Whiteboards for Everyone!

Do you like designing on whiteboards?  I do.   Colorful markers against a clean, white surface inspire all kinds of creativity and fun.

Recently David Crossett of Ready Receipts gave me a great tip.  He told me that instead of going to your local OfficeBOX superstore and paying $200 for a 4×8 whiteboard, just hit HomeDepot instead and get a $12 piece of showerboard.  It works just as good and if you need a smaller size they will cut it for you on site for no additional charge!  At that price, you can line your walls with thinking space.  Power to the Consumer–thanks David!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Crossing the CHASM

I’ve heard people make references to Geoffrey A. Moore’s Crossing the CHASM book for several years now but had’t read it until this past week.

Moore’s book is a must-read for any IT company trying to launch a new product.  Although the concepts in the book are not novel (so admit’s Moore) the book brings a vocabulary and metaphoric dictionary to the readers allowing marketing groups, investors, and techies alike to communicate about the playing field in a proactive manner.

Moore discusses the importance of delivering continuous innovation, instead if discontinuous innovation.  Our new innovations need to help people do what they are already doing better, and not force them to abruptly change something that kinda works for something that they are not sure about that may possibly work better.

Moore introduces the Technology Adoption LifeCycle, complete with five categories of market segments.  He discusses how to market in succession to each group:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Finally, Moore introduces some business concepts you may have heard of by now, like the bowling alley, the tornado, and the fault line.

If you haven’t heard of these, then you need to get reading!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Publishing My First Book: Software Quality Systems Management

Posted by mikeberry | Leadership, Book Reviews | Tuesday 21 July 2009 1:59 pm

I’m publishing my first book next month.  It’s about software quality management.

Quality management, that is, in the sense of improving software processes and production support methods, not about ‘how to test software.’

I include overviews of the four formal quality models: CMMI, Six Sigma, and ISO 90003, and ITIL.  I outline how to create a quality system within an organization and I discuss common fixtures it should have.

I talk about checklists, measurements, purpose, accountability, and continuous improvement.

So now I want your help.  Tell me what else I should include in a book about managing quality in an IT/Software Development/Production Support environment.

Also, suggest some titles.  Thanks in advance!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com
 

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Software Development Best Practices - Software Requirements Management

I recently hosted Red Rock Research’s second weekly software development best practices seminar for the general public.  Our topic was Software Requirements Management.Requirements Management is perhaps the most controversial topic in software development.  Everyone seems to have their own technque.  It is also the most important skill-set–statistically more important than development skills–to the overall success of a software project (Standish CHAOS Report, 2009).Let me say that another way because this principle is not intuitive…if you want to improve the performance of your development projects, improve the skill-sets of your business analysts who generate requirements.  Statistically, this has more of a performance boost on a projects outcome than any other skill-based area.Many published requirements management techniques exists, and yet in a $220 Billion industury with a project failure/delay rate of 64%, it appears that most of these published techniques are not embraced.Our seminar covered Eliciting, Prioritizing, Validating, and Documenting a requirements baseline.  We discussed the progression of system context diagrams, UML actors, use cases, data-flow diagrams, High-Level Overview diagrams, High-Level Design diagrams and finally the Software Requirements Specification document.   We talked briefly about  a Concept of Operations document and a System Design Description document.We discussed the difference between a plan-based documentation stack, and a minimized Agile-development documentation stack–which would be generated during a Sprint-Zero.  (Yes BTW, you DO create documentation for Agile projects!)We discussed techniques to control scope creep after the requirements baseline, and then discussed techniques for dealing with what I call ‘approval noise.’What puzzles me the most about this topic is an entrenchment I encounter occasionally, as expressed by one of the seminar participants.   He stated, after the seminar, that all of this was interesting in a textbook-like manner, but that he felt none of it was pratically applicable.I asked him to explain how his company performs requirements practices and he said “Well, we have nothing written.  We have everything in our head and we just talk across the cubicles.”  He then told me he was frustrated at some additional items he was asked to add to his project that morning because it was supposed to be completed two weeks ago.  He also told me that the owner of his organization wished they had a structured approach to software project management, and that–oh, by they way–many of the programmers were given layoff notices at the beginning of the week because the company is failing.Hmm, it’s almost as if the problem is not properly in focus.  Downstream problems are caused by upstream actions or omissions.  I mean no disrespect, I just wish to point out the obvious that if companies like this would adopt upstream structure they would benefit from downstream success.You see, the problem proper requirements practices solves is not at the development effort level, it is at the project management, estimation, budget, and strategy planning–or business level.Software centric business level practices become predictable and executives can be proactive if their projects properly consume the time estimated.Projects will consume the time estimated if they include all of the functionality needed for a desired level of business value, and those functions are identified in whole, at the beginning of the project.  This way the software project time-frames and feature-sets can be included accurately in the estimation, budgeting, resource planning, and strategic planning of a company.  This way, scope creep will be minimal, and the whole company will benefit from a predictable project delivery process.Without proper requirements skills, entire feature-sets get missed upstream and need to be added ‘at the last moment’ downstream,  the risk of re-work increases drastically, and recurring cycles of this erode project managers and the development team’s credibility in the eyes of the executive team and the waiting customers.  In worst case scenarios, this can lead to layoffs and finally company failures.If you haven’t been trained on proper requirement management techniques, you are holding your organization at risk.  Attend our next three-day Software Requirements Management training course held September 7-9 in SLC.Mike J. Berry, PMP, CSM, CSPMwww.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

Recently, while attending the ‘09 Agile Roots conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Alistair Cockburn–the keynote speaker–referenced Miyamoto Musashi’s 16th-century book called The Book of Five Rings.

