Making complex ideas real can be tough for various reasons. It’s safe to say that most of them aren’t getting out of our heads - assuming that just speaking about them doesn’t count. Simple actions can lead to greater outcomes and I’m going to share a bit of my experiments in that matter.

To give you some context: at the moment we’re focusing on designing our organisation. In the first three years of running the company we’ve experienced some growth – not very rapid, but enough to put us into a little chaos after getting from 3 to 15+ people. 2013 is the year of getting steady and making ground for more growth.

Make the robots do the lazy work

We have four people that are included in our sales process. Utilising a CRM – Highrise being our choice - was a necessity.

The problem? Nobody was using it.

It seemed redundant and the friction of the system outweighed it’s advantages. To make the process as smooth as possible, we improved our contact form a bit so that every message is automatically creating a contact in Highrise. The process got a little less annoying.

Measure

We’ve been forecasting our incomes using a spreadsheet. It turned out to be too simple in terms of the data and too complex when it came to putting the numbers in. Not to mention that the data was mostly duplicated from our accounting software.

But hey, we’re a bunch of coders. We can build the tools we need. (It was one of the rare moments during which I felt real power coming from our profession).

I quickly prototyped two simple tools  - one called Norman, used to gather the data and expose it to the second one - Norman’s Dashboard, as seen below.

Measure. Measure. Measure.

Here’s what the dashboard looks like:

Norman's Dashboard

The data is updated in real time. If somebody updates his timesheet in Harvest, we see the numbers go up. If somebody puts a new invoice into Norman, the dashboard updates the income and profit forecasts in seconds. (The tool we used for the dashboard is Dashing - huge kudos to Shopify’s team for making it open-source)!

Income forecasting and the timesheet reports are only a proof of concept - we have huge plans for the dashboard: notifying about new leads that we haven’t responded to yet, displaying numbers from Google Analytics and KPIs (that we’re going to most likely measure in the app).

Positive side effect

We’re getting more conscious about what happens in our company.

Ultimately, a quick glance at the dashboard will give us an overview of the whole organisation. Most importantly, our thinking process is getting more and more data-driven.

Measuring a new part of the company doesn’t mean that we’re going to get our hands dirty working in a spreadsheet - it means that we have to code it once and then just look at the beautiful representation of the data.

Take the risk

Our data-driven automatization revolution started by one small thing - automating a simple part of the sales process. Seeing how this improved our daily work made us see new ways of doing things: we started to wonder if something can be automated out of the box. We spent a few hours on improving the sales process but we got a lot more from it: the first-hand knowledge that it’s worth it.

There were no more „okay, this seems like a good idea, let’s put it in the never-ending backlog of low priority tasks” discussions. We transitioned to „yeah, let’s do it!” - driven by the confidence from previous experiences - even as small as the one described above.

Start simple. Do small stuff. Experiment. Sometimes it’s not worth putting stuff into context and weighing the ups and downs: just do it. Trust your guts – the outcome can positively surprise you.