Archive for the ‘Process’ Category
In Process – How to develop one that is not stupid, we looked at how we can develop a process that empowers people to do to their thing and not stand in their way. But how do we actually develop one that can assist us in achieving the above goal? Using the concept of Six Honest serving men, we can define a system for activities that involve more than one person. Some of the following content may overlap with other posts, but that’s because they are all related (or maybe I am too dense to write one that explains all).
Why: As I mentioned in a previous post, without stating clearly why we are doing something, it is pretty difficult to convince people to even read something, forget about following it. The Why is often stated in grand terms, and since people are not stupid, they understand it is just for the sake of having it! Have a simple description of the outcome and why following it will help them (in their daily life and not something like, “It will make the organization compliant with the GRAND THEORY OF NOTHING”. Who cares?)
What: What defines the activities that need to be completed to achieve a certain goal. The inputs for this can be based on existing team practices or from best practices in other teams or (God forbid!) from frameworks.
When: When here does not relate to time, but the sequence in which the above activities should be performed.
Who: Code does not get written just because we have defined “Write code”. Someone needs to write it and someone else needs to test it. Mr. Who helps us identify the people to perform the activities in the desired sequence.
Where: This is the easy one. You ask me to enter the bug – fine. Where? You get the idea (please don’t create forms for every small bit of information! Funny one here – http://www.bureauofcommunication.com/compose/romanticintent)
How: This is the most difficult one. If you list out how to do an activity in great detail, your process will be cumbersome and if you don’t give any details, it will not be useful. Err on the less side, since you can always add detail. This is easy to say, but difficult to implement and unfortunately, the answer for how much is, “It depends, at least for me. By the way, do you have any good principles for this? Share with me.
One of the easiest ways to spell out a process is the System flow chart or activity diagram coupled with annotations for inputs/outputs of the process. This makes the process simple, visual and clear.
If you are wondering if this can be used in Agile methods (not using Agile process, in case you are offended. Ha.), the answer is yes. A process is just a structured method of representing what needs to be done and does not mean it needs to be “heavy”; it can be as light as you need. If you come from a process mature organization and want to find out if you can use Agile methods or not, read this interview and then buy the book (disclaimer: I am not affiliated in any way with the author and have not yet read the book completely).
Go on, become a process specialist. May the Force be with you.
“Process” in the software development world has been characterized with colorful adjectives. I am here to defend it.
What is about the word “Process” that makes people run fro cover? I see a lot of people who turn to Agile, not because they realize its worth, but because they think it frees them to do what they want, how they want. Agile is discipline, folks and you can do it only if you have the maturity to handle that discipline on your own.
Here, I am defending a process that is simple, provides clear roles and responsibilities, is changed appropriately when needed and most importantly, the one that is applied well. I am not defending a rule book written in circa 1800.
I hear you. You are saying that process as I defined is not the one that you see everyday in countless organizations. Right. But I ask you, is that the fault of the process? Did it slowly creep into your organizations? No, we wrote it. We are the ones implementing it. We are the ones hiding behind it.
A process is nothing but a set of steps we write to accomplish a particular task. We write it down so that others may follow the path easily and when we have thousands of people doing the same task, we don’t want everyone to do it differently, unless circumstances require.
These exceptional circumstances occur more frequently in the SW dev world than in other places like manufacturing (that is why concepts in manufacturing don’t lend themselves well to SW, but that is for another day).
So what do we need? We should define processes that result in desired outcomes. We need to create awareness that a process needs to be adopted and adapted as the situation changes to make it effective. Let us look at some things that we can do to define a process that is not stupid.
1. Define the Why
There is a better chance that people will follow the process if it is clear why and the why is “reasonable”
For example, for software configuration management, the “why” is to ensure that code is checked-in frequently (to avoid crashes or overwrites), follow naming conventions (to easily determine what the file does/belongs by looking at the file name), follow the structure (to modularize code) etc.
