Posts Tagged ‘Agile’

Powering Software Development: Technology and the Virtual Project Team

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. – Henry Ford

 

Most people believe that successfully completing an Agile project with multiple companies, across different locations is impossible… As technology continues to change where and how we do business, this is no longer a valid assumption.  When implemented thoughtfully, any organization, large or small, can leverage today’s technology to create powerful teams capable of developing great software – faster than ever imagined and at a lower cost.  Using Skype and an HD TV outfitted with a web cam, a company is armed with the all tools it needs to create a dynamic virtual environment for software development projects.  Working closely with a customer in this manner offers significant benefits for both the service provider and the customer -

  • more software is developed accurately the first time because communications are clear and e-mail ambiguity is avoided
  • time is saved as bugs are addressed and resolved immediately because there are no “voice messages left” or “calls to return
  • a unified project team works closely together – this strengthens trust, fosters morale and drives a successful outcome
  • working software is put into production more quickly and at a lower cost

FAST’s Virtual Office

With each customer engagement, a Warp Zone is established – a dedicated project room equipped with a web cam and a large, flat screen television.  Through the Warp Zone, we see our business partners in their normal working environment and they set-up a similar environment so they see us as well.  The cameras remain on all day throughout the life of the project.  Initiating a conversation or asking a question takes a simple wave to the camera.

Working together this way allows us to dig in and understand our customers’ business processes and their needs, so we can provide the best solutions possible.  The reverse holds true as well – customers get a true understanding of the application.  And with regular demonstrations of new software, we receive immediate feedback and can ensure the functionality supports the business needs.

In addition to the benefits related to the project and customer relationship, this structure helps avoid many of the inefficiencies of traveling.  This translates in to soft dollar savings stemming from increased work time and productivity and the improvements in morale associated with less travel along with the obvious hard dollar travel and expense savings.

The FAST model incorporates our offshore development team to accelerate the project timeline.  With Skype and the Warp Zone, a rotating schedule of morning and evening calls with the team keeps everyone on the same page and extends the workday as development continues after the sun sets.  In addition to eliminating many of the quality issues often associated with an offshore team, the Warp Zone’s face to face interaction enhances the daily scrum and software demonstrations while Skype is an integral part of the collaborative development approach fostered by an Agile software development philosophy.

Real Results

Ultimately, leveraging technology to create collaborative work environments enabled us to extend the workday, streamline communication and work in partnership with a customer to convert an entire Policy Admin system in only 5 months.  The efficiencies gained through this approach allowed to us complete the project within budget and in record time.

4 Ways to Empower a Customer

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Out-of-the-box software systems from big-name software vendors are always a big contender for CIOs and other business decision-makers when selecting the best systems to power their business. As a customer, choosing what systems to best manage your business can come with unexpected repercussions. Software vendors often develop their products to “capture” their customers, tying them to the system by isolating and creating dependencies on their product and services. These tactics can result in limitations that confine and even cripple the growth of their business.

A great software product shouldn’t have to encapsulate and limit their users just to keep them “hooked in”; the product itself should be useful and attractive enough for users to want to continue using the program. So what kinds of “capturing” tactics should you look out for, and what can you do to have greater control over the software solutions you choose to power your business?

1. Request to know what kinds of integration and compatibility options the system provides. – Software vendors often take an all-or-nothing approach that often limits integration with other software products and services. This lack of integration results in manual conversion of data between software that hinders the efficiency and capacity of your business.  The purchaser should be able to use non-competitive 3rd parties where applicable. If the system does not allow for integration and compatibility for the products you’re already using or hoping to use to power your business, evaluating whether that trade-off is worth it is a must.

2. Request for training, documentation, and configuration. - Oftentimes, software vendors will either develop a “black box” application without access to the code of the program, or give you a product so complicated that it requires a vendor expert. Without access to the inner workings of the software product, the customer is completely dependent on the vendor for how the system operates (and in turn, how your business is run).  By requesting training, configuration tutorials and system documentation, you can ensure you’re getting the most control over the product as you can.

3.  Request to know how the products work together and to access training materials on configuring them yourself. – Compatible software products from the same vendor provide additional software functionality to your system, but they can also leave the customer clueless as to how to use the products together if there is no knowledge or training transitioned between them. If you choose to use the original vendor across multiple products (which you may be forced to), it’s important to understand how you can use these compatibility options to get the most out of your business processing system.

4. Maintain as much direct contact with the vendor as possible, and make use of any feedback service the vendor offers. Large, out-of-the-box software products from major software vendors rarely provide all of the functionality that you need to run your business exactly the way you want (despite the large price tag you dished out for a name brand product). Often times, the packaged system will come with plenty of bells and whistles, but falls short when it comes down to the real tools you need to build your business. Yet these large software vendors rarely allow the customers to direct the development of the products they buy, limiting the opportunities for feedback, compromise, and criticism of what they use (and put up with).  There are no guarantees that large-scale vendors will pay any heed to feedback, but it is the customer’s right to have an active voice wherever possible.

Darwinism of Innovation: The Evolution of Automation and the Software Development Industry

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In 50 years, will we still have armies of programmers coding business systems for companies? Will it still be necessary?

