Random thoughts on being service-oriented

Currently, I work in a support group in the IT department of my company. Our group assists other IT teams by scheduling, assessing impact and coordinating deployments to our production systems. In essence, these are the services we provide. For the purposes of this posting, this is my frame of reference when I say service-oriented.
Random thoughts on improving your customers' experience:

  1. Think about things from the perspective of your customers. Perspective is everything after all.
  2. Take your own medicine - go through the process yourself. Have you ever come across a user interface where you wondered, "What were they (the developers) thinking?!"
  3. Don't be a cold heartless bureaucrat. It's important to your customer; make sure they know it's important to you.
  4. Do things which provide benefit and value, not because you're following a checklist.
  5. The process you steward can be a part of a much larger one. Never forget it. When someone asks for help but it's in another area, make sure you explain to them how the larger process works and your piece in it.
  6. When you need to pass a client onto another service team, do it personally if possible. Make sure the transition goes smoothly.
  7. Acknowledge the requests you've received and set expectations for completion.
  8. Provide updates when you're running late and won't be able to meet the expectation.
  9. Follow-up afterwards and ask for feedback.
  10. People shouldn't use your services because they have to. Don't tell them that. People should use your services because they want to! Be ready to market the benefits in a tangible way.

Webinar: Trace requirements to business intent

Compuware is providing a webinar on July 26 @ 2:00pm EDT. You can register following this link.

Practical techniques: Trace operational and other non-functional requirements to business intent
More and more there is increased pressure to develop applications that are closely tuned to business processes and yet can be changed on a moment’s notice to reflect new priorities.

Achieving balance between business goals and the associated operational requirements set has been a challenge. Too often different stakeholders are defining the business (domain experts) and operational (technical experts) perspectives. This can lead to disconnects in the systems delivered, requiring expensive rework either late in the development cycle or in post-production maintenance releases.

WIIFM - What's In It For Me

I remember sitting through some of my directors' presentations listening to them talk about, What's In It For Me, or WIIFM for short (not to be confused with the Nintendo Wii - which I play but suck at.) The basic idea was while you worked hard on projects you were also learning, developing new skills and getting new experiences. WIIFM for everyone!

In a few of my blog posts I've written about how important it is to adjust your presentation and communication to your audience. In effect, you were telling them, What's In It For Them. It's all about creating a relevant experience to sell an idea, product or concept.

Now let's step back and examine this WIIFM concept applied to another situation. Have you ever worked on a project where you have an idea on how more success can be achieved if the project team were to work more collaboratively with other project teams and personnel? In my experience the typical project manager response is, "It's not my problem," or, "It's outside of my scope," or, "It's someone else's problem." Then you step back and watch the car crash in slow motion; the problem manifests itself and severely impact the project and company as a whole.

I liken this to Adam Smith's (the Father of Economics) "invisible hand."

As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labors to render the annual value of society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By referring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his
own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it. (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations)
Basically, this means each individual acting in his (or her) own self-interest will lead to a better outcome for the society as a whole; or WIIFM but on a project-scale. The problem with this is simple. No one ever builds roads and the infrastructure to connect things because it's in no specific person's best self-interest; but that's not my problem. Is it?

I'm not saying expand a project's scope, merely understand how a project fits in with the big picture.

Someone else's shoes

Continuing from my last post, spending a day in another person's shoes will give you an appreciation and understanding of their point of view.
Try this simple exercise - Drop any preconceptions or notions you may have and pretend you are in the position of one of your clients or end-users. Do a little role-playing to increase your empathy.

  • What would you want or need to be successful?
  • Why would you want it? What would you do with it? What's the value?
  • When would you need it?
By no means do I suggest you use this technique to gather requirements for a client, however, it will help you look at things differently and with a more open mind.

Change your perspective

Perspective influences how you view the world. It allows you to see things in a different light than another person, but it can also keep you from understanding their point of view. When you are gathering requirements from a client, having empathy enhances your ability to understand their needs.

