Rod Smith, Author at Volano Solutions

Roadmapping with Volano

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Fall is here which for us at Volano means, we revisit our goals and start planning for next year before the holidays are upon us.

When you think of how work is flowing through your company, are there areas for improvement in efficiency, accuracy, transparency or accountability?  Are you finding it increasingly difficult to track and/or manage your day-to-day operations because your “systems” don’t talk to each other? 

Volano can facilitate a review into the potential ways collaboration and workflow can improve your business moving forward. 

Here’s our roadmapping process – 


Envision – How would you like to see the future? 

Prioritize – What are the most important objectives?  How can you maximize?  

Budget – What is an appropriate budget to create and support your productivity tools?  


Roadmap – Connect the dots between your priorities and set timelines, tying vision to results. 

Implement – A budget based phased approach is the most successful way to achieve your vision.  It allows you to manage to a set budget and always see where your company is going. 


Contact us for help facilitating a roadmap for 2019 and beyond!

Phil Libin on Workplace Management and Workflow Processes

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CEO of Evernote, Phil Libin, not only brought us a pretty fantastic life hack tool, but he’s also known for sharing his pearls of wisdom on the topic of booting archaic workplace practices and workflows. His common sense anecdotes on improving the place we spend a majority of our time, often leave us scratching our heads, Yeah, why do we still do it that way?

Here are a few Libinisms that we here at Volano could totally get behind…

On Eliminating Artificial Barriers

Libin refuses to buy into workplace politics, so he has very thoughtfully designed his own company in a fashion that discourages an emphasis on the traditional signs of seniority. The physical office has a very flat, open structure with no offices, quite literally eliminating the idea of “the ladder”.

Evernote offers no perks and none of the traditional status symbols that come with being a higher up. Libin believes that these things create artificial barriers to communication, and they just aren’t necessary. Obviously, there are varying levels of financial compensation, but his goal is to get rid of all of those outward signs that make decision makers unavailable to the rest of the company.

“We try to have an organization that just helps you get your work done, and then it’s my job to eliminate all of the risks and all the distractions so you can just focus on achieving. That attracts people who are primarily motivated by how much they achieve.”

On the Problem with Email

This one sounds insane, but Libin has actually uprooted the e-mail culture at Evernote. The tide is really changing here. Once thought of as the backbone of workplace communications, email is now going the way of the fax machine when it comes to interoffice communications. We can all agree that email isn’t efficient, but what are the other options?  Well, according to Libin, the other option is to get up from your desk and walk over to the person you’re trying to communicate with. What a novel idea.

Simply put, when Libin sees a workflow flaw, he gives it the boot and he’s never afraid to try and fail. Maybe he didn’t find the better way this time, but he keeps trying until he does.

“We strongly discourage lengthy e-mail threads with everyone weighing in. It’s just not good for that. Plus, it’s dangerous, because it’s way too easy to misread the tone of something. If you want to talk to somebody and you’re a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.”

On Stupid, Passive Aggressive Signs

Probably our favorite. Libin realized that everywhere he went around the office he would see stupid, “snotty” signs. So, he went around, tore all of them down and talked with the people who posted them. Now, common sense, passive aggressive signs are nowhere to be seen in the Evernote office. Instead, people are tasked with saying what they mean. In this case, what has for years passed as the “polite” way to do things, is totally not acceptable any longer.

“I declared war a few months ago on stupid office signs. I realized that I started seeing signs around the office everywhere. Like, ‘Your mother doesn’t work here, make sure you wash the dishes after yourself.’ And the signs suck. They’re passive aggressive….Because when you get to be a company of a bigger size, it really does start to feel like work when you see the accumulation of crappy culture like this.”

Libin is of the same school of thought that we are here at Volano. “Because we’ve always done it that way.” isn’t a reason to continue with archaic business practices or flawed workflow management procedures. There will always be a better way to do something, a way that saves time, money or sanity, and we’re all about figuring out what it is.

If you’d like to talk about how Volano can help improve the workflow at your company, we’d love to talk.


