The Seven Core Principles of Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation has become a hot buzzword recently, being adopted by Microsoft as the overarching theme for their cloud based business apps and the subject of many studies from McKinsey and company, Gartner and other research firms.

I wanted to share some of our approach and lessons learned working with companies in different industries such as Insurance and Manufacturing on their digital transformation initiatives.

A transformation does not happen overnight. It is a long and sometimes painful process that to be honest, never really ends. The rate of innovation and change is increasing and new business and customer needs will constantly emerge.

Therefore, our approach is very much grounded in the concepts of agility. The right foundation built with change in mind. In such an approach, it is not always beneficial to try and document every future requirement to see how to accommodate it but to have a very strong foundation and an agile, open framework that can be easily adapted.

A good way to judge your current agility level is to perform a Digital Agility Gap test. For small, medium size and large changes business has requested in the last year, what is the gap between when the business would like to see the change made to when your organization was able to deploy? The larger the gap, the more acute the need is for a comprehensive digital transformation.

agility-gap

The following 7 core principles should drive every digital transformation initiative, large or small:

  • Business Driven. This may sound obvious but all digital initiatives need to have a business reasoning and business sponsor. Technology can be a game changer but very often, the digital channel needs to be part of an omni-channel approach. eCommerce can augment retails stores or distribution channels but will not replace them for a long while. Digital must be part of the overall business and market strategy. The new role of Chief Digital Officer is a great example for how organizations integrate the digital as a business channel with broad responsibilities and a chair at the executive table. The Digital aspect needs to be part of every major organizational strategy, not a separate one. For example: you are launching a new product, how will you design it, support the manufacturing/supply chain, market, sale and support the product using Digital means?
  • Data is King. Having enterprise information available in digital format with a single source for the truth is the absolute foundation of a digital transformation. Without “Good data” the effect of garbage in, garbage out will produce inconsistent results and systems people can’t trust. This is usually the hardest part for many companies as organizational data may be residing in many legacy systems and too intimately tied to old business applications. It also is hard work. Hard to understand and hard to put a direct ROI on. It is not glamorous and will not be visible to most people. In lieu of complete data re-architecture, most organizations start with master data management and data warehouse / operational datamarts to get around the limitations of the various systems where data is actually stored. The imperative is to know what the single source of the truth is and abstract the details through data access layer and services. The emerging area of Big Data allows capturing and processing ever larger amounts of data, especially related to customer interactions. Data flows, validation and storage needs to be looked at again with new vision into what and how data is captured, stored, processed and managed.
  • Actionable Analytics. Many organizations invested heavily in Business Intelligence and use decision support systems to run analysis and produce reports. The expanding scope of data capture and processing now allows analytics to serve as actionable triggers for real time decisions and other systems. For example, your website’s ability to make customer specific product recommendation can be a result of real time process that conducts a customer analysis and what similar customers have bought and can execute an RFM analysis to assign a tier to the customer and derive relevant offers. Marketing campaigns can target prospects based on predictive analytics etc. Closed loop analysis is critical for understanding the impact of decisions or campaigns. The ability to see the connection between an offer or search campaign and the revenue it generated is the foundation of future investment decisions.
  • Customer Centricity. One of the main drivers and benefits of the digital transformation is the ability to meet the new world of customer expectations and needs. Customers want access to information and ability to take action and interact anytime, anyplace, from any device. The new Digital Experience maps to the customer lifecycle, journey or buying flow and data is collected at every point of interaction to feed personalization, targeting and marketing. When done correctly, an intelligent user experience will improve engagement, loyalty and conversion. In designing new digital user experience, we usually recommend mapping the user interactions across all touch points and focusing on finding common needs rather than a “Persona” driven approach. Those in our experience are too generic and lead to oversimplification of the model.
  • Agility in Technology and Process. Agility is at the heart of our approach and without it you would go through a transformation every few years. It is broader than just IT and impacts many business and operational processes. Few key concepts of planning for agility:
    • De-coupling. A large part of what makes changes hard, is the intertwined nature of most IT environments. Proprietary databases, older applications without outside interfaces, hard coded database calls in code, heavily customized but dated applications, etc. The solution is to de-couple the elements and create a modular, service oriented architecture. Data should be separated from logic, services, and user interaction allowing each tier to grow and evolve without requiring complete system re-write. For example, the biggest driver of transformation in the last few years has been the user experience and the need to support users in various mobile devices. A de-coupled architecture would allow UX overhaul using the same services and backend.
    • Agile / Rapid application development. Application development needs to be able to create prototypes and test ideas on a regular basis. For that to happen, the process of definition, design, implementation and testing software has to be more responsive to business needs. Whether following Agile Methodology principles or just a more iterative version of traditional models, application development has to be able to quickly show business users what they would get, and adopt a minimal viable product approach to releasing software. An emerging model of continuous delivery allows faster, automated deployment of software when it is ready.
    • Cloud and Infrastructure agility. The emergence of cloud services is making agile environments so much easier to implement. From an infrastructure perspective, you no longer need to invest in hardware resources for your worst-case load scenario. The ability to get just as much computing resources as needed on demand and scale as needed in matter of minutes makes platforms like AWS and Azure very appealing. Many applications now offer only cloud based versions and even the large players like Microsoft and Oracle are now pressuring all customers to get on the cloud versions of their applications. The ability easily to plug a cloud application into the environment is the ideal of agility. With a common security and authentication layer, the modern corporate application landscape is comprised of many different cloud applications being available to each user based on their role and integrated to a degree that makes the user experience as seamless as possible.
    • In addition to the environment, software and infrastructure, organizational processes have to be more flexible too. Change management needs to become a process that enables change, not one the stops it.
  • Process Automation: with the new landscape comprised of so many different and independent application, process automation and leverages the open interfaces of application is becoming critical. Traditional Business Process Management application are now morphing into cloud orchestration and an ability to allow processes to be created across multiple applications and managed / updated by business users without IT involvement.
  • Security. Last but not least, the open, flexible nature of the future landscape we were describing here, requires new levels of security that should be an integral part of all facets of the environment. Data security and encryption. Services security, security in application design, all layers and components have to consider the rising threat of hacking, stealing data and denial of service that are more prevalent than ever. We see this as the primary concern for companies looking to adopt a more digital and agile environment and a large emphasis on risk management, security standards and audits should be a primary component of any digital transformation initiative.

