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Change Management Engagement Management Software Development

So, You Want What?

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Communication with Vision Variance

The swing picture has been circulating for years and we all still laugh at this picture, because it is still so true. Everyone who works on projects can relate to it. Yet if we know this happens, why is it so difficult to make a change?

English: The Universal Language

The customer speaks English. I write in English. Developers read English. Where is the confusion? What is the problem? Well, still the widget is not doing what is needed. This is because it is easy to believe everything is clear, yet there is still misunderstanding. Take for example the following statements:

1. “We need to produce a Minimally Viable Product(MVP).”

  • The application functions?
  • Oh, you want user tracking and analytics too?
  • You need email marketing automated?

Minimal needs clarification. If something is required, state it as required. On some projects I have provided a raking from Required to Nice to have.

2. “We have doubled our impressions”

  • Twice as many people are thinking highly of us?
  • Twice as many people are visiting our site?
  • Twice as many people saw our ad?
  • Our advertising is working?

English terminology can be different. Depending on the audience, clarification of terms and what they mean, or do not mean, could be useful.

3. “Take it EZ. “

  • Do not worry about it?
  • Only put in 4 hours of work today?
  • Do not work past 9 PM?
  • Sit around and watch TV?

People have preconceived ideas about what this means.

4. “There is no hurry on that”

  • Whenever I get to it is fine?
  • You need it today, but not right now?
  • You need it in the next hour, but not the next minute?

Without clarity on this one you could really get you into some trouble.

5. “What are possible solutions?”

  • Option A
  • Option B
  • Option C

Boss, “I like Options B.”

Contractor, “That one is not in scope. We can price that option for you.”

Boss, “Which possible solutions are in scope?”

Contractor, “Option A”

Here the contractor could stand to clarify the options as to what will add cost to the project.

The above examples point out how easy it is to state something clearly as we can all read what was written, but there can still be miscommunication.

Spending Less is Better!
(Or Maybe Not?)

A 2019 BMW Z4 is selling for $72,000. However, on the other side of town you can get the “exact same car” (color, model, features, etc…) from a different dealer for $65,000. Spending less is better.

It is the same with software. Spending less for the same thing is better. If you are looking at a finished product, such as Turbo Tax for Business, and you can pick up a copy for $99 or the same product at another store for $89, spending less is better.

Imagine a scenario where Company X has put together a document describing their widget requirements and asked for quotes from three different software companies. The three different companies all supply their price to deliver the widget. They tell Company X what they will charge for the work. Should Company X award their contract to the low bidder? Is spending less better?

The Lowest Cost Was More!

Think about the swing picture which everyone laughs about. Which block of the picture was being described by the requirements? Which block of the picture was estimated by each of the software companies? There may be three costs provided, but what they plan on providing may not match the widget Company X has in mind.

You can sit in a room with employees of Company X, discuss what is needed, and still everyone walks away with a slightly different picture or understanding of what is needed and how best to proceed. We have the meeting to clarify details and reach consensus, but there will still be variation. What is the variation and how important is the variation?

“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Erik Jul

One meeting attendee may think the system is getting a blue widget. Another attendee may think the system is getting a round widget. It may be the case that being blue or round is not important to Company X, but the functionality of the widget is important.

Projects proceed with some balance between clarity and ambiguity. It is important to understand this and identify prior to the start what balance is needed. How complex is the widget? How much detail is needed regarding the widget?

  • Higher Complexity = Higher Cost
  • Higher Detail = Higher Cost

Specifications around the widget, what is being bought, is a balance between clarity and ambiguity. When a project is starting it is important to have an understanding that there is a level of clarity which is needed and a level of ambiguity which is tolerable. Change in a project is inevitable. However, change has a cost.

What if the software company with the lowest bid makes a blue colored round widget, but does not get the functionality correct? Because the needed functionality is not present, a change is required. Changes cost money. This cost is both the cost to make the change in functionality and the loss due to the widget not being available. It is quite possible that the cost of the change now makes the company with the lowest bid the highest cost.

There are other considerations as well such as how something is built, future maintenance, ease of adding functionality. The lowest cost at first glance, does not mean it is always the best choice

Ways to Add Clarity
(A.K.A. Best Practices, Recommendations, Things to Try, Solutions)

1. Visible to All

There is a cost to both clarity and ambiguity. Documentation which can clarify a widget takes time and effort which has a cost. A lack of documentation which adds ambiguity around a widget adds to the possibility that rework and change will be needed before the widget is completed. I recommend the Rapid JAD principle of Visible to All as a model for gathering data about a widget and adding clarity. This can include pictures, diagrams, and flows. Imagine if the customer had provided a picture of the swing they wanted.

