Projects

Over Engineered – Cost of Bells, Don’t Need Whistles

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ClockWorkI 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!

B-W-1I 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?

Kiss

Easier said than done when there is more than one engineer having fun!

Requirements to Design or “just get me there soonest” – SaaS Rapid Implementation Methodology

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Classic WaterfallThere are many tried and tested implementation methodologies and countless variations on a theme. Common practice is picking and choosing the bits that work best for a given target environment. Hybrid, aligned, adapted, call it what you will. The bottom line is we learn from every implementation and hopefully adapt.  Or do we?

Last century expectations on delivery were well matured and mostly agreed with business stakeholders.  The process that were required to deliver were mostly understood together with the expectation, speed to deploy, timeline and project management process.

Generally the sense of rapid and/or dare I say “agility” was firmly grounded or caged within the waterfall process that drove delivery in the main back then. You know how it went; Requirements definition, functional design, build, test, launch etc . . . . so last century!

Cloud computing comes along. Software as a Service explodes. The sales proposition drive speeds and agility of deployment as a key value prop and RoI. Remember Salesforce.com “Click not Code”! The rush to cultivate a successful implementation methodology to support this new paradigm and business expectation continues to march on.  But that said practices of yesteryear are definitely off the menu this century.

Sweet SpotNow the  nature of Software as a Service (SaaS) demands a healthy and growing relationship with the end user to maintain renewing subscription. This is the very foundation of the business model.  Execution of a SaaS project should start with that relationship fully in mind. Basing a project upon ridged and constrained scope and deliverable is a conflicting and contradictory engagement model for SaaS (see my earlier post, a subject dear to my heart Statement of Outcome). The need for a SaaS Rapid implementation methodology is vital.

So where is this going? In my experience running a Requirement Definition and Design stage  is now so tightly coupled that defining requirements as a blue-sky, white-sheet, blank piece of paper process is extremely dangerous to the delivery of a SaaS solution. Take the core principles of multi-tenancy SaaS and take any SaaS solutions; “the constraint is in the SaaS solution delivery model and business complexity challenges whilst working within this which, pushes projects back into classic development mode?”

A SaaS solution needs a methodology that embraces it delivery model, speaks clearly to rapid implementation and defines business requirements within it core product capability as a win/win to renewals.

In addition, the SaaS product model must exhibit sufficient functionality for complex business requirements for its space. The SaaS Implementation Methodology therefore must speak to a requirements definition that aligns directly with the design of the SaaS product.

Tag Line

Merge the Requirements Definition and the Solution Design stage to address the SaaS delivery expectation model as a SaaS Rapid Methodology and align product capability road-map to the level of customisation based on the implementation feedback at the front line. The subscription economy demands it in the SaaS application space.

Socially Face-to-Face – service through the whites of their eyes – the distance of the Internet

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SM ServiceIt’s really great this social media thing. It is such a great space for education and awareness. The sheer volume of posts, blogs, reports, info-graph and all things. All supported by the sheer weight of big data making sense of things we couldn’t prove before whilst at times tearing down our historic perceptions of our past reality. I love it. But it can become a paranoiac minefield of self-harming opinion. It is almost akin to “Death by PowerPoint”.

Death by PowerPoint a common fatality of many a great and important message. That said pictures paint a thousand words and ShowTime can be fun. Thinking back on the multitude of events I have attended, the presentations that resonated most have to be those that told a personal story. A story you could relate. Not the slide or statistic that you had to jot down. I guess it is dependent on all having a shared experience – speaking to the masses! Data would suggest this is more often the case than not in our modern overly monitored, categories and processed lives.

I attended an event on customer service back in 2011 that had a lot of case studies and statistics on where, why and how to manage and deliver it supported by copious amounts or diagrams/slides showing best practice, architecture, tools etc. All very useful, informative but I have to confess with a retention score of Zero in creating a call to action or influencing me past the next speaker.

Funny I am in the midst of setting out an initiative and find I am producing copious number of slides to help galvanise my thoughts! A tool or a communication medium? That’s another blog! Where’s my mind-map?

