Could you share any statistics or metrics from this engagement?
Actually, I would measure success across a number of criteria. The first criterion is that they had a team, I think at one point, of five people working on this project, including the project management person, so four full-time developers. I sent a team of two internal developers to their office to take over the maintenance of the application. I sent them there for a week. They came back and said, "We got it. They did a good job designing it and its well put together. It's something that we can maintain."
If you think about having a group of five people work for six months on something, and then sending two people up there for only a week to catch up on it and come back and say, "We got it", that to me is probably the best success story because it's something that we can maintain and continue to grow without them. They kind of made themselves expendable by doing a really good job on the design and implementation in the first place.
The second thing I'll tell you is that the interface that they built for both the client application and the ticket entry system is ultimately reliable. One of the things that happens when you're dealing with a sometimes-connected workforce of blue collar workers, is that they get very frustrated very quickly if the application doesn't do exactly what they expect it to do when they expect to do it. The response from the users has been, "This thing works all the time."
The third thing is, from a management capability standpoint, they had a user interface designer work with us. We have not had the training, or the incidents we've had, even on just the little client application because they did such a good job streamlining and simplifying the design.
What distinguishes Big Nerd Ranch from other providers?
They lost their lead developer on our project about half-way through. Generally, when something like that happens, it cripples the project. We thought we we're going to go way over budget and we're going to go way over time, but they didn't miss a beat. I think that's a testament to the way that they manage their folks internally, in the way they document, and in the way they share information. We really didn't miss a beat. They took one of their existing people and put them into the lead position.
Lastly, I will say this; they're very easy to work with. Big Nerd Ranch makes it easy to get stuff done. A lot of consulting firms will put hoops up and you have to jump through this and you have to jump through that. We as customers do the same thing. You've got to send us the invoices in this format to this email address and then we'll pay it in this time. We didn't have any of that. We had a very short and simple statement of work. We all agreed to it. It was very clear what the responsibilities were and we started working. Again, somebody who makes it easy to work with them is going to get business, especially my business.
Is there anything Big Nerd Ranch could have improved or done differently?
I've had this conversation with them. They tend to cultivate very opinionated people. I think there are times where we're the customer; we know what we want. This was generally around technical things. We want it to work like this. They would come back and say, "No." It wasn't, "No and this is why." It was just, "No." Then we'd have to spend a couple of days getting everybody on a conference call. Generally, what would happen is neither side was right, and it took getting together and having that conversation to get to the final point. If we did it like this, then this meets everybody's needs.