Archive for February, 2013

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Time is Money…

February 28, 2013

“Time is Money” Benjamin Franklin made the assertion in 1748 (it was used in various manners before this, since antiquity, but this is the generally recognized origin of the phrase as quoted); the first result of this was the encouragement to start paying workers by the hour instead of paying them for the work they were accomplishing, which is probably a critical change for our “post industrial revolution world”.

Time is Money

Over the past few years, something has happened in the world. Sometime during the second half of the twentieth century, we ran out of time. Notwithstanding an amazing list of “time-saving” devices, it seems that people have less and less time available. They don’t have time to cook a meal, they don’t have time to walk to work, they don’t have time to day-dream, they don’t have time to go to the theatre .. and then, as a natural result, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, we ran out money as well. If time is money, it stands to reason that no-time is no-money.

This is true in our personal life, but it is also true in the business world. I see many companies and one of the most common complaints I hear is that “we don’t have the resources we need…”; my response is always the same: you have the resources you need, the problem is you have too much work. When the day is used up, there are no spare minutes.

Does this mean that companies need to learn to refuse work? Do we need to send our customers to our competitors because we are full? Possibly, but more likely, you need to learn to focus on what really matters. The twentieth century French author Boris Vian said (I believe it was in “L’écume des jours“) that people spent too much time living instead of working. What he meant was probably the opposite of you are thinking: he explains that you should take the time to think how to do your work more efficiently, develop the tools that will help you, but you are in such a rush to get things done, that you forget to take time to improve your work habits. You have probably heard the story about the lumberjack who had so many trees to cut, he did not have time to sharpen his saw.

Imagine an organization in which the roles and responsibilities are well defined. The people who were hired because they are good at their job are focused on doing the job at which they are good, rather than sitting in meetings, trying to repair their computer, being called off their work to help the sales team fill out a bid. Imagine an organization in which you could focus on doing your job, doing your work from beginning to end, without significant or frequent interruptions…

It has often been demonstrated that if people can do three jobs, one after the other, all three will be finished earlier then if they are required to do all three at the same time because they are all high-priority. Yet, managers continue to get their engineers, their technical staff and their project managers to share their time on a continuous basis between multiple completely different projects and activities.

Most companies now appear to live under the idea that faster is better, promises are made to customers without a clear understanding of the time really required to do the work, employees are pressured into producing faster. Management needs to learn to allow staff to concentrate on their work, take the time to do the work correctly, with adequate time to check what they are doing and think about how best to do the work for which they were hired. By being able to do the work correctly, and take the time necessary to do the work efficiently, they will be able to produce higher quality work, thus reducing the time and cost required for quality verification and validation activities, correction and maintenance.

Invest time, because time is money, and there is no return on investment without an investment.

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Can we change?

February 22, 2013

Over the past few years, process improvement in general and CMMI® in particular have been discredited on a regular basis; in the past year, we have had a big change, which could mark a renewal, or not. So will this year, bearing the favourite number of all superstitious people (13) be lucky or unlucky for our dear old model?

First, I believe that the move from the SEI is a very positive move. Not only does it remove the model from US government intervention (they still have oversight of the SEI, even though they no longer fund the CMMI), but, more important, it moves us away from the “S” of the Software Engineering Institute. CMMI is still largely seen as a software industry product, even though it has proven its value in many different engineering and service based organizations. But that is not the main issue with the model.

We have been plagued for a long time with consultants, lead appraisers and users who have mistaken the concepts of “maturity” with that of “maturity level”. I have heard senior managers who have told me with a straight face that if they just do everything the model says, they will produce high-quality products – as if the CMMI was a recipe rather than a model.

