Monday, March 23, 2009

Pick and choose

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the extensive array of process techniques that exist nowadays. Just for starters, we have ITIL, COBIT, and CMMI for general overall process and governance. Then, there also exist SDLC, RUP, Agile, Lean etc. We have PMI and PRINCE2 for Project Management. For quality, there exists QAI’s CSTE certification and Six Sigma for continuous improvement. Also, Function Point Analysis and Balanced Scorecards with a plethora of choices exist for metrics. This, by no means is a complete list, but just a few examples to give you an idea.

For an industry that has historically been in chaos due to a lack of set standards, a lot of process choices are now making the rounds. However, this newly available variety coupled with a lack of awareness and understanding seems to cause more problems and a general desire to shy away from process implementation for most people and organizations. Personally speaking, it is only after a great deal of studying lots of different process standards and gaining practical experience in the application of these techniques that I felt prepared to start consulting and post a related blog. For those who have not devoted the effort to adequately train themselves in the area of IT processes, a degree of confusion and frustration will naturally exist. However, it is too often that someone not fully knowledgeable on processes finds themselves in the position of making process decisions for an organization. What inevitably follows is a desire to “play it safe” masked by vague generic comments cloaked with several acronyms that are the current “hot” buzzwords. The “cubicle dwellers” and “naysayers” are only too happy to curtail the process improvement by causing roadblocks every step of the way. No wonder then that most process improvement initiatives die out faster than a speeding bullet and are as successful as the recent financial bailouts have been in restoring the economy.

The first step is to understand the industry that your organization is in, its customers and the products and services being offered to them. This analysis will then provide information on the levels of quality, availability, security, reliability, continuity etc. of the product or service expected by the customer. For example, “high quality requirement” industries like airlines and biomedical (where lives are at stake) would absolutely mandate a Six Sigma initiative as opposed to a typical web design setup where quality, although important (and not to be neglected) does not have the same life threatening impact.

An understanding of the capabilities of the resources available (people, finances and tools) is also necessary. For example, you may wish to implement Six Sigma, but if your staff don’t know the first thing about Six Sigma, then it will be some time (not to mention effort and money) before you can get a Six Sigma initiative in place. Furthermore, if the staff are used to a certain way of doing things then it will require some effort to get a new way of thinking in place. A transition between processes can create new defects that could be passed on to the customer making the aforementioned transition a tricky proposition requiring careful planning and forethought. A certain amount of realism is always necessary when planning anything and IT process improvement is no exception.

With all these factors understood, a realistic choice of process techniques and timetable for implementation can be decided on as opposed to going with a certain process because the CTO happens to be familiar with that process and nothing else (which is too often the case). Most process professionals get stuck with some “pet” technique of theirs that they have some background and knowledge in. They even develop a fanatical obsession with their pet process, blindly disregarding any other possibilities. This is short sighted and self-defeating. Remember, it is the flexible tree that survives the strong winds, not the rigid and unyielding one. What might come as a revelation to some is that processes standards can be “mixed and matched” to suit the organization’s needs. For example, ITIL could be used as an overall process approach with Six Sigma techniques being used for continual improvement. A sample combination of IT processes that I think work quite well synergistically and would serve most organizations capably are:

  • ITIL as an overall process technique “umbrella”

  • Six Sigma for continual improvement which fits in very well with ITIL

  • PMI Project Management techniques for project management

  • IIBA’s (International Institute of Business Analysis) for industry standard business analysis guidance

  • SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and Object Oriented Design and development techniques (if producing software)

  • QAI’s (Quality Assurance Institute) quality and testing techniques for verification and validation

  • COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and related Technology) for governance and SOX compliance (if needed) which fits in very well with ITIL

  • Function Point Analysis (if producing software) and Balanced Scorecards which again fit in very well with ITIL and its Key Process Indicators (KPIs)

While at first glance, this list might seem overwhelming for an organization to put together, what must be understood is that all aspects of all these techniques need not be implemented at first pass. Simply what makes sense and provides “the most bang for the buck” within each of these techniques should be identified and executed. And this is where the artistry comes in. Only a professional who has studied these techniques and has experience in their implementation will be able to combine the specific aspects of these tactics to the particular situation at hand. Unfortunately these species of professionals are rare, indeed.

It is also recommended that process improvement activities be carried out iteratively. Too often, organizations attempt to implement everything in one go (Big Bang) with unrealistic goals, timelines and resources. This, then inevitably results in a great deal of chaos and confusion with the naysayers nodding their heads sagely, stating “we told you so; all this newfangled process stuff is just a fad and doesn’t work”. Things then quickly return to the status quo with the organization in an even worse situation than before having expended a great deal of time and resources for nothing. It is important that organizations implement process improvement continuously in iterations, picking and choosing where they can get the most benefit for their particular situation.

It is, therefore, recommended that organizations implement improvements in a recurring phased approach that targets the most attractive benefits to their specific circumstances from a variety of industry standard process definitions.


  1. Great Blog Vivek
    I really like how you took the effort to learn so much.
    I will be visiting you rblog site every week for more cool info
    Thanks a lot and good luck!

  2. This is a Very good blog with good real time Process Implementation challenges. As U have clearly said that the People get stuck with their own technique in spite other better options. I also feel that with the world going towards virtualization. I foresee newscale comming up with a Master Service catalog along with ITIL framework and Integerate it with google or LinkedIN to bring in a real Open Organization where there will be ITIL process with community members having their own service catalogs with SLAs & Pricing in their profile.


  3. Very good thoughts, based on realistic and solid experience! I will visit your blog site more!
    Good luck.

  4. Very good Blog Mr.Vivek,

    I liked it and it has lots of information, I liked the way you presented.

  5. Its a very good article Mr.Vivek.

    I liked your presentation.