Archive for the ‘Quality’ Category

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Two posts on Agile and CMMI

September 24, 2014

Two different posts recently on the combination of Agile and CMMI:

1. Can you use CMMI and Agile together efficiently? See http://qpit.net/blog/agile-and-process.html for my take on how they complete each other (with evidence of success)
Agile-CMMI

2. Can you use Agile principles for Process improvement? See http://www.slideshare.net/PeterLeeson/agile-for-process-improvement for the slides on a recent presentation on this topic.

Enjoy.

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Pragmatic improvements

June 25, 2014

I have just added two entries in my blog at http://www.qpit.net/blog.html on pragmatic improvement of quality and performance. These include a recording of an interview by David Giard of Microsoft and the (longer) recording of the presentation I gave at this technical conference.
For more information on the yearly technical conference held in Cluj (Romania), please see http://itcamp.ro
For more information on how to implement a practical approach to improving quality and performance in your organization, please contact me through http://www.qpit.net.

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Performance Management 101

March 28, 2014

I have recently started a series of short articles on the generic topic of “Getting Started 101” which talks about the basic principles which need to be in place when starting a programme to improve your organizational productivity, performance or quality. These are posted on my blog at www.qpit.net.

Two articles have been published so far. The first article is about writing a policy that will encourage change and the right attitude and not just publishing requirements to follow standard practices. It can be found at http://qpit.net/blog/getting-started-101-the-policy.html. The second article discusses selecting an effective approach to your project management, and is comparing the approaches recommended by the theories of lean management, agile software development and CMMI-style process based activities; this article is found at http://qpit.net/blog/getting-started-101-process-agile-or-lean.html

Another article should be coming soon on the topic of measuring quality and performance.

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There is no stupid question

January 27, 2014

Questions are frequently more interesting than the answers. The question is eternal, the answer is temporal. The question demonstrates an interest, a thirst for knowledge, for enlightenment; many answers only demonstrate a short-term, incomplete aspect of perceived certainty. The question is always right, the answer is often wrong.

There are stupid aspects of questions. Largely, these include when the questioner already has an answer in mind and is seeking comfort but will not accept an answer which reflects the truth. The most common stupidity is demonstrated by people who do not ask a question when they do not understand, out of fear of appearing stupid.

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Intelligent Evolution

January 14, 2014

Facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in enterprise software development

This entry is an abstract of an article published in InfoQ – You can read the full version of this article through this link

Overview

I have been working for nearly twenty years in changing organizations. Over this time, I have come to the conclusion that some 80% of all improvement and change programmes fail. Failure means that they did not achieve the expected results, the investment in the change programme was greater than the value achieved, “improvements” were seen as mostly bureaucratic, or changes were abandoned soon after the implementation. In this short paper, I would like to point out some recommendations as to how things can be done more efficiently.

Foundations

An organization, a company, a corporation, a society needs to be considered as a living creature. An organism whose prime objective has become the need to survive and grow, ensure the perennity of its genes. Like other living species, the corporation rapidly starts to place its own needs above anything else. As such, we see them eating smaller companies, killing off competition and deviating from their original purpose in the pursuit of gain.

I have often compared “institutionalized” practices to practices which have been written into the DNA of the company. The CMMI defines “institutionalization” as the “ingrained way of doing business that an organization follows routinely as part of its corporate culture”. Basically, this means that this is something so obvious, people just do it, without questioning. Your DNA is repeated in every cell of your body and defines a lot about you. You, as a person, are a cell in the organism which employs you. Just as you discard and grow cells continuously without changing who you are, the company needs to be able to change individual members of staff without losing its corporate culture.

Most organizations who fail their change or improvement programme do so because they ignore the fact that this is a cultural change and not just a technical activity. Management does not see themselves involved, just giving orders for others to change. Their objectives may be mistaken (trying to satisfy a standard or model) or based on a misunderstanding of cause and effect (for instance by believing that if they do everything CMMI says, than they will manage their performance rather than recognizing that it is organizations who manage their organizational performance who satisfy the expectations of CMMI maturity level 5).

The focus of the organization needs to be on quality, nothing else matters. Every product and service can be found cheaper somewhere else, however the quality you deliver to your customers is particular and specific. Quality is now compared to global competition, meaning that you need to provide world-class quality if you are going to establish a relationship of trust with your customers and prospects. This means that in all things, you need to find a way to exceed your customers’ expectations.

