In this first guest blogpost Olli Ilmarinen, Development Specialist at the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH), describes PRH’s experiences and lessons learned when joining the Starting up Smoothly project (www.startingupsmoothly.fi) in autumn 2018.
Creating a new service is never an easy task to do when you are about to use a new type of technology you have no previous experience. Joining new partners to create the service makes it more challenging. How can it be done so that you are satisfied with the results as a whole — I mean not only with the new service but also with the way it was created? In this post I share my thoughts and our team’s experiences onboarding PRH onto Starting Up Smoothly pilot project.
Starting Up Smoothly in a nutshell
You may have read this press release late November 2018: “Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH), Immigration Service (Migri) and Tax Administration (Vero) joined forces to offer a joint chatbot service to foreign entrepreneurs in Finland. This is the first time that government agencies in Finland test a service where several chatbots answer customers’ questions together.”
If not, no problem. In short, our common project was about creating a joint chatbot channel based on three stand-alone chatbots backed by artificial intelligence (AI) of one system provider. It was the first time these three organisations worked together in an initiative like this. PRH team had no previous experience working with artificial intelligence solutions. We did not know Migri people either. Moreover, our office was a newcomer in chatbot technology area whereas Migri and Vero had been working together on their chatbots for a while. Hence the blog post title.
Some hints and tips to start with
Firstly, when you enter into the new cooperation find time to learn about the project: its background, objectives and what your colleagues have achieved so far. Now that you are joining a project that has been already been going on for a while it is like jumping on moving train: the train has its predetermined track and it is you, the one onboarding the train, who should adjust your steps to match the project timeline.
Secondly, allocate time to project work. Sounds self-evident so why to raise up this issue? Because it is so much easier to say than to do. We benefited a lot from the work Migri people had already learned and done. We were well trained and guided by them and by the chatbot technology provider. Without their valuable support we would have never made it in such a short time with our part-time project team.
However, do not rely too much on just coping the others work (as we did to some extent). You still have your own work to do. It is you who knows your customer cases best. Your customers need your inputs to create a chatbot with relevant content for them, as part of the joint service.
And thirdly, book time for the project in your calendar no matter how difficult it may seem. In an ideal world you had all the time and resources for the project. You would not face a situation where the development project competes against your operational daily tasks. They tend to overrun any development work. You may also think that you allocate more time and effort for the project during its execution. If you have no 100% project resources you will easily fall into the trap of overconfidence, hoping to find the time later, somewhere and somehow.
Create the common project
In order to start good cooperation, the first step is to get to know each other. This is important in any endeavour where people do not know their co-workers in advance. Spend enough time to discuss with your colleagues how they think and feel about the project. Try to find a consensus what the project is all about. Are there any doubts or concerns? Are the project objectives clear and do we see the project aim in the same way?
The earlier you find any out any wrongly interpreted project targets or misunderstood results the better. Since not all the people were there right in the beginning of the project, they may not all be clear to everybody. Therefore, speak about the project. And not only about the project. Get acquainted too. Having a kick-off event with some free time to get to know other project members is not a bad idea either.
Learning to work together is the second step. Even though the organisations may look very similar the working cultures are often different. Not to forget that people may have quite different working styles. We had a project room at Migri, which made us not only to work together but also feel like one single team, despite representing three different offices. In addition, we used a common online project tool to share information, which I found very important during the chatbot development stage. These common project spaces made it possible to ask and get feedback right away. They also helped us to target the common project goal.
So far so good … so what?
The above is not only a good title (of Megadeth’s 1988 album) but it is also a valid question to ask how to stay onboard. What are the next steps of continuing with the joint service? Or using the earlier metaphor, now that we are on the same train how are we going to stay there?
For Starting Up Smoothly there is no definite answer to this question at the moment. Most likely we will continue, possibly deepen the cooperation further. Since this was PRH’s first experiment in the area of chatbots, we are yet to discover their full potential to our customer service.
What is clear is that we have learned a lot. Not only about the AI technology and creating our chatbot but also of our services and their development. These are still to put into practice at our office. Most importantly, we must have a clear plan to utilise chatbot(s) as part of daily operations as well as allocate more resources to maintain and develop them. Being onboard is not quite enough if you want more than just a nice journey with others. You need to get where you want to go, together, for sure.
author: Olli Ilmarinen
editor: Suse Miessner