Blog

2013 September

Lights…Camera…Action Card!

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Action Card logoThis week Volano will officially launch our mobile, franchise site review app “Action Card.”  The intent of Action Card is to provide franchise companies a portable tool that they can use when visiting their respective locations for brand consistency and best practices.  Currently many franchises use paper checklists, excel or other relatively outdated tools to track franchise performance.  Action Card will save time, help quickly track action items that result from the visit and empower the regional representative making the visit to spend more time listening and developing a better business relationship with her owners and less time scribbling notes and auditing owners.

Beta-Testing

During October we will be actively looking for beta-testers for Action Card.  So far the response from IFA (International Franchise Association) members has been very strong.  By the end of October we should have at least 20 beta clients actively using Action Card and providing Volano feedback on the features.  Typically larger franchise organizations strive to maintain consistent brand standards at all of their locations, a challenge given the wide geography that makes up their footprint.  They often have regional sales reps or coaches who visit these locations and that is who will reap the benefits of Action Card the most.

“At the end of the day, this tool should be very behind the scenes,” said Volano VP of Sales Kelly Grace.  “In my experience with franchising, the way you hit revenue goals at your locations is by partnering up alongside these owners, not micro-managing or auditing them.  You need to diagnose where they’re struggling so you can help them in the right way.  Action Card does that.  Get the info you need, submit it electronically, everybody involved sees what items need to be reconciled and when…there’s no gray area.”

Action Card will go live in February at the Annual IFA Conference in New Orleans.  We are optimistic that subsequent iterations of the application will enhance the value of an otherwise dynamic SaaS application based off of the feedback we get from franchise users in diverse industries.  The ability to communicate real time and coordinate the efforts of the franchisee, the site reviewer and the senior management and compliance teams at the franchise level is extremely valuable.

3D or not 3D, That is the Questions

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One of the great things about being involved in software development is belonging to a community that appreciates technological innovation.  We attend cool events like Big Omaha, speak about software as a competitive advantage to local businesses, mentor young innovators in programs like Straight Shot and discuss the pros and cons of new and upcoming  software product like Google Glass.  So I finally decided to explore 3D printing, the much discussed and often maligned technology.  I had only really heard about 3D printing in the political hotbed conversation of illicit gun manufacturing so I decided to take a closer look.

3D Printing for Dummies

3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making a three dimensional object from a digital model using an additive process where materials are laid down in shapes specified by the model.  It’s a decades old concept that has very recently started to take off.  This blog published recently in The Economist is an interesting look at where the industry is headed and who has already incorporated it into their business model, including heavyweights Airbus, Boeing, GE, Ford and Siemens.  One of the benefits of 3D printing is the obvious reduction in manufacturing costs.  Companies are also taking advantage of the fact that you can now create harder to find replacement parts for a fraction of the time and cost of locating and shipping them.  Another benefit on a larger scale would be the reduction in globalization as a result of more in-house design and manufacturing.  Though these printers are still young and expensive, competition and innovation will likely drive costs down in the near future.  Nike and New Balance are even pro-typing 3D shoe production.  Imagine having the ability to design and make your own clothes.  OK, maybe don’t do that.

Drawbacks

The prognosis for 3D printers is not all positive.  Currently printing is a very slow process and it can take hours to print a single piece from a digital model.  The costs for materials is also very high.  Much has been written about the issue of 3D firearms production.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center released a memo stating that “significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printer files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns.”  Perhaps a bigger issue from a market standpoint would be peoples’ ability to actually replicate and produce their own 3D printers.  Printers have a ways to go as well.  Plastic molding and die have yet to disrupt durable goods manufacturers who deal in steel and heavier metals, relegating printers to the plastic goods markets.

Either way, as the quality of3D printers improves and the printed materials created from them, the quality and finish of prototypes is becoming harder to distinguish from things made in traditional factories.  The technology is not going away and could change the way manufacturing and commerce are done dramatically.  We’ll keep an eye on how three dimensional printing innovation unfolds.  There are already a good number of 3D computer graphics software programs on the market.  As a software and business consultant, Volano will see early on whether or not local Omaha businesses start to interface with this this technology.

My Office is Straight Crazy

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It’s not uncommon to think at times that the people with whom you spend the majority of your waking hours might be a little eccentric.  I believe Volano may have an above average number of employees with sociopathic tendencies and I obviously mean that in the most affectionate way.  I can see how one might take that statement out of context.  This is a video recording of one of our applicants who was hired that day.