Revolutions Fail

Someone at management level has had an idea, they have been to a conference, read a book, met a consultant and suddenly, they believe they have found the response to all their needs. They are going to implement CMMI, TickITplus, ITIL, Agile, Six-Sigma, ISO15504 and all their problems will be solved, all the projects will be delivered on time and in budget, customer satisfaction will be as high as it can go and all will be well.

The first step is to accept that whatever they have done until then is wrong, so they hire a consultant to tell them how to work; the consultant creates a lot of paperwork, implements processes and tools, explains to them that this worked in a different organization, with different needs and culture, so therefore it should work for you. Rapidly, the employees with experience are demotivated, they leave the company; the new practices fail, are bureaucratic or just inefficient and are abandoned. A “QA” group is created as the process police, to enforce compliance with the new standards and practices, quality goes down, staff are taking longer and producing lower quality. Management publishes that the standard or model they chose is useless.

The French revolution was based on reasonable principles, but led to years of pointless terror, as thousands of innocent people were murdered based on any accusations. This is the case of most revolutions: the following years are just as oppressive as the overthrown dictator.

There is another solution.

Intelligent Evolution

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of the word evolution are all based around the concept of movement, development, change from simple to complicated through a succession of stages; they even go as far as saying that evolution is a process. The same dictionary defines “intelligence” as based on reason, understanding, knowledge and communication.

And this is how we are need to look at achieving results when trying to change an organization: we need to take our time, act step by step, with a strong emphasis on understanding and communication.

If you want to change the way people do things, you are naturally going to have to understand why people do the things they do. The human being is a complex creature, some would say half animal, half god: we have instincts and fears, a desire to control everything while submitting to a partner or a manager. As the only animal which is (apparently) conscious of its own existence and uniqueness (our ego or id), we are profoundly social animals. We want to be unique and different, yet we conform to social norms.

When trying to change the way people work, we need to consider how to get them to change the way they think rather than just telling them to do things in a particular way. This means, we need to be able to reach their complete mental process: reasonable and emotional, intellectual and active – and we need to understand the intersections and interactions of these elements.

Reason + Thought = Acceptance

The combination of rationality and intellect is probably the area we are most willing to advertise and believe to be our own dominant trait. It focuses on a logical interpretation of the known facts. This is the part of us that understands and accepts the need for change. The demonstration of the value of a change, the statistics based on similar organizations and the evident return on investment should be enough to demonstrate the need to change, just as the fact that I am breathless after coming upstairs and the view of my stomach in the mirror makes me accept that I need to exercise more.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Reason + Action = Ability

This combination covers the ability to do what is needed. It includes knowledge, skills, understanding and access to the necessary equipment and practices. We can show you what you should be doing, explain how to perform it. We can educate and train you to achieve the results, provide everything you need to be successful. I have a gym near my home, I have a bicycle and I have the time to exercise.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Emotion + Thought = Aspiration

Viktor Frankl explains, in his theories about logotherapy, how people are willing to put up with amazing levels of suffering, if only they understand the purpose or the objectives. For effective change to happen, there is a need for the people involved to have a shared vision of what the end will look like, what the image of completion for which we are aiming is. This must be inspiring and encouraging, and it must be shared by the people involved: when asking about the vision, we should hear that “our vision is…” rather than “management’s vision” or “they”. This is something we all believe and want to achieve. Personally, I would like to be able to run a marathon.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Emotion + Action = Attitude

The reason so many change efforts fail is because the last quadrant is not being considered: people’s attitude. This is deeply ingrained and is what provokes your reaction more than anything else. This is also the cultural aspect of the organization, but also of the teams and the individuals. If we want to change anything, we need to change the attitude. I was recently in an organization which advertises its sustainability and quality but focuses internally only on delivering projects on time. The amount of bureaucracy they had put in place to manage the projects, meant that the project managers did not really have the necessary time to do the work. When I suggested a few simple changes, measurements which could be put in place in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency, the reaction from management was largely a statement that “they will never accept that” and “it is too difficult”. This is the culture, the attitude which leads to failure. Interestingly, the engineering staff wanted to do the things which management decided they would not accept, they were stopped by the negative attitude.

Moving On

Changing the attitude or the culture is something very difficult and delicate. It requires careful management and continuous encouragement. Some techniques need to be implemented at different levels in order to ensure sustainable improvement.

Shared Vision

Management needs to establish and communicate a vision of what the organization is going to be in the future. That vision needs to be communicated in such a way that the team members buy-in and commit to the vision; they need to consider it as “our shared vision”, rather than management’s dream. That vision must be sufficiently challenging to motivate those who want to make a difference.

