Delivering excellent business results in a world of accelerating change requires smart people and teams who adapt and continuously improve. In this world ‘learning’ becomes king. Individuals and teams who/that are the best at ‘learning’ will be the most successful today and into the future.
Last week I facilitated a webinar entitled ‘Learning the hard parts of agile software development’ with three members of Equinox IT’s software development teams – Deane Sloan (Software Development Director), Ben Hughes (Systems Analyst) and Hana Pearson-Coats (Systems Analyst). Our software development teams have achieved excellent results from learning, adopting and applying agile and lean software development approaches.
61% of us learn agile best by doing
By learning I am talking very broadly, certainly much broader than attendance on a formal training course. The 70:20:10 model of learning references how 70 percent of learning occurs doing the work, 20 percent of learning is from others and only 10% of learning is from formal training courses.
During the webinar we polled participants on which approach they found ‘most’ useful to learn how to make agile work in practice. Fairly consistent with the 70:20:10 model our results showed that:
- 61% of responders selected ‘learning by doing by working on agile projects'
- 25% selected ‘shared learning from coaches, practitioners, managers and teams’
- 7% selected ‘thought-leader content (books, blogs, podcasts, videos etc)’
- 7% selected ‘formal training courses and conferences’
This is also consistent with what we see in the market and with our clients. We have found that learning agile and lean software development has many layers. Attending a one or two-day course or getting a Scrum Certification is important to understand the principles and an overview of practices. But this is really just the top layer of learning. Much harder is the learning required to make agile work in practice, the learning required to embed the changes for the long term, the learning required to engage with the business in a different way, the learning required to persevere in the face of resistance, and the learning required to foster a climate of continuous improvement. This hard learning doesn't occur in a classroom environment, but by experimenting, doing and working with those who have done it before.
Our tips for learning the hard parts of agile software development
During the webinar our team members provided a number of tips for learning the hard parts of agile software development. You can see the full set of advice by watching the Learning the hard parts of agile software development
webinar. I summarise a few of the ideas discussed during the webinar here:
- Context is really important – while the formal training component may only be 10% of the learning journey, it is still very important to learn the terminology, concepts and mindset.
- Allow time to learn and acknowledge that agile and lean approaches will not be highly productive initially while the team is still learning.
- Work with people who have successfully used agile and lean approaches before, stick to them, do what they are doing. If something is hard, keep on doing it until you get good at it.
- Get people new to agile working on small tasks where they can start contributing in an environment where it is safe for them to learn. These team members can then be ratcheted up onto more comprehensive tasks from there.
- Use facilities, such as Kanban boards, to visualise the flow of work so that the approach the team is following is visible, accessible and can be understood and learned.
- Do your own research and take an experimental and iterative approach. By doing this you solve your own problems by learning what works and what does not, and can then apply this learning to do more of what works and less of what does not.
- Be conscious of Lewin’s heuristic ‘behaviour is a function of people and their environment’. Learning can often best be enabled not by changing the people, but by changing the environment (co-location, cross-functional teams, embedding coaches in the team and so on).
For us learning has been fundamental to our successful adoption of agile and lean software development approaches. Even though we now are mature in our use of agile and lean, learning still plays a vital role as we seek to continuously improve and as we bring on new members to the team. In the rapidly changing world that we live in I truly believe that individuals and teams who are the best at learning will be the most successful. If learning is king then we all need to get better at learning and hopefully this post has provided some useful pointers to help you along the way.
In a rapidly changing and increasingly digital world you and your organisation need models and frameworks to help you succeed.
Equinox IT is the only New Zealand-owned IT consultancy that sponsors the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). In June I had the good fortune to represent Equinox IT at the CISR summer session in Boston, USA. The summer session had the theme of ‘Generating Business Value from Digitization’. During the session I heard the latest MIT CISR industry-based research findings from leading IT thinkers such as Peter Weill, Jeanne Ross and Erik Brynjolfsson. Topics covered included total digitisation, the future of IT, business architecture, big data, business analytics and the relationship between business and IT.
In this post I summarise 5 key MIT CISR models that were presented at the session that I believe are highly relevant to New Zealand organisations looking to successfully operate in today’s digital economy. Digitalisation, from an IT perspective, refers to the creation of new resources and enriching traditional resources, making these available digitally to invited audiences.