In the history of industrial growth, the replacement of tedious production processes with automation is essential to the progression of invention and ingenuity. But we seem to have forgotten this key to innovation in software development. We are so caught up in creating new processes, new languages, new “big system” solutions to address the same old problems of tedious code-writing in traditional software development that we forget the true purpose of this industry in the first place – to replace tedium and inefficiencies of the paper-pushing era. We seem to have it stuck in our heads that software development is too complicated to automate.

The key to replacing expensive, labor-intensive and entrenched systems is not by engaging in expensive, labor-intensive big-bang projects, but in increasing productivity, flexibility, and function-leveraging. This is industrial Darwinism at its finest: instead of replacing one inefficient system with another, find a solution that eradicates the costliest, labor-intensive processes altogether. In short, creating dynamic software that will automate technical coding so that the user can focus on the functionality and conceptual use of the software is the true innovative key to the future of the software development industry.

Here at FAST, we have done just that. As a part of a four-person newly hired team of university graduates, we were assigned the daunting task of creating a fully functional application with FAST 8x in just four days, inclusive of training, configuration, building, and presentation. The exercise focused on showcasing how software development automation can achieve what normally would take a team of developers, analysts, and engineers months of code-writing to accomplish. None of us had any previous experience with software development; only one of us had any true technical knowledge of software design, and we were granted access to one engineer to assist us in the configuration process. By the end of the week, we had presented a production ready SOA based set of components that included 40+ database tables, 4 components, full user interface w/20+ business processes, 100+ web services, integration into other applications, 5,000+ test scripts (that are on a nightly regression cycle), technical documentation, and a how-to guide.

This proof-of-concept exercise is a reflection of what we’ve been doing for months on a larger scale with our life insurance client. In less than nine months, we were able to build an entire suite of legacy-replacing components which included 800 database tables, 35 components, full user interface w/25+ business processes, 700+ web services, integration into other applications, 13,000+ test scripts, technical documentation, and a how-to guide. This legacy system modernization process, which would have normally taken approximately three to five years to develop traditionally, is a remarkable step towards the breakthrough technology necessary to take software development to the next level.

If “double dip recession” happens, is your IT group prepared?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I started writing this blog a couple weeks ago…so, now that the market has dropped by 10% it might not look as impressive that I am asking this question.  Obviously, we’re all hopeful that the economy can stabilize and all of our budgets don’t get cut for 2012.  Unfortunately, that might not be the case.

“More with Less”

If you look at Celent’s CIO study from earlier this year, the major theme was: Business expects more from IT. They reference supporting expanding list of initiatives, prioritizing across business groups, escalation of expectations of IT, and balancing cost reduction/capability creation as key challenges and pressures they’re facing.

 

In the last downturn, companies settled for budget cuts equating to less productivity.  Now, I believe we’ll be challenged to get the same amount done for less budget. So, what can be done?

  • Go Agile – if you’re already using an “Agile-like” development methodology, great.  Dive in and examine how you manage your priorities, who the impact players are, and which areas of the process are adding most value.  Eliminate everything else.
  • Get the most out of the tools that are currently available – FAST 8x  (http://www.fasttechnology.com/software/8x/) is an example and I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote our own software.  With FAST 8x, you can build smaller components to solve targeted business problems at a fraction of the cost, time and risk.
  • Avoid big mistakes – Diversify by spreading out your initiatives and deliver value sooner rather than later.  Don’t buy that big packaged core system that is going to be a burden on the entire organization, cost too much money, and risk the farm.
  • Staff reduction is not a “cure all”.  Obviously, eliminating staff and consultants are necessary triggers that can be used to work within a budget cut, but that will most likely compound the problems with the business needing more.  In some cases, you might want to cut even deeper to free up cash for tools and the “right people” to help you navigate through these times.

Pressures and challenges could increase.  Are you prepared?

 

Tom Famularo

FAST

LOMA Lessons: Going Agile

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Attending my first ACORD LOMA conference this year was an eye-opener. Whether I was chatting with someone in the exhibit hall or attending a session presentation, a common theme was apparent: insurance companies are tired of doing things the same old way.

Several people described system implementation horror stories – multi-year, multi-million dollar investments that hijacked IT organizations and created business roadblocks. Meanwhile, they acknowledged that maintaining their current stable of disparate legacy systems impairs their company’s ability to compete.

Clearly, something’s got to give.

Everywhere I turned, people were describing how going smaller was what they needed. Shifting design approaches from technical staff to business users was another common refrain.  Several presenters extolled the virtues of rapid development of “bite size” code, getting end users to quickly see what the results of their requirements are, and connecting them via SOA architecture.

One of the drivers of the shifting landscape has been some recent success. One large P&C insurer described how a small series of components developed in a non-traditional way scored huge points with end users. Another carrier proved significant savings by building reusable services that ultimately led to the de-commissioning of three similar legacy systems.

Challenges remain, though. Movement towards Agile and other iterative development methodologies are gaining traction, but some people expressed frustration with resistance from key stakeholders. Change is often difficult, particularly with entrenched user groups resistant to new ideas.

Even so, I’m more convinced than ever that modern software development processes will soon become commonplace. Despite the challenges ahead, a clear shift is underway. Rapid development, reusability, and true SOA are all part of the direction. That makes me very optimistic about the future.

Rich Grisham
FAST