Monday, November 30, 2009

The Art of Release

As customers expect modifications to services to be made more and more quickly, the ability to actually make these modifications successfully becomes more and more crucial. Now, a lot of processes and capabilities need to be in place for this to happen, but it is in Release Management that the actual update to the live environment happens. Therefore, Release Management is a member of that special clique of processes that actually have a direct contact with the customer.

Release Management is thought of in many organizations as scheduling and simply making the update in the live environment. However, this is more of a departmental oriented organization’s view of the process. In a process oriented organization, the Release Management process covers the tasks of building, testing and releasing to the live environment. These tasks are carried out using resources and staff from functions (departments) like Development, QA etc. Release Management interfaces significantly with the Change and Configuration Management processes in order to communicate the change information back and forth as needed. The Release Management process also takes ownership of a central location of storage of the master software and hardware spares. This is formally known as the Definitive Software Library (DSL) and the Definitive Hardware Store. The DSL need not be a physical location but could be a database where final builds are stored. This should not be confused with a day-to-day version control tool. The DSL is an important way of ensuring that the latest builds are kept separate and there are no confusions during release implementation. Licenses are also stored in the DSL making it a useful tool in maintaining legal compliance and identifying and locating unused licenses which are a complete waste to the organization.

Details of the Release Management process are freely available on the net. My goal here is to highlight its usefulness and benefits. The benefits include:

  • fewer disruptions in the live environment due to changes

  • standardization of hardware and software versions

  • better management of risks involved in releases including the implementation of a rollback plan

  • legal compliance with licensing

  • better utilization of licenses

It is, therefore, in the organization’s best interest that Release Management is taken as seriously as possible and steps taken to implement it systematically and rigorously. In today’s competitive world, every little bit makes a difference.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stress Point Analysis

Stress Point Analysis is a new technique that assists management in understanding the state of an operation; its strengths and weaknesses and where the effort to improve should be expended for maximum results and returns. It is a data driven technique in which most (if not all) members of the organization complete a web based questionnaire providing their input on the state of the operation. This data is analyzed and the state of health of various stress points in the organization is made available.

Stress Points in this model are defined as barriers to operation excellence. They are defined as:

  • Improvement & Innovation

  • Alignment & Fit

  • Measurement & Control

  • Resource & Demand Management

  • Process Capability

Each of these five areas can be operating at the following possible levels:

  • Outstanding

  • Scope for Development

  • Cause for Concern

  • Stressed

Analysis and evaluation of the stress point areas can give management an idea of where they are and the steps required to improve the stressed areas. They can then take the required steps to reduce problems in the stressed area so that all the 5 areas are at a high operational level.

All this is the theory proposed by Stress Point Analysis. In my opinion, it is a useful tool that could be of value to an organization but it is not a magic solution that will solve all the problems. Like all other methodologies, much depends on the successful implementation and day to day carrying out of the system. Still, it is something new that is out there now and I wished to bring to light for you to have a look at and decide on its potential value.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Honesty Policy

Last week’s post on Business Cases sparked some interesting feedback with one reader’s assertion being that business cases were always written with a bias benefitting the originator of the case with the committee in charge of analyzing and approving the case, unable to catch the bias and correct it. This got me thinking on the complex people dynamics present at all work environments and the even more complex dynamics present in an IT environment (due to the extraordinarily rapid change ever-present in IT). Honesty is vital for any type of improvement to be successful including IT Processes and I feel this topic deserves a post even if it isn’t “technical”.

I would like to focus on honesty as pertains to evaluating and stating the state of the organizations capability and maturity. I am not focusing on employee theft and feigning a sick day type of dishonesty. Recounting my personal experiences on this issue, I have always suffered whenever I have been honest. No matter how diplomatically or at the other extreme, bluntly, I stated the truth; it wasn’t what people wanted to hear. But I ask myself, would the same people who hated me for speaking the truth would have also liked their doctor to lie to them about the state of their health and sugar-coat their true medical situation? Clearly people do not consider their work and source of income to be as important as their body and health even though it brings home a paycheck. However, the principles of medicine are similar to an organization’s efficiency or process improvement initiative. One must first get an honest and competent diagnosis after which options can be evaluated and a course of treatment pursued. This is true with medicine as well as organizational processes. However, people tend to not welcome an honest approach at the workplace even though it ultimately affects your ability earn and provide for yourself and your loved ones.

Partly, it is the Ostrich approach where an Ostrich buries its head in the sand when it sees a lion attacking. Its logic being that if I can’t see the danger, the danger will pass me by without hurting me. Partly, it is also self-interest in that new methodologies will usher in change that will result in those having a power base within the organization losing it and ending up less powerful than before. Of course, if these folks would simply keep up with the latest techniques, they would never be threatened. However, they wish to reap the fruit of the work without performing the hard work that is keeping up with the latest in their profession. Staying at the cutting edge is hard work which not everyone is willing to perform.

On the other hand, an honest approach is extremely important, even crucial in today’s competitive world. An organization has to make the correct decisions based on the reality of the situation that it is facing. If it doesn’t it will end up fooling nobody but itself and misalignment with the customer’s needs, defects, rework and other assorted problems will inevitably arise. If the competition is brave enough to face its problems squarely and head-on, then the competition will inevitably end up the winners with superior market share. So obviously an environment of honest evaluation must be fostered and maintained.

