My Workflow Journey: From Apple to 4 Spires

As I begin this dialog of blog entries presenting my observations, ideas and suggestions, it is appropriate to provide readers with a view into my background, credentials, biases, and predilections.  For over two decades I have been intrigued with the power software applications can have to significantly improve organization performance and employee engagement.

Prior to starting my 8 year career at Apple in 1983 and getting immersed in the more technical side of systems development I worked in the “softer” sciences of human interaction as an Organization Development consultant.   I led training groups, coached executives, and facilitated off-site retreats for management groups – the traditional OD interventions intended to improve organization performance.  I was generally disappointed with the results, however, because once the “high” of the event faded, most participants would invariably return to their previous behavior.  The intended changes did not stick.  Disillusioned, I moved away from this field of work.

Apple HR Systems, Technology, and Innovations Group

In 1986 I was the founding Manager of Apple’s HR Systems, Technology and Innovation Group; the group that did the seminal work on the electronic office.  At that time, Apple was the only company in the world that had a personal computer on every employee’s desk, and that infrastructure was the basis for our Group’s development of the first generation of electronic forms and workflow management solutions for an organization of 5,000 employees.

Over a 4 year period my team designed, developed, and implemented a series of first-ever applications that enabled:

  • Managers to write, edit, and compile online performance reviews,
  • Managers to recommend and approve staff salary increases and bonuses,
  • Recruiters and managers to scan, track, and retrieve resumes,
  • Employees to evaluate, price, and select their flexible benefits, and
  • Managers to directly update employee records using a workflow approval process and electronic signatures.

The computer on every employee’s desk was a Macintosh, and having “grown up” with the Mac User Interface Guidelines as a standard, the solutions that we developed demanded a very high level of user interactivity in order to satisfy user expectations and ensure adoption.  This audience really understood what a superior Graphic User Interface (GUI) looked like; just saying it was “user-friendly and intuitive” was not enough.

The applications this team developed at Apple were way ahead of their time.  It was over five years before other companies, even those as innovative as Lotus Development Corp, deployed similar networked solutions for their employees, and it was fully 10 years before similar intranet solutions were coming on the scene at technology leading companies like Dell Computer.  I know this because both Lotus and Dell were customers of mine at the time.

During this period, I developed an insight that has guided me ever since:  A well crafted and thought-out software application can be a transformational Organization Development (OD) intervention with sticking power.

Apple to 4 Spires – Software Solutions focused on User Interactions

Software developers and architects design their applications to capture, manipulate, organize, and report on data. The paradigms and characteristics of the user’s behavior in an organizational context, however, are not often explicitly considered.

In addition to designs that elegantly and efficiently capture and report on data, I approach software design with the concerns of what behaviors and practices are being introduced and reinforced on the part of users.  I am concerned that design requirements also consider questions such as:

  • What are the organizational implications of enabling certain actions and preventing others?
  • What practice of interaction between people is the software instantiating?
  • What mood does the software create for its users?

My career has been focused around and dedicated to developing work management solutions for business that address these concerns and that strive to enhance organization performance.  4 Spires was founded to continue this legacy with a vision to create business applications that enhance the way work gets done through collaborative efforts by facilitating collaboration, commitments, and trust-building as means to substantially improve organization performance.

This Blog series will orient on my observations and recommendations about the role well-designed software can play in achieving these outcomes.  Beyond just using software to help get things done, the topics covered will include workplace trust, requestor and performer accountability, performance metrics, user adoption, social networking, managing remote workers, and the sensibilities of the modern work force among others.

I look forward to participating with readers in this dialog.

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