2. Six Components of a Well Written Requirement

Often requirements which are developed are missing information which helps add clarity. In my blog The Magic 6 I list the six components which should be a part of every requirement.

3. Test First

Whenever possible, provide the test(s) for successful completion of the widget along with the requirement detailing the widget. Providing the test(s) adds clarity to what the widget must do. For example, the swing may have weight requirements. Specify that you will be testing it with 150 pounds of weight.

4. Dictionary of terms

Different companies use terminology differently. This can lead to confusion. If there are terms you know are used in a specific way in the company, define them. I was in a meeting and the presenter was using the term, “Impressions.” I was wondering if the audience knew the definition of an impression. If they did, perhaps they would not have been as impressed.

Summary

Projects can have a lot of additional costs. For high cost projects or projects which are business critical, I always recommend looking at the past experience of the leaders who will be running the project on a day to day basis. They will know what to look for to balance clarity with ambiguity and make sure clarity is pulled in where there is currently ambiguity. Experience will help get you the needed widget in a timely fashion. After all, if what you need is a tire swing, but it costs you like a La-Z-Boy recliner or takes as long as a coaster, someone may be looking for the noose.

 

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Change Management Engagement Management Software Development

Avoid Project Management Pain

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stingProject managers drive change. They sit at the helm of a chartered operation intended to deliver specified high-quality business benefits on time and within budget.

Project management is a noble and difficult endeavor—part science, part art—and effective practitioners must be skilled and experienced in a host of related disciplines too numerous to list here (but look here).

Various bodies of knowledge, certifications, and best practices arise and proliferate with increasing frequency intending to help increase the project manager’s likelihood of success.

Avoid Some Pain

Here’s the bad news: despite concerted and well-intentioned efforts, projects often fail to realize expected results. The perceived gap between delivery and expectation may prompt some project managers, sponsors, and would-be benefactors to consult the Schmidt Sting Pain Index for a scientific ranking of their pain.

Worse yet, much of that pain is avoidable. The key? Providing appropriate levels of organizational change management (OCM) to positively affect the people side of change.

Why? Because even the best IT project that meets quality, time, and budget objectives can still fail to deliver desired business results and return on investment by failing to address user adoption, utilization, and proficiency.

Prosci presents evidence gained through longitudinal surveys indicating that projects with excellent OCM are six times more likely to meet or exceed objectives than those with poor or no OCM (96% compared to 16%).

Brilliant! Because most IT projects implement solutions that must be adopted and used for business benefit, focusing on accelerating and improving user adoption, utilization, and proficiency makes sense.

In fact, not integrating OCM planning with project planning is like asking to be stung.

That’s what Schmidt did.

How integrated are your project and OCM plans?

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Change Management Requirements Software Development

Prime the Pump

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pumpBy the time a Business Analyst (BA) shows up, many decisions have already been made. Things are in motion. Change is afoot.

It could be, for some in an organization, that the arrival of a BA is the first indicator of change. After all, one might think, why are you shadowing me, putting my life’s work into tidy swim lanes, drawing bony fish skeletons, and asking so many questions? What’s up? What’s in it for me?

It’s true. BAs are often among the first on the ground when the project team ramps up, gathering, defining, and managing the requirements that will become the foundation for future system development. But they should not be the vanguard of change messages.

Prime the Pump

Renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to tell the story, “Prime the Pump.”

Ziglar used that story of the hand pump to teach many lessons, one of which is “you need to put something in here (pointing to the pump mechanism) to get something out there (the spout).”

Organizations should “prime the pump” when it comes to managing change by communicating information about change initiatives early and frequently with stakeholders. What is changing? Why? When? In what ways? What happens if we do not change? These are natural questions, and they WILL be in the minds of stakeholders.

By sharing what can be known as soon and as transparently as possible, leaders help to set direction, increase awareness, and build desire for the change.

This primes the pump for the BAs and everybody else involved in the change initiative.

The effective BA understands the fundamentals of organizational change management (OCM) and, through their interactions with SMEs, front-line associates, managers, and executives, can help carry out the change tactics even as they ply their BA skills.

If the pump is primed, the BAs can work the pump handle nice and easy, information will flow like water, and the environment will be readied for successful Rapid JAD processes.

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Document Management Rapid JAD Requirements Software Development

Blow Your Mind Requirements For Results

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The Magic 6 is a black ball with the number 6 on it

Six components of a well-written requirement are so powerful that I call them magical. Missing any one of these six requirement attributes will cost your project.

