Could a Twitter service help perception at new system go live?

During the hours after switching on Dynamics GP I decided perhaps a Twitter service could have helped provide a good mechanism to communicate the status of the issue snagging from us the minority implementation team of 3 to them the large number of employees in the company we were putting it into. A thought for the next major system implementation that affects a large user community.

Today, another Dynamics GP installation now live and hanging together. Still coding into the early hours of Monday morning paid off.
It is always a learning experience delving into the inner workings of a company, trying to extract reality from fantasy as regards business processes whist navigating the rocks that lie beneath in the form of people's pride, work history, attitudes and capability to adapt to change.

It never fails to amaze me how you can ask so many people from the same department and get each one claiming that the thing you know is white, is in fact a different shade of grey to each other. This is where experience in mapping processes kicks in and you implement the system and transform the data during data load as you know in reality they use it now how they tell you they are using it! This has saved me big times several times during this project, together with my saviour, reporting services that came to my aid several times.

For this company orders were coming in from website, telesales, trade counter, post and emails, going to the warehouse for fulfilment and going out on a next day carrier. Switching over the ERP system was bound to be hard work. Due to plenty of planning, it went fairly smoothly considering the sorts of things I've seen go wrong before. We had a big load of GP modifications (vba & .NET & SQL) running to make it a slick system, mostly these were already tried and tested, even if they were implemented slightly differently than they were previously used. Of course there was an issue log growing by the hour from Monday morning, but the majority were trivial issues, like picking notes, picklists truncating the new extra long item numbers, a two min fix in reporting services etc. The modification that totalled up the weight of the order as the lines were entered in SOP transaction entry was wrong by a factor of 100, although it was picked up in UAT, the fix got lost before go live, that did annoy me. Quickly fixed by a nip into the stored procedure on sql server and divide by 100 on the output of the proc.
I soon realised communicating these quick fixes to issues was taking longer than actually fixing them. Even worse than that, the communication of what was going on was not always clear enough, so people were not using weights a couple of hours after a fix as they were on lunch when the announcement it was fixed was made and other scenarios occurred too.

I now think that I should really have used a Twitter ( like service to broadcast information over the first two or three days. This would permit the workers to see that stuff was getting addressed and in real time. I have seen reports of this type of service being implemented internally by companies to communicate short messages to staff, information that would otherwise get lost waiting to be included in other larger communications.
Using a Twitter service would give stake holders, of all levels, a better tool to see the volume of snags we were being cleared. For those how have not tried Twitter, a stream of micro messages is provided to the consumer of the service, the key is that they are limited to the size of a SMS message. This is the key as it distils and concentrates the message content.
Those people with lower priority or more convoluted issues feel that their problem is not getting addressed. We know we are clearing lots of more important issues, they have no sight of that. A stream of messages saying things like "inability to charge customers at trade counter RESOLVED", help put their problems into context of the larger picture.

Obviously there continues to be a place for a shared SharePoint site for a view of issues and status of issues, but this is quite depressing/scary to view for us and the company stake holders half way through the first couple of days after the switch on. It shows every little thing to be addressed not the bigger picture of how much is actually working and how little disruption to the business there has been.
Finally I was glad to find that taking down one ERP system, replacing it with another does not always have to hurt, it didn't this time, or is that just experience taught us to have contingencies and effort in the correct proportions in the correct places... :)

Experiments in plug cuting

Clarke 8pc Plug Cutter SetThis week I was finishing off the stair balustrade project that has occupied a few weekends recently. The half newel was fixed to the wall on the landing using three screws that I had counter bored holes for into the wood. I've also learnt the subtle difference between countersinking, where the screw is flush with the surface, hole usually has sloped sides. Counter bore is where the hole is parallel sided and the screw head is deep down in the wood. My intention was to cut some wooden plugs to fill the holes from the same wood stock as the newel in order to give a nice finish to the newel.

I looked on screwfix where there was a set for cutting plugs and also found in Machine Mart the set that I eventually bought. I went for these above screwfix for price and as they had two sorts of plug cutter, chamfered and standard.

Plugs before popping them out The chamfered give a very subtle chamfer to the end of the plug to allow easy insertion into the counter bored hole. The standard are just parallel sided plugs when cut.

 I don't own a pedicel drill or drill press so I used a good hand held power drill. At first I tried cutting plugs by putting the drill on a moderate speed setting and trying to cleanly push onto the wood. As predicted the plug cutter made a mess of the wood before getting a hold into the wood and going in.

On my next attempts I cut a hole, just bigger than the plug cutter through a bit of scrap wood, clamped it to the piece I was cutting a hole into and then tried cutting the plug. It worked giving a much better result as shown. I tried cutting the plugs out by sawing the backs off but found simply using a screw driver to lever them out worked just as well. You can see the plugs on the lid of the plug cutting set, top photo.

