Posts Tagged ‘software’

Quality #14: Process Improvement and 3E’s

by Tanmay Vora on January 25, 2010

The next installment in the QUALITYtweet series is: Process Improvement and 3E’s

Here are the first thirteen posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture
  13. Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

#QUALITYtweet Lack of 3E’s can be your biggest road blocks

in improvement journey. Empowerment, Education,

and Empathy

There are many reasons why a lot of improvement initiatives fail. However, top three reasons for most of the failures are:

1)      Lack of Empowerment

2)      Lack of Education and Training

3)      Lack of Empathy

Lets carefully look at each one of these culprits, and what you can do about it:

Empowerment

All improvement starts from the top. Most of the top leaders would claim that they want their processes to improve and efficiencies to increase. However, their best intentions to improve processes do not translate into actual commitment to improve. They assign responsibility of process improvement to a group but tend to bypass the processes themselves for short-term benefits. Worst yet, they assign responsibility of process improvement to a team and then reallocate the same team when faced with an immediate need of those resources. Leaders set a wrong precedence when they do this, and often create a culture where bypassing processes is considered normal. Lack of empowerment also means that people are not allowed to make mistakes. As a consequence, people responsible for or interested in process improvement initiative soon lose interest and move on and organization looses substantial time and effort already spent so far.

What can you do about it?

  • Map your intentions with your actions on process improvement.
  • Assign ownership and divert all communication related to improvement at one point.
  • Set expectations clear on goals and purpose of process improvement initiative.
  • Welcome innovation and let your improvement team make mistakes.
  • Announce your process improvement goals and track the progress.
  • Announce the results as well.
  • Periodically review improvement efforts and results.

Education

Either most people are not aware of the best practices or they don’t know how to apply those practices in given situations. Technology folks are deep into technology, but they don’t necessarily go deep into processes and practices. This is where continuous education is required. People need to be trained on processes and best way to implement them. When people don’t know the process, no wonder they will not use it optimally.

What can you do about it?

  • Set up a process training calendar throughout the year.
  • Ensure that all new processes, practices are propagated across the organization.
  • Set up a process advisory function for current/new projects.
  • Create best practices group and empower them to explore/share their expertise.
  • Have right knowledge management tools that help you in spreading process awareness.

Empathy

Process improvement can only be effective when process has an “empathy” element into it. If applied rigidly, processes can become your biggest barrier in solving your customer’s immediate problems. Empathy means accepting that processes may still not be able to solve all your/your customer’s problems. Empathy also means accepting that processes cannot be rigidly applied to all situations.

What can you do about it?

  • Understand the situation in which processes are applied.
  • Understand the larger context.
  • Assess if processes can be applied in an “as-is” state or would it need some tweaking.
  • Learn from unique situations and improve processes to include those scenarios.

As a first step to your process improvement journey, even if you focus on these Three E’s, your journey will become much easier and fun

Quality #13: Reviews can be fun (if done right)

by Tanmay Vora on January 19, 2010

Last year, in November, I posted 12 posts on QUALITY in the form of QUALITYtweets, on Active Garage. It didn’t quite seem right to stop just there… when there is so much still left to say about QUALITY!

Here are the first twelve posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…
  11. Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership
  12. Quality #12: Middle Management and Quality Culture

#QUALITYtweet Make every review meeting a learning

experience by reviewing the product

and process, not people.

We create, we review and we make it better. Reviews are an integral part of product/service quality improvement. The core purpose of any review process is to “make things better” by re-examining the work product and find out anomalies or areas of improvements that the creator of the work product was not able to find.

Establishing a good review process in an organization requires management commitment and investment, but for returns that it generates, the effort is totally worth it. In software world, a lot of emphasis is given to formal inspections, but they work best when a formal process marries with a set of common sense rules. Here they go:

1) Reviewing early

Reviews in early phase of product development means that findings are less costly to resolve. The later defects are found, more expensive it gets to resolve those defects.