1. Architectural maturity
To operate successfully you need a digitised platform that fits your organisation. The architectural maturity model is based on four stages of development: business silos, standardised technology, optimised core and business modularity. In ‘business silos’, the organisational focus is on point or localised solutions that offer immediate business opportunity. ‘Standardised technology’, as its name implies, standardises IT across the organisation to reduce cost and risk. ‘Optimised core’ uses an integrated platform across the organisation to support enterprise wide priorities. ‘Business maturity’ optimises the digitised platform to achieve operational and strategic excellence across the organisation.
The scope of change that delivers business value for your organisation will depend on where you are in your architectural maturity journey.
2. Operating model
Understanding your operating model will help you identify the kind of organisational change that will deliver value, and the digital infrastructure needed to support that change. The operating model is determined by assessing the organisational levels of business process integration, and business process standardisation.
A ‘Diversified’ operating model has low integration and low standardisation, such as the independent business units operating within organisations like General Electric. A ‘Replication’ operating model has low integration with high standardisation, such as McDonalds family restaurants. A ‘Co-ordination’ operating model has high integration with low standardisation, such as banks, where credit cards may operate differently from retail banking, but they tightly share information. A ‘Unification’ operating model has high integration and high standardisation, such as international parcel delivery, where standard approaches and shared information is fundamental to getting the item across the globe.
No one operating model is ‘better’ than another, the way the business operates needs to work for your organisation. Understanding your operating model is important to help gauge what kind of change will add value, and what kind of digital infrastructure you will need to support that change, now and in the future.
Complexity can be broken down into two forms: How complex are the processes you use and how complex are the products and services you offer. In general, process complexity can reduce value, whereas product complexity can add value.
Understanding your complexity will help you increase the benefits that your products or services add to customers and minimise the bad customer experience of dealing with your organisation because the process is too hard. Digitising your organisation can facilitate both of these areas, offering options to enhance your products and services and streamlining processes.
4. IT value cycle
To deliver maximum value in a digital world, you need to understand the IT value cycle. MIT research shows that getting more business value requires a change to the IT value cycle, extending standard commit, build and run steps to also include an exploit step to gain more value. In this context, exploiting can be thought of as optimising, to gain maximum value from your digitised platform.
In our rapidly accelerating world, the cycle of change is becoming shorter and your organisation needs to both commit to the right change, and operate and exploit what you have today for greater value tomorrow.
5. Value from data
Getting value from data within a digital world can improve decision making to build business capabilities and business intelligence within operational decision making.
It is important to understand that gaining value from data requires focus on purpose, analysing data, generating insight, acting on insight and making sure that data provides value.
Joining all of these models together – if you profile your organisation (or business area) using the first three models:
- architectural maturity
- operating model(s)
...then you can do a better job of understanding what change you should commit to for maximum future benefit. You can also identify how you can operate and moving through to the last two models exploit what you have to get maximum value, and leverage data to inform your operational and strategic decision making.
Successful change is change that works with the way your organisation operates, and supports the strategic direction of the organisation. Applying these models can help you to identify and deliver successful change within the organisation you have now, and build the organisation you want.
All five of these models come from the great research performed by the MIT CISR, and you can find out more details about them on the MIT CISR website. In my 'Creating organisational success in a digitised world’ webinar I also discussed the models further and brought all 5 together into a framework for thinking about change, digitisation and value within your organisation. Becoming a digital superstar is about understanding where your business resides in each of these models and using IT as an asset to maximise your business value through digitalisation.
I’ve blogged several times over the years on various aspects of how we use Business Intelligence tools to visualise the mountains of data we accumulate in the course of our Performance Intelligence practice assignments. Even the practice name of “Performance Intelligence” reflects the vital role that such tools and techniques play in deriving insights from all of that data to allow us to get to the bottom of the really hard system performance problems.
Our data visualisation tool of choice is Tableau
, because it connects to pretty much any type of data, offers a very wide range of visualisation types and can handle huge volumes of data remarkably quickly when used well. But up until now we have always treated Tableau as a standalone tool sitting alongside whichever performance testing or metrics collections tools we are using on a performance assignment. That works fine – but it does mean that the analysis and visualisation doesn’t form an integral part of our workflow in these other tools. There are lots of opportunities to streamline the workflow, allowing interactive exploration of test results data – drilling down from high-level summaries showing the impact to low-level detail giving strong clues about the cause of issues. If only we could carry context from the performance testing tool to the visualisation tool.
We have recently been working to address that, making use of an integration API which Tableau introduced with their last major release. First cab off the rank for us was integrating the visualisations into the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment, since that provides one of the performance testing tools which we use extensively in our practice, and the Microsoft Visual Studio environment offers the extensibility points necessary to achieve tight integration.
