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Friday, November 13, 2015

Evidence driven Project Management competency improvement

In Large and medium organizations, the competency improvement needs are identified using a top down approach.  This approach  helps in taking the organization to the next set of competencies, based on the process/product/technology road maps and assessment of the current competencies.  The needs so identified  are addressed  through the competency improvement of the individual employee, while addressing his/her career preferences. While this is usually helpful as a first step and results in a set of trainings, this  may not help address the deficiencies fully.  I take project management as an example and present an approach for assessing the competency gaps and tailoring an improvement solution that can be driven by Project Management Office (PMO) or equivalent role.

As we know when a  software projects is challenged, root causes are identified and a solution to address the same is implemented. This is more likely to be adhoc and may fail to address  deficiencies holistically. PMOs can  follow the structured approach below as a better alternative.

1) In the recent review period( last month/quarter/year), identify the challenges faced  by each project,  assigning one or more of  the 22  anti patterns (examples: Detailitis plan, Road to Nowhere, Micro management) compiled and  analysed by Pedro Silva, "Software Project Management Learning from Our Mistakes", IEEE Software, May/June 2015 pp 40-43.  This could be tailored as appropriate.

2) Perform a statistical analysis on the anti patterns to identify the top  anti patterns.

3) Identify the impacted roles and root causes.

4) Based on the above, identify the solution from one or more of the suggested solution types (process/role/technology/training).

5) Work with internal/external solution providers to implement the corrective actions spanning process redesign/training/coaching  etc.

6) Repeat the above steps to see whether  the solution  has yielded results.

In my extensive experience in industry, the first and last steps are  not given due importance with the result that the competency improvement remains weak at best. Do you agree? Share your views.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Compounded Annual Growth Rate of Software

Last week, I attended Software Experts Summit 2014 organized by IEEE Software in Bangalore. Having seen the videos of the previous summit, I thought it is worth investing to understand the advances in Software.  There were several speakers from India and the world who covered various topics like Analytics, Big data, Need for Innovation and Speed, Architecture of Watson. In this blog post I would like to share with you a new metric that I learned. It is called Compounded Annual Growth Rate(CAGR) and was coined by Michiel van Genuchten and Les Hatton, based on the analysis of various software industry reports over the past four years.
Based on
Credit:Adapted from Pictofigo , Commons

IEEE Software is a bimonthly publication of IEEE Computer Society. Apart from several articles from academics, this also has a column called  Impact, which features industry reports  highlighting the software  challenges with focus on software growth as reflected in two metrics, namely the Lines of code(LOC) and volume of  units sold. In 2012, based on 10 data points such as Tokyo railway system, Mars Discovery, Higgs Boson discovery, oil and gas simulation, Michiel and Les came up with a "Compounded Annual Growth rate"(CAGR) metric. Based on the LOC metrics provided for the early phase of the application and the recent release, the team computed the CAGR. Median CAGR was found to be 16%. In July 2013 magazine article (paywalled), they recomputed the metric including the additional data from application domains such as Oracle, Airbus, Mars lander. The metric was determined as 17%.

The metric was found to be useful for  determining the hardware platforms of the future to support the future software. It can also be used to determine the health of the organisation as the metric will be low, when the organisation is dealing with bug fixes or addressing technical debt rather than new feature development. So far the metric has proved to be relevant irrespective of the complexity of the application and domain.

Have you tried using this metric or any other innovative metrics? Look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reading professional magazines on 7" Tablet

 A magazine on Moon+ Epub reader

All through my career, I have been a regular reader of professional magazines. During my student life, I  used to wait for 3-4 months for IEEE Spectrum to arrive by ship from USA.  About 7 years back, the society improved its delivery mechanism to enable Indian readers to receive their copies by the end of the month in  which the magazine is published   or the first week of the following month. Meanwhile digital revolution and increasing access  of high speed  Internet has enabled instant access to the magazine from any part of the world. Professional Societies also have introduced digital subscription at reduced rates. I was reluctant to take them up, till the rupee depreciated a lot, thereby  increasing the cost of my membership fees.

Initial digital versions were in PDF format. Reading these on Desktop PC/laptop has its fair share of problems, as the magazines are printed in multicolumn format. The typical 14" display does not have the resolution to make the entire page readable. The reader has to use zoom function and repeated scrolling to read an article or take a paper print out for comfortable reading at leisure. Though PDF readers have introduced reflow mechanism so that the multi column format is rendered in single column, the physical magazine layout styles such as bigger first letter or boxed items are not laid out properly when the text is reflowed, making the experience not  so pleasant.

Nowadays many  magazines are offered in  digital versions and some of them  are available in Epub format as well. I wanted to buy a tablet to be able to read with the same kind of experience as physical magazines.  I wanted to have 10" tablet, so that a typical magazine in PDF format can be read with ease.  I was lucky to  receive a  7" tablet in a recent conference that I attended.  I tried to read the Epub format on this device. I am pleasantly surprised by the nice display of the magazine and facilities available for searching, making notes and smooth scroll.

There were emails from some professional societies asking the readers to switch to  digital magazine instead of physical one. I would be happy to switch if they can make the Epub edition available.  Going by the pace of change in digital publishing, I am sure that day is not far off.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Zotero - Useful research tool

All netizens  process enormous quantities of  information in our daily lives. We try to recollect the previously processed information and usually try to rely on Google for search. If it is some thing that is on our computer hard disk, we may use search tools available for the operating system.  But these are inadequate, if you need to manage the public information resources  that you come across during your work.
Zotero icon(Credit:Zotero)

As people use multiple devices like desktop/laptop/tablet, the need for access to our files  has  led to popularization  of cloud storage sharing tools like Dropbox and also cloud applications like Google apps. However for research purposes Zotero is a special  free add-on to Firefox and other browsers, that helps to maintain your own card catalogue , have it portable through cloud and also lets  you stories copies of the important articles for offline use.

