I’m going to let you in on a little secret: We don’t know everything.
(Ok, I’ll wait a few moments for you to pick yourself off the floor.)
Yes, yes …. I know. You were expecting me to say, “We know everything and can do everything,” or “sure, our products will do that, no questions asked” or “our prices are INSANE!” And, you would have clicked the back button faster than you can say “disingenuous.”
Of course, that was one of the four software vendor red flags I mentioned in an earlier post. There is no way that anyone in our company could possibly know everything about the software we sell, implement, and develop on, even though we go through rigorous training and take continuing education classes.
As any professional knows, there’s only so much you can learn out of a book. You could earn top grades in your classes throughout your entire scholastic career, only to find that the real world operates completely different than an academic environment. So even though our development staff practically live inside Sage products while they’re on the clock, it’s still an academic environment. That’s why we rely on our customers to share their knowledge about the software they use every day and how it works in the real world.
Ideas: The lifeblood of development
Earlier this year, we started asking our customers to give presentations during Growing Together, our monthly user group meeting for our Grower Vertical customers. We figured this would help bridge the gap between our academic knowledge and our customers’ real-world knowledge, especially for our greenhouse growers.
For our September meeting, two of our customers were scheduled to give presentations on customized reports they created. This was also the topic of our April meeting, and it was so well received that we scheduled another session. However, as the September meeting approached, one of our volunteers apologized because their report wasn’t finished like hoped back in April, and it wasn’t ready to show.
Undeterred, I asked if he wouldn’t mind at least saying a few words about their report. I suggested that he wouldn’t have to show anything, but at least let everyone know what was the issue they were trying to solve and how they were using custom reporting tools to come up with a solution. It didn’t matter if the presentation lasted only five minutes, because the idea was to give an example of the types of problems that could be solved using reporting tools. (Also, since Larry Hill from Metrolina Greenhouses was giving the other presentation, I didn’t have to worry about not having enough material for the meeting. With his background in Business Insights, Larry has made some amazing reports and does a great job presenting them to our group.)
Amazingly, that five-minute report turned into a half-hour discussion about one simple idea. Since it’s still a work in progress, I won’t say what the report specifically does. (It has to do with solving a labor issue.) But from the moment the presenter finished explaining his plans, the brainstorming floodgates opened with questions, suggestions, formulas, and coding. Contact information was exchanged. And we promised to revisit the project once it was finished and had a chance to mature.
In essence, this is how development starts, no matter if the idea is born from a professional development staff, a daily user of a product, or even someone who may not be involved directly, but may be able to give an idea from a fresh perspective. That’s why we always open the channels of communication for our customers so they can give us feedback and ideas.
This report was based off of a very small feature of our Grower Vertical module. In looking for a solution, our customer first started with the tools they already had available. From there, they could leverage that tiny bit of information the system already had available to produce a report that could solve a major problem.
Ideas breed more ideas
This latest idea in a chain of ideas dating back to 2006 that makes Grower Vertical what it is today. We didn’t have the original idea to come up with a module that would help a Sage ERP solution work for the specific needs of the horticulture manufacturing process. That honor belongs to the folks at Metrolina Greenhouses.
Because we were green to the greenhouse industry at the time, we relied on their ideas, their suggestions, their feedback, and their recommendations while we provided the technical know-how to help make their vision a reality. With their help (and their convenient location 10 miles away from us), we were able to see how this would all work in a real-world environment, and not just by learning what we could out of a book.
As more growers gave Grower Vertical a try, we started getting more ideas on how to improve the product. Some ideas were changes designed to help with a specific grower’s needs. Other ideas helped tweak the module to provide a better user experience for everyone. And some ideas were game-changers, like Scan by Cart, which helped Young’s Plant Farm (and eventually other growers) improve their shipping accuracy to big-box retailers to more than 99 percent.
Of course not every idea is a winner. But that’s the beauty of brainstorming: The more we are willing to listen to the ideas of the people who actually use our software, the more of a chance we have to find a solution to the problems they’re having. And the best news is that our customers delight in sharing their ideas with their peers as well as us.
When we hear one of our customers say, “I have an idea …,” we smile because we know it could be the start of something big.