But whilst the integration is conceptually straightforward - we just want the visualisations to form a seamless part of the experience of using the tool and to know the context (what is the latest test run, for example), actually making it work seamlessly and perform well required careful design and significant software development skills.
We’re very pleased with the end result, and the folk at Tableau liked it enough to invite me to talk about it at their annual user conference in Seattle – which this year will have a staggering 5,000 attendees. As part of my conference session I put together a simple demonstration to show how the interactions work. It is a simple standalone web page with an embedded Tableau visualisation object in it – showing how the user can interact with the Tableau visualisation both from controls on the hosting web page and from within the Tableau object itself.
The demo is an animated emulation of a video made by the San Diego State University Physics department showing a cool set of pendulums – the link to the video is in the demo page. It has a couple of controls on the hosting page (a play/pause) button to start and stop the animation and a field to enter the time delay between refreshes. You can also interact with the visualisation itself (when it is paused) by changing the Time Parameter – which determines how far through the cycle the emulation is.
You can download the source for the demonstration and also the source of the Tableau visualisation itself from the Tableau Public website using the links in the demonstration page, if you want to look under the covers to see how it all works.
Note that whilst the example is a bit of fun, I absolutely don’t advocate trying to animate complex visualisations at a high refresh rate like this. But there may be contexts in which this technique could be useful.
Whilst the demonstration itself is very simple, the possibilities that are opened up by interacting with the visualisation from an external application or web portal to pass in external context are enormous.
Equinox IT’s decision to use plain English instead of technical jargon in its website was recognised at the Writemark Plain English Awards last night.
The Wellington and Auckland based information technology consultancy won the Best Plain English Website, in the private sector category.
Equinox IT’s Brendon Livingstone says when the firm launched their new website earlier in the year, they deliberately avoided over-used technology phrases and clichés.
“We wanted business decision-makers to find the information they needed without knowing the technical language or the solution required,” he says.
“At the same time, we knew IT professionals would want to go directly to the details they needed. This dual focus was an important consideration in the way we structured and wrote the content for the website.”
The Writemark Plain English judges noted that the Equinox IT website was an excellent example of ‘plain English in action’, which was an achievement given the complex and technical nature of the company’s work.
Image: Brendon Livingstone and Paul Ramsay of Equinox IT after accepting award.
Next week Microsoft will hold two full day Visual Studio 2013 launch events, in Wellington and Auckland. As the New Zealand Microsoft Gold Partner for Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Equinox IT is playing an active role, participating and presenting at both events.
With a theme of modern application development, there will be presentations on agile planning, agile testing and quality enablement, enterprise dev/ops, and developing modern applications for Windows, the web and the cloud.
The events are spilt into morning and afternoon sessions, with the morning presentations suitable to decision makers and the afternoon to technical, project or testing members.
Check out the programme for the day, register and head along. We’d love to see you there.
Equinox IT is the first independent IT consulting company to sign as a signatory to the New Zealand Cloud Computing Code of Practice.
Launched in July 2013, CloudCode™ Version 2.0 is a voluntary, disclosure-based, Code of Practice that has been developed to improve the standard of services being provided by cloud service providers. The CloudCode was developed by the New Zealand cloud computing industry, facilitated by the Institute of IT Professionals New Zealand (IITP).
Cloud providers working through the process of becoming signatories include accounting software company Xero, IaaS provider Revera, and secure file host Mega Ltd.
The Code was developed with input from over 250 New Zealand cloud providers, users and other stakeholders over a two-year period and was funded by industry with major contributions from Equinox IT, Gen-I, NZCS, OneNet, Webdrive and Xero with Salesforce.com, Google, EOSS Online Ltd, InternetNZ, NZRise and Systems Advisory Services also contributing.
Equinox IT was been a major contributor to the Code since the first version was launched in early 2011. Dean Sloane, Equinox IT’s Chief Technology Officer has been an active advocate for the adoption of the Code and instrumental in developing the CloudCode disclosures.
“As the cloud continues to transform New Zealand business, it is important that there is an independent Code of Practice – a benchmark – that organisations can have confidence in. Equinox IT is proud to have been a major contributor to the development of the code and to be one of its first signatories. The Institute of IT Professionals is to be congratulated on its leadership of this initiative,” says Equinox IT Director, Paul Ramsay.
“The CloudCode reflects a collective commitment to improve the standard of services provided by cloud service providers, and is already attracting international interest. Why? Because it provides certainty and builds trust.”
