Sunday, September 30, 2012

Process and the tool


Microsoft has a very competent ALM story that is being backed up by the Microsoft Visual Studio ALM “suite”. Don’t take my opinion for it though; Microsoft must be doing something right in this space to be one of the leaders in Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant for Application Life Cycle Management, June 2012”.

One thing I can point out in the diagram is that Microsoft is not the only player in the ALM space; there are a fair number of people with varying degrees of success battling it out.

The thing you should be aware of is that the tool itself is not the be all and end all of a “proper” application life cycle. I have come across a number of companies that are looking for a “tool” to solve a process problem.

The company feels pain in the way that they are doing things and then starts looking for a tool that will “solve” the problems. When the tool does not fulfil the need 100% they start looking at the next one (in some cases they have literally been looking for years).

The problem is that in all likelihood they will never be able to find the “right” tool, regardless of how complete a story the tool caters for, or how competent or proven the tool may be.

“Then what should we do?”

Glad you asked.
Firstly, take a deep hard look at your current process, highlighting the problems. It is important to be honest with yourself in this step. You will base your plan of action on the outcome of this step. (You may consider doing an ALM assessment that may give you some clarity on your situation or level of maturity ).

Next, find people that have had similar problems, or look at best practices that are being adopted and how they may solve your problems.

Next you need to make some hard decisions.
How are you going to change to relieve the problems? Something needs to give; some decisions need to be made. You cannot expect to follow the same process and somehow the problems will reduce or disappear (as Albert Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"). The best development team can only do so much; the rest is up to the process that governs the day to day and week to week actions.

Finally you can start looking at the toolset that will support the process, taking note of the following (just to name a few) aspects:

  • How do the various aspects of ALM integrate with each other?
    Do you have a single up to date and accurate “high level” view into the various aspects without needing to dedicate a person or resources to compile these reports or statistics?
  • What value can you derive from the tool?
    Does it provide you a rich functionality with regards to reporting, accessibility, integration and/or usability?
  • How well integrated is it in your day to day activities?
    Is it available when and where you need it to be with as little as possible context switching between applications or environments?

In conclusion, it is important to note the following:

  • You cannot solve a process problem with a tool
  • The tool needs to support and automate your process, bringing together information from every aspect of your project!


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Sunday, September 9, 2012

It is good to be busy.. or is it?

As you may have noticed I started and run my own business.
(I’m sure that this must be a parents worst nightmare.)
“Mom, dad… I have quit my job and I’m going into business on my own.”
I can just image them thinking to themselves “aarrggghh – should probably clear out his old room…”

Two years later and I’m struggling to keep up with the work load, every time my parents ask “how are things going?” and I reply “very busy”. Then the inevitable reply comes (with a hint of relief no doubt) “that is good”.

One thing I fear that they are missing is that there are in fact various different types of “busy”. I have tried to explain it before, but I think I’ll just send them to this post in the future..

Lets break down busy. In my opinion, there are a different levels of busy and where some are good others are down right bad.

1) Busy with things that pay you “decent” money

This is a good busy. This is you doing work and being paid for it at a decent rate. If you are not doing work under this category in any way, form or shape you could effectively be losing money. You should spend most of the time busy with this type of work or with activities that will induce more work under this category.

2)  Busy with things that merely pay

Yes, this does differ from number 1. As with anybody that is still finding their space and niche, you tend to take on “other work” that you do not charge the “full” rates for. This could include long term jobs, (in my case) maintenance work (something like retainer) or just plain work you cannot justify charging the full rate for.

Don't get me wrong, this type of work is important when things are slow, when you do not have any other income in the month this could be a “life saver”.
However, when this work starts getting to the volumes that the “initial allocation time” starts increasing uncontrollably, problems start occurring.
You spend more time on this than being focused on either performing or hunting down those “decent” income jobs, effectively losing potential revenue!

3) Busy with things that do not pay……..yet

This is a difficult one. These things you need to do to ensure future revenue. In my case these activities would include for example doing presentations at events or going to see clients to discuss or chat about their problems or even writing blogs. This is a good place to promote myself and my business in terms of who I am and what I can do, basically marketing.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph this is a difficult one in that it takes a fair amount of time, yet you do not have direct returns.
Without it however, you probably will not have any “returns”.
This is something that you do “need” to do, and in my case probably after hours and over weekends (if you are not busy with something in one of the other categories).

4) Low/no income and very low/no real gain

Unfortunately this is a nasty one. Think of those “quick” projects that just kept on going forever, without payment and with scope creep through the roof. Promises that payment will come if you deliver x,y and z, but on delivery it is not good enough and the requirements have changed etc. etc. etc.

You have made commitments and there is no easy way out of this. Every moment that you are spending on this one you are losing out on any of the other categories.
Other than to just walk away I do not really know how else to handle these.
Obviously things like reputational risk come into play, just in general leaving a bad taste in the mouth.


I think these (or a combination of these) cover the main point of being “busy”. So next time someone says they are busy, ask them is it a “good busy” or a “not so good busy”.