Benefits of being able to view things differently:

  1. Allows you to be open-minded, receptive and patient.

  2. You learn to think like your client. In some of my engagements, I found my clients could not articulate exactly what they wanted. I needed to perform a lot of facilitation to help gather and define requirements. Being able to think like them allowed me to probe more effectively and determine the underlying objectives.

  3. Because you understand your client's point of view, you can anticipate their next question. This is an excellent value-add to your ability to provide service.

Changing perspective isn't a foreign concept. If you have ever created user stories, you have in essence used an approach that incorporates the different perspectives of the people involved. User stories are easy for the different parties to understand -- clear communication is always the goal.

Make understanding your client's perspective a part of every engagement.

Webinar: Getting the Right People on the Right Projects

Getting the Right People on the Right Projects (Wednesday April 18, 2007 @ 2:00PM EST)

Completing projects isn't enough anymore. The real challenge is building applications that are on target, on deadline, and on budget, to save your company money and provide a competitive edge. Therefore, ensuring you've got the right people on the right projects at the right time is more important than ever. That means effective project management.

Slew of webinars and resources

Managing your requirements is only half the battle. For management to be truly effective, taking the first step of defining complete, accurate requirements is absolutely critical. In this webcast, Forrester Senior Analyst Carey Schwaber will explain how you can build agreement around requirements right from the start, so there are no uncertainties down the road.

Many CIOs are struggling in their quest of aligning IT with the corporate business strategies, objectives, metrics and culture. CIOs need to become more involved in the development of strategic initiatives and build an understanding of the corporate and line of business missions and goals if they seek to align IT with the corporate directions. Moreover, CIOs need to interpret that knowledge into a flexible IT strategy if the alignment is to succeed long-term.

As business intelligence (BI) evolves, new trends emerge. But whichimportant BI trends should you pay attention to? And how should yourorganization incorporate this information into BI strategies?

Webinar: Bits and bites

BPM: Aligning People, Process & Technology
Monday March 26 @ 12:00pm (EST)

Join Paul Harmon, Executive Editor, BPTrends and Principal, BPTrends Associates and Roger Burlton, Founder, Process Renewal Group and Principal, BPTrends Associates, for an insightful and lively discussion about the advantages of aligning your people, processes and technology to achieve improved enterprise performance.
Deliver what the business expects
One of the webinars mentioned in a previous post has made its slides available as well as access to a 2006 IDC research white paper by Ballou.

Building trust

A business analyst bridges the communication gap between different parties through precise communication and understanding. Part of this process requires the development of strong working relationships with clients, or more simply, client management skills.
Like any relationship, professional or personal, establishing trust, confidence and credibility is of the utmost importance. Here are a few of my suggestions:

  1. Set expectations. Make sure your clients understand the necessary inputs and outputs from the engagement. Make sure they understand their own role.
  2. It's all about execution. Do what you say you will do. Develop a plan and show your are executing against it. This improves your client's transparency into your activities as well as shows your accountabilities.
  3. Present the good and the bad. By nature a lot of us will 'sugar-coat' the bad things or make them small footnotes. Present the bad news and its impacts however, provide options, alternatives and recommendations.
  4. Be able to justify your work. Be prepared to run someone through your thought process. I remember one instance where I had prepared reporting showing assets under administration a few hundred million dollars short of the previous month. Naturally the lead accountant questioned my data. I walked him through the process of developing the report and after he saw the diligence and supporting numbers he agreed with my conclusion. Afterwards, he never questioned any of my work and was always satisfied with the results.
Whenever you are starting an engagement with new clients there is a feeling out process. This is your opportunity to set the stage and provide exceptional value-add service.