Thoughts on the Future of SharePoint

In a recent event, Microsoft outlined their plans for the future of SharePoint, mostly as part of the office 365 family. It was exciting to see SharePoint coming back to the forefront. After a few years in which Microsoft plans for the product were not very clear (No on-prem future. Oh, sorry, Yes on-prem future but with Hybrid focus. Let’s call it Sites, let’s stop supporting external sites, etc.) the fog is starting to clear.

SharePoint is now being smartly positioned as the place where your office 365 experience should start. It was long positioned as such for company Intranets and users default homepage. It is a portal platform after all. It has a new responsive look and the content highlights sites you’ve recently visited or interacted with, benefits of the office Graph.

SharePoint16NewHomePage

Speaking of the Office Graph, love it or hate being tracked, it is the foundation over which all new office 365 applications are built and new API’s will allow developers to take advantage of it in building applications and should extend in the future into Dynamics 365 as well.

The new homepage is also responsive and using a new overall look and an underlying technology called the SharePoint framework. I’ll touch on all these later but let me just say it about time. Nothing made SharePoint look older and out of pace than the clunky experience on mobile. Now all spiffed up, it will offer a modern and mobile first approach throughout.

The full 2 hour presentation + demos

New Features to get excited about:

As I’ve said, it looks like all of a sudden, the flood gates are opening and after a relatively long time of minor updates, we are to expect a deluge of new things in the next few months. Here are the ones we are eagerly awaiting:

First class mobile experience + apps: some of it, like the new SharePoint homepage and iOS app, are already available. Apps for Android and Windows Mobile are coming soon.

SharePointMobileApp

As part of the new mobile first user experience overhaul, a more modern and responsive look is coming to SharePoint sites, list and libraries

Teamsite

To enable these new interfaces (which until not, required using an external JS framework like Bootstrap) Microsoft is introducing a new SharePoint framework. Built in JS and HTML5, it will support responsive design and allow for the creation of richer user experience and apps that run in the browser. Details are yet to be full released but expect it to be the MS version of the popular Angular.JS framework.

