What are some keys to business success? Make the best deal you can, plan the project well, and keep it on or below budget. Easy to say, but it’s easy to get lost in the details anywhere along the line. Need a little help? We’ve got good news–this month’s software will make money for your company.
This month’s column is about software for managers. We are not talking about your run-of-the-mill spreadsheets and word processors here, but real tools for both left-brainers and right-brainers. These will deal with the controllable and with the non-controllable, handle people and processes, and provide direction to your decision making.
We will highlight three packages: Negotiator Pro, a teaching and brainstorming tool; Process Charter for Windows, which combines flowcharting, business simulation and spreadsheets; and Corrective Action Tracking System, for tracking and analyzing problems within your business. The latter two are ISO 9000 software packages.
What happens when you hear the word “negotiate”? Do you get a picture in your mind of smoke-filled rooms, groups of competitors looking to get as much as possible while giving away as little as they can, forced compromise, and combat from which all walk away broken and bloody? Perhaps instead of conflict, you think of friends and allies banging out vacations, working out their relationships or plotting the course of a non-profit organization.
How do you make the deal? With the help of Negotiator Pro from the Negotiator Pro Co. (a division of Beacon Expert Systems at 617-738-9300).
Whether your responsibility is to strike a working arrangement with a prospective supplier in Europe or to convince your regional vice president that your department needs new computers, Negotiator Pro brings the resources of a bookshelf full of negotiation books to your PC.
We tested the Windows version of Negotiator Pro, which also comes in DOS and Macintosh versions. The software starts you off with a dashboard of educational and preparatory options. Next, you profile the negotiation teams by personal and negotiation style, and press the interact button to see how you best can work with your negotiation partner (or nemesis). Finally, you work through a 10- or 35-question plan that helps you think through all the aspects of the negotiation. The software comes with samples of negotiation plans–including the dreaded car purchase.
The software is heavy on its hypertext materials (containing more than 400 minitutorials on negotiation) and can be heavily customized; for example, the questionnaires can cover company-specific information. The manual is confusing, with all three platforms explained at the same time, and the basic flow is sometimes a little confusing to follow. It took awhile to figure out how to disable the elevator music the software plays during its operation if you have a sound card.
Will entering into a project meet your and your company’s needs? Negotiator Pro will help you find out.
ISO 9000 software
What is ISO 9000?
ISO 9000 refers to a series of worldwide standards for quality assurance, adopted in 1987 and later revised. Many companies require that their suppliers have ISO 9000 registration. It is especially important for businesses doing business in Europe. ISO 9001 is the most comprehensive of the standards, dealing with companies involved in the design, development, manufacture, installation and service of products or services.
The employees of companies involved in implementing ISO 9000 know two things. First, every business process must be documented, and you need to be consistent; you must actually do what has been written down, or else change the documentation to reflect what you need to do. This does not mean that the documented instructions have been well-thought-through, or that they are efficient or productive; it means only that whatever you are doing is written down and being followed. Secondly, there will be audits–independent people will come in to see if the way you do business agrees with the written documentation.
An ISO 9000 audit and registration does not guarantee that the goods or services provided by a registered company are better than those from non-ISO-certified companies. It is somewhat like an audited financial statement by an independent CPA firm–it says the financial statements fairly represent the results of the firm, not that the firm has done well.
ISO 9000 means customers have the assurance that the quality of what they receive will be as they expect, like choosing a McDonald’s or a Pizza Hut over a Sophie’s Diner.
There is no all-in-one ISO 9000 software package available. There are many aspects to ISO 9000, including: assessment, having a documented quality system, document control, equipment calibration, corrective action and statistical techniques.
However, there are some excellent software packages that can help automate important portions of the ISO process. We highlight two here.
ISO 9000 requires that you write down what you do and how you do it. That should not limit the dynamic firm from changing what it does for the better; it just demands that discipline be exercised. Process documents usually are maintained using standard word processing programs, like Microsoft Word, Novell’s WordPerfect or Lotus Word Pro. However, as a picture is worth 1,000 words (so this column could have been replaced by one picture), it is helpful to include flowcharts in the process documents.
How can you plan your projects well? Process Charter for Windows (Scitor Corp. Business Solutions Group, 800- 549-9876 or 415-462-4200; e-mail: email@example.com) has capabilities that may revolutionize business planning; it also serves as a capable flowchart package.
We tested Process Charter Version 1.1 for Windows. “The flow charter with brains,” as it is called, easily lives up to its reputation. Process Charter comes with a full set of flowchart tools, including the ISO 9000 symbols. It may not have every bell and whistle of the top- rated flowchart-only packages, like Patton & Patton’s Flow Charting 4 for Windows. But it lets you place symbols on the chart, connect them with constrained and non-constrained lines, and add text; the steps of a process can be simply and attractively represented.
But wait–there’s more! Behind each symbol is a series of “spreadsheets.” Each symbol can be defined (e.g., sales operator), and the interrelationships between the symbols can be entered. In this way, every step of the flow, the time at each step, the probabilities of going from step to step and the costs of each step can be captured.
Using statistical techniques that simulate processes, or random and customized calendars that reflect actual business operations, the software then can simulate on screen the time and costs of your processes. Bottlenecks, projected lengths of queues and the results (time, cost, resource use) of changing a few assumptions quickly are determined.
Leading computer magazines rated version 1.0 very highly (there being no reasonable competition!). Version 1.1 offers expanded time distributions, improved reporting, enhanced on-screen simulation and e-mail integration, among other improvements. This is a sophisticated package with a good manual and online help. Like an onion, the package has many layers–from flowchart to simulation tool and beyond. It is an excellent tool for the manager trying to document and improve on business processes of all types.
Once the plans are drawn up and work is going, how do you keep it on budget and pass ISO 9000 requirements? You can make sure things don’t get away from you with the Corrective Action Tracking System from Intuitive Data Solutions (408-778-1376).
CATS is based on Microsoft Access and provides a documented, consistent approach to problem solving. Corrective actions, preventive actions and non- conforming products all are dealt with. In addition to serving as a simple data base of problems, corrective steps and documentation, CATS provides tools for communicating next steps to responsible parties over e-mail, and for helping managers further analyze what’s going wrong and why. Trend analysis, Pareto graphs and other reports give feedback on the success of problem-solving efforts.
Make the deal, work the deal, do it as efficiently as possible. These highlighted software packages will help your firm prepare for ISO 9000, and deal with your customers and vendors on the tangibles and intangibles.
(Eric Cohen, a certified public accountant, is owner of Cohen Computer Consulting, adviser to growing businesses. Reach him on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.)