How might this be achieved? As always, the foundation remains in the hands of top management. They must lead by example and display to the rest of the organization that they stand for honest evaluation and a “don’t shoot the messenger” approach. The implementation and education of the staff of cutting edge methodologies and best practices is also important and sends a positive message across the organization. Moreover, educating the staff, results in improved awareness effectively banishing the fear of the unknown that causes so much staff discontent and resistance. Finally, effective discouragement should be meted out to those who pursue a dishonest approach therefore discouraging any further such behavior from others.

In the end, all members of an organization have to record, evaluate, analyze and report in an honest fashion for the organization to remain competitive and profitable. A dishonest approach results in the organization and ultimately the employee’s loss and misfortune. Truly a dishonest approach is fooling no one but itself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Case for the Business Case

Being in business requires making decisions based on what makes the most sense and is most aligned to the organizations goals and objectives among the choices available. For each decision, various alternatives will typically exist and different paths or avenues will be available that could be followed with their specific pros and cons. To make sense out of this situation and to work out the correct decision requires the implementation of Business Cases.

A Business Case is a decision making tool that captures the reasoning behind initiating a project or task and the effect it will ultimately have on profitability. The financial impact of spending money is analyzed including the rate of return, cash flow, length of payback period and other financial criteria as appropriate.

Very often, the decision making is performed far too informally with top management, making snap decisions base don their past experiences. While past experiences of senior personnel is a valuable input, a formal business case analysis that includes background analysis of the project, expected business benefits, options considered and the reasons for accepting or rejecting the options, expected costs to be incurred, gap analysis and potential risks is a far superior technique of decision making that results in far more mature and responsible decisions being made that are in better alignment with organizational strategy and goals.

The benefits of proper business case analysis and implementation are:

  • Proper Investment decisions are made with fewer budget shortfalls during the course of the project

  • Proper understanding of the scope of the project resulting in adequate resource allocation and schedule expectations which in turn leads to superior project management

  • Correct decisions made on whether to take on the project or not due to a good understanding of the project requirements and the organization’s capabilities to meet those requirements.

  • Proper prioritization of projects

  • Good understanding of inter-dependencies within projects and the rest of the environment so that fewer unexpected errors occur.

Ultimately the implementation of business cases should bring about a change in epistemology within the organization that causes all personnel (from the lowest to the highest) to think in terms of the benefits to the organization and comparison of alternatives based on alignment with organizational objectives for each decision.

It is only when all the members of an organization make decision (large or small) with a systematic, structured decision making process that the organization’s decision making will be fully optimized and the organization will reap the benefits presented above. If top management consider themselves above the need to perform business case analysis, the organization will pay the price for their arrogance with problems and issues that are caused by poorly thought out decisions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Design of Design

As the marketplace has transitioned from primarily products to mostly services, the need to design services has emerged as an important area of knowledge and specialization. The design of products has been well understood and established within IT now. The design of software utilizing object-oriented principles and methodologies is well known. The design of networks and firewalls is well understood and performed efficiently nowadays which was not the case, say, a decade ago. However, the design of services is still not approached with the level of understanding and maturity that other areas of IT have achieved.

This state of affairs is understandable as the concept of services within IT still elicits a great deal of confusion. To clarify, services differ from products in that while both satisfy customer’s needs, in the case of a service; the customer does not take ownership of the resources and risks associated with the providing of the service. Furthermore, the service generally consists of providing the customer with a complete experience as opposed the solitary experience of purchasing and utilizing product. Therefore, the design of a service involves certain special considerations that are listed below:

  • Services must be designed to satisfy business objectives, based on the quality, compliance, risk and security requirements

  • Services must be designed that can be easily and efficiently developed and enhanced within appropriate timescales and costs

  • Identification and management of risks so that they can be removed or mitigated before services go live

  • The design of secure and resilient IT infrastructures, environments, applications and data/information resources and capability that meet the current and future needs of the business and customers

  • The design of measurement methods and metrics for assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of the design processes and their deliverables

  • The production and maintenance of IT plans, processes, policies, architectures, frameworks and documents for the design of quality IT solutions, to meet current and future agreed business needs

  • Contribute to the improvement of the overall quality of IT service within the imposed design constraints, especially by reducing the need for reworking and enhancing services once they have been implemented in the live environment

To accomplish these objectives, the design of services can be broken down in to the following aspects:

  • Service solutions, including all of the functional requirements, resources and capabilities needed and agreed

  • Service Management systems and tools, especially the Service Portfolio for the management and control of services through their lifecycle

  • Technology architectures and management architectures and tools required to provide the services

  • Processes needed to design, transition, operate and improve the services
    Measurement systems, methods and metrics for the services, the architectures and their constituent components and the processes

These areas of design can be performed by the implementation of Design processes like Availability Management, Capacity Management, Security Management etc. Further information regarding these can readily be obtained online by the interested reader.

Design must evolve from product design to service design as the paradigm shifts from products to services. Attempting to design services with a product design structure in place will result in poorly thought out services that do not satisfy the customer and result in defects and incidents in production. Clearly the changes required in today’s IT environment reach deep down in the organization’s structure and are not superficial by any means.