SPFramework

Office 365 Groups will be extended into SharePoint. It has long been a source of confusion as to the different types of groups and where they appear. Microsoft is working to extend the office 365 groups into Yammer and now into SharePoint, so that an office 365 group will have a team site and vice versa. IMO, it is a much better solution for storing files and collaboration than doing it though OneDrive as it is currently done. For more on groups: https://sway.com/G_yV0w-GadIB1aA2

Intelligence and analytics. A new analytics dashboard is available in central admin with much broader and visually appealing interface. Now if only this can be available to every site owner..

SPnewanalytics

https://blogs.office.com/2016/03/15/new-reporting-portal-in-the-office-365-admin-center/

Feature-packs: for on-prem customers, Microsoft will be issuing regular feature packs that will add functionality previously released for office 365.

One more thing we are excited about is the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 and the promised common data model and services across all 365 environments. That will allow new levels of integration and automation of processes across the o365 platform from end to end.

Can’t wait!

dragon

Digital Insurance – The Myth of the Online Buyer

The insurance industry is currently dealing with digital disruption, and by disruption I’m talking about the change in the consumer and the consumer habits, what I call The New Face of Insurance.

The myth that the insurance consumer is not ready for the digital world must be dispelled. According to The surprising facts about who shops online and on mobile (Business Insider 2015):

  • One in four shoppers is actually over the age of 55
  • Millennials make up the largest portion of online shoppers in terms of dollars spent and yet they earn the least

According to Gartner, 43% of our industry revenue will come directly from digital markets by 2020. Now think about that in our current captive and broker world.

LIMRA says that:

  • 74% of insurance customers want to do research online, educate themselves before they even think about talking to an agent
  • 25% of those people will even buy online, right there and then
  • Sadly, that’s really not available in our industry

We went from captive agents to independent agents and now we’re moving to more of a I-want-to-be-my-own-agent.

An example of this would be a UK company by the name of Beagle Street. They’re attacking the old ways that we do things, attacking the old financial advisers. And what they’re saying is “come and buy online.” So how do we go with this?

Digital Strategy and Digital Footprint website redesign. It’s way more than that. It’s about continually evolving to make it easier for consumers to do business with you. You need to go where your consumers are – you can no longer expect your consumers to come to you.

It’s looking at multi-channel distribution; embracing your agents, embracing online, and embracing the education that people are looking for. Just think about the customer service improvements t by being able to reach out to them through social media when there is a catastrophe.

We’ve been invited to speak on this topic at insurance conferences a lot recently, and we’ve done a short video as well. If you’d like to learn more, contact us.

bittercube-products

Lean Manufacturing in Practice – Bittercube

bittercube-productsIn this blog series, I’m showcasing products manufactured in my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to sharing some fun facts about the various companies and their products, I’ll be highlighting the Lean Manufacturing Principles that are best exhibited at each respective organization. These principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry and center on making obvious what adds value while reducing waste muda. The six Lean Manufacturing Principles are: 1) Workplace safety, order, and cleanliness 2) Just in Time (JIT) production 3) Six Sigma quality 4) Empowered Teams 5) Visual Management 6) Pursuit of Perfection.

A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. The use of bitters, liquor that is flavored with the pungent taste of plant extracts, has been gaining popularity over the past decade. Originally developed for medicinal and digestive purposes, bitters now serve mainly as cocktail flavorings. The alcohol functions as a solvent for botanical extracts as well as a preservative.

Milwaukee has contributed to this cocktail renaissance with the help of Bittercube. Founded by Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz in 2009, Bittercube handcrafts eight varieties of artisanal bitters, using only naturally sourced ingredients. By happenstance, the operations are run from the location that Foamation once occupied. Milwaukee was perceived as an untapped market with room to grow. Also, the low cost of operating expenses allow for maximum revenue generation.

Henry Ford created the first all-inclusive manufacturing strategy. However, it was Eiji Toyoda, a Japanese engineer, who after analyzing Ford’s methods, improved upon them by keeping an eye out for waste. Waste (or muda in Japanese) refers to any kind of wasted motion, effort or materials in the manufacturing process. Toyoda popularized the concept of Reducing Waste, which has become a basic tenet of Lean Manufacturing and falls under the principle of Pursuit of Perfection.

