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Considering Outsourcing Software Development - a model

Agile Complexification Inverter - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 00:16
What are the considerations when the business wants to reduce the cost of the IT department and they want to outsource some or all of the costly software development group?  Here is a model to help you think through this decision and some additional resources.

What decisions must be made to implement an IT Outsourcing program?  Are these decisions similar to the decisions that leaders must make for an Agile program?  How do they differ, how are they similar?  What are the expected outcomes, and the possible outcomes?  Which decisions have high stakes with no-return points along the transition map?  Which decisions are safe-to-fail and possible to repeat and iterate toward success?
Comparing and contrasting basic road maps for the implementation of major process change is fraught with generalizations that may easily be questioned.  The intent of this paper is to objectively represent the set of high level decisions and expected outcomes that lead to a success regardless of which path is chosen.  Choosing the path is your decision.
A general model
If we model the decision path as a journey with an expected destination, but unknown terrain this metaphor may serve us well.  Journeys are made of many decision, some made before the terrain is known, some made with little information, many decision must be adjusted as the journey progresses.
…. to do…
Decisions to be made along the path:
Can innovation be separated from execution without extreme risk?Does outsourcing add value -or- just decrease cost?How does the outsourcing approach transition to a value-add mind-set?What need are we addressing with an outsource model:  from innovation <-> maintenance?What does an optimized cost reduction model look like?   a headless remote team; recruiting agency; software R&D provider; other?What is the right service model for our organization? outstaffing; <-> custom app devHow does one mitigate the risk of vendor lock-in to the outsourcing provider?What does the *right time* to outsource look like?Where is the point of no-return in the decision path?What does outsourcing require that IT is already great at delivering?What does outsourcing require that IT is poor at delivering?  Can this capability be outsourced?
Along the journey - where is the point of no-return?
Investigation of Options
“Intelligence should be viewed as a physical process that tries to maximize future freedom of action and avoid constraints in its own future.”  — Alex Wissner
A model of intelligence at an abstract level is an organism that preserves options until a specific time horizon at which point it decides while seeking a goal (TED Talk: Alex Wissner-Gross: A new equation for intelligence). 

What is the goal of the Information Technology organization?
Is it to reduce the cost of IT to the organizations - or - might it be a more aspirational goal? More in alignment with the corporate mission.
Why do organization outsource?
Software development is not a simple endeavor.  Standish Group has studied the problem space for years and release yearly reports that in general show an marginal improvement in recent years from a low point of roughly 80% failure rates a decade ago.  However; “[o]utsourcing has not proven to be a magic wand; it has failed to deliver the expected results over fifty percent of the time.” (1, 3)  Gartner predicts that spending on outsourcing will increase from $268 billion in 2009 to $325 billion in 2013.  Research suggests the reason for this increase is the perception of economic, technological and strategic benefits.  These benefits come with additional challenges, and externalities.
Organization outsource to:
  • Focus on core activities
  • Reduce cost of development executation
  • Add staffing flexibility for special projects
  • Augment skills not presently available
  • Reduce development time associated with project ramp up
  • Improve quality (by working with more experienced developers)
  • Improve management (by levering vendor’s experience/knowledge)

