North Creek FLOW Analysis Process

North Creek Flow analysis process:

1. Identify business process to analyze. Create a clear boundary (process starts at this point, is finished at this point).

2. Identify all the human characters involved (like a movie script cast list for this 'scene').

3. Place characters around outside of page (stick figures). Draw numbered arrows between characters for each step. If multiple characters are involved in a single step, try to break step down into smaller steps. If not possible, flag for step (8).

4. If there are decision steps and branches, your process is too big! Divide into at least 3 processes:

  1. before decision
  2. choice 1
  3. choice 2
and so on for each choice. Track decision points in a separate document.

5. For each numbered arrow, identify the information that is flowing in each direction.

6. Now list all computer systems that are used for each numbered arrow. Hopefully there is only one system per arrow.

7. For each step, within each computer system, record:

  1. How the data is stored (web form, spreadsheet, database, text file).
  2. Human/Computer Interaction steps (login, form data entry, compose email, save file).
  3. Frustrations, extra steps, mismapped data, manual steps required.

8. If there are steps with more than 2 characters involved,

  1. identify 2 'main' characters that give/receive value in this interaction
  2. note the computer systems involved
  3. find ways to automate 3rd party involvement in this step.

9. Note when data is first entered into the system. Pick a data point (customer name, cost, price) and follow it through the process. Note when data is changed.

10. Note all systems that need access to that data point, and whether they need read or read/write access.

11. Create a dictionary of data types, and for each data type, note in which business processes they appear, and in which systems they are stored.


1. Drawing per business process

2. Larger drawing of how business processes fit together

3. Human character cast list

  1. including which processes each is involved in
  2. the other humans with which they interact
  3. the data they need to perform their role
  4. the systems they must have interactions with

4. Decision points throughout business process

  1. Inputs to that decision, and resulting business processes

5. Computer system list (software)

6. Data Dictionary:

  1. Data type name, description
  2. System of Record for that data type
  3. Systems that need to read that data type
  4. Systems that create that data type
  5. Systems that change that data type
  6. Processes that interact with that data.

The North Creek Flow Analysis system can be used as an input for Security/Authorization analysis (determining who needs access to what parts of the business). It can help in understanding hardware acquisition. The resulting data can be segregated into relatively constant cost business processes vs. costs that scale as the business grows.

For Data Integration, Flow Analysis makes it obvious where one piece of data is being handed from system to system, and which persons in the process need access to which systems.

An analysis performed at the Departmental level will identify optimization opportunities. Expanding the analysis to multiple departments could expose missed strategic opportunities.

As you go through the process, please note your frustrations with the Flow process itself, but attempt to carry on to completion for an individual process before experimenting with changes to the Flow process. If you find a useful alteration, please send me an updated process description at dave@northcreek.ca.

The discussion around the analysis will be more valuable than the analysis itself.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Categories: Business , Methodology

Two-way communication

The Coffee Break MBA message:

* get ambitious employees reading and learning

* harvest the good ideas through intentional meetings

* identify the ambitious, capable and under-utilized employees through incentives

makes a lot of sense from the employee side. Opportunity to shine, to get noticed, and to contribute.

But what about from the C-suite?

It may be that the CEO knows the weaknesses that the company needs to improve on. Wary of splitting the company's focus, he or she is continually over-communicating the one big idea that the company needs to get right (h/t to Verne Harnish and "The Rockefeller Habits").

Reading Jim Collins, Michael Gerber, Lencioni, Christensen - sounds like a bunch of distractions. Let's say the Harnish model is front and centre in the executive's mind. Wouldn't it make sense to give everyone in the company a copy of "Scaling Up" (Harnish's updated book) and get some synchronization?

No, and I'll tell you why.

1) Monoculture. Get a field full of genetically identical plants, and one virus can wipe out a crop. In a natural ecosystem, the field will contain the virus and continue to flourish because of diversity. Don't be afraid of competing viewpoints - but be able to evaluate them and discard weaker viewpoints.

2) Simplicity. If you need a whole book to teach the primary concept to the team, you haven't understood the concept. Narrow down your focus and teach the Big Idea through everything you do. Frame employee learning in the context of the Big Idea.

3) Practicality. Using the Big Idea/Great Idea framework (organizing principle vs. situational pattern), as an executive, you need to focus on the Big Idea. Your staff need to implement the Big Idea in multiple situations, so having access to multiple patterns that can be used will be a positive.

