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How to Be a Good IT Customer August 7, 2008

Posted by newyorkscot in Agile, Articles, Client Engagement Mgt, Management.
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Joe Morrison and I have another article published in eBizQ that discusses on how clients and customers can help developers do a better job in delivering better functionality in a quicker timeframe. See also our previous article published in Computer Weekly.

Quick Burndown Chart Update March 7, 2008

Posted by newyorkscot in Agile, Client Engagement Mgt, Management.
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In a previous posting, I mentioned that we had been using Google spreadsheets to track iteration backlogs and to create burndown charts for our agile projects. At the same time, we had been using our wiki for capturing all project-related risks, issues, dependencies, decisions, designs and documentation. Well, the good folks at Google now allow chart publishing (to a URL) such that we can now keep our burndowns “live” in the project wiki for clients to see. All I need to do now is find the right confluence plug-in to allow me to keep a live product backlog in the wiki (Google also allows spreadsheets and cell/named regions  to be published to URLs in various formats).

95 Theses .. and social networking July 28, 2006

Posted by newyorkscot in Agile, Management, Marketing.
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I was reading ConfusedOfCulcutta the other day who had blogged about Cluetrain and this geek version of the 95 Theses. The Cluetrain Manifesto has some interesting ideas, witty observations and a very healthy amount of rant against the establishment (one of the authors created RageBoy). But it is not for everyone, example here.

Whatever your take, there were some interesting anecdotes and points in Cluetrain that have some relevance from a social networking and collaboration perspective in financial services, and specifically technology in FS. The truth is that our industry is really not that big in terms of the network of people within it, and therefore the relationships we have and cultivate are critical to building a successful business. Close relationships are built on trust and a record of delivery. Once you have them, you have to protect and nurture them. If you lose them, game over. 

One of the main themes in Cluetrain is that of the markets being conversations. I do agree with this, however I think that conversations and the human/social aspects are the fuel that drives the markets and instills a sense of belonging and community — but from a business perspective you also need to have a product or service that has value, is differentiated and can be delivered well.

Another thing they talk about is the use of the human voice over mass-marketing and corporate messaging. This, I totally agree with. None of the people we work for, nor those we would like to work for, want to hear the sales-pitch and marketing fluff. They want to hear what you do, how you do it, as well as your view and opinion. They want to understand and relate to you as a person, and as a proxy for the other people in your organization. They are humans too and will make judgements, have emotions, opinions and sensitivities. Ramming some corporate marketing-speak down their throats is not what they are looking for –  especially when the conversation is technical. A more honest, open and candid approach has always worked better for me when talking to clients, partners, journalists, analysts and other market players. Respect and trust are earned, not bought. In the (partial) defense of marketing though (which gets a good old kicking by Cluetrain), I do believe that it can add value in places such as helping to formulate valuable strategic partnerships (yes, via conversations!) across the market to create interesting service oferings, or providing a support function to both the sales and engineering organizations. Marketing can also help to foster internal communications as well as exposing the company’s real people to the outside world (via blogs, for example).

There is a lot of discussion about an employee-led organization versus the command and control modus operandi. This is where I think some balance is needed. First and foremost, I believe that maximizing transparency to everyone in the organization is important to fostering an open and respectful environment in the workplace. This has to be opened up across all functions (engineering, projects, marketing, sales, recruiting, etc) so people can really get to see what everyone is doing, how they are doing it, and question why they are doing it at all!  Today’s social software is a key aspect that extends much of what is said in Cluetrain (specific elements of which, such as wikis and blogs etc, were missed in Cluetrain as it was written in the late ’90s). This social networking will help to foster open communication, feedback and innovation within the company and even (but not always!) with clients. It is nice to see some companies such as Dresdner adopting social networking as a corporate policy (they use Socialtext for their wiki).

[Sidenote: Open source communities are a great example of where borderless collaboration rely on natural human dynamics to innovate and develop technologies that we can all benefit from. It is nice to see (finally) that some financial services institutions are relatively wholesale in acknlowledging that these tools & frameworks (Spring and Hibernate being obvious examples) can and should be leveraged, but maybe that is because a) the maturity of the technology has progressed and its adoption has "crossed the chasm"  and/or b) the cost-structure outweighs their natural risk adversity !!!]

Getting back to employee-driven organizations, where people want to get involved in many aspects of the company they should be encouraged (within reason). Where people do not want to broaden their role or responsibilities, that’s cool with me as well. That said, I think there are some things that do require a certain amount of “control” albeit with the appropriate amount of feedback and insight from the ranks. Things like finance, legal, HR and certain aspects of sales do require a certain amount of sensitivity and confidentiality. For me, the most important thing is to leverage people for what they are good at and to support what they would like to do. Imposing articifial barriers, filters and restraints is counterproductive to both innovation, as well as delivery of the company’s services. We want leadership over management !!

From a project delivery perspective, I have always subscribed to some of the same human/social aspects of agile development. Self-organizing teams that have been given the reigns to get the delivery done, but supported by a “facilitaor / impediment remover”, aka the Scrum Master in Scrum, demonstrate how well the theory can play out in practice — when executed properly. Over several iterations, the language the team speaks, the dynamics, the comradery and their productivity simply improve in orders of magnitude. Some of this is due to improving their understanding of the business or technical domain and the use of certain solid engineering practices (continuous build & integration, refactoring, code reviews, etc). But I think most of it is down to the social and interpersonal dynamics that come from the close collaboration with end-users, regular feedback, daily stand-ups, and team retrospectives. As I also previously mentioned, wikis are brilliant in supporting iterative development.