Independent cloud computing advice
As a CloudCode signatory and an independent consultancy, Equinox IT provides consulting and advisory services in accordance with the Code of Practice. These services include architecture, technology options analysis, risk assessments, IT governance, performance management and independent quality assurance to help ensure that clients deploying cloud solutions are fully informed and choose the right solution for their needs.
Download the CloudCode.
Dr. Peter Weill, addressing Equinox IT consultants in August, talked about his research into Options for Next Generation Enterprise.
Dr. Weill is Chairman and Senior Research Scientist for the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). He was in Wellington as a guest of Equinox IT and spoke with government, Wellington City Council, and business leaders about CISR's research into why enterprises will need to be either drivers or participants in several digital ecosystems, and a driver in at least one to survive.
He discussed CISR’s research methodologies and said creating the framework for researching Options for the Next Generation Enterprise had been extremely difficult.
“We do a lot of interviews and research to come up with the dimensions we think will be important in predicting the future of business. The dimension that took us by surprise (and in hindsight shouldn’t have) was the value in knowing your end consumer. More specifically, we believe knowing your customer’s goals makes a key difference,” said Dr. Weill.
© 2013 MIT Sloan CISR-Weill, Woerner
He said the Options framework was based upon two axes: Business Design—the value chain ecosystem; and Knowledge of Your End Customer. CISR research in turn generated the four quadrants: Omnichannel Business (e.g. USAA, Woolworths Australia, Coles Australia); Open Ecosystem Driver e.g. (Amazon); Great Modular Product/ Service Producer (e.g. PayPal); and Supplier (e.g. purchasing insurance via an agent).
“CISR’s research indicated that when margins are low, organisations become under pressure and seek to move out of their quadrant.
“Most companies who are multi-channel are trying (and this is a big, difficult change) to become omnichannel businesses offering a multi-product client experience.
“Our research shows organisations in the Supplier quadrant wanting to move up, and businesses currently in the Omnichannel Business quadrant seeking to move right towards an Open Ecosystem Driver. Huge investments are now being made to move within these axes.
“The exception is an organisation such as PayPal which has determined to be the best in the world at one thing, and plug-and-play in anyone else’s’ ecosystem,” said Dr. Weill.
Assessing the options
One way you can measure your options is to bring the Voice of the Customer inside your company said Dr Weill.
He referenced the USA Net Promoter Score (NPS) 2013 benchmarking survey which noted the average Financial Services industry ranking for banks was 29%. In other words 29% of customers would net promote their bank to their friends. The United States Automobile Association (USAA) ranked first in this category with 78% in the 2013 survey. Significantly USAA also led the Select Insurance sector with an 80% approval ranking for their home content insurance.
Amazon was by far the highest-ranking organisation in the Online Services sector with a NPS ranking of 69% outstripped bricks and mortar retailers.
Dr. Weill, looking at USAA’s NPS performances and paraphrasing Bill Gates’ famous quote, said “We all need banking. I’m just not convinced we need banks.”
USAA’s results also supported, he said, CISR’s July 2013 Research Briefing that companies with better digital business models have higher financial performance. CISR found that enterprises with above-average digital business effectiveness had revenue growth eleven percentage points higher than their industry average.
An Australasian context
Dr. Weill said that Coles, the supermarket chain, is now one of the larger insurance players in Australia.
“They’ve added insurance to their customer experience and the relationship they already have with you.”
As well as owning Coles, parent company Wesfarmers also owns Bunnings, Target, Kmart and Officeworks, together with substantial coal, chemicals and insurance operations.
"Wesfarmers is now a diversified mining, energy, retail, insurance and agricultural corporation that has successfully expanded its insurance business through the relationships customers have with Coles," said Dr. Weill.
Read Tom Pullar-Strecker’s September Dominion Post story about USAA’s car purchase digital ecosystem.
Measuring the impact of digitisation on your organisation
Complete the following six-question poll based on MIT CISR's own research polls. It will help you to assess the future impact of digitisation on your organisation.
The poll takes just a couple of minutes and is anonymous. Summary results will be presented in a future blog post.
Complete the digital ecosystem poll
One of Equinox IT's core values is 'knowledge exists to be shared'. So last week when we had Dr Peter Weill, Chair of the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) in Wellington, we got him to share his research findings on digital ecosystems at a free event hosted by Equinox IT together with the Wellington City Council.
