIs and reports – nobody other than the programmer ever sees “the data.” The main interface the users have in SharePoint is a quick link to the “New Item” entry page; so again, they aren’t looking at the data. I took them to the list and showed them how they can create Views and the various ways they could sort and filter, and they don’t even want reports! Now, with no additional work, a combination of SharePoint Views and old school reports will make everyone happy.
For our second combination effort we need to switch to a different group; the design team for a replacement Payables system. I am a member of this team, and one of the developers, and I can attest to the fact that we were not planning to use SharePoint. This little system is going to be the prototype for our next-generation design and development work – fat-client development that is. During the design discussion, the developer from accounting mentioned that we needed a way to remind people when information was missing. For example, we don’t always have a vendor’s Tax-ID when we cut the first check. I suggested that, armed with our soon-to-be-available SharePoint connection, we could simply create a task for the person when they create the vendor. Then, SharePoint could manage the task via a workflow. This quickly developed into the design of an entire subsystem that all our applications can use. Anytime a system needs to follow-up with a user, we will use a SharePoint Task list to handle the nagging, tracking, recording and reporting. We will have the ease of making a simple entry into SharePoint, and the users will have the benefit of a consistent messaging process that automatically groups all their activity in one place.
SharePoint has clearly become part of our development platform. This means that, in the future, our systems will be on a continuum, not isolated pockets of activity. We’re not screaming down the track at 300+ but this gives us a way to make business processes move faster and more efficiently. We’re not making hearing-protector clad fans jump to their feet in a scant 4.094 seconds, but we are making our users happy and eliciting the occasional “wow” – yes, a muted “wow” by comparison, but that’s as good as it gets in my world.
In Tim’s world, there are 20 races left in the 2010 season. Every time Tim wins, I’m going to find a way to talk about it here. Hopefully, after the race in Englishtown, I’ll even have some new pictures.