The Crazies Sitting Next to Me

We have employed people who, among other things, created wildly imaginative, phallic sticky-note art (and maintained the collection in a plastic Ghostbusters lunchbox).  Another keeps a side view mirror attached to his monitor, presumably to prevent having to continually crook his neck when people congregate and walk behind his desk.  This is his explanation.  He has no explanation then for the completely unnecessary desk turning signal.  Another developer runs half-marathons, a clear sign of psychosis.  Three of us have had or are about to have babies.  What kind of sick person willfully submits to that life station?  And last week, as Sonos blared the faux lounge act Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine (check them out post-haste) doing tight, lounge versions of iconic and profane classic pop songs, they laughed and carried on like middle school kids do when the substitute shows up.

Evaluation Time

I finally decided to educate myself on identifying the characteristics of a psychopath.  In the interest of science, I Wikipedia’d (this is now a verb, feel free to use accordingly) the Rorschach Inkblot test and decided to administer it to our staff.  For those of you who did not take Pysch 101 in college, this test was created by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach and used to detect underlying thought disorders.  The psychologist would analyze the perceptions of her patients when exposed to the inkblot images to gain insight on personality characteristics and emotional functioning.  Satisfied with the rigorous guidelines of my study, I e-mailed the picture in this blog out to our staff and asked them to send me the first thought that came to mind.  Answers varied but confirmed my suspicions…

Yikes

  • Kevin – “I see poodles being shot out of a cannon.”
  • Colleen – “I see a tarantula….. oh God what does that mean?  I also saw a bearded man.”
  • Erin – “I see a set of lungs.”
  • Rob – “I see a hockey mask.”
  • David – “I see an x-ray of a pelvic girdle, or if you look at the negative space, two demons laughing as they rip a man’s arms off.  I’m not gonna look at the negative space anymore, it’s too scary.”
  • Kelly – “Definitely a rotund pizza-maker tossing dough over his head.  He is making a pizza for the bones of Jimmy Hoffa, buried under his porch.  Wait, ask me again what I think after lunch.”
  • John – “I see a lobster (upside-down)”
  • Don – “I saw a monkey’s face.”
  • Jeremy H. – “I see two of Sloth from Goonies, facing each other, having a thumb war.”
  • Shane – “I see the Chiquita banana lady with her hand up in the air.”
  • Rod – “I see a buffalo’s face”
  • Dave – I see Crow T. Robot from Mystery Science Theater 3000
  • Gwen – A member of the Maasai tribe with a basket on his/her head.

As you can see, we have some disturbed employees.  We do maintain a high level of professionalism, we just do it through a different set of eyes.  Feel free to submit your interpretation of this image as well.

Emotional Intelligence – Looking at the Whole Picture

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Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured a thoughtful article by Jennifer Kahn on a relatively new teaching strategy in primary education called social-emotional learning or S.E.L.  S.E.L. presupposes that emotions factor into a child’s ability to learn and that educators can and should focus on instilling “deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”  As a former teacher, I can attest to the challenges educators face daily in executing their lesson plans.  While trying to resolve conflicts and spend time with children whose inability to effectively deal with their emotions and subsequently, their ability to interact socially with their peers, teachers and administrators can quickly fall off track.  The over-emphasis on state standardized test scores diminishes the importance of teaching students how to be good citizens and how to effectively communicate and resolve problems.  More importantly, I’d question the value of an education that does not focus some time to teaching kids how to better understand and process their emotions.  This is young methodology and as the article concedes, could be misinterpreted and ineffectively administered.  I look at the discussion on S.E.L. in terms of how to better hire, manage and evaluate the efficacy of your leaders.

Your most successful people managers possess the people skills to navigate the politics of your workplace and the diverse personalities that populate your office.  I’ve seen extremely bright C-level executives with good project plans, clearly stated goals and timelines, fail to see their plan merit results due to lack of consensus, clarity and execution from their teams.  In almost every case, they failed to pick up on basic cues from their people that would have helped them understand that the plan was not sold or that team members were confused.  Worse yet, employees that did not feel comfortable vocalizing their confusion remained silent while deadlines passed, often misinterpreting their role and submitting the wrong work.  Had these leaders possessed bona fides that do not easily show up on a resume, and certainly are not measured on any test, good plans would have had a greater likelihood of success.

According to Chicago-based CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), there are five competency clusters that educators focus on instilling in their students.  Think of your last boss and ask yourself how you’d score them on the following criteria.

  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.
  • Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

Abraham Lincoln & Nelson Mandela

Think of some of the most effective world leaders in recent memory.  From Nelson Mandela to Abraham Lincoln, their ability to overcome opposition to their initiatives correlates with their own history of overcoming great personal adversity.  Lincoln is a prime example of someone who would be described as having tremendous emotional intelligence and self-awareness.  Can we teach these kinds of attributes?  How do we look for them when hiring leaders?