There is nothing stopping you as a manager from over-weighting your #nextbook selection with books that are in your philosophical camp. Of course, that means you need to have some familiarity with the business literature. Feel free to check out #nextbook for yourself, join my mailing list (1 book, 1 tool, 1 idea per week), or just start blocking out time in your day to read. In the long term, that may be the most strategic thing you do.

And if it makes sense for the boss, wouldn't it also make sense for the employee?

Let's turn your company into a Learning Organization. Go ahead, set up an appointment for a free consultation.

Categories: Books , Business , Methodology

Why is it so hard?

Why is it so hard to become a Learning Organization?

1) The company Vision is unclear. If you don't know what you're aiming for, you'll never hit it.

2) The company has no Processes. If there is no understanding of "How we do things around here", local fiefdoms and competing departments will waste your energy in friction and unnecessary complexity.

3) The company has no way of improving its Processes. If "How we do things around here" never changes, or only changes randomly with no clear rationale, the company will lose all of its creative people and become a group of gray salary-drawing bureaucrats.

4) There is no acceptance of new information. If a better idea exists, the company should be looking for it.

North Creek's Coffee Break MBA is aimed at problems 3 and 4. More than a Book Club, Coffee Break MBA aims to open up the circulatory system of your company, invigorating all of your employees and moving management focus beyond fighting fires to concrete improvements to the bottom line.

Contact me to set up an initial free consultation.

I would love to talk to you about your Vision, and about SOPs and making your processes explicit. But there are some great books and awesome authors that will help you with that. Let's start with a book club and see how far we can get.

Categories: Business , Methodology

Fast Growth vs. Slow Growth

We're a microwave society, and we have been for most of our lives. Why wait? Use Uber or AirBnB. There's an app that will get it delivered. Put it in the cloud, don't buy your own infrastructure.

But there are things that take time. Personal growth takes time. Wisdom. Perspective.

You can speed it up - to a point. Learn to be present. Learn to be congruent. Learn to be intentional in everything you do.

But some things you just have to work at, practice, do over and over again. Mastery comes after the apprenticeship.

If you are looking to grow, or looking to help people grow, you need to set a couple of expectations.

1) It will take a lot of time, where not much seems to be changing.

2) At some point, something will change internally, and the person will be able to access an entirely new level of achievement, mastery, or influence. There may be few signs that the change is coming, but when the prerequisites are there, and the opportunity presents itself, BAM.

There are lots of precedents for this kind of growth. Complexity research. Supercriticality of liquids. Economic crashes. Sandpiles.

In the pre-Cambrian period, there were very few types of animals (according to the fossil record). In a geological instant, every major phyla and body type that we see now, along with many that haven't survived, suddenly appeared, in what is known as the Cambrian Explosion.

If someone was managing biological diversity, they would have been fired during the Pre-Cambrian period. But if the growth and development would have stopped at that point, we wouldn't be here.

If your company is measuring growth linearly, you may be settling for visible things that can be gamed, but which do not produce real growth. If you are managing for real growth, you have to have some patience.

You as an individual need to be growing all of the time. It might not be visible. Don't quit.

You never know when the explosion will occur, and you don't know what internal things need to change to unleash it.

Never stop growing, even if nobody else sees it.

Your day will come.

Categories: Business , Methodology

Business Reading without the Reading

Coffee Break MBA. It has a fatal flaw.

Many of you need a change in your career. You need to grow and try new things. You need to believe in yourself and see the value that you can provide.

There are leaders, coaches, and teachers that can help. There are great ideas that will open up new perspectives for you. There are stories that will resonate so deeply that you will see the world in a new way.

But they're locked in books.

Maybe you were never a reader. Maybe you digest words for a living, and the thought of adding to your workload by reading is a special kind of torture. Maybe you're in the middle of an epic fantasy series and you have nine more volumes to get through before you will allow yourself to read anything else.

Well, let's not give up. Let's not hit pause on your career. Let's just get creative.

1) Audiobooks. First up, get the audio version of the book, listen to it on your drive, or during your workout.

2) Podcasts. If the author is podcasting, subscribe. Work through their Big Ideas by listening in 20-30 minute bites.

3) Youtube / TED Online / author's online site. If you want to check out the author, do a YouTube search and see if they have lectures online. I was introduced to the "Job-to-be-done" Big Idea through a Clayton Christensen YouTube video (h/t Ash Maurya). If you are looking for Big Ideas, you'll probably be able to find a video of the author describing his or her Big Idea somewhere. Set up a playlist, listen during a workout (you can probably skip the video outside of a couple of graphics without missing much).