Define our reason to outsource - be absolutely clear about why.  A clear purpose will enable decisions with reasonable chance of success.
What challenges does outsourcing resolve?
The cost model is typically the first response to the reasoning behind the decision to outsource.  Engineers in offshore locations are on relatively low compensation plans compared to the US, this relative cost advantage is apt to shrink fast however (5).The scheduling of project manpower and resources is another key reason to outsource.  When project ramp up and termination are time sensitive offshoring may have tactical advantages to staffing internal projects with varying resourcing needs.
Specialized skill sets are another key reason to outsource.  Assuming that the skill set is not a core capability to the problem domain.
Mid-term budgeting and cost accounting become easier.  Small projects cost accounting becomes cost prohibitive so effort must be done to aggregate small project, or define a class of service that allows for ad-hoc scope management.
What challenges does outsourcing compound?
While software product development is a known challenge, outsourcing is a known challenge compounded by more players on the field.  The software development process will be distributed across multiple organizations with multiple cultures and value systems.
Outsourcing firms must effectively manage:
  • the scope of projects
  • the process that implements the deliverables, and
  • the people involved (customers, their clients, their staff, as well as vendors).
The pitfalls of an outsourcing model:
  • Requires constant highly skilled management and logistics
  • Increases departmental frustration
    • timezone differences lessen communication windows
    • need for higher quality architecture
    • lower quality of solution (not what we wanted syndrome)
    • need for better testing
    • scapegoating the vendor
  • testing is more difficult & results in longer test/fix cycles
  • company morale may suffer

There is no one right model to handle all of these management tasks.  In the grand scheme of things, success in outsourcing depends on how well you plan, organize, execute and control these very areas that are required for in-house development also.  Failing to understand these factors and relationships puts the outsourcing program in high risk of failure.
Successful Project Scoping for Outsourcing
Projects that are well defined in terms of scope/features (well known technology and well know requirements) are simple and prime candidates for outsourcing [the simple domain of the Stacey Diagram]. 
Project types require various amounts of effort in scoping - not all projects are the same - don’t treat them similar.  The most difficult is the innovative new application platform with a high degree of market risk.  These are typically high and to the right on the Stacey diagram.  Requirements are not well known, and the technology used is far from certain.
Scope management is the ultimate driver of value delivery.  In the traditional PMI Iron triangle managing budget is a well known problem domain, managing schedule is difficult but practical when using a Project Process Management model, however scope management is the most difficult.  It is also the leg of the iron triangle that is most often ignored as a lever to be used by the customer to make scope decisions with economic trade-off in mind.  Having a value-based model of project success has proven more satisfying to customers than a cost model (implied all scope & implied on schedule) model.
When project scoping is easy and well done the project is ripe for outsourcing.
If scope change management is a likely difficult internal process - then adding a few more contractually obligated layers (vendors) is exasperating the issue.  Scope changes must be controlled, they increase workload, and management overhead, they raise costs and lengthen schedules, as well as hamper quality and integration capabilities.
When outsourcing software development perhaps the worst situation is scope creep caused by ineffective change control.  This will cause:  cost escalation, quality shirking, schedule delays, unused/unnecessary features, reworkitis, staff demotivation.  The motivation issue creates a viscous feedback loop enhancing the negative aspects of the other effects.
A latent problem with outsourcing is the division of total project delivery scope.  Few new application development project scope out the actual delivery of the product and all it’s ancillary systems and work streams.  Scope division is the process of understanding the responsibility and ownership of work to be done in-house and by vendors.  Not all of the work may be outsourced.  Retaining the knowledge of systems and integrations is key to continuity of the business. Counter these risk via well designed architecture components that are independent of each other.  Foster accountability and ownership of components by a single entity.  Deploy frequently and test all interfaces.
Outsourcing may provide many economic benefits, yet it still follows basic economic rules.  It saves on wages and real estate costs, but cannot always significantly reduce the amount of time that a project takes.
Successful Project Process Management for Outsourcing
The business process of outsourcing is very important and must complement the software development methodology.  This management process includes: defining the vendor team structure and interfaces, the development methodology to be executed across the client/vendor system for the project, software development management tools (source control, build systems, test systems, project progress reporting, collaboration & communication tools), proper quality assurance expectations both at the vendor and the client, as well as customer QA.
Team Structure - beyond the typical player on a software development team, outsourcing project typical require the overhead of two key roles.  An in-house product manager responsible for daily interactions with the development team insuring timely resolution of problems that arise in the development requirements.  A vendor-located technical leader, responsible for the vendor team and highly collaborative with the product manager.
Tools and metrics for monitoring the project should be selected to match the type of project (new development or maintenance), the development methodology (waterfall / agile / lean), and the companies cultures.   When selecting a vendor a fluent demonstration of their management tools is a great indicator.
Vendors with a mature outsourcing program will have a well known and easily demonstrated quality assurance process.  If the QA work is to be done in-house rather than by the vendor this scope division should be well understood and the cost/benefits weight and measured throughout the life of the project.  Establish typical engineering standards such as: coding style guides, documentation standards, controlling procedures, bug tracking and reporting, defect prioritization and triage responsibilities, testing phases in the release plan as durations, release criteria with regard to defect count, severity, types of testing to be performed (usability, regression, performance, load, etc.).  One perspective of outsourcing vendors is to gauge their maturity in QA; vendors with a long history and successful future will have developed mature QA capabilities.
A core capability of outsourcing vendors is their communication techniques.  When the team is physically separated (as in most outsourcing situations) communication becomes a multifaceted issue with compounding issues such as:  language and culture, approval chain of command, time zone, domain knowledge, travel, and industry experience.

