Workday Podcast: Navigating Crises Through Developers

Sometimes, events take the whole world by surprise. Companies know they need to move quickly when that happens, but that’s rarely an easy feat. Learn how Otis Elevator Co. is using Workday to enable agility and swiftly respond to change.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

When Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, Otis Elevator Co., the world’s leading elevator and escalator manufacturing, installation, and service organization, needed to take immediate action to help its Ukrainian employees. Within just 10 days, the company leveraged the power of its own Workday developers to create an app that matched fleeing workers with Otis employees in surrounding areas who were willing to offer housing. 

In this episode of the Workday Podcast, I chatted with Brandon Fahey, the Workday Extend functional lead at Otis Elevator Co., about building business agility and doing the right thing, all at once. 

Here are a few highlights of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can also find our other podcast episodes here

  • “As the conflict broke out in Ukraine, our human resources department in the region started tracking what was going on and realized that people in the area needed to leave. So, they came to us and wanted to know if there was something in Workday that could make it easier for them to record information and find hosts for the fleeing employees. We decided to build it in Workday Extend and used custom objects to track the information. Technically, it took us four days to build everything. However, since we were working with folks in different time zones, we had a lot of back and forth communication happening overnight, so it took about 10 days to roll it out completely into production.”

  • “Developers shouldn’t be afraid of ambiguity, they should embrace it. That’s how you’re able to try new things. Remember when you tried to ride a bicycle for the first time? You kept falling, but then you kept working at it and eventually learned how to ride. The same goes for developing, you’re going to fall. Things aren’t always going to look pretty or work the first time, but that’s all part of the process. You learn, you fix it, and you try again. It’s important to find an environment where you can fail enough times to be successful.”

  • “HR technology can seem mundane to some people. They might think, ‘Hey, this is just something that we have to do.’ You have to change that way of thinking. HR empowers the people that we serve to do the things that they need to do. So, if we can make it easier for somebody to get their paycheck or update their address, we’re making an impact in a lot of little ways. So you always need to think, ‘If I’m helping people by taking friction of out their day, then that’s awesome.’”

Join us in-person or digitally at Workday DevCon, June 3-6, 2024.

Josh Krist: Some events take the whole world by surprise. When that happens, companies know that they need to move quickly. But too often, they just can't build new functionality fast enough. That was not the case for Otis Elevator when they needed to quickly evacuate employees from the Ukraine. I'm Josh Krist, your Workday Podcast host, and I'm excited to have Brandon Fahey, the Workday Extend functional lead at Otis Elevator, to talk about building business agility and doing the right thing all at once. Thanks for being on the show, Brandon.

Brandon Fahey: Thanks for having me.

Krist: You bet. Can you tell me a little bit about your role?

Fahey: Yeah. So I'm the Workday Extend functional lead. So what that means is I'm responsible for updating and putting out Workday Extend applications, the whole life cycle of that, whatever we need to, to get those applications out. I dabble in project management from time to time, you know, do a lot of requirements gathering, a lot of functional things, um, and some of the-- some, some developing. Very, very little.

Krist: And so can you talk a little bit more about this app, the backstory that you built to help Otis Elevator employees evacuate and also eventually find lodging?

Fahey: Yeah. So the, the backstory is we were contacted by the HRVP for the region. You know, and they were tracking, you know, as the conflict broke out in Ukraine, um, a lot of uncertainty of, of what's going on. As things started to unfold, people, people needed to, to move, right? So what happened was they came to us in saying, "Hey, we were tracking this information through a spreadsheet, which is, is not the best way of-- do things."

Krist: Yeah.

Fahey: You can lose a spreadsheet. It's not accessible everywhere. So they wanted to know if there was something in Workday that we could do to, to do that. And what we did was kind of absorb that information. And, you know, we really wanted to be quick to help them 'cause you kind of feel helpless in a situation like that. And so, that's where the backstory of it really came in was, I think, alleviating their stress from having to do this and, and seeing if there was a way that we could make it easier on them to record information.

Krist: Right. And then if you can tell me a little bit about the build process?

