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Archive for the ‘Software Development’ Category

What is your #1 priority?

#1 PriorityTry this today.  Ask someone you work with “What is your #1 priority?”. If that someone is in the software business, the correct answer should be “production”.  What is “production”?  It is the software, hardware, and people that, combined, deliver IT solutions in support of the business needs.  If Thrive’s customers can’t use one of our systems means “production”  is down.

In our case at Thrive HDS, “production” down means lives could be at risk.  Our sole purpose, at this point, is to exchange information between various groups (hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, and labs) in the healthcare industry.  Often that information is used by a doctor in an Emergency Room trying to find out what they can about a recently admitted patient.  Or it might be a physician who is waiting for lab results before deciding what steps to take next for a patient.  Having access to our solutions can give caregivers new insight to be used in the care they are providing.

Up until recently, my career has been spent in the financial services industry.  “Production” in those environments meant somebody had to wait an hour to get their title insurance or their bank loan.  Important to the customers and the company I worked for, yet a far cry from the work we do at Thrive.

My perspective has changed.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Why do we need priorities?

To get stuff done, of course.  We have all been there.  Your Boss storms into your office wanting to know what the status of that one project which you had forgotten about because you didn’t think it was important.  You hem and haw as you search for the words that you hope will let you escape this encounter without getting chastised.  How could he do this to you?  After all, this project didn’t come up in your one-on-one yesterday.  He hasn’t asked about it in months.  What has changed?

In my experience, nothing has probably changed.  This was probably a high priority project in the boss’s mind and he was expecting you to understand the priority by reading his mind using your ESP powers.  Right?  Obviously, I am being a little flip here, but doesn’t it work that way?  As leaders, we expect our teammates to understand what we were thinking.  As customers, we expect our vendors to know that we have three #1 priority items we need done immediately.  (Don’t even get me going about Sales!)  Rarely, do we tell others our priorities.  One of the hardest conversations to have is communicating that someone’s favorite project is not as important as they think it should be.  Or that task that we need done is the one task most people loathe.

We can’t avoid this type of conversation.  We can do something new and innovative.  Brace yourself here.  I have a new concept.  It is called “Setting Priorities”.

What is a priority?  The Merriam Webster website defines priority as something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first.  So how many priorities can you have?  Most people would concede that you can have multiple priorities, but going back to the definition, isn’t there only one top priority?

As I have gained more experience, I have realized that leaders have to talk in specific terms about their priorities with the their teammates.  If I can only do the most important thing, what is it?  Most of the IT folks in the room should be thinking “Keeping production systems up”.  So, in my world, that is always #1.  But what is #2 or #3?  A lot of people I have talked to argue that there can be lots of #1s.  There very well might be given different perspectives, but in my relationship with my teammates, they have to know what my only #1 is.

What’s more, as a leader, I have the difficult conversations with my teammates about what their respective priorities frequently.  If they get to a point where they have to make a choice to work on Project A or Project B, they work on Project A because it is the highest priority.  As they focus on the top priority, a miracle happens:  They get it done!

We often discuss priorities in our one-on-one meetings.  We will chat about what they got done last week, what they are currently working on, and then what there impediments are.  All, in the context of what their respective priorities are.  How can your collaboration be any more direct?  How can anyone say I don’t understand what you think is important?

Priorities

So, how do you get started?  In my current position, I have done the following:

  • Started by talking about what I think the Solution Engineering group priorities (essentially mine)  were.  First in my leadership team meeting, and then in our monthly departmental meetings.  The first time you do this at a department meeting, some people will be put off the work they are doing is not #1.  Be prepared to explain your rationale that their work is important as well, but forced to make a decision priority work should get the focus.
  • After putting our Solution Engineering priorities out there, I asked each of my teammates to write their top four activities in priority order on my white board.  After they had them up on the board, we would discuss each activity and it’s relative importance to the other items on the board.  As we progressed through the conversation, they would add, delete, modify, or reorder as necessary.
  • Each week at our one-on-one, my teammates and I would use the priorities for the basis of our conversation.  At first, it was uncomfortable as my teammates where used to working a little on a lot of projects, as opposed to focusing on the highest priority tasks.  After about three weeks, the nature of the conversation changes.  As they start getting stuff done, they start feeling good about the fact they got something done.  What’s more it gives me a chance to give immediate feedback of “Nice job”.  It also opens up an opportunity to talk about what went well, the impact it has, and what could have been done differently.  Conclude by showing them the respect they deserve by saying “Thanks”.
  • Continue to talk about priorities.