Returning to this event and one particular presentation, well more like story-time.  A futurologist (I kid you not) working at BT, a Dr Nicola Millard delivered such a poignant and relevant message of the future of service engagement that it basically put to shame 80% of the previous days speeches, industry advice and undermined most of the solutions presented and best practices pitched.

She explained that the rate of change and the speed of consumer opinion is overwhelming and unstoppable in this connected social mobile Smartphone App futurologist .  That the reality is that no matter how hard companies try to perfect engagement they can only do so retrospectively which is often too late, too behind the curve to satisfy and putting at risk customers retention or limit any damage to the brand.

What made Dr Millard presentation so impactful was her delivery of this dilemma and the fact that she reached out to the audience by using the whole stage and not standing behind a lectern or referred to slides as the main delivery.

You could see the whites of her eyes the passion in her beliefs. She instilled confidence and therefore commanded attention. She spoke directly and enthusiastically and put “us” in the story recalling our everyday activities in relation to the proposition of “how to control the un-controllable” which was overly oopinionated customers using smartphone/social app at the point of service delivery –  a queue that was way too long against the backdrop of unattended service booths. #poorservice

BA TweetAnd the picture she painted is one that I have experienced personally. In situations where I have required assistance from some large organisations I have used social media (mainly Twitter) to achieve success. In most cases this has worked far better than traditional channels (LG, British Airways to name a few good ones).

Her positioning of this dilemma still resonates with me.  I hear in so many conversations I experience in business to this day. The need to change, modernise, and deliver “world class” customer service and perform better.  A constant challenge and at times struggle for most organisations. “It’s all about the platform” cries out a stressed out management team; “If we had a single view of the customer with all channels captured and . . . . .”

So how does Social Media and customer service close the gap, crosses the divide between the post, the like, the comment and shows the whites of it eyes? It must give that personal touch, that empathy or a call to actions that changes the nature of the broadcast to really be a service offering.

Do I have the answer? I guess Social Media fundamentally promotes tailored service and breaking the call centre-all script. Why? Because the transparency and collaboration that can develop from a single post or a single tweet can be immense and lasts forever in the Social Cloud. The conversation can become global quickly so containment and direct help is imperative to rescue the experience to maintain reputation and relevance with a customer.  But it can’t be one of process as that is not a good experience and this is very public.

SM SPSince that event way back in 2011 I am seeing and experiencing companies taking Social Media so much more seriously, not for the “Likes” alone, but for supportive interactions and turning this into positive, global and fully transparent PR opportunity of what a great company does when it needs to support its customers.

Great service will always starts with a personal touch, an experience, a human touch at the end of the post or send button. So I wouldn’t bet on transformational cost savings in service delivery through the transition into Social Media Customer Service practice. After all it is just another channel to manage! A ferociously public one which will require the good old Service Agent to manage as much as any “one on one” experiences on traditional channels. The existing internal training, couching and product/service training and CRM practices as is standard in any good service organisation will still be demanded and expected by your customers. So don’t look to save using Social Media as a “cheaper channel”, but look to improve your return creating a Social Media Service experience that shows them the whites of your eye and gets the word out that your a great Brand to work with.

Doing the “right thing” by mixing your drinks or how not to wet your self

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DTRTIt 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 Beersponsor 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.

What is it good for . . . . . Requirements

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TreeThe 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:

  1. Requirements1A reference number – Always useful and unique
  2. A short title – Representing the gist of the need
  3. A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
  4. Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
  5. Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
  6. KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
  7. 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?”

Statement of Outcome – road to repeat business and continued subscription

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Contracts“We’re a customer centric company” proclaims the well-heeled account executive to the soon to be client.  “It’s all about the customer. Without our customers our Cloud/SaaS Company is nothing.”

But how does that translate into a company culture?  And how does that get realised in the execution of service?  And how does that define the customer relationship?

The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.

The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due!  Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?

Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?

Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation.  Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership.  A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters.  The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.

Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.

Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.

I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.

I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.

When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership.   In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture.  I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.

Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today.  Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.

Outcomes

In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking.  It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!

This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.

How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)?  We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.

So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”

I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.