I became aware of this tool recently through Shyamal, an avid wikipedia contributor  who trained a batch of young wikipedians, on how they can take its help to improve Wikipedia citations.  I started using it  and It has become an essential tool for me. Do give it a try, if you have not tried this category of applications that can simplify you research/study work.

Monday, November 11, 2013

PMI ‌‌‌‌Bangalore Chapter's Footprints 7th Anniversary

I attended PMI ‌Bangalore Chapters' 7th Anniversary session of PM Footprints at Hotel Atria on 9 Nov 2013.  The event included a session titled  Agile development: Cultural Nuances by Sivan Menon, CTO - SW, GE Healthcare India, John F Welch Technology Center and  another one titled Meandering Musings by Siva Vajjhala, CEO & MD Advanced Business &Healthcare Solutions India.  It is a wonder that a program of this nature where a speaker presents on a topic  every two weeks  had recorded a total of 213 sessions without missing a beat over seven years.  The speakers who contributed to making this happen during 2012-13  were also recognized with a certificate and a small gift on the occasion.  I also felt  happy to have been a speaker for the session on Risk management few months back.
PM Footprints Logo

The event  provided an occasion to get to know Murali Santhanam and Vijay C Paul, who have taken over as President, Secretary respectively of PMI Bangalore Center.  BG Jayaram, past President thanked Amar Bhaskar for the program initiation and wished that it would evolve  to support virtual sessions and failure stories which will be of great help for professionals. The "Recognition of Excellence" award received by PMI Bangalore Chapter from PMI was presented to the audience by Vijay Paul. 

Sivan explained how Software development evolved over the years towards  Agile development with the Internet era. He explained that  human resource processes needed to change to support this transformation. He said that simple techniques like  empowering the teams to participate in selecting new team members or using 360 degree feedback for  appraisals are helpful in the cultural change. He spoke  about how he has seen Agile work even in a well regulated domain like medical products, by engaging more with customer has been beneficial and how these can be extended to other industries.

Siva focused on more down to earth matters like the common pit falls in pre-sales processes and use of human intelligence and triangulation to identify potential problems in early stages can be helpful based on his experiences at Mindtree. He also talked about  group dynamics and introduced the dangers of group think and group shift and how they can be avoided by  simple techniques like step ladder technique where individual group recommendations are combined  in a sequential manner with those from other groups.

During the Q&A session, T. R. Anand, Management Consultant & Advisor  opined that organizations need to develop skills to handle unstated scope, which may lead to risks/opportunities.

Rakesh who served as the anchor for the program and other speakers made the entire evening entertaining by humorous remarks.



Monday, November 04, 2013

Cloud based project management

Awareness of Project Management and its impact on business success  is increasing day by day, thanks to the advocacy of Project Management Organizations and also adverse publicity in the media about challenges in  delivering large and complex projects. Many companies have set up or planning to setup project management offices to help improve Project management maturity with appropriate focus on process, people and tools.
Ace project App
A project app(Credit:BiH via Commons)

Simple project management tools over the last decade have become more powerful  to be able to support project portfolio management. Another trend is that more tools are becoming available on cloud, which promotes  access to all project stakeholders  wherever they are physically.  Smart phone support is also increasing so that people can still access their projects even if they are on the move.   Integration of Social media like features and integration with other tools like email enables people  to collaborate better.

The above trends will enable more and more traditional companies to become better at project management as they move from ad-hoc and non Internet based processes to Internet based processes. While proprietary software like Microsoft Project 2013 has advanced features, several competitors are emerging,  offering solutions at various price points.  Traditional issue management software like Bugzilla are also evolving  to support  scrum teams,(Scrumbugz) while several collaboration tool vendors and Web 2.0 are offering enhanced support for project management.   New tools, developed from scratch to support agile development needs  are also available (Trello).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dealing with black/gray swans

A black swan  in a complex system, as popularized by Nassim Taleb  is a metaphor for a large impact, rare event that comes as a complete surprise to all stakeholders. A gray scan is a metaphor for an event with large impact  with very low probability, with the result that most stake holders ignore.  Usual risk management practices deal with known knowns where the adverse event occurrence as well as impact are both predictable.
Picture of swans
Credit:Arjuna based on Marek Szczepanek(Wikimedia)

As the world is more digitized and interconnected and is dependent on large complex information systems,  stakeholders are increasingly facing  black/gray swans.  The impact increases as most of these are unique, connected and closed systems like mobile phone network, power grid and applications based on Internet.  The glitches and shutdowns are regularly chronicled in IEEE Spectrum risk factor blog.

In an excellent paper "Management of Hidden risks", IEEE Computer, January 2013, (paywall)  the author Kjell Jorgen Hole recommends few suggestions to deal with gray swans based on the experiences from the outages in Norwegian Mobile phones, Electronic voting systems, and bank payment authorization systems based on public key infrastructure. The suggestions include  identifying the dependencies between systems and ensuring that the system can continue to run for a minimum period by using back up system (for Mobile networks), providing an alternative mechanism (like paper based ballot for e-ballot) and alternative authentication mechanisms and confirmation messages (for banks). It is useful for project/engineering managers to learn from these and  plan for  dealing with gray swans.