A lot of business people these days give lip service to being transparent.  What most of those people mean is they really want everyone else to be transparent.  This is one approach to put transparency front and center in view of your teammates.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Struggling with “Done”?

doneDone:  In a state of having completed or finished an activity.

A straight forward and clean definition.  Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

In software development, we struggle with this concept.  How many times have you asked someone you work with if something was done, only to find out that only one portion of activity was done?  Software developers are notorious for this.  “I’m done” usually translates into “I’m done with the stuff I like doing, but I still have to do all this other stuff I don’t like!”

How do you define “done”?

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Book Review of “Death by Meeting”

Published by Christopher Daily on February 3rd, 2014 - in Agile, Business Musings, IMO, Uncategorized

untitled (3)I always get mixed emotions when someone tells me that they read my latest post.  I am excited that someone is actually reading my stuff.  I also feel anxious as I wonder whether the reader liked what I wrote.  If they complimented the post, were they just being nice?

I had one of those moments right before the holidays.  One of my teammates gave me the book, “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni, as a present.  Obviously, he had read my latest post, “Are you in meeting hell?”.

“Death By Meeting” is developed as a parable for leaders.  The parable focuses on an effective strategy utilizing four types of meetings to make the most out of a leadership team’s time together.

The strategy consists of four types of meetings:

  1. Daily Checkin – In the Agile world this is the Scrum daily stand up.    The author defines this meeting to be a 5 minute meeting, with all teammates reporting on their activities.  I have modified this to follow the Scrum protocol by asking three questions:  What did you do yesterday?  What are you going to do today?  What are your impediments?
  2. Weekly Tactical – This is typically seen as the traditional weekly staff meeting.  The purpose of this meeting is to allow the team to address immediate concerns about tactical issues.  The meeting should be disciplined and structured in nature.  Invariably, strategic issue are identified or questioned in these meetings.  The team should focus on tactical issues, and put the strategic on the backlog for the Monthly Strategic meetings.
  3. Monthly Strategic – This is the one that most people enjoy.  The purpose of this meeting is to spend time talking about strategic topics, with approximately 2 hours allocated per topic.  These meetings have to occur regularly to address the backlog of strategic issues that are often raised in the Weekly Tactical meetings.  In addition, ad hoc strategic meetings may be called for issues that can’t wait until the regularly scheduled Monthly Strategic meetings.
  4. Quarterly Off-Site Review – This meeting is where executives get away from the office so that they can review the overall business direction, while taking a long term view.  When mentioned, Off=Site meetings typically prompt thoughts of exotic locations where executives play golf, tennis and cavort in the surf.  However, more cost effective locations, such as a conference room at a local hotel, are just as effective.  Cell phones and laptops should not be used except for presentations.

Though 257 pages, the book seemed to be a quick read and engaging.  The framework offered is simple to implement.

One challenge I’ve noticed is that it can be difficult to stick to the framework.  In the course of the day-to-day struggles, executives often deviate from a framework, even though they know they shouldn’t.  Their busy schedules and the lack of establishing priorities in their workload often get in the way.

Another challenge is for the executive to not just check the box.  This framework, coupled with an Agile approach, can provide the platform an executive can use to increase his team’s effectiveness.  As in all things Agile, it’s all about communication.

Get Death By Meeting and read it.  It’s worth the time.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

 

 

Are you in Meeting Hell?

imagesDGMZKEY6Why do we do it?  Why do we allow ourselves to be scheduled to the point where all we do it meet?  What is it about us that doesn’t stand up and say “No!”. Better yet, why don’t we say “Hell No!”.  I am an Agile bigot, and I believe in collaboration.  You can over do it.  I have seen examples of north of 20 people being invited to a project meeting with only one developer who actually does work.  What are they thinking?  Why doesn’t somebody question the meeting organizer?  Are they worried someone’s feelings will be hurt?

I find myself migrating toward Meeting Hell in my new job.  Everyone wants you to attend their meeting, and you want to go to learn as much as you can about the organization.  You show up, and there sit 6 of your teammates and 14 others, representing four layers of the organization.  I can’t help but start counting the cost($) of the meeting.

Now, some meetings will require lots of people to attend.  I get that.  Just make sure all the people in the room add value.  Try these steps:

  1. Make sure there is an agenda.
  2. Limit the meeting to the scheduled time (timebox).
  3. Pull up one of the many meeting clocks on the internet at the start of one of these meetings.

iStock_000020355620SmallThe meeting clock is an In-Your-Face approach  and works the best.  People don’t relate time to money. Start the clock at the beginning of the meeting, and see how many people start to feel uncomfortable.