Fahey: Well, the build process, once we had a meeting about it, you know, my first inclination was to create custom objects to do it. Um, you know, once I rolled this out, within half an hour or so, they told me, "Nah, we don't like that because we'd have to go to each individual employee. It would be hard to, to track that information." So we decided to move it to Extend. Still use the custom objects because model object components would take a week to get in, right, so that you have your release window. We wouldn't be able to fully flesh that out in a short amount of time. So we took Extend, put a nice face on it, put a grid on it, and then we used those custom objects that we had so we can track information.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: You know, we're just happy that we're able to help people. You know, even if we're able to, to do one, um, but what really this app did for us is, like, open the businesses' trusting of us to build applications for them. So, you know, that was a great silver lining is now they're asking for a lot more, um, because we were able to deliver quickly and to what they needed.

Krist: they saw the power of being able to deliver brand-new functionality within such a short amount of time.

Fahey: Absolutely.

Krist: That's great. That's great. And if I understand right, the app also connected people who needed to leave with, with employees willing to put them up? How did that work?

Fahey: So that was kind of, you know, a second-hand enhancement later on in the week basically, you know, asking people if once we got people relocated, were they willing to or did they have any accommodations they would be willing to, um, give out. So it was kind of hoping people would see it. So it really wasn't, like, um, rolled out. You know, we put an announcement up on the home page.

Krist: Mm-hmm.

Fahey: But yeah, it was hoping that people would see it. And then if we did need, we'd be able to put them places.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: Which is kinda cool.

Krist: Yeah. No, that's very cool. What was the uptake like? I mean, did most people find a place to stay? I mean, like what were the results?

Fahey: I really don't have, like, the metrics on it, but we did hear really great things about it.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: But it's just one of those hard to track to what they were able to do. And I think it was later in the game, so they had a lot of the information already.

Krist: Mm-hmm.

Fahey: And I don't think, you know, they wanted to input it all again. So there was a lot of things that, that worked while they were in motion. We know that it was received well. And, and that's all that we really, really cared about. And we were just like, "All right. Cool." Yeah.

Krist: How long did it take you to spin it up?

Fahey: Technically, it took us like four days to build everything. But then, you know, the HR business partner was actually-- I believe she's in Dubai. And it's, like, completely different time zones for us. So we had a lot of back and forth going overnight. So it took us about 10 days to roll it out completely into production.

Krist: Right. And something that's really interesting about this app, you're dealing with a lot of ambiguity. So you mentioned having to add on some functionality after rolling it out. I mean, what-- you know, this is a challenge that a lot of companies have faced, needing new business capabilities and maybe not knowing 100% what that final product needs to look like. What have you learned from this process, just having gone through the pandemic and this? Like, how do you factor in, you know, "Let's get something out there that works," but we also know that because everything is so fluid, we might have to add or change functionality?

Fahey: Yeah. That's a great question. So one of my things that I like to do is I solution. I, I wanna think of everything. And then I get really excited to do that, right? Excited to solution. But a lot of the time when you get excited to solution, when you get there, you miss things, right?

Krist: Hmm.

Fahey: So there's never a time where we get all of the requirements and when we dig into everything, right? So, I'm not a psychologist. I really don't, you know, have the ability to get in there and get people to, you know, open up about, about things. So you will find things that you missed, right? And here's the greatest thing - and our, you know, superiors and our executives really, really understand this - is that there's gonna be iterations.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: There's going to be an app life cycle. You're gonna get something out right away, right away meaning you're gonna get out a first version. Then you're gonna have some updates that didn't work really well. "Let's update this or something. Hey, can we do that?" Or Workday releases a new function, and you get that out.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: So ambiguity is good, and it's bad, because it leaves you in the dark a little bit.

Krist: Yeah.

Fahey: But also allows you to think, right? So there's, "Oh, hey. If they didn't really say this, maybe I could tweak with that. Maybe I could give them something they might not think about and that could actually work."

Krist: Oh, yeah.

Fahey: So ambiguity can be a great thing, but it can also be really, really terrifying.

Krist: If I'm catching what you're saying, it almost gives you license to be more creative or try to think ahead maybe a little bit more, right?

Fahey: Yep.

Krist: That's cool.

Fahey: So a lot of times people wanna have a color by numbers.

Krist: Yeah.

Fahey: They really want the color by numbers so you know where to go. But if you have that blank canvas and maybe you put it on the light box where you can draw it in, but you can make little changes to it and enhance it, that, that really helps too. So the ambiguity shouldn't be something that you should be afraid of. You should embrace it.

Krist: Wow. Yeah. That's neat. And agility was also key during this time. I mean, what advice would you give to developers looking to build test and field apps more quickly?

