1. As part of the research for requirements for a new inventory package, I noticed that every pallet was counted by 3 different people and the lowest count was recorded. I worked with plant supervisors to fix the procedures. Management then realized that there was now no need for new million-dollar software. They rewarded my effort and concern for the company with lots of great project work and money. Lesson: Look for the obvious first.
2. A user asked me to help solve her forecasting problem. The two of us sat down and designed the software to do it. I realized there was a parallel effort to do the same thing in another division (with an expensive purchased package), so I made my software work for both divisions. It took 3 weeks to write and people were very grateful. I was employee of the month and got a nice bonus. Lesson: Sometimes little things can solve big problems.
3. I noticed that warehouse pickers were bending and climbing ladders a lot, so I suggested modifying our inventory system to place the most popular items in bins between the knees and shoulders. The change took one week and made us 10% more efficient (a lot of money after a few months). I would have never thought of it if I hadn't been walking around, trying to understand how my software was being used. Lesson: Give yourself the chance to find opportunities.
"Did you build anything that you later spun off into a better job or a side business?"
Yes. Everything I learned using these methods went into 2 businesses: a small business software package and a consulting practice. If I hadn't stretched myself, who knows what cubicle I'd be sitting in today.