WTF #11

Orders Up, Part 2

❓ WTF No Code

SOMETHING WORTH YOUR TIME

Ready for the second half of this WTF NO CODE two-parter?

If you haven’t already read through part one of this deep dive into one of my client’s business and the project that brought things into the 21st century, you absolutely should.

It’s cool if you don’t but it’ll help if you do.

Let’s get back to this.

Part Two

After conducting in-person research and setting the stage for a wholesale upgrade to the way the Ken Hoehn Gallery operates, what do you think would be next?

Would it be laying the foundation and running some tests?

Maybe it was more in-depth conversations and requirements gathering?

No. It was neither of those.

The next thing I did was cringe at every 👏 manual 👏 aspect 👏 of how things were run – and there were plenty of them to go around.

I could have probably done a better job at hiding my shock when things were revealed to be painstakingly tedious and manual. Things were usually tied to physical paper or a spreadsheet that was cobbled together over the span of many years.

Now, don't get me wrong, there’s a certain charm in doing things the old-fashioned way. I’m someone who still grinds their morning coffee by hand, but this charming anachronism was a prime candidate for a no code overhaul.

Every time I uncovered more manual work being done by Ken and his team, I would actually end up with another picture-perfect opportunity to improve how things were done and deliver unequivocal value to my client.

Not long after that crash course in how things were done, I stepped outside for a coffee (one probably made without a hand grinder 😅 ) and got to appreciate the view from Canmore’s main drag.

Our early morning starts had us entering the gallery from the back parking lot so when I stepped out the front door for the first time I got to see just how impressive the surrounding mountains were.

My busy, cascading thoughts were calmed and it wasn’t before long that started to see a plan take shape.

So what did I end up doing?

Like all good Airtable bases, I had to lock in a structure that could scale. All the research and discovery I had done to date suggested the CUSTOMER > ORDER > LINE ITEM setup was here to stay but what would those LINE ITEMS be based on? How would I go about presenting all the different options that a print could include?

These were just a couple of the dozens of questions that came to mind as I started to form well-rounded ideas that’d ultimately inform strategic decisions, business rules, and the various checkpoints I’d need to establish with my client so we could make and measure progress.

Strategic Decisions

One of the first things I mentioned I’d get up and running for this platform was events and notifications. I often rely on notifications being sent to a private Slack channel where I can passively monitor the ongoings of anything I build.

With reliable alerts flowing through the platform, I’d learn how it was being used and easily make tweaks or changes to how everything was processed, all the while focusing on an building an ordering system, not an inventory system.

We don’t want an inventory system.
We want an ordering system.

Everyone was on the same page early on in the conversation.

A traditional inventory system didn’t really jive with how the business operated. In particular, we wanted to avoid the scenario where the gallery held onto multiples of prints that didn’t sell. Instead, we’d follow a just in time model and let customers essentially be the inputs into the manufacturing process. We’d also let some orders be made for the purposes of maintaining stock in the gallery so the “greatest hits” were always on hand and ready to be sold.

In all, these orders – whether meant to stock the gallery or to be delivered to customers’ homes – all needed to be worked on by a roster of highly specialized experts and everyone involved need full view into whatever was relevant to them. The aluminium cutter needed to know the dimensions of the print, the printer needed to know what file needed printing, and the framer needed to know what frame to use.

Oh, we also agreed that anything related to collecting payment at the gallery would remain out of scope and uncoupled from the ordering system.. for now!

These guiding strategic decisions made it possible to refine scope and actually focus on the things that mattered. Focus can be a real asset when you’re working on an expansive project and also makes the conversation simple when your client asks to do one small thing here or a quick thing there.

If you’ve agreed on the project’s scope and organized the work into intuitive slices or chunks, you can point to that need to keep focused while also building a backlog of items you can work on after you’ve wrapped up the current project. Then all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a returning client.

Business Rules

There were a number of business rules considered and implemented throughout the project, so much so that there are too many to list. Instead, here are five critical business rules put in place to make sure the platform could operate at scale.

  1. a sales team member can assign multiple LINE ITEMS to an ORDER

  2. the sales team couldn’t modify an ORDER once it was submitted to the print team

  3. once submitted, an ORDER could be progressed through its checkpoints by the print team

  4. all open/draft ORDERS will be archived after at midnight local time

  5. all CUSTOMERS will be archived after 1 year of inactivity

Project Checkpoints

One of the guiding principles for any project I work on is to keep the client informed of any material changes to their workflow or the platform they rely on. Sometimes, their input is needed and that conversation takes the shape of a consultation for feedback or opinion.

