One of my Aunt’s saddest
stories related to when she was working in the outback of Australia more than fifty years ago. She was in a tiny settlement with one small store and one large bar. On a particularly hot day, out of the bush came a man tracking his family that had been eaten by some large strange animal. He was extremely distressed and confused. My Aunt decided to help. What did the animal look like? Where was it going? It turned out that it wasn’t an animal at all, but a truck. His aboriginal family was being cleared from their land in a terrible and still relatively recent part of Australian history.
How is it that a man thought that a truck was an animal? If we have no context for something that is truly new then we can only use our predefined constructs and language to describe something. When the car was first invented, people thought of a carriage without a horse and designed them to look like carriages. It is what people understood.
This is relevant to me because I need to explain OrgVue. I need to explain something that is so new that people don’t have sufficient terms of reference or the language. It is natural for humans to try to simplify something. They want to put it in a box. “So it is an Org Charting product” or “a visualisation product” or “Excel on the web with the ability to work with hierarchies”.
Marketing people talk about “Categories” and if something is a new category then you have to define both the category and product. Marketing people also tell you to keep it simple. To communicate in less than one minute. In an elevator. To nail what it is in a couple of sentences, or in one short seven word phrase.
It is easy to state some of the things OrgVue does that more traditional products also do:
- It helps you visualise data. You can build dashboards, infographics and many other images but it isn’t a traditional “dash
- It is a database… but not the sort you would normally think of. It isn’t a relational database, but it builds a graph. You can store, add, change and track data
- It is an Org Charter. You can build org charts with pictures on them, but you have over a dozen types of cards and another dozen (plus) ways of laying out those charts. The card is just a type of report and it is all “just data”
- You can run surveys, but these are also forms and built into the fabric of the product
These are all understood and well defined “solutions”. So is OrgVue just a bundling of different products into one? When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he said he was launching 4 new products. They all happened to be things that used to be separate. The iPhone was a smartphone (phone, calendar, e-mail), camera, the web, an iPod and eventually all the apps. The iPhone brought it all together. So, is OrgVue just bringing all this stuff together? No, it is more. It is doing something different still:
- It enables you to define processes or objectives and link them to people or roles in an accountability matrix. Equally, you can see projects or customers or risks or a “work breakdown structure”, and…
- You can define the cost of each process or the amount of time that each employee spends on that process, enabling you to create a cost to serve, and…
You can see the process maps in a range of ways, just like you do with chevrons in PowerPoint but connected with data, and…
- You can do calculations just like in Excel, but also traverse a hierarchy and the graph, and…
- The event store keeps track of every single change to every single cell of data with a record of who made what change and when so that history can be played back or actuals tracked against target
Of the funniest things said to me (with respect to OrgVue that is) was by the actor who did the voice over for our intro video.
The actor is famous enough in his own right, having starred in films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean”. He decided to help my
cousin out (I’m from a very large family) who in turn is a budding film Director and was helping us with our OrgVue film on “Cousin rates” (even better than mates rates). After doing the voiceover he said, “So does OrgVue make the coffee and take out the milk too?” Ahhhh.
So, what do we do? How do we communicate something so new and, I believe, so powerful? It is not like all these things are different components. They are all within a single, simple user interface. Equally, it isn’t that we started out trying to create what we have. It just happened because it was necessary to solve the business problems of getting to grips with detailed organization design, HR analytics and workforce planning.
Perhaps this challenge is similar to that faced by spreadsheet software such as Excel in the 1980’s. Even in its early days Excel could do many things – store and analyse data, compute formulas, and run custom programmes (macros) – it was hard to communicate. How do you describe Excel?
Excel was not only financial planning software, but it was finance professionals that quickly figured out its value for their field and helped popularize its use into what we see today – Excel is used in nearly every business function. Microsoft and other early spreadsheet developers had set out to develop a digital version of a paper accounting worksheet, but in the process built something with far more uses than they could have
imagined at the time.
We have done something similar with OrgVue – it is far more useful and powerful than we could have imagined in its early days, yet so incredibly difficult to put into words. This has an upside: we find new uses for OrgVue all the time.