The objective of Lean is that every step must add value and be waste-free. A non-value added, or wasteful activity is one that neither adds value to the customer nor provides a competitive advantage to the organization.  Some non-value added activities include waiting and inappropriate processing. Waste can also take a tangible form, such as idle raw material or defects. Although transportation is an important aspect of the manufacturing process, it is a non-value added activity, as it adds to cost but not to value. It should be noted that some non-value adding activities like accounting and regulations are important and cannot be avoided.

Lean-manufacturing-bwThe continuous Pursuit of Perfection encompasses the idea that one must always strive to eliminate waste in the organization, while constantly making improvements, even if those improvements are small and incremental.  Improving processes results in reducing or eliminating variation, and improving the process flow or speed. Learning and consistent measures for improvement should be part of all processes if an organization intends on growing.

Bittercube has reduced waste by improving on their processes. In the past, they used a generic, high-density plastic container to process the bitters. There was no way to remove the botanical material after the batch was processed, other than to climb into the container and physically remove it by hand. Although this left the person who cleaned the container smelling of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla, it wasted time and did not add value to the process. They have since updated to a custom-built processing/cooking tank with a bottom compartment where botanical material can easily be removed and cleaned.

Bittercube previously used generic boxes that weren’t cost efficient to ship. They have since opted for custom-made boxes with dimensions that maximize the number of bottles in each box, thus reducing wasted space and shipping costs.

Lean supports the notion that nothing should be wasted and a use must be found for everything. Bittercube has also reduced tangible/physical waste by reusing and recycling the processed materials. Instead of discarding the used botanicals, Bittercute has begun composting these materials. The finer botanical sediment will be reused in other products, such as an ingredient for Purple Door Ice Cream.

Autumn is upon us! Try this seasonal Maple Old Fashioned recipe!

2 oz. Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon, Fat .25oz. Maple Syrup, a dash of Jamaican #2 Bitters, a dash of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, Garnish: Fat orange peel

To view other recipes and product offerings, visit Bittercube.

To read more about bitters, visit The History of Bitters

For more information on Lean Manufacturing see: Lean Waste Stream by Marc Jensen, Lean Enterprise: A Synergistic Approach to Minimizing Waste by William A. Levinson and Raymond A. Rerick, and Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Create Value and Eliminate MUDA by Mike Rother and John Shook

Cheesehead Logo_TRANS_200wide

Lean Manufacturing in Practice – Foamation

HiResLogoOriginal

In this blog series I will be showcasing products manufactured in my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to sharing some fun facts about the various companies and their products, I’ll be highlighting the Lean Manufacturing Principles that are best exhibited at each respective organization. These principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry and center on making obvious what adds value while reducing waste muda. The six Lean Manufacturing Principles are: 1) Workplace safety, order, and cleanliness 2) Just in Time (JIT) production 3) Six Sigma quality 4) Empowered Teams 5) Visual Management 6) Pursuit of Perfection.

When you tell someone that you’re from Wisconsin, it’s almost certain that you’ll be associated will be the iconic Cheesehead® hat, worn by devoted Green Bay Packer fans. In the mid-1980’s the term “cheesehead” started being used to describe Wisconsinites at baseball games. Rather than be insulted by this term, Ralph Bruno, founder and owner of Foamation, decided to embrace and reappropriate the concept. He cut up his mother’s couch, and the first foam Cheesehead hat was born. For nearly thirty years, Foamation has been producing Cheesehead hats (along with a wide array of foam merchandise). If you placed Cheesehead hats back to back, they would stretch across America and into the sea!

Although the Cheesehead hat still leads in sales (especially during football season), this company continues to add new items to their product offerings, along with fulfilling high quantities of custom orders. “Even though we’re associated (not officially, but in some consumer’s minds) with the Green Bay Packers, you don’t have to like the Packers to like our brand. What other fun, goofy, silly thing can we do?” stated Production Manager, Mario Busalacchi. Should you already own a Cheesehead hat, you could purchase other headgear or accoutrement, such as: a baseball hat, cowboy hat, hanging dice, tie, bad-call brick, fireman hat, or ice cream hat in chocolate, strawberry, or mint chip.

