Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BigDog Robot

If you have not seen the Boston Dynamics BigDog robot, you must go to their website and watch the video. It is uncanny how agile this remote controlled bot really is. The quadruped walks across ice, slips, but catches itself and does not fall! It climbs over rocks, through snow, up hills etc all while carrying 340 pounds of supplies. This amazing 3 foot tall tool is going to dramatically help out our soldiers in places like Afghanistan.
While you are on the site, check out their other machines...one of them climbs walls like a spider!!!
Speaking of things that are Agile, check out the Agilistas group on LinkedIn....some great discussions going on :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Project Kickoff...excitement is in the air. We are going to really do a good job on this project. How will you, the business system analyst, developer, project manager and the business subject matter experts (SMEs) determine what the system should do when you are finished? There are many people involved. Everyone person hasdifferent expectations and needs. How do you deal with these difficulties, gather reasonable requirements quickly, and be agile?
There are some real common sense things to do which basically come right out of the PMBOK.

Identify stakeholders - Who is it that we are really going to listen to on this project? Who is vocal and who is knowledgable and really who owns it...these are the stakeholders.

Find a Vision Statement. This can come from senior management or the stakeholders. It must capture the essense of the project. On some of my projects, it has been almost like a second verbose name for the project. The team identified with it.

Now comes the hard part...them pesky requirements. The "Software Requirement Specification", the "User Stories", the "Use Cases"...oh...and are they Business, User or Functional requirements.
The excitement is quickly wearing off...this is where projects reach a real make or break stage. Successfully navigating requirements obstacle course and ending up with requirements that a developer can code to and a quality assurance specialist can test to is paramount to overall project success.

So the real point of this entry in my blog...how do we do that hard part. What tools? How verbose? Are little index cards sufficient? Do we need an inch or two of paper? How do we keep them up to date? Is this just a stage and once we finally get past it we can get to the fun part of doing the project?

I would suggest that you break free from preconcieved notions of what a requirement, a change request, a use case, user story have been tradionally and look at the problem fresh.

I came up with using a mind manager (XMind or FreeMind) as the tool of choice. It captures requirements in a lightweight fashion...I will blog more on the success of this tool next time...

Outlined below are important items to keep in mind for successful requirements capture and recording:

1. There are three levels of requirements.
1. Business Requirements - High level objectives of the project which are recorded in the Vision and Scope Document
2. User Requirements - Task and facilities available to the end user recorded in the Use Cases
3. Functional Requirements - Detailed listing out of each behavior that the software must exhibit. This along with the quality attributes and other non-functional requirements is documented in the Software Requirements Specification (SRS).

more to come soon...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Shrinking Budgets...just focus

Budgets for Information Technology everywhere are shrinking. Does this mean that the business requirements that drove those budgets went away? No. In reality, during tough times, the business need for IT services and solutions tends to grow.

Why would the need grow when uncertainty and chaos abound? When times are good, the saying, "Easy come...Easy go" tends to govern the majority of companies...projects start...projects fail...projects succeed, it all works out in the wash...no big deal. However when the belt is tightened a notch or two, this is when the business actually begins to focus on how to really impact the bottom line and operate more efficiently.

How do you improve efficiency? DATA! I wrote a blog entry once on an internal company blog titled, "Data, Data everywhere. Not a drop of Information to drink" It highlighted the fact that too much data is useless without analysis and a framework to understand it in.  So...Who controls or is supposed to control all that data and turn it into information and eventually knowledge? The CIO...the IT department.

The business must adapt to this new environment quickly in order to survive and come out the other side stronger than ever. An excellent book on this subject: The Innovator's Dilemma  details how disruptive technologies redefined the competitive landscape.  In today's case, it is not disruptive technology so much as this disruptive economic downturn. Additionally, history has shown that hundreds of creative new companies start during every recession and depression...one of those new players could put you out of business with the disruptive technology they brought to the market!

Where do the answers lie? In the Data! Many of the companies highlighted in the above book and other similar books, show that, had the company been able to analyze and understand the data they had access to (either internally or externally), they could have potentially averted disaster and emerged a leader in their space. The challenge is that we are awash in thousands of gigabytes of data, how do you make sense of it all? This is where a Knowledge Management Strategy comes into play.
Data -> Information -> Knowledge
That sounds big, complicated and expensive!  But the amazing thing is that this does not need to be complicated.  Sure in the hey day we would make this into a multi-million dollar transformation project.  But by using simple needs analysis techniques, combined with a modest amount of initial research, you will generate multiple targets (more than your budget can support). The Criticallity and Priority can be quickly accomplished by bouncing these targets off the strategic plan. See...we looked at the data, mixed in needs, added in some context (strategic plan) and our raw data became information and then turned into knowledge. Now we know what really needs to be done first during this economic downturn. Start small and iterate quickly...agility is key.

Not sure where to start, download, install and open Xmind or FreeMind. Get 6-10 stakeholders in the room and start talking...a map will emerge within 2 hours. Allow someone a couple of hours to clean up the verbiage and layout and have a follow-on one hour meeting for fine tuning. You got your plan. Now using that plan focus your reduced resources on it and execute...your company, your bottom line and the team will thank you.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Under 7000....focus on cost effective solutions

Wow...The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a new all-time record high at 14,164.53 on August 9, 2007. Yesterday the market closed at less than 1/2 that number (6,763.29).  Quite a ride in the last 17 months!  We have a very confused Washington DC, all the politicians from the President on down are scrambling and jumping at any idea that seems like it has any chance of helping.
So what are we to do here in the business world?
Most of us have during school taken an economics or business course where we learned things like:
  • The balance sheet tells how much the business is worth.
  • The profit and loss statement tells if your business is profitable or not.
  • The cash flow statement predicts your cash balances into the future.
Somehow in all of the hoopla about stock price we have forgotten about common sense things like assets, equity and liabilities.  It became very in vogue for companies to finance growth through borrowing, but this is very dangerous and increases your liabilities in pursuit of cash flow growth.   Granted there are some valid reasons to do this, but it became so common place that many companies routinely were dipping into a line of credit just to make payroll!!!  This is wrong and is not founded in sound business principles.

Having a focus on the bottom line and affecting the profits is good common sense.  

Let's take something that we use everyday in the workplace and in almost every workplace...the telephone!  Many companies today use VOIP (voice over internet protocol) for economical and robust phone system.   The challenge is that it is still an emerging market and the vendor you pick could go belly-up during this economic downturn, or you could pick the leading vendor and be locked into an expensive proprietary solution.  Could you come up with an even better phone system?  One that is cost effective?  One that could affect your bottomline.  Yes :)  
Let me introduce you to Asterisk. (http://www.asterisk.org )  Asterisk is a versatile VoIP PBX system that can be configured to accomplish almost any telecommunications task you require!  Asterisk has the lowest total cost of ownership of any solution in any class because it is the world’s leading open source telephony engine and tool kit.   Asterisk is a worldwide community supported product, because it is completely open, it has been connected to virtually every telephone system in the world!  Check it out and other GNU General Public License open source solutions.
For example...maybe you want to setup a discussion board at your company to discuss whether to use Asterisk...check out MyBB. (http://www.mybboard.net/) Its an easy to use, powerful, multilingual, feature packed and FREE forum software package.  

Free is very cost effective.  These are both Free as in a free donut as well as free as in free speech (freedom).