The primary route to efficiency

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“Differentiation is the essence of strategy, the prime source of competitive advantage. You earn money not just by performing a valuable task but by being different from your competitors in a manner that lets you serve your core customers better and more profitably.” Chris Zook and James Allen

Process or product differentiates you from your competitors. Volano knows that as you scale your business – you must follow the same process and create the same consistent product despite your growth.

Custom software provides efficiency.Repeatability

Repeatability is a measure of a system’s consistency to achieve identical results across multiple teams and multiple cycles. The ultimate goal is to have both a highly accurate and highly repeatable business process. Repeatability is the primary route to efficiency and scalability. Custom software can enforce business processes in a highly repeatable way. This kind of software brings differentiation, scalability, and repeatability. This is how software can be your competitive advantage.

We call this workflow. Volano builds workflow systems that allow you to repeat what works…and efficiency follows. Software to Make Work Flow.

3 Bull Out

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3 bull outIf you follow Volano, you know we try to play a daily game of darts.  Monday through Thursday is a quick game of 301, and Cricket on Friday’s.

Today was special. John Stuifbergen finished the game by hitting the bullseye…three times. That’s right, a 3 bull out!

We mark up the most notable achievements next to the board.  Here you see that John make the list…again.

Great business software provides transparency

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I bet your clients demand transparency. In fact, every level of your business likely demands transparency. What kind of transparency can software create? Communication and collaboration.

Custom software provides transparency.TimeFly
For example: At Volano our deliverable is most often the billable hour. This is our “unit of work.” It is very important that Volano’s consultants have the ability to track their time appropriately. It is also important that we be able to give our clients a snapshot of their project on a regular basis. So, we track our time in a time system that is custom built for us – we call it TimeFly and our very own Don Stavneak wrote it for us! TimeFly is perfectly tailored to suit our needs, but we’d sell you a copy 🙂

The bottom line is that TimeFly allows us to transparently and accurately share project status and budget with our clients weekly, monthly, and on-demand. This is how custom software helps us to communicate both internally, and with our clients.

Action Card
Another example is Action Card. Volano created Action Card to allow multi-location businesses to communicate and collaborate throughout the corporate hierarchy. A district manager can check-in at an outlying location and conduct a review…complete with pictures and scoring. The review is instantly shared with the location’s corporate hierarchy. This includes the location’s owner, as well as corporate. All outcomes are tracked as ‘action items’ through a closed-loop communication system. What has been completed and more importantly – what hasn’t, is transparent to all parties involved.

A business owner summed up Action Card this way:

“No more paper notes or email. No more wondering. By using Action Card, I KNOW what happened!”

Now that’s what we call transparency.

What fell through the cracks?

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Sometimes when things fall through the cracks, it’s a huge problem. This article does an excellent job of illustrating what a classic bad system is. It was published a year ago and I’m betting it is still a problem today.

It could be better!
Volano could have built an amazing database system for the problem described above. We’ve built 100+ applications that track everything from lawn mowers (manufacturing) to medical records (government sub-contracting.) We align best with those that can use software as their competitive advantage…and where losing assets is not an option. Both web applications and mobile apps with a heavy database component.

Custom software development as a competitive advantage
If your work is falling through the cracks, we can help. Perhaps it is growing pains or maybe it is 13 year old systemic problem. Either way it very likely means you need workflow software. A software program that keeps track of your work and brings clarity and accountability to your business processes. At Volano Solutions we build ‘Software to Make Work Flow.’

When is custom software the right choice?

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A CIO recently asked me what guidelines I use when consulting on a build vs buy decision. This is a fair question considering Volano Solutions is a premier custom software developer in Omaha.

My answer: only build custom software when it makes sense. By this I mean if you can purchase good software to satisfy your need, you shouldn’t build. Volano wouldn’t advise a customer to “build GoToMeeting”, but many times building custom software is the right choice. Here are three considerations:

Using software as a competitive advantage. If you’re using software as a utility, gaining a competitive advantage is not likely. For instance, everyone has email, so custom building a better email system isn’t going to give you a leg up on the competition. However, if your business involves managing a complex workflow process, like auditing medical records or installing water filtration systems around the globe, then a custom software system can put you ahead of the competition. Volano has built both systems and a good number more. We can attest that solutions like these allow companies to be highly specialized and very efficient. Would-be competitors cannot purchase off-the-shelf software and play in the same league.