Lean ManufacturingThe factory floor is the core of any manufacturing company, but a lean factory alone does not make a lean enterprise. There are also other functions that support manufacturing and contribute to the Lean Pursuit of Perfection. Design Engineering falls under this general category and includes the following attributes: Designing for Manufacturability (DFM), Being Reasonable about Critical Parameters, Having Knowledge of Logistics and the Need for Standardization, Driving New Product Design from Marketplace Needs, and Shortening the Design Process all while considering the Voice of the Customer (VOC).  (For more on VOC, see: Critical to Quality Trees, Kano Analysis, and Customer Segmentation.)

Lean companies include the customer in new product decisions so as to avoid wasting design efforts on an undesired product that will flop. In order to embody the Pursuit of Perfection principle, companies must constantly strive for improvement with an anti-waste mindset and understand that the organization exists primarily to provide value to its customers.

Foamation pursues perfection by constantly evolving and enhancing their products based on customer feedback. Through online analytics, social media, and general observations, this company identifies opportunities and sets the development process in motion. Foamation discovered that there were opportunities to better serve women and children by producing products geared toward their preferences.  Women who would rather not wear a foam hat, now have the option of showing off their brand loyalty through other products such as Cheesehead earrings, and children now have the option of wearing a smaller version of the Cheesehead hat.

Foamation is also aware of the importance of technology in their customers’ lives. They are Driving New Product Design from Marketplace Needs by offering NFCheese key chains and necklaces that have Near Field Communication tags embedded within the foam. With this Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, fans can converge their digitally enhanced Cheesehead product with their mobile device.

Here’s to a great season…Go Packers!

To view all of the Cheesehead products, visit Cheesehead.com.

For more information on Lean Manufacturing see: Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook, published by The Lean Enterprise Institute (www.lean.org), The Lean Turnaround by Art Byrne, and Creating a Kaizen Culture by Jon Miller, Mike Wroblewski, and Jaime Villafuerte.

customer segmentation

Voice of the Customer – Customer Segmentation

When it comes to predicting customer behavior, historical sales data may contain critical clues. Who are repeat customers for a product or service? Have all segments of the target customers been identified? Segmentation is used to divide customers into groups based on their demographics, attitudes, or buying behaviors and target the specific groups with a message that will best resonate with them. The more you know about a customer, the easier it is to predict their behavior.

During this season of prediction making, you may want to consider playing the popular German game of Bleigießen “lead pouring,” in which your future is foretold through lead shapes. A spoon with a small amount of lead is held over a flame until the lead melts. The melted lead is then quickly poured into a bowl of water. Upon contact with water, the lead solidifies and forms a unique shape. The shape of the cooled lead is then compared to a list of meanings.

You might not have any control over shape formation (i.e. fish “Fisch” = luck “Glück” vs. cross “Kreuz” = death “Tod”), or what personal changes will manifest in 2015, but one area in which you may have some control is in increasing your company’s profitability. By implementing Customer Segmentation, a Voice of the Customer tool within Six Sigma methodology, you’re able to zero in on target customers who create the highest value and ultimately increase your profitability and bottom line.

What Does it Do?

Customer Segmentation identifies and focuses on subgroups of customers who create the highest value and prioritizes efforts to allocate appropriate marketing resources. Companies oftentimes neglect or miss opportunities because they treat all customers as bringing equal value or fail to understand the economic, descriptive, and attitudinal criteria of their core business.

Segmentation criteria can include:

  • Economic (revenue, frequency of purchase, loyalty, company size, etc.)
  • Descriptive (geographic location, demographics, industry)
  • Attitudinal (price, service, value)

The following Bleigießen examples exhibit segmentation criteria:

Customer segmentationShape 1. Ring “Ringe” = Marriage “Hochzeit”

Customers can be segmented demographically by marriage status (single, married, divorced). Married couples often have distinctly different purchasing behaviors compared to single consumers. This can relate to purchases such as cars, financial products, or holiday entertainment. For example, travel agencies would not offer similar holiday packages for bachelors and married couples.

customer segmentationShape 2. Mouse “Maus” = to be thrifty / economical “sparsam sein”

Customers can be segmented by purchasing power or behavior. These customers could be segmented demographically through social class (lower, middle, upper). Social class is a term linked to education, tradition, income (low, medium, high) and parenting. Alternatively, customers could be segmented attitudinally through values or lifestyle (conservative, economical, trendy). If your target customer is upper class, marketing via coupons will be a waste of time for a group indifferent to saving a few dollars.

customer segmentationShape 3. Bell “Glocke” / Egg “Ei” = Birth announcement “Ankündigung einer Geburt”

Customers can be segmented demographically through family size (couple only, small family, large family) and family lifecycle (young married no kids, married young kids). Customers can also be segmented attitudinally through needs or motivations (convenience, value, safety). If you’re considering entering new markets/regions and your target customers are children, you may want to avoid certain European countries, such as Spain, where there are 1.4 children per female.

