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Sunday, May 19, 2002


IT Quality. The recent theme in our sister weblog, Notes from the Field is centered around software testing and test process improvement, and will be addressing software quality assurance and reliability in the next few entries. Notes from the Field is aimed more at the software engineering community, while this weblog is slanted towards project management and service delivery. However, there is inevitable cross-over, which is underscored in a book titled Customer Oriented Software Quality Assurance. I won't go into details here because they are amply given in my 26 January 2001 and Linda's 8 April 2001 reviews on Amazon.

Back to Business. In my last entry I listed resources that enable those of us in IT to better understand what is important to our business customers. Sometimes we have to take the path less traveled with respect to seeking knowledge from books. That path sometimes rewards us by coming full circle back to issues with which we struggle, and we benefit by understanding business issues as well as learning techniques that can be directly applied to IT.

Two such books are:

  1. Integrated Logistics Support Handbook.
  2. Sales Quality Audit.
While it may be immediately obvious how these books will help understand business processes, their value to internal IT may not be as apparent at first glance. To prove that I've not gone completely daft I'll explain.

My motivation for reading Integrated Logistics Support Handbook came from my extensive experience with material maintenance management during my 22 year career in the navy, and subsequent experience with integrated logistics in Department of Defense contracting. I used the first edition of this book as a reference when I was on a proposal team for a DoD contract, and found it to be one of the best references available because it distilled tens of thousands of pages of directives, instructions and related material into less than 500 pages. It covered the topic in sufficient detail to serve as an authoritative reference as well as to get other members of the team up-to-speed in ILS.

During subsequent consulting engagements for commercial clients I used many of the concepts and methods detailed in this book to outline requirements for automated materials and maintenance management systems. In particular, any commercial business domain, such as refinery maintenance or maintenance data collection and analysis are candidates for applying parts of ILS to commercial uses. This book then becomes more valuable to a wider audience than DoD contractors.

A second use for the concepts is the structured and proven approach to an encompassing systems maintenance management initiative within IT. For example, the use of logistics support analysis is a sound approach to planning enterprise-wide maintenance from a cost management perspective. Moreover, using a modified (and shortened) form of logistics support analysis records is a good foundation for enterprise asset management, as well as developing a reliability baseline.

I've been a consultant, both as an employee and an independent, since 1988. Considering the time that consultants spend in the pre- and post-sales portions of the sales cycle the book titled Sales Quality Audit seems like a sensible investment. In just 94 information-packed pages this book manages to not only cover the key points of auditing the sales process, but also gives excellent advice on the act of selling itself. My role was always in support of a professional business development manager, and before I read this book I came to believe that sales was an art and the best sales professionals were born into it. That may have some truth, but an across-the-board improvement in the sales process can be achieved if this book is followed.

The approach itself is straightforward:

  • Perform an "As-Is" analysis.
  • Develop performance standards
  • .
  • Conduct a quality audit
  • .
  • Use audit results to refine and improve.
The book gives critical success factors for sales quality assurance and also provides sales quality guidelines. It's a quick read, which should appeal to busy sales managers and especially the sales staff who probably spend much of their spare reading time trying to keep up with product specifications and industry directions (among other things).

However, this book is equally valuable to the IT professional who is involved with defining or implementing a sales force automation (SFA) system. The clear description of the sales cycle and critical success factors (audit points) are a good baseline for SFA requirements and workflow design. More important, the general sales information in this book will give the IT analyst keen insights into the sales business process area.

Follow the step-by-step procedures in this book and the entire sales organization will benefit - the naturals will not have their creativity or talents stifled, and the average performers will have valid performance standards and a well designed process to aid them in achieving higher sales. A key benefit from the approach is consistent customer satisfaction and ability to deliver as promised.

The moral is that valuable information and knowledge can be found in surprising places - all you have to do is think outside of the box when you find it.