Now, we need to crowdsource a collection of links. For every book in my #nextbook collection, there should be at least a great Audiobook edition and a good set of videos. For many of them, there will be relevant podcasts on iTunes. If you find good links, email them to me or leave a comment here. I'll collect them and add them to #nextbook so we leave no non-reader behind.

Let's become learners- it's the one thing we can do our whole life.


Categories: Books , Business

Depth-first vs. Breadth-first

Let's start by assuming that your company has at least one problem.

Let's also assume that somewhere, someone has written a business book describing a solution to your problem.

(Now, it might be a video series, or a seminar, or a podcast, but most good ideas eventually get turned into books, and Big Ideas that are also Good tend to become successful because capitalism).

Let's assume that you are the manager, owner, CEO, P&L responsible. If not, let's pretend you are and you can play along.

How many Big Ideas can you find? Understand? Evaluate?

How many staff do you have that you trust to be able to do the Finding and Understanding?

How many staff do you have that would love to earn that trust? (See, if you're playing along, you would love that opportunity, right?)

So cast a wide net in the business learning sphere. Get a bunch of people to evaluate a bunch of ideas in parallel, then collect the results, rank them, and then get to implementing the right one, not the latest one that you have been sold.

Maybe it's out of left field. Maybe it's something that's never been done in your industry. (Probably that would be a good thing!)

What if you could ask for help, and have your staff volunteer to help you solve problems? Do the incentives match up? Think about it - you get innovative ideas investigated and understood by someone within the company. Your staff get to prove their chops at solving real business problems.

What if all of this came out of your training budget, and nobody saw that as misappropriation?

That's North Creek's value proposition. Breadth-first search of the business literature, by employees and staff, for the benefit of their career and the company's bottom line.

Calendly to set up an appointment to talk this over. Follow @northcreeksoft on Twitter, like NorthCreekSoftware on Facebook.

Let's turn your company into a Learning Organization.



Categories: Business , Methodology

Really, who needs Coffee Break MBA?

Coffee Break MBA- it's a bit of a fanciful name, but it expresses the idea pretty well.

But while it is a long slog for a worker bee, climbing out of the cubicle 15 minutes at a time, there is a different perspective for business owners.

Imagine each of your people as an idea vacuum, constantly learning and adapting to the inputs that come into his or her mind. Imagine adding a diverse set of Big Ideas and Great Ideas (2 different kinds of awesome!) to their mental menu. Every person who signs on to learn will grow in their perspective, in their skill set, and in their productivity.

But what if you intentionally sponsored that growth - and in tens or hundreds of different directions at once?

For some companies, the CEO goes to a conference, hears a keynote, and buys a case of books written by that speaker for her 'team'. That one Great Idea gets transmitted through the organization, and within a few months, the useful parts are integrated into how the business functions.

Imagine if there were fifty readers, scattered throughout the company. Imagine if they were paired up, 2 to a book, so that there was some accountability and encouragement around finishing the book. Within a month, the company would have 25 Great Ideas or Big Ideas that could find some application in the company. With some competent management, those new ideas could be vetted and integrated from the bottom up.

One person can impose a vision on a company. But are you willing to bet your company on your vision not having any blind spots? Spreading the search around will expose the company to so many more ideas.

North Creek Consulting is developing a framework for you to turn your company into a learning organization. http://northcreek.ca/nextbook is the public face of this framework - a simple site that recommends books and pairs readers across the internet.

North Creek will spend some time connecting with your management team, identifying your vision, your goals, what drives your company, and what your challenges are. I will customize a booklist for you that spans perspectives, prescriptions, and approaches. I will work with you to develop a process for learning from your employees. Your staff will be empowered to change your processes, your priorities, your strategy, and your bottom line - by learning from the smartest minds in business and life.

Contact me, Dave Block (dave@northcreek.ca, 780-604-2602) to set up a free initial consultation. Prepare to build a corporate library, prepare to invest some time in your employees, prepare to learn.

Turn your company into a learning organization, one coffee break at a time.



P.S. Go ahead and call me (780-604-2602), I'll work with you personally to set this up so it works for your company. If you have a training budget, buying a whole library costs about the same as sending one person to one conference!

Categories: Books , Business , Methodology

Who needs Coffee Break MBA?

Coffee Break MBA is not for everyone.