At the end of the day, if you provide a collaborative, challenging and fun workplace for your people, they will help you communicate with and deliver for your clients and their people. I am not suggesting that it easily results in the ultimate, most heavenly blissful corporate paradise that some would have us subscribe to, but it would certainly make our life (at work) that much more rewarding and certainly a lot more fun….

Short Term Profits, A Business Does Not Make. May 15, 2006

Posted by newyorkscot in Management.
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One of the things that I am looking for in my next company is a strong and well-founded philosophy in the treatment of clients and employees.

I have always said that you need to look after your current clients first (ahead of future clients). There is no point in burning any bridges with a client just to make a fast buck somewhere else. The long term profitability will suffer.

The way in which the company treats its employees is equally as important. In a professional services firm, your people is all you have. They are the assets of the firm. Therefore, there needs to be the appropriate level of care and investment in the people that includes personal and professional development activities (tech/business training, soft skills training, collaborative environment, etc.) It also must include a package that is fair in monetary terms and provides some sense of comfort and satisfaction. Additionally, you need to invest in the softer side (social and cultural) of the business.

At the end of the day, client and employees must come before short term profits. If you don't have the former you don't have a business. The approach should always be to look at the mid-long term and invest in your relationships with your clients and employees. You will make more money in the long term…..

Trust May 15, 2006

Posted by newyorkscot in Management.
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Many of us have tried to create a better workplace for everyone and to optimize the organization for success.

Having the appropriate functional sets of role and responsibilities and providing people with autonomy and accountability, are very important to people and their general happiness in their jobs. However, if you don't trust your people and feel you need to either micro-manage or devalue their contribution, you should not be runnng a company.

Management needs to provide strategic direction and benchmarks for measuring success. After that, it should be up to your trusted employees to execute the plan making them both accountable and responsible. Additionally, don't just set the demands and check in with them 3 minutes before delivery date: there should be more transparency and visibility into progress based on an acceptable level of bi-directional conversation.

One thing that Scrum does is define the roles of the Product Owner, Scrum Master and Scrum Team whereby the Product owner gets to say *what* should be done, and the team gets to decide *how* it should be done. Th Scrum Master ensures that the team follows the process and helps to take down barrier, impediments and to solve issues as they arise. It would be nice to see companies adopt this approach from a business management perspective.

Culture and Collaboration May 15, 2006

Posted by newyorkscot in Management.
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Creating and fostering a culture that is truly energetic, interesting, collaborative and social is no easy task. Doing that within a consulting firm where 80% of the employees are on client site is even tougher. As Matt referenced in his blog, a culture cannot be manufactured… 

One of things I have been told by many of the employees at my previous employer (remember these are really solid engineers) is that they want to:

  • Have an interesting variety of technical work, where they can learn new techniques and technologies
  • Learn more about the Financial Services domain
  • Work with like-minded people with whom they can collaborate on projects, learn about what others are doing & learning
  • Have continuous exposure to the ongoing success of the company and to understand where they fit in
  • Have access to personal and professional development activities
  • Have fun !!

I am not saying you can just set this up, flip a switch and off we go. But it is very clear that there needs to be the willingness from the top-down to support and drive many of these facets from a financial, principal and energy perspective.

The company owners/management need to provide a framework to facilitate these things, drive and embrace employee ideas and provide a lot of energy and focus in showing their committment to following these ideas through. Techies know techies the best, so why not ask them what they want to do and incent them to build and keep the momentum.

Some obvious ideas include:

  • Company wiki to provide cross-functional transparency within the firm. This includes who is doing what on projects, who are the clients, what are the technical challenges, what's the status of marketing, sales, corporate initiaitves, social events, training programs, etc. Everyone must have access to most of it.
  • Regular (meaning EVERY WEEK) open (brown-bag, etc) meetings or forums for people to talk about what they are doing. Mix it up a bit: sales one week, an client project another, etc.
  • Social events, both formally organized by company as well as informally with groups of employees. Use the email / wiki to collaborate.

and above all, get rid of the politics, micro-management and closed doors !

Whatever the approach or execution, the management of the company needs to embrace and foster this as one of THE most important things it does with its money. A consulting firm is its people. No happy people, no long term prospects for company.

Corporate Taxonomy June 30, 2005

Posted by newyorkscot in Management.
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Not everyone sees or thinks of things in the same way, and this has become alarmingly obvious when a group of colleagues and others discuss the Agile umbrella of IT methodologies. This is a fundamental risk we need to deal with in order to demonstrate our corporate culture, professional excellence, consistent project approach, and platform for marketing to clients.

In this case, Agile Development, not only are we talking about a set of methodologies under an overarching set of principles, each method has its respective theoretical pros and cons as well as what the professional and individual experiences of our staff have been, with any one or more approaches. No doubt there will be divergent opinions, but that is why we need a core position that we can then at least tweak on a project basis. In our business, experience is everything.

One avenue to aid this problem, might be to have a corporate taxonomy for our company that we all agree on. This would include the definition of terms, how techniques/process relate to one another (or not), and any crossovers. The natural extension would then to be to draw out the "best practices" or some working model that we believe would form the core approach for our company, given the type of projects we typcially undertake in Capital Markets.

Based on other feedback, it sounds like we need a hybrid model that also factors in real client needs as well as the best blended approach that might have a chance of *actually* working on client sites. Either way, we need to have a common language and "corporate view"that we can all adhere to before, during and after client projects. Perhaps a corporate Wiki is what we need.

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