Webinar: Deliver what the business expects

Compuware is providing a webinar entitled, Deliver what the business expects, at 2:00 PM EST on February 27, 2007. Here's a brief synopsis:

By establishing a sound requirements gathering and management process and tightly aligning it with QA and the rest of project life cycle, IT can deliver relevant and business-facing applications faster and more efficiently. IDC’s November 2006 research white paper, "Driving Effective Requirements Through Quality Coordination for Adaptive IT/Business Collaboration," by Melinda-Carol Ballou shows that leading global companies are looking deeper within the IT organization to deliver competitive advantage.

Webinar: From Process Understanding to Business Innovation

ebizQ will be hosting a webinar called From Process Understanding to Business Innovation on February 6, 2007 @ 12:00 PM (EST.) Here is a brief description of the event.

Transformation and innovation are the cornerstones of your success. It's no longer enough to be efficient. Business innovation is the name of the game if you want to stay ahead of your global competition. But enhancing customer experiences, increasing operational agility, and re-thinking the way you create value is no easy task. It requires you to change and continually improve your processes.

Business intelligence basics

Business intelligence is defined as,

The process of gathering information about a business or industry matter; a broad range of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help make business decisions.
While I am not an expert in this field I do have a fundamental understanding of the key concepts. The picture below shows a high level view of a simple business intelligence configuration.There are:
  1. Source systems which gather the information that will be analyzed.
  2. Information from the source systems are stored in their native databases or other data sources. Typically the database are configured for speed of processing. This is good for processing transactions quickly but bad for analyzing them.
  3. Information from the data sources goes through a process known as ETL where the data is extracted from the source system, transformed (to meet business needs) and loaded into a data warehouse. Many different data sources can be consolidated.
  4. Information from the data warehouse is made available to end-users in the form of data marts where the data is organized to answer specific types of business questions (e.g., sales data can be cross referenced by product, region, time, sales representative, etc...)
  5. Finally, reporting and analytic tools are used to analyze the information in the data marts. This genre of reporting tools are known collectively as on-line analytical processing (OLAP for short.) There are a few different variations of OLAP tools: MOLAP or multi-dimensional OLAP and relational OLAP or ROLAP. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For more information on OLAP I suggest going to the OLAP report.
  • Do you need real-time reporting? Is it important to understand what is going on right now? By nature, most business intelligence configurations update their information at a frequency insufficient for real-time reporting.
  • Are there standard reporting needs or are reporting needs of a more ad-hoc nature? The answer to this question my mean that one of MOLAP or ROLAP may be more relevant.

Webinar: Requirements-driven testing

There's a webinar offered by Compuware called, Requirements-driven testing—The journey from business needs to test and user acceptance. The event will occur on February 6, 2007 @2:00 pm EST (11:00 am PST.) Here's a brief description of the event.

IDC’s research indicates that 70-80 percent of IT project failures result directly from poor requirements gathering, management and analysis. With a requirements-driven testing approach, you can improve the quality of your requirements, involve QA earlier in the life cycle and maximize the ability of your projects to deliver on all of their objectives.

Decisions and consequences

Early last year I wrote a post called, Thoughts on decision-making, where I outlined some decision-making techniques and myths. One item I would like to add to that topic is to understand the consequences and ramifications of the decisions you make.
Let's step back and examine this from a business context. Suppose we are working on a project and one of the requirements is simply, "to be able to process transactions from external sources." The design team proposes two solutions:

  • Processing batch files
  • Processing individual transactions (real-time)
Based on cost estimates, the batch file solution seems more appealing. One should consider whether, in the foreseeable future, real-time processing is desirable and whether the benefits of that approach will outweigh the increase in costs. It may turn out that the batch file design still wins out but the ramifications of the decision are fully understood and can be communicated.

You may think the consequences of a decision will be minor and short-lived, but they may become temporary like income taxes.

Ode to preparation

There's a short but interesting post on Mark Cuban's blog, Blogmaverick. He paraphrases former Indiana Hoosiers coach, Bobby Knight, "Everyone has got the will to win, it's only those with the will to prepare, that do win."
When you are working on business requirements, presentations or anything at all, good preparation will improve your performance. Words to live by.