2. Minimize Forms
If people have to fill out forms for every step of the process, be sure that will never be followed. While some amount of paperwork is necessary, it should not detract from actually performing the task. The biggest mistake I see people make is trying to get a lot of information filled out, even when that information is not required or may not be used. There are two reasons for this:
- Incorrect interpretation of process frameworks like CMMI or ISO
- When something goes wrong, find out where and why. The failure points are minimal, but to have some documentation for those failure points
Every activity, whether defined by a process or not, has to be done by someone. Why not ask those people to define the process? It is well-recognized that when a team of practitioners own the process, the adoption is much higher. Do we want someone sitting in an ivory tower to tell me what to do? Nah.
Look for ways to automate as much of the process as possible. If you are capturing information, don’t provide forms for people to capture data. Use tools or write scripts to capture and present that information.
5. Teach people to change it
Make it clear that the process is not sacred. When people start to feel it is not working or not comfortable any longer, change it. Fiercely implement a culture where people can voice their concerns about something that is not working for them.
6. Never talk about the stick
We all know about the “Carrot and Stick”. In this case, however, never ever use the stick. Are we cattle to be driven ahead? Lead us and we’ll follow. What this means is don’t penalize when someone does not follow it. It could be that the process is not usable under stressful situations or the leadership does not care about it. If the manager asks the team to forget about the process just for this urgent request, it shows that the manager does not think the process is useful!
If we follow some of the common-sense principles, any process can be made simple and usable. Otherwise, we will end up defining a complex “Agile” process!
Do you still think Process is stupid? What would you do to help people follow a method that can help them be productive, yet have fun?
This post is based on the “Performance Effects of Measurement and Analysis: Perspectives from CMMI High Maturity Organizations and Appraisers” from the SEI (Relevant page to download the report is here)
The SEI has published a seminal report (although its around 150 pages only), comparing the use of statistical methods and models with high-maturity levels from 2008 and 2009 surveys. The work, as expected, has a lot of details, including validation of the results using statistical analysis!
1. Process Performance Models are used extensively in the areas of defect prediction, cost/schedule performance, estimation accuracy while other areas are relatively low. Interesting: Models for Customer satisfaction are less frequent
2. Many organizations use optimization techniques when building/using process performance models. Monte Carlo simulation and use of probabilistic modeling have grown. Interesting: Other techniques have reduced in popularity, while “don’t know” responses have increased!
3. Level of stakeholder involvement in measurement and analysis is along expected lines with measurement specialists having a high level of involvement. Interesting: It is not clear if all organizations have dedicated measurement specialists or process engineers take on the role as needed. Customer involvement is, predictably, less at organizational level
4. Organizations seem to have invested in training specialists in modeling techniques followed by process engineers. Interesting: It is not clear who the “users” of the models are – in a Software product/service organization, I expect users to be project managers and engineers
5. 75% of managers understand the results of the models well. Interesting: The % itself is interesting, since many of the managers I have met do not understand well how the models are built!
6. Just about 66% of those who build statistical models understand the intent behind it from the CMMI perspective. Interesting: Somehow, this does not resonate well with me. The only explanation I can think of is that the model builders are statisticians who are guided by the Process Engineers in identifying factors, building models and interpreting the results
7. Documenting the models and results well is a significant differentiator for high-maturity organizations. Interesting: No surprise there!
8. Not enough expertise is the only challenge that remained constant between 2008 and 2009. Other reasons have decreased! Interesting: In one year, have our problems decreased? I think in 2008, they were exaggerated!
9. 65% of managers want to use PPMs for knowing when their projects are out of track. Interesting: This is good, because having something just to gain a “high-maturity” tag is not, uh, “high-maturity” [Although, "PPMs are the way in the organization" comes a close second!]
10. There are 5 “healthy” ingredients for a good process performance model that is consistent across many research reports. When all ingredients are present, the value of the PPM to the organization is “substantial”. Interesting: The CMMI does not provide any directions on using such reports as guidance!