Capture them up front to save money, time, help communication, and minimize frustration. Have you hired a company to gather requirements? They should provide these six.

Because I love practical examples and keeping it simple I will provide a short explanation with a real life example. This example comes from a centralized system that tracks issues for a company with multiple locations.  

1. A Unique ID

This is the first attribute of a good requirement. In addition to being unique, the identifier for each requirement should capture an area or grouping as well as a count. The grouping communicates the area within the entire project and provides context. For a system that tracks and communicates issues, a View Updates group was created. The unique identifier, uses an abbreviation and a numeric. For this group I used VU.01 for the first requirement in the group View Updates.

2. Identification of who needs the requirement

This is typically a group name, such as Customer. This communicates the group needing the feature, which provides use context as well as an idea of security level. This system has customers who need to view issues affecting their multiple locations.

3. Statement of what is required

A statement of what is required identifies the task to be accomplished or the action to be performed. For customers with multiple locations, “Search by location is needed for issues.” This communicates an action a customer needs to take.

4. Statement of why the requirement is needed

The market for a product as well as competitor products can be the impetus for rapidly changing a requirement. Communicating why something is required also provides information on when it may no longer be needed. For issue tracking, search by a specific location is needed so that the customer can see all issues affecting a location.

5. Acceptance Criteria

Ideally acceptance criteria is communicated by a business owner. This provides clear communication to the development team when the business will agree that work on a requirement is fulfilled. When a customer can search by a specific location and all results are displayed, this requirement is complete. For more information on this topic, see The End Goal – Removing Ambiguity in Requirement

6. Business Owner

This identifies the person who can answer questions regarding a specific requirement, Matt Murdock. All requirements should have a point of contact in the business. It can be months after a requirement has been captured and development questions arise. In addition to clarification, there may be impacts from other events that come along and you will need to get input the right person in the business. 

Blow Your Mind

If you are looking at a requirements document and the Business Analyst captured all six of these attributes, that should blow your mind. Take them to lunch and thank them, they are going to save your project time and money.

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Rapid JAD Requirements Software Development

Start with the End in Mind

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finish-2When developing systems and software, how do you know when you’re done?

Here are some proven failing methods:

  1. When time is up
  2. When the budget is exhausted
  3. When a sponsor or client demands the product
  4. When the project is cancelled or suspended

These are arbitrary, and sometimes brutal, measures, none of which necessarily correlates with either a complete or quality product.

Agile, test-driven development focuses on building to a testable goal, and then rapidly fixing what’s needed until all tests pass.

The business/requirements analyst can play a key role in helping to develop acceptance criteria, working with:

  • the product owner (What really meets the need of the customer?)
  • the developers (What exactly am I building, and how will I know that my code implements the desired features?)
  • and the testing/quality assurance lead (How can I test to demonstrate required functionality?)

With a focus on the end in mind, the business analyst can insert this bit of magic:

  • “This requirement is fulfilled when it is demonstrated that…”

This “definition of done” comes before the product owner signs off on the requirement, and the requirement is not fully written without this statement.

So, as you are implementing Rapid JAD processes, remember, you are not done unless you have started with the end in mind.

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Rapid JAD Requirements Software Development

How To Get More of What You Need Faster

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As a business analyst or system developer, do you want to get more of what you need– accurate, complete, testable requirements that meet the customer’s needs–faster?

Like any good business analyst, I often use graphical tools to explore an idea, discover logical relationships, simplify concepts, or present findings.

Consider the following:rapid-jad-2x2

This simple 2-by-2 chart plots speed and accuracy in determining functional requirements for software development.  Both are desirable goals.

It’s obvious: avoid quadrants 1-3.  Ever been there?  These are not happy places for any project.

Quadrant 4 is everyone’s goal.  Get more of what you need, faster. But how to get there? Reliably? Repeatedly? Quickly?

In my years of project experience I’ve come to rely on the four simple, actionable steps we call Rapid JAD (see quadrant 4, above).

How quickly you begin realizing benefits simply depends upon how quickly you adopt and begin practicing Rapid JAD.  Regardless of the size, complexity, duration, or project phase, start now.  Or, if you’ve already started using Rapid JAD (congratulations!), then seek opportunities to learn, reflect, improve your practice, or share with others.

You will get more of what you need, faster.  Guaranteed.

For an introduction or refresher:

Capture Now
Document Once
Visible to All
Revise Quickly

Start getting more of what you need, faster. Use the 2X2 chart, above, to plot your own success!