The intent of the event was to provide valuable insight to IT professionals, business people and council members to help us all work towards making Wellington, along with the organisations that operate within our city, a digital success story.
Dr Weill is ranked in the top 25 most influential people in IT. The MIT CISR conducts field-based research on issues related to the management and use of information technology in complex organisations, and much of their recent research has focused on the digitisation of organisations and digital ecosystems. Find out what we mean by digital ecosystems in our blog post What is a digital ecosystem?
Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem Presentation
Dr Weill's presentation on digital ecosystems was thought-provoking and challenged existing thinking. The content was not speculation, but rather evidence from CISR research findings and real-world case studies. Some of the highlights included:
- Insight into the how digitisation is creating the next generation organisation
- The different business models to consider including suppliers, omnichannel businesses (e.g. Countdown), modular product / service producers (e.g. PayPal), and open ecosystem driver (e.g. Amazon)
- Given the Wellington city focus Dr Weill presented a case study of New York city and how through activities relating to access to the internet, encouraging digital engagement, open government data, innovative education models, and supporting digital organisations the city was moving from a 'supplier' model to an 'open ecosystem driver' model.
- Dr Weill also presented examples of how organisations in traditional verticals are using digitisation to experiment, allowing them to compete and change the landscape in different verticals. For example, Coles supermarket has become one of the largest retailers of insurance in Australia. France Telecom is offering mobile telephone enabled banking services in Africa with Orange Money. USAA has become a retailer of new cars by packaging a new car together with auto financing and insurance policies, all purchased online.
- Dr Weill concluded by showing how organisations will move from supply chain models to ecosystem models, how governments will need to play a role in driving ecosystems and that organisations need to start experimenting and generating 'breakthrough initiatives' for the future.
Equinox IT is the only New Zealand-owned IT consulting company to sponsor the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). We were excited to bring Dr Weill to New Zealand to inject thinking and to share knowledge on digital ecosystems.
What is the impact of digitisation on your organisation?
Complete the following 6 question poll. This is based on MIT CISR's own polls and will help you to assess the impact of digitisation on your organisation. It will take just a couple of minutes and is anonymous. Summary results will be presented in a future blog post.
Complete the digital ecosystem poll
We are pleased to welcome new additions to the Equinox IT family.
Senior Consultant, Architecture Practice
With over 12-years proven experience in infrastructure, application and security solutions, Greg aligns business objectives with technology solutions and outcomes ownership from architecture through to delivery. He holds a Diploma in Business Computing and is a Microsoft Certified Professional (2000), VMWare Certified Professional, IBM Certified Systems Administrator (WebSphere Application Server, Network Deployment v6.0) Sun Certified Engineer (Sun ONE Directory Server 5.x) Sun Certified Systems Administrator (Solaris 8) Sophos PureMessage for Unix, and Sophos Anti-Virus for Windows Certified Engineer.
Hamish joined Equinox IT in July 2013. He’s a business development professional who has advised clients in both the public and private sector. He has excellent relationships with ICT and business networks, and extensive experience consulting with multiple stakeholders and subject matter experts. Hamish holds a Bachelor of Arts, Geography & American Studies from the University of Canterbury.
NET Development Specialist, Software Development
James is a passionate .NET developer with more than five years’ public and private sector experience developing web solutions using Microsoft frameworks and technologies. James holds a BSC majoring in Computer Science, and a Graduate Diploma in Information Science from Massey University.
Nigel joined Equinox IT in July as a Consultant in our Business Change practice. He has more than 15 years proven business analyst experience in New Zealand and Asia, and a proven ability to align ICT and business as part of multi-disciplinary teams on ICT, procurement, process improvement, and management systems projects. Nigel is a certified PRINCE2 practitioner, an IIBA member and is currently working towards CBAP certification.
At Equinox IT we like to inject fresh thinking. So we are proud to welcome back Dr Peter Weill, Chairman and Senior Research Scientist for the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR), to share the MIT’s latest research findings on digital ecosystems. In 2008 Ziff Davis recognised Dr Weill as #24 of The Top 100 Most Influential People in IT, the highest-ranked academic. The visit will take place 22 and 23 August in Wellington and Dr Weill will be accompanied by Dr Peter Reynolds, Research Scientist for the MIT CISR. 'Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem' Event
On 23 August Dr Weill will present ‘Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem’ in an event hosted by Equinox IT together with the Wellington City Council. The presentation is targeted at business and IT professionals and will be based on MIT CISR digital ecosystems research with reference to Wellington's digital ecosystem context.Find out more about the 'Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem' event
Dr Weill and Dr Reynolds will also work with Equinox IT and our clients during the visit on digital ecosystems and other recent information technology and digitisation research findings from the MIT CISR.