Established Expectations

Expectations, in business and result terms need to be clearly communicated across the organization. People need to know and understand what they are being asked to deliver and why this is critical to the realization of the shared vision. The expectation is not that more defects are found in reviews and tests, but that less defects are missed; the expectation is not documentation, it is traceable communication; the expectation is not to perform tasks, it is to deliver results.

Education

Most organizations I visit focus on training people to use tools, to perform tasks, however there is a lack of education – helping people to understand the purpose of the activities they are being asked to perform and guiding them in thinking for themselves, judging and improving continuously at every level. Ideally, staff members should feel that they are being encouraged to challenge management’s solutions with better approaches to achieve the shared vision.

Constructive Analysis

Measurement is the most powerful tool at the disposal of any management team. However the measurements are not useful without appropriate analysis. The focus needs to be on understanding which measurements identify problems in the development or delivery system. The purpose is not to identify the person who is under-performing, but the roadblocks in the whole system: where are you wasting time and money? What is frustrating the people doing the work? Where are the earliest points at which errors can be identified and removed efficiently?

Risk Management

An often forgotten management technique, which consists in identifying how much effort, time and money should be consecrated to a problem which might never happen? Everyone within an organization occupies a unique position and can therefore see things that are not visible to anyone else. They are able to identify risks which cannot be identified by their management. People who identify risks and report them are demonstrating an interest in the success of the organization, not criticizing management.

Reward Mechanism

A reward mechanism should support the people who are trying to move the organization forward. There is an old maxim that the person who manages a project well is seen as “lucky to have an easy project which ran smoothly”, while the one who messes up and struggles to deliver anything gets rewarded for their efforts. Understanding who should be used as an example and rewarded is one of the more difficult management tasks. Rewards should not be financial, they rarely have any lasting impact. Most efficient people are happy to be rewarded instead by being given time to attend training, or an all-expenses paid trip to a professional conference – this also means that their reward will keep on giving.

Conclusion

Change is possible and needs to be encouraged. It is not done by throwing out babies and bath-water, it is done by building on the skills and experience which already exist in the organization. They need to be based on progressive transformation and clear communication at every level.

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Employability in the modern world

November 7, 2013

I was asked by SpinLondon to give a talk on 7 Nov 2013 at Coventry University on the theme “Employability, Entreneurship and Engagement”. I subtitled my talk “warning and encouragement to young people”. This is the script of that talk:

Introduction

In the film “Wall Street”, Michael Douglas starts a talk to students with the words “you are f..ked”.

I would like to use the same term now when speaking of your employability.

My parents tried to make things better for you:  they fought a world war and then build a world in which people had employment, security, retirement funds, healthcare. A world in which investments and hard work brought back a return on investment which made the sacrifice worthwhile. Today, everything has changed. Perhaps too much power in the hands of a few very wealthy people has destroyed the ideals for which my parents worked, or perhaps that was their ideal? My generation has presided over the destruction of what our civilization was supposed to be, your generation will pay the consequences.

I am of the age which was offered free education, and my parents had good pensions; I do not have a pension worth talking about, and my children’s education was expensive. You are stuck with both debt and parents. You will not have a pension and the universal healthcare system is broke.

I would like to apologise for your shattered dreams on behalf of those who went before you.

The Corporation

During the twentieth century, a new form of life evolved: the Corporation. This also was not meant to be. It is a selfish beast which has outgrown its creators and taken on a life of its own. How did this happen?

Many centuries ago, people decided that they could offer services to their companions, their neighbours, which would make life easier for all of them: you bake bread for me, I will hunt and provide meat for you, while another will sow and reap vegetables and fruit. This allows the community to survive and benefits everyone. As time went by, a new service developed: people needed something to identify how much work each one had provided to the community. Some probably felt that they were doing more than their share, while others appeared to be benefiting with little effort. This is, unfortunately, a key characteristic of humans (which probably includes most of you): we all wish to get advantages without too much worry or effort; we really would like to sleep and play more, and work less. The solution, apparently, was to create money and the corresponding, necessary financial services.

Sometime during the nineteenth century, the Corporation evolved out of these small shops and service providers. They became large, multinational organizations no longer aiming at providing added value to their neighbours. They grew into living creatures which, like the rest of us, exist solely for their own growth and survival. The concept of services, even financial services, was replaced by that of “business”. Corporations, like all living beings were no longer interested in primarily providing support and services to those in need, but sought instead to make as much money as possible for their own growth, placing the survival of their species above everything else.

These new beings, seeking to grow and assure the survival of their genes, ate other companies, merged and killed weaker organizations whenever they felt it would beneficial to their own interests. They are not interested in helping you or those who need support, they are only interested in identifying how they can use you.

