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December 21, 2014

Kanban Case Study : The saga of production release and regression testing

Kanban Board
Kanban has always helped me to align team towards one specific goal - MAKE CUSTOMER HAPPY! I was helping IS team of large Engineering Company to deploy organization wide Project Management and Quality Audit System. The DevOps team responsible for implementing Project Management tool received frequent inputs/ feedback from Quality Team spread across 3 locations. There was no formal process to track the input(s)/ feedback and it was tracked via eMail. This led to chaos and uneven resource utilization. There were frequent occasions where only part of the configuration/development was released to production leading to huge rework. This also caused frustration for the customer. A physical Kanban model was implemented which reduced the production deployment time by 66%. The average deployment errors were reduced to 2 from 7.

September 24, 2014

Why users run away from Enterprise Applications?

Large Organizations had heavily invested in Enterprise Applications during Y2K boom! These include IBM, Oracle, Microsoft & SAP. Now thats 15-20 years back. The backbone architecture of the Applications was state of the art in year 2000. But what now? Most of the ERP systems still rely on the same architecture and are surviving because of the domain knowledge and the specific need the application serve. But will it be able to attract next generation users? I have serious doubts on it.

In year 2000 the college graduate who was suppose to use the IBM or SAP or Oracle products had probably used basic computers and command console for performing many tasks. These users were very pleased when they got to use State of the Art ERP systems. But 15 years down the line, these applications remained the same with little improvement in usability. Of-course, the features were upgraded, some servers support was upgraded, but the end user usability remained the same. Today college graduates have benchmark of social network websites for usability and when these graduates are exposed to ERP systems, its not only scary but also nightmare for them to use it. Its like you get Ferrari to get to work but at work you get a 90's pick-up truck.

How to get away from these problems?
Unfortunately there is no simple answer for it. Because for most product companies the underlying instructions are "Don't touch the code unless it's broken." SAP is still struggling to get all the functionalities over the web. This is because SAP has embedded so much at client side that it becomes next to impossible to move to web technology. The investment of the same would be huge and the return will be marginal. Investing in such activity by large corporation would be equivalent to starting a new subsidiary and developing a new product which will again take several years before it can go for large scale implementation.
Companies like SalesForce have set benchmark for CRM systems and SAAS model in enterprise world. For SalesForce the world is little smoother because the initial benchmark is a WEB model unlike a desktop client of other ERP systems.

Is there anything that can be done?
Remember Y2K? There were hundreds of small companies who made fortunes by helping larger organizations to make the application Y2K compliant. I see a similar opportunity in 2015 and 2016. Porting legacy systems to modern standards which can be used by next generation users.

Img Credit: http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/11/4-quick-usability-wins-for-your-website.html

July 15, 2014

FAT Quality Process and Project Management

In most of the organizations Project Management process is governed by Quality Team. Inputs are taken from Operations Team. The consumers of the process are completely ignored.

For Project Management the end consumers are Delivery Managers, Account Managers and Project Managers. These are the individuals who will be using the system. Quality and IT team are just the facilitators for implementing the tool. Quality needs these tools so that they can shine off their processes and compliance without checking whether the process is doing any value add to the quality of the end product. Where does it lead to? An unsatisfied and frustrated team which delivers the projects.

I am not against the quality processes, I am against the implementation of theoretical processes without any practical verification. Example would be calculation of a metric which uses effort spent in re-work due to re-review of re-work. Sounds strange but that's true. Isn't re-work sufficient enough to check the quality? Project Managers get irritated with these kind of micro-checks by Quality Team.

Micro-managed quality checks are overhead for Project Management and reduces the motivation of the team. These are traditional quality checks developed with CMMi as base. CMMi has faded and lost it's charm in modern day Software Development. On the other hand if a Project Manager is asked, what is the required process, the response will be: "No process is required. Don't you trust us?" The quality process should be a mix of what is bare minimum required for Audit Compliance and a set of processes which will actually improve quality and motivation of the team. There are other means of improving quality. e.g. Incentive for the developer & team which delivers highest quality product or product with lowest number of bugs. Defect density, simple cost of quality or rework effort should be sufficient to identify such individuals and teams.

Many organizations have already realized the above mentioned aspects and are evaluating or using a completely new set of processes and metrics - Agile. However, the word Agile is highly abused word in today's Software Industry. Rather than true customer satisfaction, Agile is being used to distribute the responsibility and hence the blame in case of failure. Here the blame is partly off-loaded to customer too. Hence the overall project might seem successful when we say that it was not a problem of the team but customer was not good enough to coordinate with us or didn't participate in the review meetings. But the fact remains the same, its all part of blame game with the way Agile is going on.

Blame the team for poor quality, blame the team for delay, blame the Product Owner for poor inputs, blame the customer for not understanding what the customer needs. Real Agile indicates that one should take responsibility for his/her act. This is with the assumption that the the team is honest to take responsibility and improve and learn next time. As a matter of fact the same mistakes are repeated and it continues.

Agile means flexible and continuous adoption based on the circumstances and need. Agile means to follow a set of bendable or changeable rules which can help in sustaining and delivering quality product. Kanban is a very old but evolving Agile methodology which focuses on reducing the FAT surrounding the Project Management process and making it lean, which helps improving the motivation and efficiency of the team.

However quality of the product still remains in the scope of the individual or team. No quality check or process will improve the quality unless the individual or team is committed towards it.

Image Credit: http://dwillustration.blogspot.ca/2010/10/character-design-o-rama.html

June 14, 2014

Who should Product Manager report to?

This article is in response to an article on LinkedIn where the question posed was:
Who should Product Manager report to?
The history is interesting but it still didn't answer the question. The generic answer is IT DEPENDS! I would like to categorize it into two segments:

  1. Research Oriented Organizations
  2. Consumer Oriented Organizations

Image Source: Five Tips for Product Managers

1) Research Oriented Organizations
In such organizations either is fine. Domains like Pharma or Medicine or Space Research, it makes more sense to report to Dev as not everyone will be able to envision the product and Dev would be the one leading the revenues for the organization. The primary difference between consumer and research oriented organizations that consumer serving organizations will try to tap in existing market by making space for itself but research oriented organizations will replace the need of the consumers. Ofcourse marketing plays an important role in selling those products but certain products don't need any marketing.

2) Consumer Oriented Organizations
In such organizations Product Managers should be reporting to Marketing. Marketing team are the eyes and ears of the organization and this is the team who knows what consumers are expecting or would be expecting. Here one or two missed products could be the line between Flying colors or Bankruptcy.This is because the primary assets of Consumer Oriented Organization are consumers and you loose them permanently. While for research oriented organization the primary assets are the Patents and the Mind Power which is the Development.

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