 

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How to Take the Stress Out of Large Software Projects

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Momma singing me to sleep

I remember those ol’ days when I was stressed out about software projects. Not at all like momma singing me to sleep.

220 requirements, 14 design sessions, and 7 months into the project and my mind is jumbling bits and pieces together. The project manager asks me a question. I know some of the topic. I know this was discussed. Others made decisions.

Then I am thinking, why is anyone wondering about this? What is in scope or out of scope? Ah, we have a new project manager and this was a project manager number one discussion topic.

Thankfully I work on a team that implements the Rapid JAD principles:

  • Capture Now: If this was used, then we captured the topic and important decisions
  • Document Once: If this was used, then we have accurate notes stored in our document repository
  • Visible to All: If this was used, then everyone can find the information
  • Revise Quickly: If this was used, then the information is current

Finding that tidbit of information is a document repository search away…found. Ah, now I see an issue was created and logged in TFS…there it is.

Rapid JAD principles take the stress out of large software development project. They are as comforting as momma singing me to sleep.

Yes, I remember those ol’ days when I was stressed out.

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Requirements Software Development

The End Goal – Removing Ambiguity in Requirements

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Clarity

When you are done reading this post the importance of knowing the end goal will have been communicated:

• Definition of Done
• Acceptance Criteria
• What does success look like?
• What happens?
• What gets completed?
• What is the result?
• The end goal

These bullets all represent one concept. As a systems developer, I want to know up front what is expected of the system when I am done developing what was requested. What am I to deliver?

I can read what a requirement states, but do I understand what is to be accomplished by the requirement? What is the purpose? The goal? The reason this requirement lives?

This is a critical piece that is often missed when requirements for system development are captured. Without this piece it is difficult to measure success. Let’s look at an example.

User Story
As a Customer I want to follow “issues” of interest as a priority so that I can focus on important issues as a priority.

This User Story is clearly written. I can read it. I understand all of the words. Yet, this is still vague. How should this be developed? What is result? What happens? It would be nice to have an answer to these questions from the person who wrote this User Story. Something such as the Acceptance Criteria, which when met, the person who wrote the User Story could say, “Hey it is working. It did what I was wanting.”

Something such as the following takes only a minute to capture, but adds a wealth of clarity to the User Story

Acceptance Criteria
I can hit a “button” and that issue automatically goes to the top of my view queue.

Without the clarity of the end goal, the Acceptance Criteria, development could go in any number of directions. By adding Acceptance Criteria, to User Stories or Requirements, the desire of the person who wrote the user story is clarified and it provides a measurement for the completeness or success of the delivered product.

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Software Development

Tee Up! How Building Software is Like Playing Golf

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Golf Course

The Course Layout

We have a course laid out and we are moving along the course. Not all courses are the same, but they have the same basic structure and flow as we play:

  • Tee off on hole 1
  • Move along the fairway
  • Hit onto the green
  • Sink the putt
  • Move on to the next hole and repeat

The golf course structure aids us by its layout and keeps us moving along in the proper direction doing things sequentially. Similarly software development methodologies have a structure which keeps development moving in the proper direction with a repeating sequence.

Playing the Par 4 Hole

For a par 4 hole, the plan prior to tee off is to drive onto the fairway. Put the second shot on the green. One putt for birdie.

However, things do not always go according to plan. We may hook or slice a shot, hit the rough, a sand trap, land in the water, and even a hit out of bounds is possible.

This is when the golf course structure pays off in that you can be moving along the fairway toward the green even though you are not necessarily in the fairway. There are rules to follow, you have the direction to head, and you know the goal.

Similarly as a golf course is broken into 18 holes, software development is broken into pieces, often referred to as an iteration. And while you have a plan at the start of each iteration things do not always go according to plan. However, with the structure of your chosen software  development methodology in place you know the direction to head, have rules to follow, and you know the goal of the iteration.

Summary

For many finishing with a 72 after 18 holes is the goal, but one which is not often reached. Still, you have a goal before the game starts and from experience you realize that many things can come up as you play.

Software development is similar, in that you can plan out everything you want to do for the entire 18 holes before you step up to tee off on hole one, but there are many things that happen along the way to finishing.

Understand that golf is like software development. It is likely not going to go as planned prior to tee off. Do not get shaken when you hit a sand trap or other obstacle. Pull the right club and play on.

With a good software development methodology in place you will recover when things do not go as planned. Expect things can happen up front and smile big when things go as planned!

Scramble anyone?

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