How to Do It:

  • Identify the product or service being analyzed
  • Brainstorm to identify customers
  • Identify segmentation characteristics
  • Develop profiles of the segments
  • When gathering information, include members from each segment
  • Document results
Product/Services (Output) Customers Potential Segments
BleigließenGame  US Customers West Coast
East Coast
European Customers Western Europe
Eastern Europe

 Benefits of Tool:

  • Understanding customer segments and segment behavior can help tailor marketing and sales strategies
  • Reach profitability goals by demoting customers who don’t generate value
  • Formalizing segment profiles provides a common language

For related blogs that cover additional VOC tools:

time flying

Avoid these Top Ten Mistakes when Transitioning to the Cloud

Time and again, organizations erode potential benefits of a cloud transition. More thought on the front end can help you achieve a shorter time to value.

  1. Not thinking through your SLA requirements.  Your SLA needs should be part of your RFP or RFI, based on your internal business priorities. Many companies, when taking their first steps into the cloud, accept the SLA’s offered by the vendor in the first contract draft.
  2. Failing to model total cost of cloud and on-premise options:  Apples to apples comparisons are hard to find in the cloud world.
  3. Failing to ask potential vendors (and the references you will be checking) how long it takes to:
    • Get contract redlines turned around
    • Get from a handshake to implementation-boots-on-the-ground
  4. Not thinking through support processes, roles and responsibilities. As more assets are moved into the hands of multiple cloud vendors, it’s important to document crystal clarity of responsibilities, accountabilities, and notification/approval policies. The best way to do this is to construct a RACI matrix.
  5. Under preparation for testing:  Do you have a formal QA methodology? Do you have a body of test scripts prepared for the deployment?  What about performance testing and integration testing?  Don’t let test planning and preparation impose a drag on the implementation timeline. Look before you leap, or you may be disappointed by poor performance or failing interfaces down the road.
  6. Under thinking security: What are the liabilities? Did you stipulate access for annual security testing in the contract?
  7. Rushing forward without an enterprise cloud strategy: Proliferation of departmental cloud applications has taken much of the decision-making out of IT’s hands. A cloud approach that grows up organically can result in compromised information security and lack of critical integration between applications.
  8. Failing to manage end user expectations: Have you documented and communicated the changes adequately?
  9. Overestimating your in-house IT skills:
    • Does your team really have the systems integration knowledge and experience with the cloud to take your critical business apps through the transition?
    • Overestimating your in-house skillset
  10. Underestimating bandwidth requirements: Your “big pipe” locations are one issue, but do you understand how much work really gets done by remote workers? Will they see adequate performance from the cloud? How will additional bandwidth affect your cost model?
blended project management

Have you tried to blend agile methodologies into your traditional waterfall world?

Did you get a tasty stew?

….Or a culinary disaster?

I like to cook, but I’m not exactly a purist.  By that I mean that I almost never follow a recipe exactly.  Instead I treat a recipe as more of a guide.  Sometimes I omit ingredients that my family doesn’t like; other times I add in ingredients to see what the affect will be. I often combine a couple of recipes together, mixing and blending ideas from several sources.  Sometimes the result is a wonderful creation that suits the tastes of my family.  Other times, we take a bite and reach for the pile of take-out menus.

I find myself taking the same approach to development methodologies.  Like most of you, I find traditional, waterfall methodologies to be too rigid, too slow, and too removed from reality.  Their assumption that everything about a project can be known and documented up front has always struck me as laughable.

But when I look at pure agile methodologies, I find them too rigid and idealistic as well.  Successful projects need a framework around them; they can’t be driven simply by empowering a team to prioritize a backlog and deliver chunks of code.  Project components need to be fit into a larger vision and architecture; organizations need to have a sense of scope, plan, and budget.  Large, complex systems can’t always be nicely packaged in 2 or 3 week sprints.

