Master Anaplanners are Connected Planning pioneers, building industry best practices and shaping the way Anaplanners everywhere utilize Connected Planning solutions every day. They understand the possible and are passionate about helping set the direction of the platform. This month, we talked to Master Anaplanner and Community Boss, David Elston, about his experience with Anaplan.
David is a Business Systems Developer & Product Manager at Chevron, holds degrees in mechanical engineering and business, and has been working with different technologies in the oil and gas industry for more than 13 years. He is passionate about product design and user experience. David often takes an intrapreneurial approach to develop his ideas—taking them from end-to-end by building prototypes, pitching them, and driving them to delivery, all while remaining focused on the end user's experience.
Check out his sage advice about using Anaplan resources such as the D.I.S.C.O. method, Community, Idea Exchange—and more. Then, apply his principles to your own projects for continued success!
David Elston: Business Systems Developer & Product ManagerTell us about yourself. What is your current role, and how do you personally utilize Anaplan today?
With the help of our partners at Akili, we recently launched our third major release of our Enterprise Business Information System. The model has approximately 700 users split between 10 roles and spans roughly 250 dashboards, 800 modules, and 1,800 actions to manage. My current role is a bit of a hybrid between technical model-building development, model support, and bigger picture product management of the overall product.
I’ve had my hand in building portions of it in all three releases, mostly in the areas of project and program management. I created and implemented the UI/UX standards and user flow for the system and also developed the role security for all eight roles in the system. As a side project I have written some Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) code that uses Anaplan exports to create something similar to the model map, but instead creates a dashboard map showing how they’re all connected. The output is both an Excel table of dashboard connectivity and an associated Visio file. The Visio part isn’t done yet, but the table has already paid dividends.
Now that the system is stabilizing, my focus is shifting to developing the plan for how and when to convert the model from Classic Anaplan over to the New UX. Users are my primary focus in anything I do, so making it a seamless transition and actually enhancing the user’s experience is my absolute top priority.
Challenges are inevitable. What challenges do you typically face, and how does Anaplan help you successfully overcome them?
Prior to using Anaplan, we had loads of fragmentation between tools and “shadow systems” that people had developed to help them get things done quicker and easier. I, in fact, was a developer of one of those tools. Before Anaplan, I developed an idea in Excel VBA which streamlined a project management process by automating the generation of a couple of complex PowerPoint presentations. The system gave users a graphic user interface to work with instead of a 55-tab spreadsheet, which was, in itself, a big win. Unfortunately, the various projects weren’t connected and still required emailing files, and compiling data to get the bigger picture.
Our Anaplan model was built to combine functionalities of that and eight other similar homebrewed tools. With all of them previously being operated in isolation of each other, having the data “talk” between tools was a game-changer. Through some crafty integrations work, my PowerPoint generation code from the tool I developed still lives on in our Anaplan model today.
Aside from technical challenges, I find that the oil and gas industry can be cautious about embracing changes. Presenting users with a new tool can be a tough sell when they’re used to doing things their way in Excel, despite how complex it may be. However, our team put in a significant change management and support effort to help soften the blow caused by changing their tool. As of now, it seems most users are realizing the benefits of the connected system over the old way.
"Our Anaplan model was built to combine functionalities of that [spreadsheet] and eight other similar homebrewed tools. With all of them previously being operated in isolation of each other, having the data “talk” between tools was a game-changer."
You’re a Certified Master Anaplanner—congratulations! What helped you to achieve this great accomplishment, and how does it benefit you in your career?
Becoming proficient in Anaplan has had an interesting learning curve for me. In some ways, Anaplan makes things simpler, more powerful and flexible than getting lost in endless spreadsheet tabs. In other ways I find myself wondering “why can’t I just…?” when trying to do something in Anaplan.
Despite being a certified Master Anaplanner (since June 2019), I recognize that I still have plenty to learn in Anaplan. At times, I tend to struggle to think multi-dimensionally in the way Anaplan modeling requires, but even so, I manage to get things done. I’m a big believer of supporting each other with our strengths as we all have our areas of strength and weakness. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some other very talented model builders from Anaplan and various partners—all of which have taught me basically everything I know as a model builder. You know who you are, so thank you!
"I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some other very talented model builders from Anaplan and various partners—all of which have taught me basically everything I know as a model builder."
The Community is a great place to collaborate and learn! Help fellow Anaplanners by telling us what you’ve learned in Community.
Model building best practices:
D.I.S.C.O.; D.I.S.C.O.; D.I.S.C.O.
D.I.S.C.O. is commonly known as a best practice for Anaplan, but when I only found out about it, we were already six months into our initial build. Oops. Looking at the size of our model now, its complexity and some of the struggles that come along with that, it occurs to me how much cleaner things could have been had we built it similar to what D.I.S.C.O. recommends. Simply put, follow D.I.S.C.O. in your model builds.
"Simply put, follow D.I.S.C.O. in your model builds."
Building relationships with other model builders and tapping into their various areas of expertise is a must. In Anaplan, I find that figuring out how to formulate the right question to ask is half the battle. When faced with something that I don’t understand (which happens often), I usually start with a quick search of Anapedia, or the Community Forums, to see if someone else has had a similar question. If I can’t find help there, I may attempt to make a small prototype to try to see if I can simplify things, but at times, nothing can beat the help gained by reaching out to other model builders for a nudge in the right direction.
I tend to think in a “it would be great if” mentality by default and believe that a group of small quality-of-life improvements in a system can make as much impact as one big feature when looked at from a day-to-day, total-use perspective. For example, here are two ideas that I suggested that have since been delivered:
Anaplan is unique in that it has end-users that are model builders and users that are the model builder’s end users. In my opinion, providing the easiest, most streamlined, experience for the model builders will ultimately result in them being able to deliver the best user experience possible to their users. Everyone wins.
With that, I can commonly be found contributing my ideas on Anaplan’s Idea Exchange. Currently, I have amassed a feature request list of over 50 ideas ranging from small tweaks to big changes. I also hold one of only a few Community Boss statuses for my contributions and am ranked one of the highest upvoted contributors overall.
With that, my advice is that as an idea of how Anaplan could be made better crosses your mind, big or small, consider taking a moment to add it to the Idea Exchange before it’s gone. It is almost certain that someone else has had the same thought but never bothered to write it down. Be sure to peruse some of the other ideas and give an upvote to those that make sense to you. Delivery of even some of the smallest things can make a big impact on your daily workflow and your users.
"With that, my advice is that as an idea of how Anaplan could be made better crosses your mind, big or small, consider taking a moment to add it to the Idea Exchange before it’s gone."
We want to thank David for his many contributions to the Community! Do you have any questions for our Master Anaplanner and Community Boss? Post them in the comments below.