We all strive to do the very best we can to develop deep capability in our chosen professions. We also sometimes have to dig deep to keep the motivation and belief that our contribution is valued and our legacy provides long term sustainable contribution to our chosen discipline.
We are also told to tell stories as part of any engagement; selling, describing, explaining . . . .. consulting!
I recently had the good fortune to work with someone who in spite of his age and in spite of circumstance (business model) still shows real joy and fun in what he does. He was able to deliver wisdom, advice and stories of sheer joy of his work and accomplishments.
A confession. I was so chuffed to be asked to do this and “we” had absolutely no rehearsal prior and never played together. It was the first time I used that kit in about 5 years! But it was music to my ears.
Listen to him tell stories. Song starts about 5.50 in. Enjoy my walk on the wild side!
But what did this teach me? A team of professionals (in this instance semi-pro in my case) that all understood the part they played in the execution; their role, their responsibility, their contribution and collaboration and support all danced (played) to the same tune and pulled off an immediate and fun accomplishment. At no point did any of us doubt that the other wouldn’t do their job, deliver their part to time and beat and be there for the other.
Why isn’t work more like this more of the time? Why is it that we develop skills that are then compromised by “process” or “policies” or worse – politics and power play! Turning out a horrible tune!
If you don’t know who Herbie Flowers is check out this link http://www.herbieflowers.com/ and just think of Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side and David Bowie Space Oddity, to name a few . . .
Herbie’s stories made me reflect on how I view my career. My contribution, my legacy and what it is that keeps me motivated irrespective of the challenges and demands that our modern work cadence places upon us. Is it creating beautiful music or wonderful stories!
So I hope you enjoy this and many thanks to Nik for providing me the opportunity to listen, learn and revisit my drumming skills for such an iconic and wonderful piece of music under the instruction of a one of the world’s greatest bass player ever. Thanks Herbie.
I have been busy exploring the varied and wonderful world of legacy solutions and modernisation compatibility. My role has been listening, understanding and exploring business critical requirements and looking for solutions and scope from which to devise a way forward for transformation and improved efficient business practices. All at a cost! Are you willing to pay? Can you afford not to? Do you actual know what you want, what you need?
Now I really feel for the teams who after years of blood, sweat and tears and loyalty to an organisation have had to come to terms with seeing their “labour of love” criticised, or analysed as to what the future shouldn’t be like. I hear statements like “we want to simplify”, “this is far too complex and can’t adapt”, “we over engineered this” . . . .
Having to make business wheels turn under business as usual pressures, the constant demand of changes and having to lovingly safeguarded doing business using is a champions job and no small feat! However too often I am seeing this endeavour become a thankless task when modernisation comes into play. I’ve been here!
We should thank these teams for the hours of devotion as it is their past innovation, solution engineering and practices that has helped a whole software consulting industry learn what, why and the many “how” that helped develop new solutions, technologies and paradigms (Cloud/SaaS).
Decisions are made for the circumstance of the day. Solutions built to support the needs of that era weren’t meant to last a life time and be infinitely flexible and accommodating. At some point they will just not be able to cut the mustard any more. They will be no longer fit for purpose. The world matched on . . .
Business moves on, commerce and industry devise new needs and opportunities, models and processes develop, opportunities demand new support models, and yet sometime the infrastructure that is built to support the legacy business model is forced under pressure to perform above and beyond in the new world model!
I recall in another life where the development of the solution had to address the most bizarre requirements at the edge of every possible combination of circumstance and possibilities. This is often termed “future proofing”. Tell me who has the crystal ball and have really ever seen “that” coming”?
This leads to the classic costly over engineering and the long haul cost of ownership and maintenance change, fix and repair cycles, let alone integration, scaling and portability challenges.
I came across this coffee machine at a wonderful facilities provided by a very well established consultancy. It caught my attention in relation to this topic over engineering, bells and whistle and then the cost of ownership and maintenances. It got me thinking while waiting for my coffee. Will it ever be able to make a good cup of tea? Was it ever meant to?
Too many moving part, accommodating people interaction experience verse their responsibility to (place the cup under the tap head), compensating for people effort and generally build complexity for more vulnerability and cost of ownership. How many times have you designed a solution around people capability over what would work simplest?
Easier said than done when there is more than one engineer having fun!
The thing is everyone in the room is a solutions architect. But not one a pop star! There’s tension and their pain and emotional investment of a life time career is exposed and raw. There is great endeavours and knowledge experts that would score highly in Master Mind for their chosen subject, and a fascinating array of professional office politicking. But not one harmonious tune.
My role gives me great insight into many situations, sectors and cultures where change and design clash constantly and where ownership and authority dance to the tune of a different song to that which they think is playing. They need to change tune but more on that later.
I see this clash more and more as enterprises make that move from old platform to Cloud and the realisation that standardisation demands a new song that only a shared platform can sing.