Equinox IT is the only New Zealand IT consultancy to sponsor the MIT Sloan CISR, which provides us with access to the CISR’s latest research findings, resources and case studies, and we use this information to better advise our clients. Dr Weill and Dr Reynolds' visit follows a trip by Equinox IT Senior Consultant Peter Ng, to participate in the MIT CISR Summer Session 2013
, held in Boston in June.About MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR)
As part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) conducts field-based research on issues relating to the management and use of information technology in complex organisations. Their mission is to develop concepts and frameworks to help executives address the IT-related challenges of leading increasing dynamic, global, and information-intensive organisations. Find out more about the MIT CISR
. About Equinox IT
Equinox IT is New Zealand’s leading independent IT consultancy, delivering software development, consulting and training services. Established in 1995, we inject fresh thinking to solve tough business problems. Equinox IT has over 60 staff based in Wellington and Auckland.
We are pleased to welcome new additions to the Equinox IT family.
Erin holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science, and a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Auckland. She has four years research experience building complex mathematical models of physiological systems, and several years’ experience in software development using Micrsoft and web-based technologies.
Ian has more than 15 years’ business development and senior sales leadership experience in both New Zealand and the UK. He has a proven track record in the ICT, internet marketing and media industries and joins Equinox IT from a senior business development role at Vodafone where he was responsible for Government ICT. Ian first came to New Zealand from the UK during nine years with Dell Computer Corporation successfully growing their corporate business in both the UK and New Zealand markets.
Consultant, Business Change Practice
Veronica joined our Business Change Practice in June. She brings to Equinox IT extensive experience gained providing business and technology consultancy, business architecture, change management, and continuous improvement services in the Justice and public sector. Veronica holds a Master of Science - Psychology and a Bachelor of Science from Otago University.
I was recently privileged to be invited to chair the inaugural Business Analysis Skills Development Forum held in Auckland over 23 & 24 July 2013. This forum was created with the intention of introducing and exploring some of the foundation skills required of today's Business Analyst. These skills included process mapping, requirements analysis, stakeholder analysis, project initiation & scoping, and the BA's role in user acceptance testing. This last topic was presented by Peter Smeaton, a Senior Consultant with Equinox IT.
There were over 30 attendees from a diverse range of backgrounds. Most had less than one year's experience as a Business Analyst and were hungry for a deeper understanding of what this role means.
The speakers were all highly proficient in their areas of expertise and all provided a good introduction to the skills, capabilities and attributes Business Analysts need to succeed.
Though the speakers all had very different topics, three themes seemed to recur and the delegates were keen to explore these.
Whatever type of BA you are, the fundamental function required of you is to facilitate effective communication. This is within the project team and with the whole range of stakeholders. The way that we communicate (formal requirements documentation, contextual or scoping models, process maps and visual images) must be tailored to the audience and to the outcomes we expect. This isn't always easy - we each have our preferred styles and methods, but an effective BA must be able to stretch beyond such constraints and develop the skills and approaches to meet the stakeholder and project needs. We must also be able to adapt our communication style to the personality types we'll encounter. This takes more than a small degree of self-awareness. And of course, and often not done very well, we need to identify, analyse and manage our stakeholder community. If we don't know who we're talking to, about what or when, how successful can we possibly be?
One of the key functions of a BA is to be able to define and manage scope, be it a full project or a smaller piece of work. This ties in closely with effective planning and all that entails. Techniques such as Contextual Scoping and Scope Modelling are two approaches speakers discussed, each with clear benefits. Failing to make sure everything’s in scope that should be (and no more) can have a fundamental impact on a project delivering the expected business benefits. Which brings me on to...
So often project benefits are defined (to some degree) at the start of a project but are simply never measured after a project has completed. How do we know it was worth making the investment? One speaker discussed the Business Analyst as a 'Value Manager' - responsible for driving the maximum benefit out of any project. Is it going too far to consider this an accountability? Another speaker reflected how his organisation managed a project's benefits through a formal table of benefits that was monitored throughout the project and measured after the project had completed.
It was intriguing to see how these themes kept coming up and how the delegates were quick to discuss all the different challenges and opportunities each theme presented. I found it interesting to reflect on my own approach to these things and to have some fresh perspectives introduced by the challenging and enquiring minds of less experienced BAs.