It's *not* for you if:

* You just want your employees to do their jobs and go home.

* You already have your business figured out for the next 5 years.

* Your employees are incapable of learning.

* Your employees have no ambition and don't want to climb the career ladder.

* You already know which of your employees has potential and which should get promoted.

* You've solved your business problems and sleep peacefully every night, making money without stress.

If this describes you and your company, please *do not* call me at 780-604-2602 or email me at dave@northcreek.ca. You will not be interested in distributed corporate training that will turn your company into a learning organization from the ground up. You won't want to know what books you and your staff could be reading to help them where they are, right now.

Actually, if that describes you, please call me! I'd love to learn how you are doing it! (wink)

Happy Victoria Day!


Categories: Business

Business-wide Learning from the Great Books

At some workplaces, the priority is to get the work done. The ideas have been thought up, the contracts have been signed, and the people and equipment are in place. Now turn the crank, get the work done.

Some places are more fluid than that. New ideas are constantly being introduced by upper management, the market, competitors, new technologies. Staff are given guidelines, but rather than following instructions as in a fast food franchise, they are adapting to change, making decisions, and trying to fulfill the company's goals by using their best judgment.

Which of these two is closer to your workplace?

I'm not smart enough to come in and solve your problems, improve your processes, and make you more money. But some really smart people have written about how they have done exactly that, and those great ideas are just sitting there, in books.

Now, based on Pareto's law, I estimate that you can get roughly 80% of the value of the great idea out of those books. The last 20% is why the authors make thousands of dollars an hour consulting. But 80% of a great idea is still pretty valuable.

What if there were lots of 80% values being added to your company regularly? What if you used your staff to hunt for great ideas by giving them all great books to read?

If you sponsor a "Coffee Break MBA" program at your company, great ideas will filter into your staff. You will be able to identify people who can grasp new ideas and translate them into improvements for your company. This makes the program a great management recruitment tool.

Your company is going to be investing in your employees, making it more attractive to job-seekers, and improving your retention.

New ideas coming in will solve some of the problems your company faces. Given permission to learn and apply those ideas at your company, some employee is going to introduce something that will make a huge difference in your bottom line. It might take 6 months, but I guarantee that you will see a difference.

I want to help you see that happen in your business.

I will help you set up a corporate training program. It will not be based on my ideas, but on the Great Books of Business. I will help with the infrastructure, matching employees with books, setting up reading partners, and working with managers to integrate new ideas into their processes (again, using ideas from Great Business Books).

Pricing will depend on the size of the business, but will be very reasonable.

Example Setup:

50 Staff
50 Kindle app downloads (free)
50 Business books purchased (half Kindle downloads, half hardcovers for the corporate library): $1500

Ongoing Business Library Purchase budget: $500/month for 3 additional months, then ~$200/month to supplement library.

20 minutes sponsored reading time after lunch daily, for everyone in the company.

1 30 minute meeting every 2 weeks, by team, to discuss and share the ideas from the reading time.

North Creek Consulting: $2000 for the first month, $500/month for 3 months to help establish processes, then $50/month for #nextbook subscription (curated reading lists with new books and classics, tailored for your business, by role, goal, challenge).

Total Investment (first 4 months): $6500

Ongoing Investment (monthly): $250

You retain: Corporate Learning Library, Learning Processes, Empowered Staff, #nextbook subscription

This is just a sample. Contact me (dave@northcreek.ca, 780-604-2602) for a detailed quote based on your situation.

Let's not leave the accumulated wisdom of the last 100 years behind - let's turn your company into a learning organization!

North Creek

P.S. Your competitor is probably going to ignore all those great ideas in the bookstore. Why not increase your advantage by learning faster than them? Call me (780-604-2602) or email me now, before they do!

Categories: Books , Business

Coffee Break MBA

What is a Coffee Break MBA?

Lots of people work 9 to 5, then come home and parent. When things finally settle down, about 9 or so, they take out their iPad and look at the apps. They have a business book they should read, they're on page 22, it will be good for them. And they have Netflix.

50 minutes later, they've enjoyed an episode of a show they just discovered, and their brains are settled down enough that they can think about sleep.

It might be two books on the nightstand, and George R. R. Martin wins over Warren Buffett.

We know we need to fill our minds with positive, encouraging brain food that will help us at work. But honestly, at 9 pm, we're done. And at 5:30 the next morning, we are just getting through the routine, hoping to be awake by the time our butt hits the chair at work.