1. There are many responses that mention the lack of clarity in what is expected from high-maturity practices.
2. Problems like lack of accurate historical data, wide variation in the type and nature of projects, resources etc continue to plague industry
3. There are no peer-reviewed, published reports on factors to be considered in process performance models. Even common ones like defect prediction do not have standard regression equations, where values/co-efficients can be adjusted based on organizational performance
4. Process Performance Models do not have enough documentation to describe the input data that was used to produce them. This causes resistance in using them well
5. Impact of people variation is not usually considered as a factor, but which often skews actual performance
6. Experts in statistical techniques tend to forget that finding the cause of variation is notoriously difficult in software development, which is what managers are more interested in! Stating variance values often brings up the question – “what is causing the variation?”, for which the answer is “Thats what you have to find out”. Silence.
7. High-maturity organizations often have the management commitment to stay the course even in financial difficulties – they believe that having high maturity practices is a necessary element of beating the competition and hence coming out of the financial crisis. Without this belief, High maturity goals remain another management fad
Read the report a few times to digest it. What conclusions did you draw? What aspects do you observe in your organizations? Did I miss something in my observations?
The most common problem in a Metrics program is defining the "why" for each of the metrics. The second most common problem is getting agreement from all stakeholders on the "what-when-where-which-how" parts of the definition. In this 2-part series, we will look at what you can do to make this easier for your stakeholders to understand what to expect from your metrics approach.
- Defining a Metrics catalog
- Creating standard data collection, reporting and presentation templates
In this part, let us take a look creating a Metrics Catalog to hold the metrics definitions and communicate in an unambiguous way on what the metrics mean and how they will be reported.
Part 2 will look at creating standard templates for the execution, once the metrics are agreed. However, it is often best to gain agreement on the templates along with the definition, since any major change in the templates can cause changes in the mechanics of the definitions.
A Metrics Catalog
A metrics catalog is simply a table with information on the collection and evaluation of Metrics. It can be a spreadsheet with columns for the different parts of the Metric. A set of columns given below can be used as a starting list
Name: Define the metric name. Be careful to make the names consistent (calling one "defect density" and the as "other % reduction in defects across testing cycles " doesn’t help!)
Inputs: What are the raw inputs that you will be using for this metric
Tip: A Metric is always a relationship between two entities")
Formula: How will be the metric be computed? Describe the relationship in mathematical terms.
Objective: Describe the intent of this metric – how will you interpret the values of this metric
Tip: Use general descriptors for the interpretation – don’t say, for example, "if the value is <99%, it means we are not doing good." Rather, say "the values for this metric will help us determine how our customers perceive our services")
Data Source: Identify where the inputs will come from and if possible, who is responsible to collect this information. This is one of the fields where the more detailed the information is, the easier it is for everybody later.
Unit of Measure: Describe the units for the values of the Metric. Is it % or defects/Lines of Code or just a number. Be very careful with this as this will impact how you will report the metrics in a visual form
Target Values: Describe the acceptable range of values for the metric
Tip: Be cautious with this, if you don’t have historical data. Leave it blank for the first few periods and then fill it in with the best performance of the actual values. Once you have sufficient samples, you can devise a proper target value).
Tip 2: Be extra cautious with “industry benchmarks”. Unless they are really similar, don’t thrust them on your organization or you will encounter lot of resistance to the metrics initiative)
Frequency of collection: Describe how often will you collect the inputs, compute and report the metric
Tip: As much as possible, try to keep the frequency constant for all the metrics in the Catalog. Think Collection=Reporting -just because data is available weekly, it doesn’t mean you need to collect and report it weekly.)
Area: Describe which area of the product/service lifecycle does this metric belong to.
Type of metric: List if it is a leading metric or lagging one
The first part of this series provided an overview of the PMO, types of PMOs and typical functions.
The second part looked at the role of PMO in setting up and monitoring Change Management processes and activities.
The third part discussed the Quality Management responsibilities of a PMO and provided a table of contents to a Quality Management Plan
This post shares some information and experience on how the PMO can review projects and what to focus on in such reviews.