Finally I glued the plugs into the counter bored holes, leaving them slightly proud, sanded down and for a first attempt they made an acceptable finish. My lesson from all this is to be careful to cut very clean counter bored holes in future to produce a neat hole for the plug to go in, this improves the finish. You have to learn these things by attempting them...Finished plug in place 

You can make out the plug in the wood on the above photo, a good finish. The attempt to cut the plugs out from sawing behind shown below. 


Metroland Last Ticket to Ride Party - Say good bye

Metroland is almost gone, a few more weeks and it will merely be a memory for all the children and adults who have grown up with the fun of the fair at the Metro Centre Gateshead. To be redeveloped as a cinema metroland will be lost forever together with the Zierer Tivoli custom coaster.

There is a competition running at the moment for the "Last Ticket to Ride Party" that some may be interested in:


Last Ticket to Ride Party Competition

 We have to make the effort this month to get down and ride the rides before they go...


Alton Towers - Rita bunker and Hex behind the scenes

Our first European Coaster Club trip was to Alton towers for the first day of the season last weekend.

We had been to Alton a couple of weeks before when the ponds were frozen and it hurt to ride due to the near zero temperatures causing frost bite on your face however it was restricted opening as it was still closed season. This weekend everything was open, well by eleven o'clock (except for the sky ride post fire work still going on). We managed to arrive for just after nine and got on the front row of Nemesis while no one else had arrived.

Alton Towers Teacups now Mauraders MayhemWe got to see the newly re-themed pirate area, last time very under construction, now finished off together with the new water ride, and even better there were hundreds of pirates walking around the park from various pirate societies. Many of them looked uncannily like Mr. Dep. It was a great day not too busy with the pirates been very well behaved for pirates, lots of "argh"ing going on though. 

It was really nice to be so welcomed by the EEC members. We enjoyed completing the Alton Challenge where we had to find the answers to a list of clues given to us around the park. We thought it was our first trip and didn't want to be too disgraced, so we diligently went around finding out as much as we could, and ended up a very respectful 3rd. As we'd only been in the park a couple of weeks before we'd already found our coaster legs so didn't mind not riding too many rides.

Alton towers HEX drive wheelThe evening brought us to a look at the under belly of HEX the ride. We got to watch the ride go through its program from the outside. I learnt it is not a Huss ride but built by Verkoma. It was really cool to be allowed into see this as it is something that I've always wanted to see and we could not have seen it much closer, my nose almost getting sliced off as it rotated. We had previously nearly got to seeHex by going to one of the Alton behind the scenes tours last year, but Clare was too ill to go. At last the secrets were revealed and we also got to ride with all the AV switched off. Everyone was interested by how quiet it was. Personally I thought the music was to mask the ride motors, not the case!
Then we got some extended ride time on Rita, in the rain -that was painful, but sort of fun. It was very dark by this time too, with just a couple of flood lights lighting the station, they are very sensitive about lighting at night so as to not upset the local residents. It was an honour to be invited into the hydraulics bunker to see the hydraulic motor launch the train. We also were told all about the instrumentation used to measure the launches and conditions of the cables. Very interesting to an engineer like me!

Next we were brought around The Towers by some professional ghost hunters. This didn't really work for me as I've always found The Towers very welcoming and homely. I couldn't get into the teenage switch the lights off and lets tell stories to scare ourselves frame of mind - sorry. That said I am very glad to have experienced it so at least I know it is not my cup of tea!

The evening finished off with an evening buffet that was really high quality. It was just what I needed after a long day at the park. Everywhere was looking smart for the new season; it is nice to see the place getting better every year. It was also nice to see the restored stained glass windows back in the chapel, worth a look if you are on your way past after riding Hex. You must also check out the conservatory on the way out, the glass is almost all back in! It was said that even the kite marks on the glass have had to be hidden in the putty of the frames to keep the conservation officer happy.
Sometimes I think when you look at the overall state of the towers, worrying about small details like this is inappropriate. Does it have to be restored so precisely. Is it not better that something happens rather than running even bigger bills up by pandering to such requests...? Alton Towers Hex behind the scenes, underbelly

The my day people were out in force at the park, the new video of my day system was under test and they thought would go live the next day. Shame they didn't use us as guinea pigs. 

Super day, great people and I've included links to the launch and Hex.

Special thanks to staff that stayed back on a wet cold night to let us see what we could only have dreamed of seeing and talking to me on a none patronising level about the technical stuff.    


29/03/2008 Edit - Justin has uploaded photos now from the trip, see