Volano Hires Rock Star Administrative Assistant

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Welcome Colleen Noble!We are pleased to announce that Colleen Noble a Newton, Massachusetts ex-pat joined the Volano team this week to help us keep the office in order as we continue to help our clients better manage their business processes with technology and develop new product.  This is a significant and symbolic benchmark for us as we continue to expand our footprint in the Midwest and develop innovative mobile applications for a nationwide market.  Colleen will likely wear a lot of hats and expand her role beyond office management in short order.  Her background and skillset lined up well with what we were looking for in this unique role… But before this blog turns into a bigger cliché than it already is, allow me to share some cool things about Colleen that say a lot about her character.

  • Colleen took a Jazz class in college because her grandfather loves Jazz and she wanted to be able to connect with him on a deeper level.
  • She volunteers as a therapeutic horseback rising assistant.
  • Colleen was co-captain of her college varsity basketball team.
  • Was one of the top fundraisers for the New England Lupus Foundation.
  • She married two passions – children and art into the hobbies of face and canvas painting.

Here’s Colleen in her own words

My name is Colleen and I was born on October 13th which just so happened to fall on a Friday in 1989.  Despite the rumored wives’ tale, I consider myself to be a very lucky person!   I am thankful to say that I recently graduated from Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts this past May and I consider this to be one of my greatest accomplishments thus far.  I look forward to working at Volano Solutions and am excited to see what’s to come!

Welcome to Volano Colleen!

Volano Welcomes Two New Developers to the Team

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Newbies Gwen and Kevin

Volano is excited to add two very gifted software developers to a team already stacked with talent.  Kevin Harvey and Gwen Rodriguez started the day after Labor day and are already actively contributing and taking load.  We thought we’d let them tell you about what brought them to Volano in their own words.  Hiring talent is especially challenging for us due to the specificity  of our requirements.  We look for agile, quick studies who can also lead projects directly with our clients.  Kevin and Gwen both have those skills.  It’s also nice to work with collaborative people interested in the exchange of ideas, learning and helping each other out.  We got that with Gwen and Kevin all day long.

Kevin Harvey in his own words…

Kevin laments lack of technology at a technology company with Gwen. “When do we get phones Gwen? My Morse Code is shaky.”

My name is Kevin Harvey, the newest member of the Volano Web team.  I have been in love with web development ever since I coded my first web page back in 1997.  The web has changed a lot since then and I have changed with it, learning new techniques along the way.  I have spent the last nine years of my career writing highly customized, dynamic database-driven web based applications for a leading email marketing company.  I got fed up with all of the corporate red tape.  Volano cuts through all of the usual red tape involved with pushing code.  In fact, in my first week here, I haven’t even seen so much as a roll of scotch tape!  I look forward to spending a large chunk, if not the remainder of my career here at Volano.

Gwen Rodriguez in her own words…

Hi, I’m Gwen Rodriguez.  I’ve been acquainted with Volano for almost a year.  I finally decided to join the team, in large part because of their culture and the camaraderie that is apparent among their staff.  I am the mother of two and an avid fitness freak and I like that Volano honors the quality of work done for their clients and the flexibility to get it done without necessarily diminishing the priorities I have outside of the office.  I will be working with one of their best clients on a long-term project and am looking forward to being a part of both teams.

What a Resume Doesn’t Say

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Personality goes a long wayVolano recently hired two software developers whom you’ll read about later this week. We are also hiring our first office admin person.  The process of finding and screening good candidates has been educational and cause for some reflection.  Finding people whose skills line up with the prerequisites of the job is one thing but identifying the intangibles is quite another.  You’re not only trying to find a good employee, you want to find one that will take the position and re-define the role, raise the expectation level and help elevate the culture and production around them.  No role is immune from these opportunities but a bad hiring decision can have the opposite effect on morale, production and culture.

I got to thinking of a few professional attributes that are harder to represent or quantify on a resume but have equal if not greater importance.

  • Agility.  Our clients do not all code in the same language and proficiencies.  Good developers are not simply masters of a skillset but students of technology.  How comfortable is a person with unfamiliar software languages and how capable are they of finding answers.
  • Affability.  I don’t care how good you are at any one thing, or many things.  If people don’t care for you, neither do I.  Great ideas and initiatives are left unrealized when buy-in was not sought or received by peers and direct reports.
  • Accountability.  Much time could be saved if the first page of a resume simply said “I say what I’m going to do and do what I say.”

Candidates that possess these skills empower employers to utilize them in multiple roles and capacities.  Subsequently, these types of employees make themselves hard to get rid of when budgets tighten up.  For employers, the key to unearthing these qualities in an interview is by asking for specific examples that demonstrate these attributes and by  checking references.  Good candidates have people who love to sing their praises.  Candidates should avoid clichés and platitudes.  Assume that every job candidate competing for that role will say they are a hard worker, fast learner and love working with people.  Specifics sell.  Chances are, you’ve got a lot of stories that exemplify these traits.