Slate and the LEGO Rexplorer: The Art of the Expert Build

My seven-year-old put it on my desk just to the right of my laptop. It has been there for about two weeks—Rex’s Rexplorer—occupying a prominent spot on display and in my mind throughout my workday. 

If you don’t have young kids and you aren’t a kid at heart, Rex’s Rexplorer is a battle vehicle from LEGO Movie 2 (both of my boys’ favorite movie). Rex is an alter-ego and future version of Emmett, “The Special,” our friendly, haphazard, creative protagonist. My kids are equally emphatic about building with LEGO (and yes, the plural of LEGO is LEGO), as they are watching it. The Rexplorer is one of Rex’s smaller vehicles with 1,187 pieces. The version on my desk probably has about 1,100 pieces because my son swears that LEGO provides you a bunch of extra pieces. I love it. I love to watch my kids build and see how unbelievably proud they are of their creations (both actual and creative efforts). 

There’s a lot we can learn from LEGO in this profession. Particularly when it comes to building a CRM, like Technolutions Slate, it’s nearly cliché to write about the building blocks necessary for a successful implementation. And yet, I’m brought back to a LEGO analogy time and time again. It’s simple. People understand it. It’s realistic. It represents something tangible when you’re faced with a whole heck of a lot of unknowns.

There are 205 pages of instructions for the Rexplorer. It’s not until page 185 where we finally get to add the spring-loaded shooters. This is obviously what my son was working toward. He wanted to fire those three inch green missiles all over our house. But he couldn’t. He had 184 steps to complete before then. To be fair, he can’t fire those missiles now anyway because he lost them.

When we’re building in Slate, so often we’re presented with a “our IT team needs to work on the integration,” or “we need to get these events running,” or “we need an admitted student portal.” Cool. We have 184 steps to complete before any of that. The key difference between building Slate and building the Rexplorer (other than the real difference in that one is a CRM that will be a powerful tool in your recruitment and applicant experience) is that the goal of building the Rexplorer is to build a Rexplorer. The goal of building Slate is to build a system that is expertly designed to fit the needs of your team and institution. 

“Designed” is a concept you won’t hear from consulting firms in this space (perhaps that’s because design is at the core of so much of what we do at RHB). It’s a term we use at RHB because we believe your systems should be an efficient expression of your processes, a beautiful experience that meets the needs of your end-users and operations team. You’re creating a coherent environment in which configuration elements make sense, “speak” to one another clearly, and are smartly built to bring your team’s strategy into the future. 

But about those 184 steps. We need to define fields, prompts, entities, forms, tabs. We need to articulate automation, workflows, triggers. We need to conceptualize and strategize populations, drips, snippets and organization. Templates. Datasets. Portals. I don’t say that undertaking an implementation is overwhelming as a sales tactic to get business. But if you aren’t feeling some sense of overwhelm, you aren’t seeing the entire picture. And all of these pieces—all of these configuration elements—need to be carefully considered so you don’t find yourself in a re-implementation a year or two down the road. A rebuttal to this statement is that it shouldn’t be “overwhelming” if you choose the right firm to guide you. 

Wrong. 

It will still be overwhelming, albeit certainly less than if you were going it alone. If you do not have this feeling and you’re being guided by a group of professionals, you aren’t being pressed hard enough. You aren’t being asked difficult questions. You aren’t being challenged. You’ll stand up an instance of Slate. Wonderful. You’ll also be leagues behind and missing out on important functionality and efficiencies.

Even though he neglected to use about 87 of the pieces, my son would sit at the table, frustrated, because he couldn’t find a “very specific piece” that he “cannot move forward without!” (It’s very dramatic and cute). That’s how it can be with Slate, too. You can sit and look at documentation, read it time and time again, and not have a clue on how to move forward. Did you miss a step? Are you missing a join? Is that script correct? A consultant’s job isn’t just to solve those issues for you (and make sure you don’t end up there in the first place). A consultant’s job is to prescribe solutions and train you on how to use your system. While almost every implementation we’ve done (nearing our 100th, more than any other consultancy in the space) has led to an ongoing relationship for support or advanced configuration, our goal isn’t to create a cohort of clients that rely on our expertise. Your counsel should want YOU to own your system, and they should prepare YOU to manage on your own.

My son was four when he first started building with LEGO. I remember having to help him build, to find the pieces, to help him count the studs when looking at the instructions. I almost feel like it was a rite of passage. Today he’s building crazy kits and designing his own creations (undoubtedly my favorite). He knows the path to get to the goal, he follows the instructions, and he knows when to ask for help (and when he can figure it out on his own). You can get there, too.

Happy building. If you’d like some guidance, you can always reach.

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Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President of Relationship Development at RHB.