About Wayne McKinnon
As a foot note in history, Wayne once worked as a member of the team that assembled the particle detectors used in nuclear physics to discover the first evidence of quarks.
Wayne no longer works with the building blocks of the universe; instead he works with the building blocks of organizations. Unlike the tiny quark, the results that Wayne achieves for his clients are visible and have an extended lifetime.More
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Monthly Archives: August 2012
I often work with internal development teams who are struggling to improve their value to the organization. Individually they each have a job to do and most of them work very hard at it. As a team, the results are not always as valuable as the effort would indicate. I believe that the problem centers on the perceived value of work and the focus on the people doing it.
In a Hospital the focus is on the doctors, in a school board the teachers, in an airline it is the pilots, and in a development shop it is the developers who are regarded as the highest value providers. This solitary view diminishes the value of the contributors to that value. Value must be viewed holistically. Lets be clear that I am not simply stating some old hackneyed saying that everyone is valuable and that we have to treat them that way. I’ll leave that for a different discussion. What I am saying is that if that solitary view is taken, then the doctors, pilots, teachers and software developers taking that view will find themselves less able to maximize their own value.
Within teams the same thing happens where certain members are viewed as more valuable than others. In the case of an internal product development shop within an organization, many of the developers that I have worked with tend to view others and their roles rather simplistically and the business analyst or business relationship manager/customer representative role is often regarded as unnecessary. The role of a tester is often seen as nothing more than icing on the cake or a coat of paint at the end of the production line, yet those two roles are key for ensuring that what is developed provides maximum value to the customer.
Aside from the developers, the business relationship manager AND a representative from testing should be present at all stages of development, though some organizations will have dedicated quality control people in place with overlapping responsibilities.
It may sound counterintuitive to involve testing before you have anything to test, but recognize that they have to be involved early enough to at least develop the tests if nothing else. I view early involvement of testing even more critically however, not necessarily because they will know what tests to run, but because they are less likely to be satisfied that the acceptance criteria has been established. Other roles do not tend to focus as much or push so hard for clear acceptance criteria as those whose role is to generate the evidence that the criteria has been met.
What do I mean by acceptance criteria?
When organizations buy software they typically perform an evaluation to make sure that it meets their needs by comparing one product to another, or at the very least checking to see if a single product meets their requirements. They don’t simply test to ensure that the screen functions work correctly.
Why is it then that in developing in-house products for their own consumption, companies (and specifically development teams) often overlook such an evaluation? Sure requirements are gathered, but aside from providing a guiding direction for development, the requirements are never seen again. Instead, usability is considered the main success criteria and clicking through screens is the test.
When I see these projects I wonder then what are the chances that what is usable can be deployed, supported or even provide any business results? Many do not consider any of those criteria, but they would if the testing group was involved in helping establish acceptance criteria with each of the stakeholders from the outset. Your test team is not simply people with just enough low level skills to move a mouse or click a button, their value is in the advanced skills that they possess in helping you establish acceptance criteria.
Wayne’s Rule of Business:
Never make investment decisions on behalf of your customers; you will always be wrong.
Value is in the eye of the customer. It is what is important to them. You may think that the services that you offer are valuable for one reason, but it may be a completely different reason than the one that your customer is expecting.
When we were renovating our house, we asked our contractor to supply and install new windows in the front bedrooms. We had already had him do significant work around the place, so we trusted his opinion and the quality of his work. He brought brochures, and we discussed LOW-E, HIGH-U, PVC versus wood; all the important stuff, including size and price. As an added value, he proposed that since our sills were rotten and the rot extended into the walls around the windows, why not just remove that part of the wall and enlarge the window opening? We agreed, and off he went.
He returned a few days later with very large, custom-made windows with excellent numbers for solar heat, gain coefficient, etcetera. There was only one problem; while the price was very reasonable, the windows were ugly! They had sliding screens on the outside like you would find on a bathroom window on the back of a house. Our windows faced the street, and were a significant factor in the look of our home. Further, we had purchased this place as an investment property, and one day expected to sell it for substantially more. That alone was one of the main reasons that we were investing in the renovation work, and we were looking to maximize our return on the investment. Energy savings was part of it, but curb appeal was a more significant factor for us. The contractor had guessed that saving money was what we valued more.
Instead, we invested an extra thousand dollars per window and had him install large bay windows in those rooms. This significantly improved the look of the house from the street, as well as making the rooms feel larger. Spending more money bought us the results that we valued most. Money was an object for us, but we were focused on the sale price of our home (ROI), not solely on the cost of materials (price). For renovation work in other parts of the home, we valued lowest price, and yet in other areas we valued speed to completion.
Don’t guess about value, you will likely be wrong.
So how does this example apply to you if you manage a team of people or are an employee of a large organization?
You and your team are doing work. That work results in some sort of value to the end customer, even if that customer is many levels away from you. For instance, if your immediate customer for your output is an internal business unit of your organization, they have to use what you produce so that they themselves can provide value to their customers. If your company sells products, your immediate customer might be the V.P. of sales, whose customers are the people who purchase the products. Perhaps you are one step further removed, and your customer is the Finance department, and their customer is the V.P. of sales, relying on the finance department to help with pricing and tracking of income from sales.
It isn’t always easy to determine your value, and you certainly can’t do that without finding out how that value is used.
Does this apply to every type of organization?
Yes! In my consulting work, some of my clients are government departments. I often help them improve efficiency, reduce costs, or increase quality of the internal and external services that they deliver. Since they don’t typically have to sell anything, they often have difficulty understanding who their customers are, particularly if they are in some corporate services division that supports the department instead of dealing with the public. Even in these organizations, the same applies.
In order to determine your value, you have to know who consumes your services and why your service is valuable to them. Just like my window guy, you can’t guess.