So here's my proposal:

Start a new habit. During your daily coffee break, when you're awake, but not completely in the zone cranking productively, take out your business book. Be obvious about it.

Now wait for your co-workers. Someone will ask about what you're doing. Here comes the tricky part.

Describe the reason you're reading that book. What's the big idea you're trying to learn from the author?

Now, if you stick to this, you'll finish your book (in fact, you'll probably get into the book enough that it will be okay to read it at night or on the weekend). Then you'll bring another good book to work.

After a few conversations, set up a coffee break book club. Just read for 15 minutes during your break, and then every week, take one coffee break to have one person share with the group what they have been learning.

If there's four of you, that means you have to finish a book and talk about it once every four weeks.

If one of the group is a manager, expand the meeting to 30 minutes, and bill it to the company training budget. Have the manager get an approved reading list (suggestions right here).

If you do this with four co-workers, and you read 12 books each, you will have assimilated 48 big ideas within a year.

There are lots of lists of suggested books. We just need to figure out how to get into them enough so that they don't feel like a chore. We need to create the habit.

Please try this. Let me know how long it takes to get your first conversation with a co-worker. I'd love to hear a manager's take on this idea.

More to come on this idea - email me if you want to keep up as I explore this idea.


Dave Block
Professional Learner

Categories: Books , Business


Welcome to the FLOW mailing list!

If you're reading this on my blog, then click here to subscribe to the email list.

The promise: 1 book, 1 tool, 1 idea, every week.

Let's learn together!

1 Book: The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt.

This book is different from any of the other standard business books. It is a novel, telling a story. If you are not gripped by the story, then maybe you shouldn't be an entrepeneur.

Alex Rogo is the Plant Manager of a factory that just isn't working very well. He embarks on a hero's journey, with a wise, mysterious mentor, and becomes a kingly figure that is able to wisely rule his domain. His employers reward him and much money is made.

The secret sauce- the Theory of Constraints. Mr. Goldratt has made a pile of money teaching common sense to business people, and this is the basis of the whole thing. It is originally applied to manufacturing, but has been extended to all facets of business.

The kernel - every system is made up of "stuff" flowing through a series of steps (see why I like this idea?). There is always a constraint, a step that slows all the rest of the steps down. If you don't treat the constraint as special, you get piles of work-in-progress (WIP), which leads to waste. Optimizing based on the constraint keeps the flow smooth and steady. And then the constraint moves, and you get to optimize again.

The book is Alex's story as he learns the Theory of Constraints, always the hard way, and always at the last second. I am always looking for the right textbook to just give me the principles, but Mr. Goldratt prefers to tell the story.

1 Tool: Typeform

Data collection is painful. Everyone hates filling out forms. But conversations are much more natural, and turning a form into a conversation spreads the pain out and leaves a good taste in your mouth.

Typeform has turned this into a business. Sign up, create a form, go through the steps, and you can replace the intimidating-but-necessary form on your site with a friendly conversation with a website that records your answers.

In fact, go ahead and try one out: this is a survey North Creek is running to determine what cloud tools you are using, and how well they talk to one another.

Typeform connects with Google Analytics to track website visitors. It hooks into Zapier which is a cloud tool-linking tool (I'll review Zapier next week). It exports data to spreadsheets (.xlsx format). Free for the basic functionality, and Pro costs a bit more, but adds more convoluted logic and the ability to connect two Typeforms together (which is what I use Pro for).

Highly recommended, as it removes a painful, scary step from user and data acquisition.

1 Idea: FLOW

You may know about "flow state," where you are able to be productive for hours without noticing where the time has gone.

You may be thinking about flow charts, boxes and arrows, diamonds to decide, and circles to stop.

You may be thinking about water. Rivers, waterfalls, streams, creeks.

Flow has something to do with movement, something to do with constant change, something to do with progress. When things are "flowing," that's a good thing.

Barriers to flow are usually bad - unless the levee is protecting the city from the flood. But guidelines that keep the flow in check are often incredibly helpful.

Your business is made up of flows. Customers, money, data, material, employees - all are part of the tapestry of flows that make up a business. They are operating on different timescales, changing at different rates, and each flow requires a different mindset.

Just thinking about the flows in your business will make a difference in how you see events. But stopping some flows, putting up floodways for others, and encouraging yet others - that is how you can build your business into a system that generates a flow of value.

Here's to an ever-increasing flow of good things!


Talk back to me in the forum, sign up for coaching, or take a look around at the resources North Creek offers.