2) Staying positive

The art of review is to report negative findings (problems) without losing the positive undertone of communication. Negative or destructive criticism will only make the process more burdensome. Stay positive and keep the process lightweight.

3) Keeping review records

When a lot of time is spent on reviewing, it makes sense to track the findings to closure. Recording the finding helps you to effectively track the closure and trends.

4) Reviewing process, not the person

Always question the process and not the person. Human beings are bound to make mistakes, which is why reviews are required. So accept that mistakes will happen. How can we have a more effective process so that these mistakes are not repeated? That is the critical question.

Imagine that Bob is the reviewer of John’s work product and consider the following conversations:

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you. Again this time, you have not implemented the architecture correctly. You committed the same mistakes that were also found in the registration module earlier.”

OR

Bob: “John, I reviewed the code of invoices module developed by you and your team. We have found some anomalies in the architecture implementation. I just wanted to know if the team had undergone the workshop on our standard architecture. If not, we should invite our systems architect to take a small workshop on system architecture so that the team has better clarity on how it can be best implemented.”

Two conversations with a totally different outlook. The first conversation tries to blame the producer where as the second conversation tries to assess the process and take corrective actions.

5) Training and more training

Reviewers can make huge mistakes if they are not trained. If you don’t invest in training your review teams, you cannot expect them to do it right, the first time.

6) Reviewing iteratively

Review often. During the course of product building, product needs may change. New ideas may be implemented. Keep review process constant amidst all these changes. Discipline is the key.

7) Reviewing the process of reviewing

Are we reviewing it right? Are we reviewing the right things? Periodically, assess the results and the benefits of having a review process. Assess how reviews helped improve product quality. In process assessment, also identify if people are heavily relying on reviews. It that is the case, it is a bad sign.

Success of any process depends on 2 E’s – Efficient and Enjoyable. Same holds true for your review processes. Review is a control mechanism, and hence the focus on getting it right the first time is still very important. A good review is just an internal quality gate that ensures that internal customers (reviewers) are happy with the final product. If your internal customers are happy, your external customers will be happy too!

Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality

by Tanmay Vora on November 11, 2009

This is the third part of a 12-part series titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first two posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention

#QUALITYtweet No certification will

save the project if you staff it with

poor resources

Great quality is always a result of good people working passionately towards organizations goals. People can be your strongest (or weakest) link that has the strong influence in quality of your deliverable.

In the process improvement initiative, if due consideration is not given to the people aspect, processes manuals and specifications can easily give you a false confidence that everything will go as per the process. People form the core of any project because they write specifications, understand, design and develop your solutions.

I believe that organizations need good people to deliver quality – process acts as a catalyst to drive the success and manage risks. People are always the strongest or the weakest link in the success or failure of a project.

One of the key challenges for managers/leaders is to build a “quality aware” team where people know that quality is everybody’s responsibility.

For example, having a set of development guidelines or testing guidelines does not stop an individual from developing a bad product. Ability to develop a good product, associate it with business understanding and finding optimized ways of accomplishing things is an art – an intrinsic ability. Focus should be on people because they develop solutions with the help of a process (whether a formal or personal process).

Processes help you create a right management framework, manage risks, measure outcomes and take right decisions. Processes should act as a tool and help people perform better. Knowing the priorities, business model and having insight on what has really worked for you in the past is crucial to see that processes drive growth and not become an overhead.

Recipe for great quality is to have right people following right processes employing right tools at a right time.

Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator

by Tanmay Vora on November 9, 2009

This is the first part of a 12-part series titled ‘#QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture’. This series will provide 12 relevant insights on how organizations can improve their quality culture through people, processes and leadership.

Introduction to #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture

Relentless focus on quality helps you build a sustainable organization that delivers value – to customers and people working with the organization. Quality is a long-term strategic differentiator.

Yet, most quality models heavily focus on methodologies, metrics and complex processes. This series is a collection of 12 chosen tweets from my upcoming book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project” and ideas that expand 12 tweets from the book. These insights will help you frame your quality strategy by effectively leveraging processes, people and leadership to build a customer-centric organization.