Successful Project Stakeholder Collaboration for Outsourcing
Make specific plans to involve the customer, end users, and key stakeholders in the development project.  Active participation in the process leads to greater product satisfaction.  Clearly define their role and responsibility, setting expectation and constraints on their involvement.  The proper balance will change with project type and methodology. 
Prior to outsourcing software development the organization must be prepared.  This decision has long term effects and will effect the attitudes and motivation of many existing employees.  While pursing an in-house development organization hiring decision are biased toward development skills; in an outsourcing organization the managerial skills will ultimately lead to success.
Hiring Mean Development Skills  - - >  Hiring Organizational SuperpowersSubject Matter Experts - - > CommunicatorsDomain Knowledge - - > Integration / OperationsImplementors - - > Planners

Successful Program Management for Outsourcing
Beyond the typical software development project related management issues, the outsourcing program has higher level concerns to deal with.  These are typically handled via contracting and source selection processes, and then via executive level negotiation of problems and breeches.
Typical Outsourcing Issues (non-software development related): (6)
  • Liability Insurance 
  • Software Licenses for third party access to systems
  • Ownership of information (sample data and testing data)
  • Inter-organizatioal system performance and access requirements
  • Service Level Agreements
  • Reporting and review of SLA
  • System access and security
  • Intellectual property indemnity
  • Distaster recovery

Many organizations spend countless time and energy selecting and reselecting an outsourcing vendor.  This trial and error process may result in a well integrated vendor that is an indispensable partner.

1) A Practical Guide to Outsourcing Your Software Development PDF by Selleo (a Poland based outsourcing firm)
2) Tips for Outsourcing Software Development: Ensure Outsourcing Success HTML by Auriga (a Russian outsourcing firm)
3) Fabriek M, et al; “Reasons for Success and Failure in Offshore Software Development Projects.” [in] The 16th European Conference on Information Systems; Galway; Ireland; 2008
4) Outsourcing Software Development Offshore Pros and Cons by Mark Davies
5) The End of Indias Offshore Dominance by Mark Hebert
6) Outsourcing Issues by e-Zest
7) Outsourcing decision support: a survey of benefits, risks, and decision factors, by Tibor Kremic; Supply Chain Management: An International Journal
8) The Evaluation of the Outsourcing of Information Systems:  A Survey of Large Enterprises by Chin-Chia Hsu, International Journal of Management Vol 23, No. 4 Dec 2006
Categories: Blogs

How Employees Lost Empathy for their Work, for the Customer, and for the Final Product

J.D. Meier's Blog - Sun, 08/03/2014 - 20:03

“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” -- Tina Fey

The Digital Revolution marked the beginning of the Information Age.

The Information Age, or Digital Age, or New Media Age, is a shift away from the industrial revolution to an economy based on information computerization.  Some would say, along with this shift, we are now in a Knowledge Economy or a Digital Economy. 