All of these early conversations solidified my understanding of the current way of operating and how that’d influence the project’s requirements. There were a handful of things that were non-negotiable, but thankfully Ken and his team were open to new, more efficient ways of getting their work done.

With that in mind, we were able to collaboratively put this systems and workflow flow chart together.

The Ken Hoehn Gallery Systems at Work

These images can get hard to see in full detail so if you’d like a larger copy, email me at [email protected] 😄 

With a predictable flow of data in place, things started falling in place. I began to really understand the edge cases and nuance that might show up and the priority of the different pieces we needed to get up and running.

This would feed into the backlog of features and you can actually see it all for yourself here:

Next came the part where I built the actual Airtable base.

I took the early prototype and firmed up a number of concepts that needed to be production ready. This included putting some of those business rules into action and really battle-testing the relationship that needed to exist between ORDERS and LINE ITEMS. While we didn’t want to create an inventory system, our platform needed to have some concept of what any given print could be.

This meant I’d have to maintain a list of all the prints that Ken was selling – both online and in the gallery – while also establishing a solid dictionary for some of the more peripheral details like the prints’ dimensions, materials, and how they’d end up affixed to customers’ walls.

That day’s forecast had a high chance of 🤯 

Thankfully, I’d always have a bird’s eye view into what I was building. If you didn’t already know this, Airtable has this awesome extension that gives you an overview of your base’s schema.

Here’s what this one looked like:

The structure of the Airtable database that powers the ordering platform for the Ken Hoehn Gallery

These images can get hard to see in full detail so if you’d like a larger copy, email me at [email protected] 😄

What I setup would allow for a number of things to occur:

  1. a CUSTOMER could be assigned any number of ORDERS

  2. an ORDER could be populated with LINE ITEMS that were created with the help of the previously established data from a number of other tables, namely
    - PRINTS
    - COMMON SIZES or UNCOMMON SIZES
    - MATERIALS
    - HANG SYSTEMS

  3. an ORDER’s status could be updated as ORDERS progressed through various stages
    - Draft → Submitted
    - Submitted → Working
    - Working → Ready for Delivery
    - Ready for Delivery → Delivered

It definitely doesn’t do it justice to say “THAT’S IT!” but the core concepts of this ordering platform were dead simple and I knew I’d want to keep the raw Airtable base open and unburdened by hardened rules and restrictions.

That’s what Glide was for… 😎 

GO DEEPER

Earlier I briefly touched on a distinction between keeping your client informed and consulting with them for their input. If you’re interested in folding this sort of approach into your own work, check out this breakdown of the responsibility matrix –

This sort of thing could very easily make the project joyless, so don’t get overly pedantic with this or any other framework, especially with your clients. Not once did I bring this up with Ken in these explicit terms. This is simply a great way to think through things as you embody a number of different functional roles for your client.

Also, there were a number of things that weren’t core to the function of the platform but ultimately provided some incredible additional value. There’s enough substance to this that I could very well put together a Part Three to this series and create no code’s first trilogy that’d obviously rival the likes of The Godfather or Christopher Nolan’s Batman films or the Back to the Future trilogy.

What else do you want a breakdown on if I put together a Part Three?

I have to admit, things got really fun trying to build some of these smaller pieces.

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🆗 SIMPLE $%!#

My latest project update or feature release. That's it. That's the $%!#.

THE NEED

A front-end UI for the behemoth of a platform that I built all on Airtable.

THE STACK

THE RESULT

A Glide-based UI that worked seamlessly with the structure of the database that powered all of the sales team’s workflows at the gallery AND an Airtable Interface UI that the print team’s workflows at the print facility!

Customers

Orders

Help Desk

Changelog

The Print Facility’s Dashboard

THE EXTENDED VERSION

There were recent additions to the core of the platform that allowed for things like a changelog to alert the team to new features and a way to manage email communications. These pieces made the platform feel incredible cohesive and matched the high bar set by my client’s own way of operating.

🌶 Spicy Takes

This gets your attention today but won't mean much in a few months.

That’s about as much energy as I’m willing to put into this and as much as I want to maintain the sanctity of my 🌶 scale, this Boring SaaS Guy gets a…

🤡 
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