Categories: Business

Dark Clouds Overhead?

Dark Clouds Overhead?

The "Cloud."

Ever since a bunch of celebrities found themselves sprayed all over the internet without their permission, there has been a lot of fear and misunderstanding about the cloud.

What is the "cloud?" Where did it come from? Where is it? How does it work?

Of course, as with anything technology related, we could go into eye-glazing detail about how the cloud works and what the various layers are and do.

But for most of us, think of these Big 5 companies:

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook.

Where do you "go" when you use their services? When you store photos, videos, files in their software, where is it?

In actual fact, it is copied to several bunkers (think Fort Knox), with armed guards and big fences. Each of those bunkers (data centres) consumes the same amount of electricity as a medium sized town, mostly to keep the computers inside from overheating.

Those big 5 (along with a few other enterprise companies like Oracle and Salesforce) buy more high end PC parts together than all the consumers in the world do, and some of them build their own PCs, ordering parts straight from the factory. They all use custom software to manage all of those files.

You can't get into the data centre unless you have a real reason to be there. No tourists.

They are connected with big fat cables of fibre optics to the internet, and due to their size and the amount of traffic that flows through them, the internet is adjusted to take them into account.

But the physical location of files (copied on multiple hard drives in multiple locations so that any one failure won't lose your precious photos) is the least of our concerns.

Back in the day, when us computer engineers were designing a system, there was always a boundary between what we controlled and what we didn't control. If we were drawing the system on a whiteboard, there was always a "cloud" off to the left, or at the top, indicating the source of things that we didn't control. Stuff in the "cloud" just happened, and we reacted to it.

Many, many companies have decided that they were going to become that "cloud." And the more they compete with each other, the more tools that are created to do stuff for us, so that our area of concern can shrink down to just a few things.

In fact, one can make a business run using only cloud tools, connecting tools together like toy building blocks. And in fact, there are several businesses focused on allowing you to do that!

In future posts, I will discuss cryptography and security, what to worry about and what not to worry about, and how to relax instead of worry when dealing with the cloud.

Look for a North Creek Flow Coaching session, starting in the Edmonton area soon!



PS #DataButler is adding more cloud capability in its DNA and so the release date has been moved out.

Categories: Business , Software

DataButler.co, DataButler.ca, DataButler.info registered


If you're a web designer who wants to do some pro bono design (with lots of credit given), give me a shout at dave@northcreek.ca.


Update List sign-up here.

Categories: Business

Launch Countdown



We are getting close to the end of January. DataButler is not quite ready to launch yet, but we do have a signup for people who want to be in on the beta. We will start admitting people to the beta based on (a) who signs up first, and (b) who invites the most friends to the party. Please help to get the word out!

The product vision is becoming clearer - the repository is the base product (what I called CXL). But integration within the repository will be a huge part of the value - just by giving a row a unique ID, you'll have the equivalent of a join in a database, with a merge feature that will collect all the rows that have the same ID.

ListMaker will also be a huge value add within DataButler - instant, one-touch web forms based on the columns in the spreadsheet that you need filled in. Lots of people have quick web forms - these will tie back into your spreadsheet immediately. And you can use a full spreadsheet as a base for a ListMaker form - just designate some columns and the new data will be added to the document as it comes in.

There are lots of places where you could use this - how many times have you texted someone with some detail questions? Now you can text them the hyperlink to a form. They fill out the form, hit submit, and the answers are in your document.

Screenshots and demos coming soon!

Sign up here!

Categories: Business , Software

Crowdfunding Launch

This is something new. Give North Creek a boost, we'll remember you!

Categories: Business



The lake in the picture sure doesn't look the same today, in January in northern Alberta. Water turns to ice. Grass is covered by snow. Liquid is immobilized, and the anything trying to move on the ice, well, it can get very mobile, in unexpected directions!

Yesterday, my day was interrupted by my daughter, who spun into the ditch on an icy road on the way to school. No one was hurt, there was a little bit of cracking of the front bumper, and thanks to a friendly school bus driver with a good tow cable, everyone was able to continue on their way.

Traction is the name of a business book that I should read. It applies to startups. It also applies to individuals trying to get through their workday.

In the course of doing our jobs, we accumulate the right tool. I have a hammer in the back seat of my truck just because of one valve on our water tank that gets stuck and needs a tap. If we are doing the same thing every day, eventually we come up with a set of processes and tools that let us just do our job.