Fahey: Yeah. Just try. I mean, remember when you tried to ride, ride a bicycle for the first time? You kept falling.

Krist: Yeah.

Fahey: It's gonna happen. Things aren't gonna look pretty. Um, things aren't gonna work. Things that you think are awesome, people are gonna come back like, "No, no, that's not cool." But that's all part of the process. You learn. Um, you fix it. You try again. And people really need to foster the ability to fail. So find an environment where you can fail enough to, to be successful.

Krist: Hmm. And you know, what's funny, you mentioned earlier that you're not a psychologist. But I would imagine in your requirements gathering, you kind of do have to ferret things out of people and kind of almost be a, a business psychologist, if that makes any sense.

Fahey: Oh, yeah. You know, most of the problems that you run into, people are having troubles for a long time.

Krist: Mm-hmm.

Fahey: Um, and it's hard to get them to, to bring everything to the forefront of what they want, um, just because they might be, you know--

Krist: They're living in it, right?

Fahey: Yeah. They're timid about it. You know, they don't know if you're gonna be able to help solve all of it. Maybe it's something that is so mundane that they don't think about, but it's really important.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: You know, it's one of those auto-pilot things. I think the, the biggest thing you can do is just be like that, that friend, that guiding principle with them and just help them through it. And once you start to mock things up, when you start to show them, you can get some more out of it. But it's a process.

Krist: Yeah. And actually, which kinda leads me to my next question. I mean, how can developers be better prepared to address uncertainty in the long term?

Fahey: Just being flexible. Yeah, the, the greatest thing that you have is being flexible. Don't be rigid in, in what your design is. Your design kinda comes out of, you know, what the requirements are. Don't go in with a preconceived notion on how you wanna do something 'cause once you get into that mindset, it might be hard for you to pivot, right?

Krist: Okay.

Fahey: So you wanna kinda be reactionary. Um, have a design that you think might work, but just listen more than anything. For a lot of people, they wanna solution. They wanna fix the problem like I do.

Krist: Right.

Fahey: And sometimes that hinders what I'm doing because I might miss something. What I think might not be important is actually the most important. And because I'm trying to drive them somewhere else, I miss that. So flexibility is the greatest asset we have.

Krist: And then what's next? I mean, how do you see the role of the developer evolving in the next few years?

Fahey: Yeah. So what Workday has really shown with Extend is the ability to, you know, come off of that rigid feature of Workday, right? So when we think of the constraints of Workday on a functional side, you know, you have a business process where you can create however you want it to go. But there's only certain things you can do, right?

Krist: Right.

Fahey: And there's only certain things you can do within Workday. What Workday Extend allows you to do is to push those boundaries and allows you to create outside of the box. So the developer is really somebody who's going to be the pioneer of what, what Workday is gonna look like next. And like I've been talking to people while we're here at DevCon is how Workday imagines Workday Extend will go is probably not gonna be the way it is. Because people are gonna get ahold of this and just do a whole bunch of things with it that they never thought was possible. And in business cases that are like, "Well, that's really cool. I never even thought of that." Or, "How did we get here?" So those kind of things. So they just need to, you know, be agile. I like the word agile.

Krist: Yeah.

Fahey: Or just being able to, to move, um, and develop. But also bring some of those great practices-- those best practices in and do that well. Um, but the role of the developer I, I think is gonna be a hybrid role. While they can develop and build, they're also gonna be there to, you know, collect business requirements, drive to those best practices. So there's a lot for them to do.

Krist: And really understanding the business requirements. Not just-- not just taking a list, but really getting deep in there.

Fahey: Yeah. So one of the things is, like, HR technology seems mundane to most people, right? It's like, "Hey, this is just something that we wanna do." But we have to think about it. It empowers the people that we, we serve to get-- to do the things that they need to do, right?

Krist: Right.

Fahey: So if we can make it that much easier for somebody to get their paycheck or do whatever they need to do, um, I think it helps in little ways. So you always-- you always drive to that. And you always think, "If I'm helping a few people, that's awesome."

Krist: And taking friction out of their day.

Fahey: Yeah.

Krist: Right? So they can kind of focus on what's most important.

Fahey: Absolutely.

Krist: Yeah. All right. Well, Brandon, thank you very much for joining me today. This is Josh Krist on the Workday Podcast. Subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player. Thanks, Brandon.

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