Maturity is basic understanding of your own limitations and abilities. A maturity level is only one way of measuring that. Aiming for a maturity level rather than for true maturity is a little like a child looking forward to the day he turns ten, because he will be a big boy then: it is, in itself, a demonstration of a lack of maturity. Of course, there are always lead appraisers who are willing to avoid seeing the evidence, who will be satisfied that you are producing a lot of documentation, that you have copied over great chunks of the model and labeled them “policy” to allow themselves to be convinced that you have achieved something. They are happy with a “quality assurance” team which does not assure the quality of the process, but merely controls compliance to model terminology; a large collection of numbers will satisfy them that, if you are measuring, you are probably analysing as well (they even saw a graph as to how late the project was last month, surely that’s analysis, isn’t it?)

My wish for this year, which I would hope you could share with me, is that we start taking the model as a process improvement tool and no longer as a rubber stamp. I wish the people using the model, or not using it, would understand that we are actually trying to improve your business rather than satisfy some theory redacted in a distant university. As such, I would like to see:

  • Policies that reflect senior management’s expectations in terms of outcome and results rather than tasks;
  • Measurements that reflect the organizational objectives, including customer satisfaction, number of defects, time to market, over-time, personnel turnover, efficient use of resources, cost of quality, and so on;
  • Risk management which is based on a quantitative understanding of the value and cost of risks;
  • Planning which is based on an analysis of what is truly needed by the organization in order to deliver;
  • People taking responsibility for the quality of their work;
  • An effort to learn from mistakes (which requires acknowledging them) and successes – and near-misses – at every level of the organization (including sales!);
  • A sharing of knowledge throughout and across teams;
  • The acknowledgment that CMMI, ISO, ITIL, Prince2, Agile, Lean, TickITplus, and all the others, are only tools and not objectives.

If we could identify this, and communicate, whenever necessary, that fraud has been committed in the name of the process improvement, then, I believe we can truly start looking at being a useful industry rather than just a consulting industry which seeks to sell itself for as much money as possible.

Getting a Maturity Level or a certificate in any standard does not lead to customer satisfaction. If you cannot deliver, you lose your customers, you lose your reputation and you damage the reputation of the standard you are claiming to have used. If you provide unwarranted maturity levels, you are killing your own reputation and that of your industry.

I wish you the joy of looking back and seeing that you have made a difference for good in someone’s life.

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Denial and disavowal

February 9, 2013

Two reactions to the concept of global warming:

  • denial: it is not happening, just a conspiracy by hippies;
  • disavowal: it is happening, but not my problem, nothing I can do about it, if I did not take a long-haul flight, the plane would still go and create just as much CO2.
  • Do the same excuses apply to the need to change within your organization?

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    Communication

    February 8, 2013

    When performing appraisals, one of the most common responses I get is that there are no surprises in the results, people claim that they already knew everything that I have identified. After spending a week or two reading loads of documents, interviewing people at all levels, spending days and nights going through the evidence, comparing and contrasting… I haven’t said anything new. Luckily, I am glad with this, not disapointed as one might have expected: If management did not know this information, they would be bad management indeed for not knowing what is going on their organization; also, this is the information that was given to me by the staff, so they should know it as well.

    The difference between the results of the appraisal and what “everyone already knew” is that I have now formalized it, put it in writing and shone a light on the consequences and implications. I am not really interested in just identifying that activities are performed according to standards, I am interested in finding out what is really stopping the organization from being more efficient and so the results tend to focus on making sure that the management and participants understand the impact, risks and consequences of their weaknesses and what can be done in order to improve the efficiency of the organization.

    Also, I believe that it is my duty to tell management what their employees dare not say. It is very rare that this has caused problems, usually management appreciates finally hearing the reality of the situation.

    The act of communicating the result is critical because this is a time when all the participants, both management and staff are required to listen to something they might not want to hear – and that is the first step to resolving some of the issues.

    Frequently, I find that the issues reside largely in a lack of trust at some level. It might be that the staff do not trust management or what they are doing with the measurements and data they keep on collecting. Sometimes, management does not trust the staff and requires more and more controls, audits and measurements seeking to identify who is not being sufficiently productive. In most cases, I find both situations are present and are re-enforcing each other. The lack of trust from one side is perceived and encourages a breakdown in trust on the other side.

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