One of the most important functions of the PMO is to periodically review projects, to be able to answer the following questions:
1. Where is the project wrt where it should be?
2. Will the project deliver on its objectives – timelines, quality etc?
We have all worked on projects, where the status is green for weeks and even months and suddenly moves to “Red” one fine day.
The best early warning system is effective and in-depth reviews by the PMO for each project in its portfolio. The frequency of such reviews depends on:
Size of the project
If the project is large and complex, one review meeting with all stakeholders is not effective. There is usually too much discussion on some items, especially those that are over the tolerance levels, while routine ones are not given much time. Instead, multiple reviews with separate teams will provide the necessary focus and insight into that area.
Separate reviews also help you to validate information being provided by one team with others. with a single meeting, contradictory statements are not voiced due to fear or a desire to avoid conflict.
If the project is small or medium sized (<30 – 40 people and less number of cross-domain teams), a single review can be effective as all stakeholders can present information quickly.
A typical review should not be more than 3 hours, as information overload sets in and people become mentally tired.
Criticality to business
Review depth also depends on how important the project is to the business. For example, a public-facing market solution will need to be monitored much closely than a project for generating MIS reports.
- If the project is progressing smoothly, with interediate deliverables on time and within quality limits, you may want to schedule a monthly meeting with offline status reports weekly.
- If the project is just about surviving, weekly reviews are necessary to tightly control the ship.
- Iif the project is behind on timelines or there are escalations from customers (can be internal such as marketing, end-users etc), day-wise monitoring may be required.
This does not mean having long meetings everyday, but you may request for daily status reports to be circulated to the governance team, with meetings held twice in the week.
What should you review
At the minimum, the review should focus on
- Verify status of tasks with respect to the Plan
- Reviewing Key accomplishments during the reporting period
- Understanding key deliverables and activities during the next period and the progress on them till now to determine if they will still be met. A good way to do this would be to ask for Estimated time to complete in-progress activities and verify against the plan
- Check for Dependencies for the upcoming activities to see if there are any impacts due to external and internal dependencies (such as staff from another team, software or hardware availability etc)
- Status of top issues and any new issues added
- Status of top risks and any updates to the Risk profile
- Change requests created/modified during the period
- Quality indicators such as defect trends, incident escalations etc
How to review effectively
- Instead of having a template which can restrict information, ask the project to develop something incorporating the above. The main point of this is to ensure they don’t feel constrained to report in a manner they feel uncomfortable with
- The report can be simple to start with, but must be able to provide enough information for the PMO to decide on the true status of the project.
- Status is usually shown in Traffic-light symbols, but this generally is not accurate or atleast consistent. Insist on objective criteria to determine what is yellow and what is red.
- Watch for tasks that rapidly change in progress completion, especially ones that slide downwards.
- When people use vague qualifiers like “I think it should be done in a couple of days” or “I believe we are on track”, look at start and end dates of the activity to gain an idea of the effort consumed. Ask for time to complete to gain a true understanding of the remaining work
- A major factor in missed deadlines is underestimating the time it takes to solve operational issues. A solid issue management mechanism will help PMO understand the blocking issues that could impact the delivery
- How is product doing with respect to Quality? Are defects being captured accurately? Schedule and review external audits that verify this one process specifically, since defects may not always be reported under the belief that they are minor
- Take the time to review customer feedback, if any and see how it dovetails into the performance of the project
- Periodically reviewing risks is one of the most important tasks of the PMO. Risk profile must be kept updated when more information is received on a subject that is impacted by a risk
The critical part, I cannot overemphasize this, is that the project must feel that the PMO will do anything to help the project solve issues and move forward. This may mean releasing additional funds or add experts for short durations to solve problems. If the project team feels that the PMO is only reviewing/policing, it will find ways to hide information.
You can find an example of a status report template (and some other good ones) at Derek Huether’s blog Critical Path.
A project review is a good opportunity for the PMO to demonstrate leadership to the projects. Transparent communication, accountability, decision-making and support are necessary elements to conduct a good project review.
What’s your take? What have I missed completely? Do you have something more to add?