Moving on to the first QUALITYtweet…

#QUALITYtweet Quality is never a

short-term goal. It is a long-term

differentiator

Quality is not a goal – it is a differentiator that can transform an organization into a remarkable one. If we study the anatomy of any process improvement or change initiative, it involves short term and long term objectives. Long term objectives generally map with organization’s vision and values while short term objectives are steps that lead to those long-term objectives. Yet, many organizations fall in a trap of setting short term improvement objectives that don’t map to any long term goals.

Here is a litmus test to identify if an organization’s quality goals are short term:

1)      Top management looks at processes as an overhead that can reduce overall efficiency of doing the “real stuff”.

2)      Quality Certification is seen purely as a tool to generate more sales, with no deliberation on how it can help improve efficiencies (and hence improve bottom-lines on a longer run).

3)      Quick and often unreasonable results are expected out of process improvement group.

4)      The question often asked is, “How can we correct this?” and not “How can we prevent this next time?”

5)      Process improvement exercise is triggered only when major problems are encountered.

It is said, “There are no shortcuts in life” – this adage aptly suits the quality improvement initiative as well. Process is a framework which people use to deliver quality products and services. Organization’s quality culture evolves when good people consistently follow a set of continually improving processes.

I have seen companies who perceive process implementation as a loss in immediate productivity because people will have to spend time in maintaining process artifacts. They miss a very important point that undefined and ad-hoc processes only lead to unpredictability of outcomes. It hurts organization’s brand. None of the process models including ISO 9001:2000 and CMM guarantees short term improvements. With a consistent effort and commitment from the top management, maturity of process happens gradually, just as we mature gradually as human beings.

Economists say that the best way to get good return from the stock market is to have an investment timeframe of a few years and not a few months. Short-term gains may be a stroke of luck – but luck is has never been a sustainable strategy! Same principles apply to your quality improvement initiative. Without a commitment to improve and long term thinking on processes, you may have successes based on individual heroism but never a sustainable model that delivers consistent quality.

Most successful organizations are built on a solid process framework. Companies that avoid power of processes soon hit the glass ceiling. People build the organizations and process helps organizations scale up smoothly.

Today’s marketplace demands that you consistently exceed customer’s expectations. You can run the organization on chaos or you can have systems that help you/your people become more effective. It is a choice that makes all the difference!

The Blinding Task Orientation

by Himanshu Jhamb on October 12, 2009

Task OrientationThere are countless instances in my life when I have wondered why my hard work has not paid off the way I had expected it to ‘coz I had heard so many times (from so many people) that it really pays to work hard. Evidently, I was missing something. My quest for solving this mystery led me to investing in my education (after a drought of almost a decade), finally, and I learnt why hard work, by itself, is not enough to get the results that we are after.

I realized that the way I was working was self-defeating in itself. Yes, I was working long hours (very long hours), I was tired, sweating-it-out and simply slogging it out. I was doing what I was told and I worked really hard to finish it in time and when I was done with that one thing, I went to the next task. What totally escaped me was that in “task-orientation” i.e. my single-mindedness of completing the task; I was simply blind to the overall purpose of what I was doing and in the process, did not end up producing much although it felt like I had moved a mountain (or two!).

If you can identify with this feeling… keep reading…

As an example of what “Task Orientation” looks like (or shows up as) in real life, a recent event comes to mind. I was working with a team member on a project where we were figuring out a piece of software on how we can make it work for using it to deliver some audio/video content. My astute colleague figured it out pretty quickly and I requested him to send out an email with detailed instructions on how to use the software to the rest of the team so that everyone can start utilizing it to do their work more effectively. My colleague sent out the email in the next 15 minutes with 3-4 brief steps and the final step (which was where the meat was) was garbled (perhaps a result of a shoddy cut/paste attempt). 3 out of 4 team members responded for clarifications and a flurry of emails followed to rectify the situation. Imagine how easy it would’ve been if my dear colleague would’ve given just a little more time to thinking of the PURPOSE of the request rather than treat it as just a “Task” that had to be taken care of quickly. The difference is admittedly, subtle, but the consequences, unfortunately, are not.

