Let’s Go Save Some Lives!

The members of our team have written, architected, or directed the delivery of a lot of software in several different industries. Most of them are not proud of all of it. A good software engineer is often ashamed of code they’ve written in years past. While I experienced this myself, over time I learned to recognize this trait in other engineers as well.

Those of us who really cared about the process and craft of software engineering tended to have this problem. We were never happy with the software we wrote yesterday and sometimes this could delay what we were trying to deliver tomorrow. If you spend too much time second-guessing your less-experienced self you might lose track of the tasks ahead of you.

Years ago I had the great fortune of building the first version of Risk Watch Systems’ platform. It was the software that reminded me that what my software does, is way more important than how my software does it.

The Risk Watch Cloud platform certainly was work that fell into the pattern I mentioned above. If I were to pour over the application I would cringe at early decisions made, I’d see better patterns, want to change whole libraries, and deprecate others. This reality often makes software engineers grumpy. I learned to remind myself that this software was written under the best practices known to us at the time, it runs stable and has for many years. Most importantly, it operates in service of a good company. Thus was my truce with Risk Watch System’s applications and services. We will let them run stable, provide security patches, and do not fix a platform that isn’t broken. And then one-day they saved someone’s life.

Risk Watch Cloud is a set of services that among other things combine into a platform for ensuring the serviceability of medical devices. Generally, those devices are life-saving equipment like automated external defibrillators (AED’s), Fire Extinguishers, and various emergency response equipment. Saying it now, “life-saving devices” I’m not sure why I was so affected by the news that my software had done its job. But humans like me who are trained to talk to computers all day often fail to appreciate the ramifications of what they are doing. And then one day, they saved another person’s life.

I’ve certainly spent a lot of time in meetings debating the nuances of one software pattern over another or the soundness of a specific database engine, occasionally these architectural disagreements would delay a project, while other projects never saw the light of day. This was often a direct result of knowing that we’ve made technical decisions in the past that we disagree with now. We want to get things right the first time. But Risk Watch Systems had a small development team, building software quickly, pragmatic decisions needed to be made and focus needed to be maintained. Our job is to help people.

I’ve seen lots of start-ups fail because their engineering team doesn’t understand that a working software product is the ultimate goal. I think about my experiences writing an application that truly made a difference to someone every time I enter a board room to consult executives or jump into the copilot seat to mentor an engineer. Frequently I’m dropped in the middle of an engineering team unable to move forward, in full analysis paralysis, worried about every technological decision. So I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves, remind myself that the goal is to deliver value to the organization I am helping, and say “Let’s go save some lives”.

“Because only you will do A+ work.”

A little over 35 years ago a group of us began a business venture. It was going to be my first exposure to managing people and one of the other principals offered what at the time seemed a strange comment.

He said, “You will find that only you do A+ work.”

I understand that completely now.

While we speak constantly of the “team” in business, there will always be a hierarchy where someone is responsible for the outcome of the “team’s” actions. Someone who cannot walk away from failure without significant consequence.

Despite warning, it came as a surprise that others did not have the passion for our success that I did. While many gave an honest B effort with a few working at an A- level, only I had 24-hour A+ concern. Most were committed and well-intended professionals, but none reached my level. In fairness, they were simply not as invested.

Initially direct oversight was possible, but as our business grew we had multiple worksites spread across the eastern states and I had to hand off immediate responsibility to an onsite supervisor. I had spent the previous decade working in healthcare and began borrowing heavily from their quality control measures. I developed best practice standards, published policies and procedures, and developed a paper-based system of quality assurance – essentially a check list of “things done.” It helped but was limited.

Employees will always find a shortcut to completing any process. At times that resembles efficiency, but often it is avoidance of your best practice standards. They are willing to take chances you are not. The policies and procedures once labored over now reside in a three-ring binder gathering dust, while the paper-based quality assurance tool increasingly documents intentions and not actual actions. Then came the internet, web-enabled information flow, and now the cloud. There was a solution.

Every manager wants certainty, and they want it in real-time. Cloud technology, integrated mobile scanning, Wi-Fi, and cellular communication now provide that regardless of location. Done correctly these technologies can enforce A+ performance and provide actionable information. That is what the RiskWatchCloudTM is all about.

Initially, our primary concern was medical safety and emergency response. Eventually that grew to include building safety and on-line training. The light of opportunity went on; we wanted to provide certainty of safety process assurance and training to others. We began RiskWatchSystemsLLC in 2015.

At a later point, an inciteful group asked us why the technology used to ensure safety and training could not be used to address the needs of other work-related processes. We tested that concept and were amazed at its success. Today, we provide a comprehensive management tool that will facilitate training, safety, and work-related process assurance.

Importantly, we learned that technology alone is not enough. Simply digitizing our old paper-based system resulted in a spreadsheet approach that retained many of the old limitations. What was needed was a strategy that would engage all personnel levels in a way that was meaningful to each and provide broad based accountability.

We discovered that the front-line staff must become a collaborative and accountable team member, supervisors require a labor-saving management tool, and leadership needed actionable performance indicators in real-time that would allow corrective measures before a systemic problem evolved. The RiskWatchCloudTM now does exactly that, providing both the strategy and technology that will prepare an organization, prevent unintended consequence, and document process compliance.

When it comes to critical actions, tasks, and training, you no longer need accept less than an A+ performance!