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The Cyber Paradox

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The Cyber Paradox

  1. 1. The Cyber Paradox: Why Technology Problems Don’t Have Technical Solutions In this white paper, we discuss why technology so frequently fails to meet expectations, how that problem developed, and a strategy for doing better. Despite what many people think, engineering excellence has little to do with technical factors. Instead, it is the result of effective attitudes and understanding truth. Real effectiveness begins not with using the latest gadgets, but with adopting constructive ways of thinking.
  2. 2. What is the problem, exactly? Most companies that conduct or sponsor software development work experience constant frustration over projects that are late, over-budget and defective upon delivery. The problem is so pervasive that it’s understandable when people become jaded, believing that it’s in the very nature of these projects to be unpredictable and flawed. But as Dusty Springfield famously observed: wishing and hoping and thinking and praying is not a strategy for success. A solution will come from: 1. A clear and correct understanding of the root causes of problems 2. A strategic approach to eliminating those root causes 3. The courage and determination to do what it takes to both “sell” and pursue the strategy 4. The discipline to persist in the approach despite inevitable distractions and opposition What would it mean to you and your organization if your systems were consistently delivered on time, on budget and on purpose (well suited to your business need)? It may sound incredible, but that’s actually possible. On time, on budget and on purpose Many organizations and their leaders see systems exclusively from the perspective of the business purpose: the specific function that the system performs. But what good is any system if it’s unavailable, unreliable, unstable, insecure, and inflexible? To win in today’s business environment, you need technology that succeeds on all fronts: technology delivered on time, on budget, and on purpose (suited to your business needs). That doesn’t happen by accident. It comes about as the result of discipline, strategic thinking and a clear and correct understanding of the root causes of problems that have been around for a very long time. Where we’ve been In our modern society and economy, we’ve been struggling with technical dysfunction for a long time. Widespread recognition of the systems development “crisis” came in the 1970s, especially when the US Federal Government discovered that a distressingly small portion of the systems they developed and funded ever made it into actual use… perhaps as few as 25%. The response to the crisis was decades of experimentation with new methodologies and technologies. The most important of these ideas were iterative development approaches that avoided “high stakes” commitments, and platform-independent technologies that delivered flexibility in the face of hardware diversity. Unfortunately, none of these methods and technologies, either individually or in concert, have proven to be fully effective in solving the crisis. Why not? Well, the origins of systems dysfunction, as it turns out, are not especially technical, and haven’t been for decades. They include company culture, management attitudes, budgetary priorities, and dysfunctional processes. So, technical “solutions” will not address our problems. Real success will only come from gaining a different understanding of challenges and different approaches to solutions. It will require a change in thinking, and a change in attitude.
  3. 3. The quality of your company is the quality of your technology. Before we discuss a path to success, it’s very important to understand something. In fact, if you take only one idea away from this paper, it should be this: your business is a cyber-business. You probably think your business is a bank, or a manufacturer, or a service company, or that it’s transportation or health care. You’re right, of course. But the trouble with thinking that way all the time is that you may fail to appreciate two things: 1. In the 21st century, opportunities for gaining a competitive advantage come primarily through leveraging technology. Conversely, bad technology can literally end up crashing the business: you can probably think of companies who have suffered that fate. 2. Technology that truly supports your business must be managed with vision and discipline, two qualities that must be developed and fostered in even the most technically competent organizations. Consequently, it is helpful, at least sometimes, to think of any company as being in the technology business. Like it or not, your company is (sort of) a technology company… even if you outsource. And your success, regardless of your industry sector, is largely determined by how well you leverage your technology. What is engineering excellence? You’ve heard the famous cliché that everyone wants solutions that are good, cheap and fast, but you can only pick two. But engineering excellence re-defines these three terms to be achievable and relevant. Think about it: from the perspective of what really matters to a business, predictability and suitability are actually far more important than getting a bargain or even the “best” technical solution. If you can be confident that the promised cost, schedule and functionality are assured, your decision to commit becomes a simple question of value, not risk. Where we need to go The need for technical leadership has never been greater. But should “leadership” mean? Doing better… building sound foundations… is conceptually simple, but difficult in execution. It takes courage to act on the belief that building quality processes now will bring long-term success tomorrow. Sometimes influential people will fail to grasp the vision and resist changes. Sometimes urgent business imperatives will take priority over strategic initiatives. But here is an approach that has proven to be successful: Start with gaining a correct understanding of what the current development organization is actually capable of achieving. Accepting reality, unpleasant as that may be, is always the first step toward a solution. If a development organization is not currently delivering on time, on budget and on purpose, it’s because the underlying processes simply don’t support the needed results. Naïvely demanding more is just trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Reorganizing is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Firing staff doesn’t change the context in which their replacements will have to work. Next, it’s critical to use that understanding to create defensible forecasts for projects and other activities. This often involves overcoming culture that has previously tolerated wild guesses. Only after establishing realistic deadlines and budgets can rational and integrated project management be used to ensure that those deadlines are met and costs are contained. Focus on Process Accurate Forecasting Realistic Capacity Quality New Meaning Good Suited to the business need: sufficiently functional, reliable, secure and flexible Cheap Delivered without unjustified cost overruns Fast Delivered when expected
  4. 4. Finally, as technical activities proceed, it must be understood that results are always consequent to the processes that produce them. Results simply cannot be dictated or demanded if the processes don’t support those results. If the results aren’t meeting the needs, it is the process that needs to be improved. Tomorrow’s winners Businesses that succeed in this brave new world of technological dependence will share several key characteristics:  They will be astute enough to understand that managers without a strong technical background cannot hope to perform well at managing technical staff  They will help technologists to contextualize their work within the broader business needs  They will demand realistic forecasts of costs and schedules, based on facts and defensible analysis  They will demonstrate an almost visceral understanding that future success depends on uncompromising quality today  They will execute both strategically and tactically, with a profound understanding of how principles drive processes and procedures, and how activities can be traced back to ideas Courage is the key The success factors described here, despite being applied in a technology context, are not technical. Instead, they’re about new ways of thinking about why targets are being missed. Change can be challenging, but development teams are comprised of capable and resourceful people who want to do what’s right for the team, the company and the customer. With the right support, they can perform better and accomplish more. Making a great movie: an analogy As recently as 20 years ago, creating a cinema- quality film was impossible for a person of modest means: the cost of the necessary equipment was simply out of reach. But with recent advancements in camera, lighting and audio technology, aspiring film makers can now produce movies whose quality rivals that of Hollywood studio productions. Unfortunately, a quick visit to YouTube will easily reveal that while many more people can make movies today, only a small percentage are actually worth watching. That’s because a good film, like a good business system, is about so much more than the technologies in use. A good film is dependent on the simultaneous quality of six factors: the script, performances, cinematography, sound, music and editing. Only a few of those factors rely on technology. Many great films have been made on a shoestring budget, and many expensive films have failed spectacularly because the most important factor is the first: the foundation of a great film is a great script. Likewise, getting results from technology involves not just selecting and using the right gadgets, but a whole lot more. In a cyber-business like yours, the “script” required for success is comprised of the attitudes, beliefs and capabilities of upper management, which affect the whole company. Get that right, and it’s much more likely that the “cast and crew” will fulfill the director’s vision. Copyright ©2015 Predictable Solutions, LLC Predictable Solutions offers coaching and support to development and engineering managers on how to deliver technology projects on time, on budget and on purpose. 617-233-0815