This opens the door to new ways of working and a new world of work to generate new business value and customer impact.

But what did the Industrial Age do to employees and what paradigms could limit us in this new world?

In the book The Future of Management, Gary Hamel walks through how industrialization and large Enterprises have created a disconnect between employees and their customers, their final product, and the big financial picture.  And in the process, he argues, this had led to disengaged employees, crippled innovation, and inflexible organizations.

If you don’t know Gary Hamel, he’s been ranked the #1 influential business thinker by the Wall Street Journal.

According to Hamel, what we traded for scale and efficiencies created gaps between workers and employees and gaps between employees and their customers, the product, the financial impact, and … a diminished sense of responsibility for quality and efficiency.

Maybe We Have Managers Because We Have Employees

Do managers exist because employees do?

Via The Future of Management:

“Here's a thought.  Maybe we need 'managers' because we have 'employees.'  (Be patient, this is not as tautological as it sounds.)  Think about the way computers are dependent on software.  PCs aren't smart enough to write their own operating instructions, and they sit idle until a user sets them to work.  Perhaps the same is true for employees.”

Did We Manufacture a Need for Managers?

When we manufactured employees, did we manufacture a need for managers?

Via The Future of Management:

“Earlier, I talked about the invention of 'the employee.' What happened in this process, at the dawn of the 20th century?  How did work life change as individuals left their farms and workshops to be absorbed into large-scale organizations?  In manufacturing employees, did we manufacture a need for managers as well?  I think so.  If we understood how this came about, we will gain clues into how we might learn to manage without managers -- or, at least, with a lot fewer of them.”

Disconnected from the Customer

As the size and scale of industrial organizations grew, so did the disconnect between employees and their final customers.

Via The Future of Management:

“In pre-industrial times, farmers and artisans enjoyed an intimate relationship with their customers.  The feedback they received each day from their patrons was timely and unfiltered.  Yet as industrial organizations grew in size and scale, millions of employees found themselves disconnected from the final customer.  Robbed of direct feedback, they were compelled to rely on others who were closer to the customer to calibrate the effectiveness of their efforts and to tell them how they could better please their clients.”

A Diminished Sense of Responsibility for Producer Quality and Efficiency

Without a connection to the customer, employees lose empathy for their work, for the customer, and for the final product.

Via The Future of Management:

“As companies divided themselves into departments and functions, employees also became disconnected from the final product.  As tasks became narrower and more specialized, employees lost their emotional bond with the end product.  The result? A diminished sense of responsibility for producer quality and efficiency.  No longer were workers product craftsmen, now they were cogs in an industrial machine over which they had little control.”

Employees No Longer Have a System Wide View of the Production Process

It’s hard to make changes to the system when you no longer have a system wide view.

Via The Future of Management:

“Size and scale also separate employees from their coworkers.  Working in semi-isolated departments, they no longer had a system wide view of the production process.  If that system was suboptimal, they had no way of knowing it and now way of correcting it.”

The Gap Widens Between Workers and Owners

People at the top don’t hear from the people at the bottom.

Via The Future of Management:

“Industrialization also enlarged the gulf between workers and owners.  While a 19th-century apprentice would have had the ear of the proprietor, most 20th-century employees reported to low-level supervisors.  In a large enterprise a junior employee could work for decades and never have the chance to speak one-on-one with someone empowered to make important policy decisions.”

The Scoreboard is Contrived

Scoreboards tell employees how they are doing their jobs, but not how the company is doing overall.

Via The Future of Management:

“In addition, growing operational complexity fractured the information that was available to employees.  In a small proprietorship, the financial scoreboard was simple and real time; there was little mystery about how the firm was doing.  In a big industrial company, employees had a scoreboard but it was contrived.  It told workers how they were doing their jobs, but little about how the company was doing overall.  With no more than a knothole view of the company's financial model, and only a sliver of responsibility for results, it was difficult for an employee to feel a genuine burden for the company's performance.”