They are not interesting in feeding you, only in feeding off you.

Intelligence vs. Education

Yes, this probably existed in all times, but it was limited. Greedy landlords mistreated their peasants, but they were naturally limited as to what they could do. Everything changed when large ships and trains, cars and planes could cross the world in very little time, once the telephone and telegraph, the fax machine and finally the Internet allowed us to communicate around the world instantaneously, everything changed. We moved from a labour based civilization to a communication based civilization. Now, we are moving from a knowledge based culture to an intelligence based culture – but the education system cannot keep up, they are still teaching you facts and techniques rather than cultivating your intelligence.

This contemporary world does not need you to know things, it needs you to understand things. The information is there, at your fingertips, but do you know how to process it, to understand it, to censor it, to use it?

Our education system appears to be going in the opposite direction. Education has been replaced by training people to pass tests. They continue to teach you facts which are readily available, but do not teach you how to think. It is more important today that your school, your college, your university gets a good score in the league tables than that the students learn how to use the infinite amount of data which is at their disposal. Art, that great liberator of the mind is ignored; history, the guide to the future, is forgotten.

You are particularly ill equipped to enter this brave new world. This world in which money is the new opiate of the masses, the new religion. And the Corporation is God, dispensing its blessings to those who please it, in the form of jobs, advertising budgets and research grants.

Cheap Copies

These new corporate monsters have evolved outside the control of their creators; created to provide something new, now they are looking for more of something old: they want you to do what they have sold previously, they want you to repeat the successes of past generations; but, to do it cheaper and faster. You are young and dynamic, you have not yet been taught what is impossible, so you are still able to be creative and original, but the Corporation will break you to make you to fit in the mould. Simon Cowell on X factor takes bright young singers and makes them sing someone else’s success from past years. He is not interested in originality or creativity, he is interested in proven money makers. Can I sell Céline Dion at the cost of Joe Nobody? Guest stars get a standing ovation, not for their talent or their performance, but for their bank account.

As the Corporation looks at you, they see a cheap provider of what someone else has done successfully. If you are too expensive, we can find warm bodies elsewhere, we can import labour from countries less demanding.

I regularly hear people today complaining that immigrants are taking our jobs and British people are unemployed; however, that is not really true. The British do not want the jobs that the immigrants are doing, and certainly not for those wages. Immigration is filling a gap in our marketplace. Young people in this country are being told that they need to go to university. But then, they are not finding work because they are over-skilled and expensive. And unemployed.

Employability

So, how do we break the cycle and make you employable?

If you want to be employable, the first thing you need to do is to get employed. Don’t worry about how much you think you should earn, go and get a job.

Do not expect to earn what you think you deserve: you are just beginners in your careers. Your first priority has to be to stop being beginners and get some real life experience, something that demonstrates that the theories you have been taught work – or don’t work – in the real world of customer demands, budget cuts, daily pressures and management changing priorities.

You should not earn what you think you deserve. Firstly, you do not deserve what you think: thousands of people out there know as much as you do, but have experience putting it into practice as well. The theories you learned in university count for very little, out there, in the real world, the rapidly changing world. Even the cutting edge theories will be outdated before next year.

The second reason you should not earn what you think you deserve is historical one, or, more precisely, a geo-political one.

In the last century, we went through an astonishing numbers of wars. Perhaps there were not more than what we should statistically expect as an historical average, but, with the telephone, telegraph and other mass media of communication outlets, these wars were better advertised and shared. As a consequence, rather than having a group of English men shooting arrows at a group of French men in an obscure village which would then be reported and go down in history with a spelling mistake[1], we had global conflicts in which nations from all continents participated.

After the last major European war, the great economic forces of Europe decided it would be a good idea to unite and create a free market in which economic partnership would be more interesting than geographical invasion. This would also give the union some more strength when faced with the massive power of the United Soviet Socialist Republics to our right and the United States of America to our left. So they created the United Europe.

This worked well and more countries decided they wanted to share in the economic benefits of a free market. At this point, political ambitions and megalomania took over again, just as it had under the previous warring systems. Countries which were not on an economic par with the rest joined the organization, starting with the United Kingdom, a nation which was all but bankrupt when it joined and benefited immensely from the open market with the 7 wealthier countries which formed the union. This expansion continued with other poor nations, such as Ireland, Spain, Greece, Poland, Romania, Ukraine… Every new poor nation which joined weakened the original union and created a new free market problem.

The big advantage of an ideal free market is that production self-regulates to match demand, prices balance each other out to reach a perfect equilibrium as people will only purchase goods based on the concept that they value the product or service more than the money it costs.