When things change, we can end up needing a tool we don't have. Or finding that our tool almost works but doesn't quite. In an effort to make something work, we can waste quite a bit of time and energy. We can also end up with a toolset that is just not conducive to efficiency.

Are you spinning your wheels? Do things take longer now than they used to? Are there new elements to your job that you are trying to accomplish with an old toolset? Take a look at where you spend your time, and what tools you use. How easy is the work? How does it make you feel? Do things feel like they are "almost right" but you don't have time or energy to change your process?

It's still January. Call it a New Year's Resolution. Fix your toolset now before you waste more time.

Me, I'm buying my own tow cable and slowing down when the roads are icy.


If you work with spreadsheets as a part of your day, North Creek is developing a toolset that will help you merge your desktop analysis with the web-based, social, collaborative world of work we live in now. We want to create that tool that does just what you need - but we need your feedback. The Beta is starting soon - help guide North Creek's product vision. Email me, or contact me via Facebook or Twitter. My LinkedIn account also links back to this blog.

Categories: Business

Data Flows


Data Flows

Businesses exist as a series of data and material flows, human decisions, and relationships. North Creek is aiming to improve your data flows. That can give you better insight into your business, and help you make better decisions. It may even get you home earlier, improving your relationships!

Primary data needs to be gathered - from POS terminals, from workers in the field, from surveys. That data gains value as team members look at it, sort it, collate and conflate it, and make expert judgments based on it.

That data becomes the source for more judgment calls and more analysis. BI tools offer a way to drill down from charts all the way back to "primary" data. But that primary data is just what is available to the tool.

It makes sense that spreadsheets are used as the analysis and sorting tool most of the time. Whether online or on your desktop, putting data into rows and columns that can be shifted around and manipulated makes sense to knowledge workers.

The problem is that spreadsheets are a dead end - hard to import data in, hard to export knowledge out - unless they are in the hands of experts.

North Creek wants to make the flow in and out easier. Mobile data collection that goes straight into a master spreadsheet. Linking of related data across spreadsheets within a corporate repository. The ability to drill "back" to the primary data that led to the numbers you are seeing. This will be possible.

Help guide North Creek's product vision. Email me, or contact me via Facebook or Twitter. My LinkedIn account also links back to this blog.

In 2015, let your business data flow.

Categories: Business , Software

Christmas break - the Beta is getting closer


North Creek is going on vacation for the next week. If I have time, I will send out some tweets and update my Facebook page, but this blog will likely be pretty quiet until the New Year.

In the new year, North Creek will be launching two products - Listmaker and CXL. Branding for these products may change as we go through Beta. A quick summary:

1) Listmaker:

This is going to be a free app that will let you collect data from your teammates / friends / meetup participants / whatever. You upload a spreadsheet with an empty table in it - no data, just column headers. We convert that table into a simple web form. We give you a URL - something like

https://northcreek.ca/listmaker/7468db85-2d8f-466d-abdf-063ffd707030 (Just a sample, not live)

and a QR code that points to the same URL.

You share those links however you like. Anyone who follows those links gets access to an empty form where they can provide the data for your spreadsheet. You can get notified when anyone or a certain number of users fill in the form.

When you come back to northcreek.ca, you log in (using an email address or some public identity (Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Yahoo / Microsoft) and you get to see all the forms that you have in our system. As the editor of the form, you are the only one who gets to see the data others have provided.

When you are satisfied that you have collected enough data (you have enough for a pot-luck, or you have the whole team's contact info), you close the collection and download the spreadsheet, with all the data filled in for you.

This will be ad-supported, with options to pay to remove ads and add different styles to the default look of the form.

2) CXL:

This will be our flagship application. CXL will take fully-featured spreadsheets and create a "document" record around them. Within that document record, you will be able to assign visibility and editing rights to people based on their North Creek identity (which again, can be based on email or on another public identity provider). You will be able to track changes to the spreadsheet by row, column, formula, format, or data.

CXL will give you a preview of the data and the charts in your spreadsheet, as of the latest version, or of any version in the document history. You will be able to make minor edits to the spreadsheet from the web interface, but primarily, the web page will serve as a window into the repository that surrounds the spreadsheet. If someone wants to "fork" your spreadsheet, they can do so and retain the document history up to the fork.

CXL will be compatible with .xls and .xlsx records to start, with other file formats becoming available in the future.