Industrialization Disconnects Employees from Their Own Creativity

Standardizing jobs and processes limits innovation in the jobs and processes.  They are at odds.

Via The Future of Management:

“Finally, and worst of all, industrialization disconnected employees from their own creativity.  In the industrial world, work methods and procedures were defined by experts and, once defined, were not easily altered.  No matter how creative an employee might be, the scope for exercising that gift was severely truncated.”

The Pursuit of Scale and Efficiency Advantages Disconnected Workers from Their Essential Inputs

With the disconnect between employees and their inputs, there was a natural need for the management class.

Via The Future of Management:

“To put it simply, the pursuit of scale and efficiency advantages disconnected workers from the essential inputs that had, in earlier times, allowed them to be (largely) self-managing -- and in so doing, it made the growth on an expansive managerial class inevitable.”

Employees Don’t Lack Wisdom and Experience

Employees don’t lack wisdom and experience.  They just lack information and context.

Via The Future of Management:

“To a large extent, employees need managers for the same reason 13-year-olds need parents: they are incapable of self-regulation.  Adolescents, with their hormone-addled brains and limited lie experience, lack the discernment to make consistently wise choices.  Employees on the other hand, aren't short of wisdom and experience, but they do lack information and context -- since they are so often disconnected from customers, associates, end products, owners, and the big financial picture.  Deprived of the ability to exercise control from within, employees must accept control from above.  The result: disaffection.  It turns out that employees enjoy being treated like 13-year-olds even less than 13-year-olds.”

Disengaged Employees, Hamstrung Innovation, and Inflexible Organizations

What is the result of all this disconnect?   Stifled innovation, rigid organizations, and disinterested employees.

Via The Future of Management:

“Disengaged employees.  Hamstrung innovation.  Inflexible organizations.  Although we are living in a new century, we are still plagued by the side effects of a management model that invented roughly a hundred years ago.  Yet history doesn't have to be destiny -- not if you are willing to go back and reassess the time-forgotten choices that so many others still take for granted.  With the benefit of hindsight, you can ask: How have circumstances changed? Are new approaches possible? Must we be bound by the shackles of the past?  These are essential questions for every management innovator.”

Does history have to be destiny?

We’re writing new chapters of history each and every day.

In all of my experience, where I’ve seen productivity thrive, people shine, and innovation unleashed, it’s when employees are connected with customers, they are empowered and encouraged to make changes to processes and products, and they are part of a learning organization with rapid feedback loops.

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Categories: Blogs

Brain Picking to Thrive Leadership at CultureCon Boston 2014

Agile Thinks and Things - Oana Juncu - Sun, 08/03/2014 - 19:24
In June a thriving event organised by my dear friend Daniel Mezick , author of the "Culture Game" and Agile Boston check the , and it's name is CultureCon14 . By the way,  you can check the wonderful shirts of Agile Boston in the photo.  The vision of the gathered group - as I understood and embraced it, is that culture is the ground of any profound change or status quo. Things that "should happen" happen within a group, organisation or entreprise  won't if they aren't aligned  with its culture.   Peter Drucker so brilliantly put it back in the fifties : "Culture eats strategy at breakfast".  Given this observation, CultureCon mission is to hack culture and make things happen because culture shifts. How can organisation culture shift ? Here are some brain picks from different sessions I participated in or bumble beed . Oh, didn't I tell you ? CultureCon is an OpenSpace format. Of Course ! What a better culture hack than a blasting conference hack like OpenSpace ;) .
Hacks for your organisation 
Hack gratitude with Jean Russel :  Gratitude is a key ingredient of Thriving organisation. Gratitude is maybe more difficult to receive, and people are better when they think what they are grateful for , to whom and say it. Jean proposes to make acts of gratitude vandalism , by putting gratitude notes all over the place. And create a gratitude tree to be displayed.  Jean is the author of "Thrivability".