Get yourself out of Meeting Hell now.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Scrumming Health Care

Published by Christopher Daily on November 25th, 2013 - in Agile, IMO, Microsoft, Scrum

imagesAs some of you may have noticed, I changed the about page on my site and my LinkedIn profile.  My wife and I left beautiful Amelia Island, FL to start a new adventure in October with Thrive HDS in Indianapolis as their VP of Engineering.    Ok, my timing is lousy.  Though Amelia Island does cool off in December and January, it is still warmer than Indianapolis.

Having been in the position at Thrive for a little over 6 weeks, I can tell you I am excited and scared.  I am excited to have an opportunity to work in an industry with as much potential impact as the healthcare industry.  Name another industry that impacts everyone in a positive and negative way as healthcare.  Though they have been good to me, banking and title insurance just don’t have the same impact.

There are a number of reasons why I am excited to work at Thrive HDS.

  1. The management team seems to have the right skills to speed along the process of spinning off Thrive HDS from IHIE.
  2. The folks at Thrive are passionate about the mission of helping people.
  3. Getting into Healthcare hopefully will carry me into my retirement years.
  4. Through technology, helping people improve the quality of their lives.
  5. It’s good to get back to a small company.  Not perfect, but you can usually see the bus coming that is going to hit you.

At first blush, I am scared by the size and magnitude of learning a whole new industry.  There are more acronyms than you can possibly imagine.  The size of the industry (1/6th of the US economy) is huge, with a number of competitive forces at play that seem to work against each other.  I guess I will have to just focus on eating the elephant one bite at a time.

I am looking forward to getting back to developing software products again.  The challenge of developing software products for healthcare is something I am ready to take on.

More to come.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Guest Post: Are we focused on improving our performance or selling a process?

Published by Christopher Daily on April 22nd, 2013 - in Agile, Scrum, Software Development, Uncategorized

A guest post from a collegue of mine, Mike Jebber.

I have been doing some research on the Scrum.org site to get more information about the certifications. On their home page I spotted a forum thread about the differences between the Scrum Guide and the Scrum Primer, two different documents provided by Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org. You can find and read the article here.

 

I responded to the thread with my own thoughts on the discussion and part of what I talked about focused on things to look at to determine proper team size (since that was part of the discrepancy noted between the two documents referenced in the thread).

I wanted to share my response with you directly as I think it is relevant in a lot of our discussions…

 

We should be careful about how prescriptive we are as a training community in some areas.

 

Take for example the recommended team sizes. Let’s re-ask ourselves: “What really determines a products proper team size (and the product should be considered when deciding this)?” Several factors come to mind immediately:

 

  1. 1. Consensus in a Timely Manner: We have basic general need to gain consensus, in a timely manner, on a regular basis within Scrum teams. It’s been my experience over the last 5 years using Scrum (both properly and improperly) than any group with varying skillsets and subject matter expertise larger than nine makes gain consensus in a timely manner nearly impossible. This is true for Scrum teams, stakeholder groups, groups of PO’s working on complex integration projects, and any other gathered group. We have service groups, Enterprise Help Desk, Tier II Support, Release Management, and others who use Scrum to manage their work and perform their duties. In these cases, the teams have been able to move forward quickly with a larger group since the members on the team are all of like background, skillset, and SME. Again the focus is not just consensus, but consensus in a timely manner…remember we are time-boxed and need to deliver what we promise on-time. Our most “productive” groups have been 5-7 people and no more…why? They consistently provide more value to their customers on a regular basis with consistently high quality than teams which are larger.

 

  1. The Team’s Skillsets: Different products are going to require different skillsets. Yes, utopian Scrum has every team member owning all the skillsets needed to do every task on the backlog themselves. Ok, how many of you really live in this world today in your companies? It’s something we all work for of course, but it’s like reaching infinity, or the speed of light, or the perfect golf game, you can always get a little closer to the goal, so “what is good enough”? Team skillsets should be considered when determining proper team size for a product.

 

  1. 3. The Product: Depending on where a product is in its own lifecycle, and what the company/customer requests of the PO, different skill sets may or may not be necessary at different points in time. Maintaining a consistent, focused team on the product is always the best way for function, but some products may require a specialist’s assistance for several or many sprints until either the products team is well-enough versed on what to do moving forward, or the specific requests needs are met, and further maintenance of the new functionality can be handled by the now more experienced original team. Moreover, some of our Scrum Teams “products” are the services that they provide to the organization. These teams have a narrower focus on what is needed to deliver a high quality service and have shown to not be affected as much by team size as development teams are.