I hope this forum continues as I think the value of challenging the status quo is immensely valuable. After all, it’s what BAs are supposed to do!
About Stephen Soanes
Steve is a Consultant with Equinox IT's Business Change Practice and is based in Auckland. He has over 20 years of experience in providing business analysis, business process design and organisational change management consulting services. His experience is across a range of industries including banking, finance, insurance, transport, logistics, telecommunications, utilities, local government and IT services.
In my capacity as co-chair of NZRise and Director of independent New Zealand IT consulting company Equinox IT, I was pleased to participate in the NZRise 'Delivering Digital Development' workshop held in the Capital in late May.
Sponsored by the Wellington City Council and with the support of the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP), the workshop focused on the Council’s 'Wellington Digital Strategy'.
The strategy’s aim is to set the direction for Wellington to achieve global recognition as a creative digital city.
The workshop included illustrative case studies and group discussions to explore three key areas of the strategy:
- How can we encourage innovation both within our own organisations and within the region?
- What do we need to do to facilitate the growth and development of the digital technology sector within the region?
- What trends and issues do we need to consider in the future?
Many participants felt that the Wellington region has carved out a unique position with many interactions and inter-relationships between organisations being facilitated by digital platforms.
What I personally found stimulating was the wide range of organisations that work together to develop creative digital products such as web design, gaming, applications, film, music, digital art and web tools.
I believe that by continuing to leverage these capabilities we can continue to add value and grow our region’s economic base.
As an analogy, I’m excited by the outstanding work of Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor (and many others) to build innovative, collaborative enterprises in the Wellington region based on shared digital platforms – in essence an interconnected ecosystem of both creative and economic potential.
I see small to medium-sized specialist organisations emerging to work alongside the likes of Wingnut Films, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop and Park Road Production (the contractors producing the chain mail costumes and Performing Legs for example) and the emergence of associated services and facilities (such as the Embassy and Roxy) to create an end-to-end ecosystem that has added immense economic value not only to the region but to the country as a whole. We’re not lying down and dying!
Creating a digital ecosystem
Digital technologies now permeate a much broader range of industries that what we might previously have simply equated with ICT alone. If organisations look at the nature of their business today, they will see that digital technologies are playing a much greater part in their operations than they ever have before. I believe we’re at the beginning of a new era where we’ll see organisations leveraging their investment in digital technologies to deliver enhanced products and services to their customers.
Rather than working as individual entities (as has often been the case in the past), I think the conclusion we can draw is that the sum of the whole is certainly going to be greater than the parts. Leveraging digitisation and participating collaboratively in a digital ecosystem will enable us to achieve a greater level of growth than if we all went ahead and did things individually.
I think we’ll see the likes of Trade Me and Xero becoming digital ecosystems in their own right as other organisations deliver add-ons and extensions.
Key to this change is moving away from an individual mind-set - no organisation exists for and by itself - and looking beyond to greater opportunities in a given sector, region and nationally. It’s about the creation of additional value and using technologies in a smart way to achieve that. By collaborating digitally, we’ll be growing the overall opportunity for products and services in a given area.
The region’s health and education sectors, for example, represent two major opportunities for the creation of a digital ecosystem that would add value to both the organisations involved and the region as a whole.
Download the Wellington Digital Strategy
About Paul Ramsay
Paul has 30 years’ experience in the information technology (IT) industry, and is a Director of Equinox IT where he works as a Principal Consultant. He is actively involved in the broader IT community, and is currently the co-chair of NZRise and was Founding President of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) New Zealand Chapter. Paul is also a regular trainer, facilitator and presenter.
Many of you will be aware of Equinox IT’s sponsorship of the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR), based in Boston, Massachusetts. CISR conducts field-based research on issues related to the management and use of information technology in complex organisations.
When preparing notes for the NZRise ‘Delivering Digital Development’ workshop in May, I referenced CISR’s International Executive Workshop presentation The Next Generation Enterprise: Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Economy presented by Dr Peter Weill and Dr Stephanie L. Woerner in Sydney in December 2012.
In looking at Next Generation Enterprises, Dr Weill and Dr Woerner said:
- The world is rapidly digitising and connecting—individuals, enterprises, devices, governments, transactions, collaborations, socially
- Digitisation is gradually changing the ‘essence’ of enterprises—e.g. less clear boundaries.