So I find myself mixing and blending.  Take a few waterfall concepts like a defined project scope, written business requirements, defined technical architecture, and a project plan.  Blend with an agile development window where the project team can work through detailed requirements, development, and testing together; shifting priorities as business needs change.  Garnish with some user testing, training, and release planning.

Maybe this is agile book-ended by just enough waterfall to frame the work that the agile teams will take-on and integrate their work with the organization’s larger planning processes.  Maybe this is diluting agile precepts by subjugating them to overreaching controls.  Some call these approaches “waterscrumfall”; some call them an abomination.

My experience (and the experience of at least one of my colleagues) has been that a pragmatic blending better suits the needs of most projects and most organizations. It creates just enough structure to tame the chaos while recognizing that projects can’t be and shouldn’t be totally defined up-front.  It ensures that project deliverables fit into the larger enterprise architecture and meet strategic objectives.  Yet it takes advantage of the agile team’s strengths, allowing them to drive the project’s pace and details.

What has your experience been?  Have you tried more blended approaches?  Have they been successful?  Or have they resulted in the equivalent of a culinary disaster?

Chinese_character_採_cai3_pick

Just Pick 3

Fast away the old year passes, as the song goes.

It’s that introspective time when we all review the victories and defeats of the last twelve months and come up with a list of resolutions.

How long was your list last year?
How many of those goals did you attain?
Did you come out of the gate in January with a bang, and light a fire under 10 or more action plans, or did you attack your list in a prioritized sequence?
How did that work out for you?

In any year where I made a lengthy list, I ended up frustrated before February rolled around, and never looked at my list again. I just couldn’t achieve the progress I envisioned.

This year, I am going to do something different, and I think you should too.

By January 1, I will pick 3 areas to focus on in my work and personal resolutions. When I have achieved the desired results there I will pick 3 more.

The best way to do this is to pick 3 goals phrased as metrics you can measure.

Start your list. What do you want to change? How will you measure it?

Decide what is  most important.

Then, just pick 3.

homer_simpson_doh_02

Does your PMO get in the way of your Agile Development Teams?

Do your agile teams have your PMO pulling their collective hair out in frustration?

A family in harmony will prosper in everything. ~ Chinese Proverb

Does this sound familiar:

We value face-to-face conversation We need formal, written documents
Working software is our primary measure of progress Where is your status report?
How are you progressing against your project plan?
Self-Organizing Teams Defined Roles and Responsibilities
Individuals and Interactions Processes and Tools
Respond to Change Follow a Plan
Culture of Change Culture of Order

You’ve embraced an agile development methodology, empowered your teams, and they are eager to move forward.  They want to deliver a quality product to the organization as quickly as possible.  They want to add value and make a difference.

Your project management office (PMO) understands and supports the agile development approach, but they still need to manage the overall project portfolio and they want to be sure that the agile teams deliver in alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives.  They want to add value and make a difference.

Both groups have the organization’s best interests in mind, but there is a definite culture clash.

Agile teams can be dismissive of the PMO. Their approach is different, they don’t need to worry about those processes and frameworks; they just need to focus on their own project.  The PMO should get out of their way.  It reminds me of a teenager who wants their parents to just leave them alone – until the parent is needed.

PMOs can act like a dictatorial parent.  They can demand process and procedure from agile teams because that is what they’ve always done.  But process and procedure that doesn’t add value does get in the way.

Both groups need to respect each other and adapt.

Just like the parent of a teenager, the PMO should be loosening the rules and allowing greater freedom while demanding accountability (and standing by with a safety net). The PMO has to adapt itself to the agile world,  working with the agile teams to understand the tools that they are using to manage and control the agile project.  It should adapt these tools to their use rather than making the agile team use the same old PMO provided reports and templates.

The agile team, like the teenager, also needs to acknowledge and respect the role of the PMO.  The project and the project team aren’t operating in a vacuum.  It needs to fit into the larger organizational plan and processes.  So the agile team needs to fit itself into the framework that the PMO has established.  That may mean complying with certain project checkpoints or processes, such as conducting a formal risk analysis or establishing a milestone-level, project plan, budget, and scope.

If each can recognize that the other is not purposely trying to obstruct them and understand the value of the other to the organization, they should be able to leverage on another’s strengths.  While there may still be friction and areas of disagreement, the end result should be a set of processes that improve project outcomes and ensure alignment with overall organizational objectives.