Self-organise like life with Michelle Halliday : Life is self-organised around a purpose that is self-preservation. Life is a complex system that has a top priority goal : resilience .  Organisations are like living systems , they are complex and self-organised by design.  Through a purpose in a middle of a group, is starts self-organising. Any command and control management junkies just can't help it. Any organisation is self organised to respond to regulations and policies. 

Freedom is the the N°1 value that make people safe with Jim McCarthy . Jim,  author of the Core Protocols a reference for self-organised responsible organisation,  reminds us the core of true engagement : recognition of each individual freewill in everyday actions. I used to say that even if freedom is "dangerous" ( by design, no one holds you under a protection shield when you're free ) , it is priceless.  The "safety" dimension  Jim brings,  outlines there is nothing that make us feel safer that facing the danger to act on our freewill.

Organisation comes in circles , with John Buck.  Every organisation starts by forming circles ,  and the most stable form of evolution is to circle forward ( a nice name for a string like form ) . And"Circle Forward" will be the new-new operating system of organisations and maybe the new name of sociocracy ! John revealed also the enormous potential of "nothing". You can do anything starting from nothing , just think at the degree of freedom  it gives !

Only fractal structures are scalable , with Doug Kirkpatrick. Morning Star is one of the biggest complains that make tomato sauce ( yummy!). Tomato sauce is a complex matter because it depends of  mother nature and complex food industry, yet Morning Star has no hierarchy. It's the No Boss, No Budget constraints, no promotions company, that has a "CLOU" ( read it Clue ) how to provide 40% of the tomato paste for the US food industry. The secret ? Values and culture are part of the company's DNA. And DNA is fractal , it can scale. Culture is fractal. Bingo ! 
Robert , at the dance party  City Hall  Cambridge, MA

Have fun and hack culture , with Robert Richman. Have candor , be respectful be amazed and play ! That's how Robert hacks culture. I learned to build amazing soft-ball for energising activities. And the point is not only to play soft ball with a team following whatever rules the group settles, but truly crafting those balls. Amazing ans simple way to get engaged ! Robert is the author of "Culture Blueprint". 
The Tip on Open Spaces I participated in many Open Spaces, still Dan ( Mezick) brings some extra surprise in them. The way he energise people to make the results last. From hims and the team committed to do proceedings of the different sessions, I truly learned a new tip : make it last, create the right environment to proceed ... proceedings. And of course , many thanks to Deb Hartmann Preuss as a thoughtful Open Space facilitator. Open Space is a container. Deb owns the art to make it a good fertilising, inspiring container . 

Categories: Blogs

Insights at Agile 2014 Part 1 of 3

NetObjectives - Sun, 08/03/2014 - 08:59
This is the first of three blogs I'll be posting daily (see bottom of post for the others). Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. - Winston Churchill I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. - Albert Einstein Agile 2014 has come and gone.  Like most of the conferences I go to, I didn’t see one...

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Categories: Companies

Transformation Case Study – Video Interview

Agilitrix - Michael Sahota - Sun, 08/03/2014 - 04:15

At Agile 2014, many people were inspired by this case study so Olaf Lewitz interviewed me. Here is what happened.

Slides and Highlights are here.

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  1. Transformation Case Study Highlights I was fortunate to act as  a catalyst for a...
  2. The Business Case for an Authentic Workplace People are messy: they have personalities and emotions. In this...
  3. WholeHearted Manifesto: We Value People The WholeHearted Manifesto consists on one value statement: We Value...

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Categories: Blogs

Applying the Three Horizons to Agile Conferences

AvailAgility - Karl Scotland - Sat, 08/02/2014 - 22:49

Relaxing after Agile2014, Eric Willeke made an off-hand comment about applying the Three Horizons Model to Agile practices. That struck me as interesting and got me wondering about how the concept could be applied to the Agile conference program.