I like Asian philosophy (and swords and such) so I picked up the book and read it.  The book was written in 1643 by an undefeated Japanese samurai master who was so effective he was rumoured to have spent the latter part of his career entering sword-fights purposely without a weapon.  Although meant as a battlefield manual, the book has gained popularity as a handbook for conducting business in the 21st century.

The book was translated into English by Thomas Cleary at some point and the edition I read was published in 2005.   Improperly named “The Book of Five Rings,” the book is actually a compilation of five scrolls.

The Earth Scroll: Musashi talks about how a straight path levels the contours of the Earth and how various occupations provide life-improving principles.  He talks about observing patterns and learning from them.  Certainly a great primer for any business trying to get across the chasm.

The Water Scroll: Here Musashi talks about how water conforms to the shape of its container.  He suggests a separation of one’s inward mind against it’s outward posture, maintaining that one’s control over one’s mind must not be relinquished to outward circumstances.  He translates these philosophies into about 80 pages of sword fighting techniques.  An interesting modern parallel is found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, where he talks about how the most successful companies are able to say ‘No’ and not be influenced by immediate but non-strategic opportunities.

The Fire Scroll: As with any book written by a 16th century samurai master, you’d expect a core discussion on combat strategy.   The fire scroll is full of combat strategies, positioning, and pre-emptive theory.  Very interesting.  Did anyone notice how Apple’s announcement of the latest iPhone came about 1 day after the Palm Pre phone was officially launched–killing it’s market blitz?  No coincidence there.

The Wind Scroll: The wind scroll contains a directive to study and be aware of your opponents techniques.  Translated into business speak, this means one should always study ones competitors.  Be aware of new offerings, partnerships, markets, etc. that they persue.  Emphasis is placed on observing rhythms and strategically harmonizing, or dis-harmonizing with them as appropriate.

Finally, The Emptiness Scroll:  This scroll discusses the value of escaping personal biases.  Emphasis is placed on not lingering on past situations and being able to adjust quickly to new scenarios.

Overall I found this book ‘enlightening’ to read.  If you like metaphors and inferences, or sword-fighting, then you will enjoy this book.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Anatomy of an Execution Plan

Have you been challenged with performing a high-risk task like upgrading a prominent server, for example?

Here’s an execution plan template that you can use to guide you.

I. Executive Summary
Brief overview of intended event.

II. Review of Discovery
Details of what efforts were made to research what is listed in the following sections.  Meetings, Vendor consultations,  OnLine Resources, and Conventional Wisdom can be included.

III. Pre-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken before the event.

IV. Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken during the event.

V. Post-Upgrade Procedures
Steps identified to be taken after the event.

VI. Test Plan
Verification procedures to confirm the event was a success.  This section should define the success criteria.

VII. Rollback Plan
In case the worst happens, what to do.

IIX. Situational Awareness Plan
After-the-event steps to validate the success of the event with the system’s business users.  This would include a two-way communication between your group and the business users, announcing the success, and providing contact information for them to contact you in case there is still a problem.

IX. Risk-Management plan
A plan listing risks associated with the steps above and recommendations as to how to lower those risks.

X. Schedule
If the event spans many hours or days, you may want to draft a schedule for the benefit of all involved.  Include on the schedule the ‘rollback point,’ which would be the latest time a rollback could be successfully performed.  Your success criteria whould have to be met by this point to avoid a rollback.

Be sure the Execution Plan is in a checklist format, not a bullet-list format.  Require participants in the event to ’check’ completed checklist items and sign-off sections they are responsible for.

For critical areas of high-risk, (ie: setting up replication), for example, you may want to require two individuals to perform the checklist steps and sign their names when that section is complete.

If you like, add a ‘lessons learned’ section to be completed later, and keep a copy of the execution plan for historical purposes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

‘Excellence’ can be defined as “the crisp execution of established procedures.”  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company’s reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo’d.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with ‘Heriocs’ is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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NewsCHIME.com passes the 100+ repeat visitor mark!

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, Most Popular, Leadership, Strategy & Portfolio Management, Uncategorized | Thursday 23 October 2008 11:11 am

NewsCHIME.com, the ‘News from everywhere, every 10 minutes’ website has officially passed the 100+ repeat visitor mark!  This site was launched in May of ‘08 with no advertising at all, and now enjoys more than 100 repeat visitors, and over 1000 unique visits per month.