In the room they are all looking for a solution; they are all trapped in a decision of the past and now embroiled in the challenge of change. What often astounds me are the players in the room, the leadership of risk taking and the real issue; “our business model is no longer fit for purpose and our operating practice broken!”
Large amounts of operational expense are maintained in maintaining the modus operandi. Large capital expense is questioned and fought for to establish “betterment” against the backdrop of legacy. This is modern enterprise business in a world of unpredictable change and overpowering competition of new business models of “subscription”.
The intent of all in the room is to do the right thing. The opinion of what is “right” is the challenge of culture, belief, experience and legacy at odds with each other.
When I am sitting in the room and layer after layer of conversation, deviation and ultimate indecision fills the air with noise and awkward body language, indifference, and/or dogma I can’t help having the tune “Complicated” pop into my head. You’re singing the chorus now aren’t you?
Chill out, what you yellin’ for?, Lay back, it’s all been done before , And if you could only let it be, You will see . . . .
I want these companies to go back to the beginning and try to find the true reason why the company and its product became. What drove it to success? Where is the value? What is the differentiator? Cling on to these and then ask:
Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else
Gets me frustrated
You fall and you crawl and you break
And you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
You promised me I’m never gonna find you fake it
No no no
If you fancy a sing alone try this!
Must thank Avril Lavigne fo adding to my corporate change wisdom and therophy.
It was always going to be a challenging project. The end users had the attention span of a gnat. The delivery was to change their way of working significantly. We knew we were looking at an uphill battle of acceptance, agreement and adoption. But it was a transformational project and had benefits beyond the front line use (CRM).
My key sponsor knew how to play this landscape and knew how to navigate the culture and habitat of the business. As such he drove an extremely hard line on the project team and maintained a level of focus and engagement that ensured that we did the “right things”, not always “did things right”.
As the project manager this approach often conflicted with the fundamental way minds work in an engineering project discipline. It clearly did not sit well with the project team. “Where is the best practice?” rang in each team meeting, “this doesn’t work with the deliver dependencies in the plan!” Somehow we needed to find common ground and understanding with the business and agreed demarcation of decision making and domain respect.
I was accountable for the delivery of the solution. It had to meet the business needs but also needed to be sustainable and workable across the wider solutions and process platforms. It also must protect the long term ROI by the manner in which we engineered the solutions for several international areas of the business.
Some environments can tolerated the “do the right thing” v’s “doing things right” approach and other will push back. The birth of Agile PM as an example has been bastardised from it pure efficiency gains into a delivery expectation paradigm which is wrong, wrong, wrong. It places business, projects and outcomes at risk by setting expectation that do not align to a design and puts avoidable pressure on all sides of the project. Some things we build need foundations; it isn’t just painting and decorating!
However, in this instance my sponsor had the positioning bang on and influenced the way I priorities and multitasked the project into what would “curry” favour with key stakeholders, answers their concerns and keep the project from by flushed down the loo! The key was to make an early deliverable to the end user communities and make an immediate and important win whilst building solid reputation and greater tolerance of the project for doing thing right going forward.
I must confess, at the beginning of this journey this approach created some degree of challenge for me and great anxiety for the team. It went against all my experience and best practice as a PM. I was tasked with managing a delivery whilst my sponsor was tasked with delivering an outcome. I have since come to realise that these in essence are one and the same.
So over too many drinks one night this miss-alignment resulted in a heated debate (constructive and open) between us. My sponsor resolved it by setting me a test. This proved his point and influenced how I would assess delivery forevermore.
“You have been out all night drinking copious amounts of beer. You’re hungry and in desperate need of a toilet. You grab a microwave curry on the way back to your flat. Keys in the door into the hallway and you see that you have some messages on your answerphone (those were the days). So you’re hungry, desperate for the toilet and there are messages waiting for you. What do you do first?”
I’ll leave you to work out what is the correct answer and please let me know by leaving your comment below,
Suffice to say this approach has continued to influence my thoughts and approach in engagements and project management. Where there is a clear need for “quick wins” that conflicts with “best practice” it is important to find a way forward that allows leveraging greater stakeholder tolerance of the wider delivery and a more pragmatic direct focus on doing the “right things” by the team in order to do things right.
As a leader of the project team my task is to gain buy-in from all parties to identifying why a “doing the right thing” by your business stakeholders is the first deliver that any project needs to make.
The order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .
They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.
The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines . . . . . . .
It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions. Were we able to see the wood for the trees?
But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.
We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“
There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders. These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.
Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs. I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.
The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.
For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place. Otherwise I should stop writing now.
A requirements definition could then reflect the following:
- A reference number – Always useful and unique
- A short title – Representing the gist of the need
- A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
- Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
- Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
- KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
- Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc
Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements. Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”
Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off. So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.
As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.
A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.
So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”