So I believe just talking about the numbers without getting in deeper about what they represent is prescription without diagnosis and doesn’t carry much value on its own.

 

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

An idiot with a tool…..

Published by Christopher Daily on March 28th, 2013 - in Agile, Business Musings, IMO, Scrum, Uncategorized

heap-of-the-tools-the-isolated-white-backgroundI was on my way back to the US from Bangalore, and there is a sentence that keeps banging around in my head. The sentence is as follows: “An idiot with a tool is still an idiot!” If someone else has already been quoted on this, I will gladly give them credit.

Regardless of whether it is an original thought or not, it paralels across our personal and corporate lives. I can’t tell you the number of times I have bought some gadget or software that I thought was cool, but wasn’t sure how I was going to use it. I have tools that I don’t know how to use. Having a tablesaw or a router does not make me a carpenter.

How many of us have bought treadmills and other exercie equipment thinking it would help us lose weight? Yet did we bother to change our lifestyle? Did we cut back on cookies, potato chips, and McDonalds?  Just because you have exercise equipment does not make you a personal trainer.

We buy self help books telling us how to deal with difficult bosses, how to budget our way to a million dollars, and how to succeed in management. Unless we make changes in ourselves, we will never achieve our original goals.  We are an idiot with a tool.

Corporations are much the same way. We buy software products from vendors like Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM to name a few. The vendors tell us that there latest/greatest tool will be the silver bullet the customer is looking for, making the company lots of money, and our worklives better. What most of us fail to realize is that, to achieve those benefits, we need to change our culture. We may need to change our team, department, or even corporate culture. Every corporation has a virtual boneyard of stuff they have purchased based on someone’s recommendation that ends up not being accepted by the company. Even worse are those tools and processes that get implemented without much thought for what has to change and end up costing more than the original benefits.  How many projects start off with someone saying “This software doesn’t do what we need.  We need to make changes”?

Tools (software and processes) don’t solve problems. People solve problems.  Tools  merely speed up the change. Don’t buy the tool unless you know how to invoke the change to get it accepted.

Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Requirement: Technical Excellence for Scrum

I have spoken about excellence a couple of times over the last year. (click here and here). Technical excellence should be a requirement for development organizations. Seems simple enough. Pretty straight forward. After all, we are in the business of developing software, aren’t we?

Yet, this doesn’t seem to be at the top of the priority list. We seem to take short cuts.  Somebody always has a time-to-market issue.

The ROI is tough to prove. By itself, being technically excellent doesn’t drive income to the bottom line straight away, yet lack of technical excellence will drag your bottom line down.  Here are some excuses I have heard:

  • The business is beating on us for more functionality faster.
  • The sales guys have already over-committed us by signing the contract for the date and scope to be delivered to a client. Development will find out after the fact.
  • We don’t have time to automate our deployment process.  We need to start coding.
  • Automated testing doesn’t work for us.  Our testers can do it faster.
  • The users have changed requirements again, causing developers to rework their code again.

Often, these time to market (I call them BS) factors often cost up to 10X the original cost to develop. Yet, we find out the cost later. Those enhancements that “had” to be there for a client will cost us 10X to modify later. Most of us hope we are not going to be there to feel the pain, having moved on to a new career inside or outside our employer.

Let’s look at this a different way. Your plumber tells you he can patch a leak quickly for $60, or he can take replace the pipe for $100. Most of us would say “Do it right. I will pay the $100.” We won’t be happy about spending a $100, but it is the right thing to do. The plumber doesn’t even have to mention that the patch is temporary, and we will probably spend more money later.

So, why is it that we have a tough time with being technically excellent? Regardless of whether you are drinking the Scrum Kool-Aid or not, your development organization has to be technically excellent. Take the time to do it the right way. Refactor the gobbledy gook code. How can you afford not to be? I am reminded of the quote: “You can pay me now or you can pay me later!”. In the case of software, you pay 10X.

Before I go……………  Ok, so I am coming across a little strong to make my point.  Corners can be cut as long as they get corrected in the very near future.
Thanks for coming in today.

Chris

Center of Excellence: A misnomer!

Published by Christopher Daily on August 28th, 2012 - in Business Musings, IMO, Software Development

In most cases, a Center of Excellence is anything but!

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