I classify a ‘repeat visitor’ as somebody who has come back four or more times.   The number four is kind of arbitrary, but I think somebody who comes back only once or twice is not really a captive audience participant.  They are more link a potential customer peering into the store window.

NewsCHIME.com was created to bring headline news to people who, like me, love to read the news.   We love it so much, in fact, that that’s all we want to see on the site–news headlines and nothing else.

Have a BlackBerry and a few spare minutes between (or during) your meetings?  Go to NewsCHIME.com and check out what’s happing across the world!

Need to do research for education, work, or personal interest?  You can search for headlines topics from the past 18 months or so on the search page.

This works great if you are expected to know about something newsworthy in a short amount of time.

For example, a search for ‘Obama’ or ‘McCain’ and a quick headline perusal will give you a one-sentence summary of everything noteworthy these candidates have done for the past 18 months.  10 minutes on NewsCHIME and you be more infomed about the upcoming presidential election than more than 300 million other people.

Need research project material on the mortgage meltdown, type ‘mortgage’ and you’ll see the unfortunate play-by-play.

Be sure to take note of what you will NOT see at NewsCHIME.com.  You will not see lots of useless links to various websites that have nothing to do with your topic.  You will not see pictures of dancing people,  and you will not see ads from GM, Chevy or eHarmony.

I almost forgot to mention, NewsCHIME has free news alerts!  That’s right, Free!  Sign up and select which search criteria you want, and as those terms are named in news events you’ll be the first one to know about them.

So, impress your friends, impress your boss, impress you teacher.  The faster you can get at information, the more beneficial your decisions will become.  Enjoy.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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Book Review: Motivating Employees

Employee motivation is an ever-present concern for most proactive managers.  Interestingly enough, motivation can come from both functional and dysfunctional sources.

I’ve seen employees motivated for many different reasons: recognition, financial incentive, empowerment, personal growth, tension release, fear, and finally there’s that weird Lord of the Flies thing where employees get motivated together against another employee.

In their book, Motivating Employees, Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone describe the most effective ways to motivate a team.  They describe the three C’s which are vital to functionally motivating employees:

1. Collaboration: Be sure to involve employees in decisions and discussions where their efforts are involved.

2. Content: As they produce suggestions, act on those suggestions immediately.

3. Choice: Be sure to offer choices to your employees–even if you can predict what they will decide.

These three techniques actually empower your employees.   Involving employees in decisions that affect them, or the outcome of what they are working on produces a level of buy-in that is hard to match any other way.

Bruce and Pepitone continue with an examination of Theory-X and Theory-Y motivation and management styles.  These styles were originally presented in the 1960’s by Douglas McGregor.

McGregor states that Theory-X managers proceed from the assumption that their employees are uninformed, lazy, and needy of high-structure.

Theory-Y managers, however, proceed from the assumption that their employees are qualified, intelligent, and capable of making proper decisions provided they are given proper goals, accountability, authority, and resources to accomplish their tasks.

Although Theory-X is the most effective approach during some situations, if you consider the amount of college-educated employees in the workforce today, it’s easy to see how Theory-Y, if applied properly, yields much higher performance.

The authors continue with a formula for encouraging Entrepreneurial Thinking.   Their five-step formula is:

1. Explain the organization
2. Demonstrate how the organization operates and generates income
3. Help your employees understand the competition
4. Encourage intelligent risk-taking
5. Inspire innovative thinking

Another great idea the authors present is to link motivation to performance.  They suggest you develop a written-list of performance standards for meeting and exceeding the expectations you’ve agreed upon during collaborative sessions with them.

The authors talk about how important it is to weave fun into everything your organization does.   This may sound like a unusual suggestion at first, but the authors point out that there is a direct correlation between fun on the job and employee productivity, moral, creativity, satisfaction, and most importantly–retention.

The final few chapters in the book discuss de-motivating factors (or individuals), and how to deal with them.  There is also a good chapter on conducting effective employee-reviews.

Overall I recommend this book to any manager.   It’s a great book to re-read every so often.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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www.NewsChime.com

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives, Leadership, Strategy & Portfolio Management | Tuesday 3 June 2008 8:03 pm

The value of information…

Here’s a fun site if you are a news junkie.  www.NewsChime.com is a simple site that grabs news headlines from major news sites and lists them in an easy-to-peruse text-only format.

I’ve got the site on my PDA which makes reading news articles perfect for that boring meeting or that inconvenient 10-minute wait you hadn’t planned on.

An interesting feature on www.NewsChime.com is the ability to search for keywords in past news headlines.  Want to know what has been newsworthy about Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama?  Housing Crisis?  Gas Prices?  You can easily search for past headline keywords with this feature.

www.NewsChime.com also allows you to get news alerts sent to your phone or email.  I have news alerts sent to my phone about mortgage prices, home-loans, home-lending, and foreclosure because we talk a lot about this at work.  It’s been fun to be the first one at the office to know the latest.

www.NewsChime.com is a free service.  Enjoy.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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