How to get started analyzing a configuration implementation
This is a post about the typical break down of configuration - or a configuration implementation if we want to be more specific.
In this post, I will call it configuration only.
To us, it implies all the details of a total delivery with our configuration engine, application platform and tools for maintenance and development.
The four breakdowns below will be an introduction to a series of coming blog posts (Some references may be made to this and some ideas and updates will be regarding specific areas of the configuration. But more on this later!).
These four breakdowns of mine will allow you to analyze the configuration process more in-depth.
Ready to get started? Here we go:
Why it's important to analyze input and output
In all processes (and organisations , too) there is input and output and a refinement process. The customer is charged either for the actual process or the output of the process.
Typically one will pay the car company for the car but the hairdresser for the service of cutting the hair.
For Tacton the service is configuration with the support of our products for enabling the process refinement.
This process is commonly visualized with an arrow. Left to right, and yes, we'll add more to the illustration later.
Why it's important to analyze external and internal
I use the input and output in nice bite-size chunks (at least they'll look like it). I then usually split the input and output in external and internal to get me four quadrants neatly organized in a coordinate system.
External is what is projected, used and displayed to the outside of the configuration project (which usually is outside the company, however not explicitly).
Internal is the backbone; sources, reflections and results of the project. This normally stays inside the company and naturally inside the configuration project.
This gives us four boxes to describe our project, right?
This breakdown of the configuration project comes in part natural as they in big projects often involves completely different departments - and can be seen very much as four separate projects within the project.
The four parts also help understanding the importance of the different focus areas.
It also helps us at Tacton, allowing us to provide the best support for our clients in providing the roadmap and a clear focus on the complete project target.
All four are equally important holistically, but depending on the project and the skill sets of the team, it is easy to get focused on one or more of these, rather than all four.
In the image I have chosen to display the four boxes equally sized.
In a configuration workshop however, I often talk a lot about the different sizes and shapes of the boxes, all as part of understanding the importance of the individual project items and the types of project workload they they are associated with respectively.
But more on this topic later!
First we must define what's normally "inside the box" and the perimeters of the project.
The model below should explain this better; the perimeters are often integrations and/or communication.
Breakdown 1: External output:
External output is rarely considered to be the most important box. This is usually the part of the project dealing with the quote (or contract documents) that describes the configuration details for the customer creating sales.
And while it might be basic - it needs to be correct!
Information is often gathered from both the quote values from the application and the configuration details for the specific quote.
Most projects know they need this, and realize its importance, but this is also a part that can cause extreme lead times. For instance formatting and graphics take much longer time than one might think.
Evaluate the needs thoroughly, draw mock-ups and anchor it in the organization.
The perimeter is often a handover of information through regular media but transfer of quote information can also be sent back to a CRM system (Please note, that this is sometimes considered Internal output depending on the use of information).
Breakdown 2: External input:
The external input is the information that deals with the customer of the configuration. It defines what values to extract from CRM systems (usually on the perimeter) and this is especially what questions you want the customer to answer, right?
This is the guided selling part of the project.
And it is also the part where the paradox of choice comes into play and where all the nice features of configuration presentation is defined.
Guided selling evaluation is definitely something to think about:
It might not be the first step in a model development, but analyzing what is guided selling for you customer is important. Sometimes vital parts of the configuration information is sufficient to display to call it guided selling.
Sometimes, however, it's more intricate...
CRM integration is often contributing to the values and sometimes also used for configuration, but most times used for the work after configuration, like in bill of material editors, price calculations and the quote generation.
Understanding external input and output
The external input/output is often seen as something so natural that this dimension of the project sometimes gets mistaken for smaller tasks in a configuration project.
However, the importance of these to are crucial as they are the window to the customer!
It is the configuration experience they have, paired with the documentation they receive, that ultimately will reflect on how ordering is done, either completely by the customers themselves - or supported by your sales representative.
Key points to consider:
- Do not underestimate the time (and especially the lead time) for these processes.
- Evaluate the need and develop a great UI, understand the customer and what they look for in the documents generated.
- Emphasize important information and numbers.
- Don't hide information.
Breakdown 3: Internal input
This is the nitty gritty part of the configuration project. Product and sales configuration all starts from the internal input.
The organization must deliver data for understanding the product on the correct level of configuration (more on configuration level in future posts).
The data can come from other data systems, such as ERP, CRM, PDM, PLM etc. or it might need to be extracted from staff interviews.
But more commonly there is some kind of extraction starting in MS Excel. It is a great tool for extracting data and Tacton have (as part of our toolbox) ways of handling this to our specific format.
This is often the expected start of any project and it needs to be done early in the process. However, it mustn't be done until an evaluation of the foru project areas has been undertaken.
We need to know what to deliver before starting to dig out what we have or what we want to have, right?
Breakdown 4: Internal output
What is needed inside the organization once an order have been confirmed?
Remember the external output - there is talk about CRM systems of course, but also there can be references to ERP systems to start production planning, or PDM, PLM systems to help with future service agreements.
The invoicing need to be dealt with as well.
Ordering of external parts or materials needs to be done. What are the triggers today when getting a deal?
This is perhaps both the last (and the smallest) of the configuration project but it requires focus as this is the handover of information from Tacton to other systems.
This can also affect the configuration model and it is key to understand the formatting of the delivery so that futures systems can keep using it. It is simply a key factor to understand what should be refined from the internal and external input.
Understanding internal input and output
The internal work is often the "identified work" and it is often the major work load in any project.
It is sometimes executed in a haste but understanding the baseline of the four quadrants - and how to analyze them - will set you straight, both for understanding what to extract and what specifically will be the internal input.
This blog post is about the general concept of input and output - from a configuration project perspective.
It does not deal with the tools we use, or the actual processes used for understanding all the details of any project.
However, understanding these four breakdowns is a great start in understanding the needs to be done in terms of managing the higher values of configuration, as well as establishing the right approach to a project together with Tacton Systems.
This is just the beginning! Make sure to subscribe in order to tag along with me and get more in-depth understanding of the configuration process.