Package software products don’t always fit the need. In our formative days, Volano used BaseCamp to track details about our projects, including our time entries. We quickly found the software didn’t allow us to effectively report our time. We couldn’t easily see actuals vs estimates. There were other irritations too. It became obvious that we needed to create our own system for managing project details and so we did. We call the system “Timefly,” and it is central to all aspects of our business. Timefly allows Volano to run effectively and efficiently across multiple teams, without the use of whiteboards or spreadsheets.

A simplified, native, tailored approach is preferred. Software should be easy to use, but if the software is ‘everything to everyone’ then ease-of-use is lost in a sea of buttons and un-used fields. Custom software is, by definition, tailor fit. Software is much more approachable when it is distilled to its requisite functions, and it is built from the ground up around your unique business processes.


Check out this post if you’re interested in 4 symptoms that your business needs software in the first place.

Should You Automate?

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Volano creates business software centering around workflow. We also consult with our customers about their business processes. From time to time, we get the question – what processes should we automate? This article speaks to that question directly:

“[Track] employee time to determine if employees are spending large amounts of time on processes that can be easily automated. In cases such as these, implementing an automated system often provides a high return on investment by decreasing time spent on tedious activities while freeing employees to work on other tasks.”

An example of this – one of our clients was responsible for creating highly sensitive, data driven personalized emails. Each email had a secure zip attachment that would contain any prescribed number of over 15 forms that had to be personally addressed, populated with unique information, and contained data driven tables. It would have been near impossible to create these manually – not to mention the turn-around-time was measured in hours.

In this case, the need for accuracy and speed demanded automation.

Care and feeding

The article also points out that modern systems need “regular monitoring and updates.” We couldn’t agree more. A friend of mine named Charlie Crabb coined a term for this. He calls it “care and feeding.” As your business changes, your business processes change; and your systems must change too. These changes can cause downstream processes to break – therefore monitoring and updates are a necessity.

Obviously this requires budget. The alternative is to be rigid and stagnant and resist the change process; in the short run this is less expensive. However we often find that stagnant business are soon left behind by their more progressive counterparts.

Steelwool Launch Party

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Thanks to those who joined us for beer and pizza at the Pizza Shoppe Collective for the SPN meetup last night. We packed the place – even the cashier noted that we had a successful event. Unfortunately, not everyone that hoped to make it could attend. Here is a summary of our talking points and the presentation.

What is Steelwool

Volano builds custom software that allows businesses to track the work they do through their processes.
Steelwool provides some of the basic functions of our typical custom software in a tidy ‘Web 2.0’ package that is hosted in the cloud. It is purchased on a month-to-month basis.

It is not task management or project management. It is WORK MANAGEMENT; this is term that we are coining as it best describes what Steelwool does. More to come later on this topic.

With Steelwool, you configure your team, your process and the fields you want to track.

When your team is doing work, they know what they’re responsible for because the items are in their queue when they log in. While working, the users can update fields, attach files/photos, GPS location and move the item to the next step. With Steelwool you will know where everything is at in your process.

Steelwool is available on the web, on the iPhone and the iPad. Steelwool has an API, so it can be integrated with your other systems too.

Here is a conceptual video of Steelwool:


We plan to bring Steelwool to market with the help of resellers. A reseller should have specific knowledge about a particular vertical. There are too many to list, but for instance architecture firms, home health agencies, or hospitality.

Volano will work closely with each resellers to provide them the support they need to be successful. We expect that support will take form of lead generation, pre-sales engineering, and demonstration support.

Since Steelwool is software-as-a-service, commission will be recurring.

Want to know more –


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Way to go StrategicHealthSolutions!   Congrats on your latest milestone.

You’re bucking the trend by growing and hiring during ‘the worst economic collapse since the great depression.’  Love it.