I have been culprit of many such emails in the past… (and I apologize now to all those who received those emails from me that added “Cost” to their life) and have learnt to take care by following a few simple rules to take care of my natural inclination to the “Task orientation” in my work and not get trapped in it. Here are a few of my simple rules:

  1. Know the recipients of your emails: Who are you writing to? Are they aware of the context of your email? If not, provide some background before you dive into what you have to say.
  2. Know your recipient’s proficiency in what you will be talking about in your email. So, for example, you will be writing a very different email if you are giving technical instructions to a group of developers vs. a group of managers.
  3. Make sure the links or any references you provide in your emails, WORK. Test them out yourself before sending the email out. It is “Very Costly” for the recipients to click on the links you provide in your email that do not work.
  4. Cutting & Pasting (especially software code or configuration stuff): If you are cutting/pasting anything that you want others to take “as-is”: Cut/Paste it in the email body and also cut/paste it in a simple text editor (e.g. notepad); save the file; attach it and then send the email. The attachment serves as a backup plan. It takes care of the situation in which any “hidden” or “Special” characters inadvertently find their way in your email and gives your recipient a “second-chance” to receive what you wanted to send them without them going through the trouble of sending you another email asking you to resend the cut/paste text. That’s a HUGE Cost Saving!
  5. Include your signature at the end of your emails: How many times have you received emails from others, had a question you wanted to speak to them about immediately but could not get in touch with them because all you saw at the end of the email was a “Thanks!”? Do your recipients (and yourself) a favor – Do not be that person.

Imagine the assessments you trigger at the other side of the email with your recipients in your everyday communications. Imagine how you’d show up for them in your emails  if you “took care” to write emails with these rules. You will show up as someone who really “cares” for their time and your time. On the other hand, “Task orientation” only produces lots of activity… not necessarily productive and leaves people with quite a few negative assessments about you.

The choice is yours… and so are the consequences of it!

Choose with care!

There’s treasure everywhere, We just need to look

by Robert Driscoll on June 18, 2009

therestreasureeverywhere
There’s Treasure Everywhere, We Just Need To Look.

Too often we try to get our customers to buy in to the latest and greatest applications and tools to help them address a concern they have or eliminate current or future issues. The most difficult sales are when one tries to get one’s customers to change and get out of their perceived comfort zone. At times, technology can be overwhelming and confusing. Sometimes it is best to bring things that are in your and your customer’s “background” to the “forefront”. Solutions for helping your customer are sometimes right in front of you.

For example, walk in to your office and look at how many desktops, laptops, printers, phones, etc…there are. Then think about all the IT assets you don’t see that exist within your organization such as PBX’s, routers, switches, servers and so forth. Stop and think for a moment who in your company actually knows what IT equipment exists… think about who knows about the maintenance service contracts associated with this equipment… think about what is sitting idle and what can be reallocated instead of buying new.

Now think about your customers. Most of your customers will claim they have a handle on it. Unfortunately, according to a recent Gartner report this month, many enterprises fail to properly manage and track their IT assets. If companies implemented a proper IT asset management (ITAM) program according to Gartner, they could, “reduce the cost per asset by 30% in the first year, and between 5% and 10% a year for the next five years…” This is bad news for companies who are blind to what IT assets they own, but a great conversation to have with your customers to help them implement a program to track their assets from procurement to end-of-life. Here’s the good news… with ITAM, we’ve just begun to scratch the surface. Imagine how many additional conversations about your customers other strategic systems can be opened up – like accounts payable/receivable, ERP, purchasing, IT service desk and so forth as they are all tied to the procurement and use of these IT assets. What started off as a conversation about one thing has now lead to multiple opportunities!

It is amazing how blind we are to so many things around us that we can turn in to opportunities. We just need to slow down and look around every now and then… which brings me back to where I started from… There’s treasure everywhere, we just need to look.