In the world of emergency responders, a “ride-along” is the arrangement of a civilian to sit in the passenger seat of an emergency vehicle and observe the working day of a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic. These serve a variety of purposes for different individuals, from career exposure to the journalistic endeavor for a different perspective. They offer an “inside look” into the world that simply can’t be understood from the outside looking in, and are an excellent way to gain perspective into the life of our first responders. 


Have you ever considered a ride-along in the business world? Many of us have likely had or seen someone do a job-shadow to get a perspective of what a job may look like. Interns spend months living in the ride-along world as they watch over someone’s shoulder, run the mundane errands, and perform the tedious tasks that have to get done to make a business hum. But what about the business owner? The C-Level manager? The director of operations? The consultant? Could they learn a thing or two as well? 


I spent half a day in January riding alongside a client’s employee, watching him use an app we built for Northern Lights Locating and Inspection Inc., a local underground utility locating business. Our app and other systems we’ve built have helped their business operate for years, and our team has had the opportunity to build 3 iterations of the software that provides their business tools to increase efficiency, provide an audit trail, and offer a competitive advantage to their customers.  


Northern Lights has recently brought on some sizable new customers and expanded their team beyond the borders of Indiana, and their team faced some new challenges as they sought to deliver high quality results to those they serve. During a recent phone call, as they were trying to explain some of these challenges to me and my team, I casually asked, “would you like us to tag along for a few hours and see this first hand?” And thus was born our first mobile app discovery ride along. 


I spent about 3 hours with Joel, one of Northern Lights’ experienced locators, who could also offer a “tech-savvy” look into how the app we’ve built was used. He showed me simple things like how he put the phone in his pocket face out so as not to accidentally bump it while he located an underground utility as well as the battery drain he experienced while doing so. He demonstrated to me how seemingly simple tasks like reassigning tickets could turn into minutes of wasted time when you were assigning a ticket to a teammate named “William” instead of a teammate named “Andrew” because of their order in the alphabet. 


After the ride along, I took my notes and organized them for review with the client. We were able to recommend quick fixes to solve issues like those listed above to long-term goals that would increase efficiency, reduce the chance of error, and even make the app more of a joy to use than a tool that can get in the way when things didn’t operate perfectly. 


When building custom software (or even a new website for your company), it’s easy to get 80% of the requirements right before you even write them on a whiteboard. More details get fleshed out as you build the user interface, and then others as you build the final product and find kinks in your plan. In the end, though some challenges can only be seen and fully appreciated when you get your boots muddy, sit across the truck from someone who may have a gripe about your product, and really listen. 


I appreciated the value of this ride-along with this long-term client, and think we’ll find a way to make this a routine activity for our team with them into the future. Is there a place in your business where you could get a better look “from the inside” to learn more about improving your processes and your products? I’d love to hear your ideas.