When the free market is about people and employment, the Corporation needs to decide how much it is willing to spend on wages, based on availability and demand. If an English student, with no experience is expecting to earn three times as much as a Romanian, the English one will not get the job.  If we then find out that the Romanian has some practical experience, has held down a job, met with customers, withstood work pressures and deadlines, then, sorry, the English student has no chance whatsoever. Now, let’s add in the fact that the Romanian has seen poverty and is willing to work long and hard to get out of it, that she has benefited from an access to education and university which is as good as the British ones, and she has learned, through years of hardship, to do as she is told, and what do you get?

Go Forth!

This is the great problem of the free market.

But, this is the great advantage of the free market: you have options open to you that my parents could not imagine in their wildest dreams. You can go work in Eastern Europe, in Russia, in North America, in Africa, anywhere in the world, if only you are willing to use the opportunities available to you.

When I graduated, I started my own business while looking for a job. I had no illusions that I could make it on my own, but I did not want to sit around collecting benefits I had not earned. After a while, I got a job – actually, I got two – so, I stayed for exactly one month at my first employer, then moved on to my second, I built up experience and met people. It is so incredibly important to meet people. I was head-hunted at the age of 28, I worked in Brussels, when the opportunity arose, I moved to Grenoble, in the French Alps, then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was head-hunted again and moved back to France, then to England. The company I was working for got bought and closed by a Corporation. I went to work for a previous competitor, and finally, once again, I created my own company. This time, I had a reputation, my company’s success is based entirely on word of mouth reputation and personal recommendations; it led me to work in every continent except South America, where I hope to be going next year. I have missed some of my children’s birthdays, I have had to work on week-ends and holidays, but I have always carefully chosen what sacrifices I was willing to make, and what was asking too much. Every time I had the opportunity to move to another country, my wife had had the right of veto. Only now, has she said she no longer wants to move and so I have agreed that this is the land were we will end up.

Today, you face the choice of what to do with your future. You may sit at home and wait for a job to come your way. You may decide that you could not possibly move away from you neighbourhood, your village, your town, your city, your county, your country, but remember: you have no experience and every year your diploma’s value will shrink, your skills will be forgotten, your knowledge get more out dated. How long are you going to wait?

If you want to be employable, get a job. Accept that you are not going to find the job you want, or earn the salary you believe you deserve; because, if you don’t get a job, you will bypass your future completely.

I have worked in Romania, there is a very exciting and dynamic IT industry flourishing there – not for their own market, but for Western Europe. They speak good English, they work hard, they are creative and dynamic.

They are after your job.

The answer is not to reinstate a protectionist job market, close down the frontiers, and refuse immigrants: it is too late for that. The answer is to show the world that you are dynamic, enthusiastic and willing to go to the work, wherever it is. I have met Dutch people and Americans working for Romanian companies and they earn a very good living, proportionally. Their salary is not what it might have been in their own countries, but, compared to the local cost of living, it is very generous.

Be brave, go out and conquer! Meet as many people, as many employers as you can. Speak to them, but more importantly, listen to them. We all love a good listener, we are ingratiated to those who let us talk about our own interests; and you might learn something. Go out and take a risk, grab an opportunity. Trust me when I say that it is significantly easier to live with a mistake than it is with a regret.

If I was hiring, which I am not, I would be looking for dynamism, eagerness, humility and a willingness to learn. I would not hire someone who has an oversized sense of entitlement, but would offer the job to someone who is willing to fit into my business, share the team spirit, the vision, someone who wants to work and is willing to work at it, someone who admits to not having the answers, or even the right questions, but is willing to learn, to think, to create.

Personally, I would also be looking for someone with the aptitude for leadership, willing to try, able to motivate, accepting to move on from their successes and recognize their mistakes so that we all learn from them.

But I am not a Corporation.

Any questions?


[1] The battle of Agincourt did not happen anywhere near the town of Agincourt in Eastern France, but near the village of Azincourt in Northern France.

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Posting error

October 10, 2013

I have recently had a number of people commenting about a recent post which gave a 404 page not found error. My apologies for that, an old post was reposted by mistake, and removed as it already existed. For those who are still interested in the post “So Why Are You Doing This?” about how success or failure often depends in the motivation which made you start on your improvement or change process, the original blog entry can be found here. It refers to two Prezi presentations: one is for presentation purposes, and you have to know what it is about if you show it to someone (it is here), the other one includes words of explanation if you are reading this for the first time and can be found here.

Sorry for the confusion, hope that this corrects things.

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