The report identified four key types of IT-driven transformation:
- Businesses will move from supply chains to ecosystems with increasing power to customers (with customer experience and ecosystem resilience dominating performance measures)
- Ecosystems will become more open
- Intermediary B2B business will steadily disappear (e.g., agents, brokers, retailors, industrial suppliers) and be replaced by ecosystems
- Enterprises will be either drivers or participants in several ecosystems and need to be a driver in at least one to survive.
Dr Peter Weill in Wellington during August 2013
I’m pleased to confirm that Equinox IT will host Dr Peter Weill in Wellington on 22 and 23 August 2013 as part of our ongoing commitment to the ICT sector. Dr Weill is a Senior Research Scientist and Chair of the MIT CISR. In 2008, Ziff Davis recognized Weill as #24 of The Top 100 Most Influential People in IT, the highest-ranked academic. Dr Weill will be accompanied on the visit by Dr Peter Reynolds, Research Scientist for the MIT CISR.
During his visit Dr Weill will present 'Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem' in an event hosted by Equinox IT together with the Wellington City Council. The presentation is targeted at business and IT professionals and will be based on MIT CISR digital ecosystems research with reference to Wellington's digital ecosystem context.
Find out more about the 'Creating a Vibrant Digital Ecosystem' event
Dr Weill and Dr Reynolds will also work with Equinox IT and our clients during the visit on digital ecosysems and other recent information technology and digitisation research findings from the MIT CISR.
About the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR)
As part of the Massachusetts Institute of technology Sloan School of Management, the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) conducts field-based research on issues relating to the management and use of information technology in complex organisations. Their mission is to develop concepts and frameworks to help executives address the IT-related challenges of leading increasingly dynamic, global, and information-intensive organisations. Find out more about the MIT CISR.
The 20th Workshop on Performance and Reliability, New York, May 2013
In mid-May 2013 I joined colleague Richard Leeke for the 20th Workshop on Performance and Reliability (WOPR)
in the Garment District of the Big Apple.
Richard is Principal Consultant, Performance Engineering Practice at Equinox IT. He’s a world recognised expert in performance testing, and previously served as a WOPR Content Owner. His experiential paper, Pushing the Limits of Testing Tools
, was accepted into the WOPR20 programme.
WOPR is a series of peer workshops for performance engineers & testers, operations planners, development managers, and related professionals. In the workshops, subject matter experts and practitioners share experiences which are then used to inform group discussions about systems performance, reliability, scalability and recoverability.
The workshops emphasise mutual learning, sharing experiences and discussing problems and solutions.
With a 30-participant limit, each speaker at these twice-yearly WOPR events presents a project experience. A facilitated discussion follows to distil the experience and the issues that it raises. These discussions sometimes continue for several hours.
At WOPR20, participants from Belgium, the Netherlands and New Zealand joined attendees from North America. Ross Collard, Content Owner for WOPR20, selected the theme, The Leading Edge of Performance and Reliability.
Highlights of WOPR20
Presentations at WOPR20 included discussions about modelling performance at extremely large scales, testing in the Cloud, big data platforms, mobile analytics, and a report on the on-going development of a new tooling approach. Distilling those experiences led to conversations about tooling and instrumentation methodology, modelling reliability in software systems, and the role and nature of testing in a continuous-release world.
Papers I particularly liked included Facebook’s Capacity Planning Engineer, Goranka Bjedov, talking about how Facebook Heat Maps Pinpoint Network's Trouble Spots
when for example Hurricane Sandy hit, and Julian Harty’s paper on using Mobile Analytics Results for Quality Improvement
and the issues of privacy around data acquisition from apps.
Goranka kindly complemented Richard on his work, “… the problems Richard solves makes my job look easy!”, and she told us “New Zealand is a frequent test bed for new Facebook features.”
Richard Leeke - Pushing the Limits of Testing Tools
Richard’s experiential paper told the story of grafting performance testing onto a government website.
Equinox IT evaluated eight test tools on paper before doing a proof of concept that eventually resolved the desired direction.
Richard’s team within Equinox IT then built a framework to enhance the capability of Microsoft Visual Studio Load Testing in order to support the application being tested. An experienced performance tester could use this framework to design and develop test scripts.
The outcome was that the process reduced the time to create a test suite from 600 hours to 150, while the time to re-record for a new build dropped down to 15 hours or so. This means a test run can happen in days, not weeks and resulted in significant savings and improved performance.
WOPR is an intense, professionally satisfying, inspiring workshop with an open format and the stimulating company of peers. For those of us working as trusted advisers diagnosing performance problems and advising clients about risk mitigation, stability, capability and capacity, WOPR20 delivered highly-respected insights from expert practitioners.