The goal will be to create an understanding of a spreadsheet and to secure it as a useful, reliable part of your business process. To that end, North Creek will work on integrating other data sources into your document so that you can create a template and fill it with data using web services or other cloud data providers. The outputs will always include a real spreadsheet document, but other outputs could be created as well.

In future releases, CXL could extract a template out of your spreadsheet, removing volatile data. You could also upload a template and associate it with a document record. The outcome of that could be the creation of a community resource of spreadsheet templates, with the ability to share useful spreadsheet designs with your team, your company, or the world.

I think spreadsheets are under-utilized because IT can't get a handle on them. CXL will allow you to see and manage your spreadsheet inventory, removing IT's concerns and solving your problems at the same time.

CXL will start with basic functionality in January. Listmaker will launch when ready. Stay tuned!

Contact: Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or this blog.

Categories: Business , Software

Single Point of Failure


Single Point of Failure...

Dreaded words, but a fact of life for many small companies.

Truck Number:

How many employees being hit by a truck on the way to work would it take to shut your company down?

If the number is 1, you are pretty vulnerable, and that employee should be asking for a raise. If that person is the owner, well, then, you have a job, not a business.

Of course, I am "preaching to the choir!" I am bootstrapping North Creek Software, and very few people understand my vision, and fewer understand my code. Our truck number is most definitely 1.

Back to Single Point of Failure (SPOF). If employees are a SPOF, you may be limited in what you can do. If there is a technical SPOF (a server, a router, a power source) it is up to you to determine whether the price of diversifying that function can be justified, given the likelihood of failure of that SPOF.

My power went out for about 30 minutes at home today. I found other things to do, but it delayed this blog post and caused me to go through the restart process for a couple of home servers (development and test). Next month, while I'm in an active Beta, that will be a problem, but for now I can deal.

One of the benefits of moving to a SaaS product or to custom software is that things can be backed up, moved off-site, and made available via redundant servers. If you depend on your file server sitting in the corner, you have a SPOF. If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you have a SPOF if that spreadsheet gets corrupted. You have backups, but you are talking about losing work and filling in a gap.

I understand that your budget / amount of mental space you have for this problem may be limited. Moving documents to a repository solves a lot of issues. Moving to a smart repository turns things into a win-win.

North Creek is building that smart repository. Get in on the ground floor, email me, or contact me via Facebook or Twitter. My LinkedIn account also links back to this blog. Help me steer this project.

Talk to you soon.

Categories: Business

Productivity - and first steps to community


Some days you can just get into the "flow" of things and stuff just gets done. Some days you have to push harder to get going. Usually, once I get started, with my tools set up and even one small thing accomplished, I can keep the momentum going and crank some real output.

I was told (it might have been in "The Pragmatic Programmer" by Hunt and Thomas) to leave one easy task undone at the end of every day, so you'd be starting on a downhill slope the next morning.

Are your tools set up for that?

If your business runs on a bunch of disconnected files and folders, and you have to remember where you are and what the next step is every morning, you may have a difficult time getting into a "flow state". On the other hand, if you are in the real world, and your tools are designed to fit some idealized view of how business works, you may be spending your time trying to force your tools to fit your reality.

I love the freedom of starting with an empty spreadsheet when I'm trying to imagine something. You can just create a table over here, a formula over there, and then a chart just because. I might be a bit of a spreadsheet geek, or maybe I haven't spent enough 50-hour weeks staring at them. I can always go back to my programming environment or the command line. But spreadsheets are only useful once you've done the setup work - setting them up is a cost.

What if someone else has a template that will get you halfway there? What if we can share solutions (not data, but formulas, chart designs, table arrangements)?

Open source software has bloomed through sites like SourceForge and GitHub. North Creek sees the potential for a smaller, but still global exchange of spreadsheet development effort. CXL is the first step to making that happen.

Nobody is going to share their corporate data with the world. But if your spreadsheet is already in the CXL repository, and it has been analyzed and compartmentalized using North Creek's software, a template could be extracted out of your working spreadsheet that could help others.

What do you gain? Membership in a community that recognizes your contribution, and access to great ideas from others. The sense that you're not the only one dealing with this mess.

First steps - you could be part of creating something new. Sign up by emailing me, "like" North Creek Software on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, or comment on the blog (within the blog using Disqus, or using the ShareThis buttons up top). Do you work with spreadsheets? Are you a whiz at something? Would it be nice to have a library of templates to share, so that you would be halfway there and going downhill when you start tomorrow morning?

Categories: Business , Software