Monday, July 26, 2010

Negativity Doesn't Help

Last year this blog site did quite well at the Computer Weekly IT blog awards for 2009. Out of a sense of curiosity, I went to the blog site of one of the other sites that had done well also to have a look at what they were up to. I was surprised and dismayed that this other site seemed to do nothing besides ridicule and put down ITIL and other methodologies. Now, of course if a scam of some sort exists and someone is spreading the word on that, they are doing the world a favor. However, to mindlessly put down something that has been designed to help seem seems quite pointless.

The interesting part of this for me is that ITIL is quite benign. You can do what you want with it. You can turn around and have nothing to do with it or you could partially implement some of it or you could go the whole hog and really implement all aspects of it to a rigorous level. The choice is up to you. So why blame ITIL? Why the negativity?

It would seem that people will do anything and everything except the right thing. There is no use in either being negative or attacking something that is there to help. Particularly if the choice is in your hands and you can use it or not as you please. My experience has been that any methodology works if implemented correctly and all methodologies fail if implemented incorrectly. So really it’s up to you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Making Matrixed Work

The matrixed style of management is becoming more and more popular in IT project and services nowadays. It would also seem that this style will continue to gain popularity in the future as well. However, like anything in this world, there are advantages and disadvantages to this style of management and there can be problems with this approach if the potential negatives are not handled correctly.

The matrixed style can basically be summarized as the selection of staff from a function or bench to perform tasks in a project which upon completion results in their returning to their function or bench to await subsequent deployment. The advantages of this are:

  • Much greater agility, especially when the organization has to handle multiple projects simultaneously

  • Individuals can be chosen according to the needs of the project

  • Greater individual contribution as the staff members of a matrixed environment have each been chosen for their specific skill set

  • Project managers have greater autonomy and control over the project management

The disadvantages of the matrixed environment are:

  • Conflict between the home department and the project for staff members

  • Difficulty in managing the project of the project manager does not have enough power

  • Staff morale is reduced due to stress of having to find another project to work on

The matrixed environment is attractive because the disadvantages can be managed leaving the organization to reap the benefits of the advantages. So what can be done to ensure that the matrixed environment can work? Some suggestions are:

  • Identifying team members and ensuring the proper line of command over them is established to disallow any chance of conflicting work assignments

  • Establishing effective communication channels. This is crucial because the staff members will be getting potentially conflicting information from their “home’ departments. Therefore, communication has to be extremely solid

  • Effective project information dissemination. The matrixed structure offers a higher potential of staff not getting the information that they should get regarding the project. This should be thought about and planned for right from the beginning

Of course much more information regarding the structure and management of matrixed organization exists and the interested reader can research this online. It is just a shame to me that a efficient way of doing things gets a bad name simply because of the simple avoidance of some the pitfalls.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Point of Statistics

Out and about in the world of IT, I tend to see a great deal of variety as I meet with different organizations and individuals. One thing that a lot of people (especially without a technical background) tend to be unclear about is the basic reason for the existence of statistics. Improvement initiatives like Six Sigma rely heavily on statistics and it is a good idea for those weak in this area to strengthen up and learn a bit more about it. The purpose of this week’s post is to get folks started with a high level summary of the topic and those that are interested can research the topic further online.

Statistics exists mainly because you cannot measure everything. Let me illustrate this with an example. Let us assume that I own a paper clip manufacturing company. Now this company is manufacturing one million paper clips a day utilizing four different machines. Can I measure and test each of the million paper clips being produced every day? I would require a staff of at least 10,000 to do that which would drive me into a loss making state very quickly. So what do I do? I take a “sample” of the 1,000,000 clips being produced (also known as the “population”). The derivation of the sample could be performed in many thought provoking ways. As there are four machines, perhaps a sample of 1,000 clips could be taken from each machine on the hour every hour for a total of 32,000 clips to be tested for defects. This way if a particular machine is malfunctioning, it will be quickly and easily spotted. Of course, there are many permutations and combinations of deriving the sample units from the population, this being only one of many.

Astute readers will have noticed one problem with all of this and it is the following: we produced 1,000,000 paper clips and we only tested 32,000. How do we know that this sample accurately represented the population? What if we only tested the 32,000 that were good and the remaining 968,000 are bad? And this is where statistics helps us. Not only can we perform useful operations like mean, median and standard deviation on our sample, we can use statistical techniques to tell us how accurately the sample’s data co-relates to the population itself. So, in our example, we can say that the sample of 32,000 turned out to be 98% defect free and we are 90% sure that the remaining units of the rest are the population also are 98% defect free. This, ability to predict quality levels of the units that were never tested is the chief strength of statistics and the various techniques of statistics that exist. Of course there are other applications of statistics, but this is the primary one.

I speak of statistics this week because it is about time that IT organizations start utilizing all the tools available to them through this discipline and improving their efficiency. There are organizations that utilize function points and advanced statistical techniques in a big way and they are at levels of efficiency that are going to be very hard to beat. It’s time for the others to get going.