ApplyingI have blogged about the model before as a way of thinking about value (although on reflection I’d now say its more about potential). To summarise:

  • H1 focusses on “extending and defending the core business”
  • H2 focusses on “building emerging businesses”
  • H3 focusses on “creating viable options”

The idea behind the model is to ensure a mix of investment across the horizons. Otherwise, if (or more likely when) the core business dies, it will not be ready with any new and alternative opportunities.


If we take these definitions, but think in terms of Agile practices, rather than businesses we get:

  • H1 focusses on “extending and defending the core practices”
  • H2 focusses on “building emerging practices”
  • H3 focusses on “creating viable options”

In this case, the Agile community would be ensuring a mix of investments across the horizons so that when the current core practices are no longer appropriate or useful, there will be new and alternative ones ready to be used in their place. That leads to the idea of having a conference program which includes an “investment allocation” in the different horizons. For example a 5 track conference could have 3 tracks on H1 topics, 1 track on H2 topics and 1 track on H3 topics giving a 60%/20%/20% allocation. Or a program made up of more traditional role/discipline/interest based tracks could allocate content across the horizons within each track.

The challenge, of course, would be agreeing on what topics are in which horizon. As an example, I might say Scrum and XP are firmly Horizon 1 as tried and tested methods. The various approaches to agility at scale might be Horizon 2 as they are still being explored and refined. Ideas from Beyond Budgeting or Cynefin might be Horizon 3 as they still being understood and experimented with.

The goal would not be to try and suggest any practices or approaches are any better or worse than other. The value would be in ensuring the longevity and continuing success of the Agile movement.

Categories: Blogs

Classifying Market Problems

Tyner Blain - Scott Sehlhorst - Sat, 08/02/2014 - 01:10


Theodore Levitt may have developed the whole product model to help companies compete more effectively with their products.  We wrote about the whole product game based on Mr. Levitt’s work.  Recently, I’ve been using a variant of this model as a way to view a product and upcoming roadmap items.  It is a powerful way to share a perspective on your product with the rest of the team, and frame conversations about where best to invest.

Whole Product Model

As a quick review, Mr. Levitt defined the following model:

Whole product model in bullseye format

Which works in that the center of the bullseye is the heart of the product, and as it grows, it reaches the potential of an imagined marvelous product.  It also follows that your product would be hollow if you only focused on the outer rings and not the center.

I’ve found, over the last year or so of messing with the model, that I prefer to think of it as layers building upon one another.

levitt's model, in a tower orientation

Minor Term Revision

When introducing this way of framing a market space to a team, I have found that I get more traction with the following variation on the model.

alternate terms for levitt's model

And I think of them as follows:

  • Table Stakes – those problems your product addresses, which your customers view as mandatory.  If you don’t address them, your product isn’t even considered as a possible solution.
  • Competitive Jockeying – these are the problems where one product is trying to provide “better” solutions than the other products, in a bit of a horse race for market leadership.
  • Differentiation – these are problems where, if solved, they would differentiate a product from the competition.  Think “blue ocean strategy” here.
  • Disruption – these are problems where, if solved, effectively redefine the market – disrupting existing players.  These are the game changers.

I believe this keeps with the spirit of what Mr. Levitt was getting at with his model.  Or at least it aligns with what I took away from it.  Any misrepresentations are my own, but please let me know in the comments if your brain went in a different direction after reading his article.

Classifying Problems Using This Model

I was doing an exercise with a team, reviewing their current roadmap as part of the budgeting cycle.  The roadmap was what the team were proposing, and hoping to get funded.  This is a team which historically was more “inside out” in their thinking, and needed to be outside-in (market driven).

The question I wanted the team to answer was how does this investment make your product more competitive?

Ultimately, that’s what you’re going for – either strategic positioning of some sort, or an investment driven to improve your product.

logjam viewed from overhead

I put the four categories on the whiteboard, and the team members identified market problems (which were part of their product) and mapped them to each area.  At first, the team struggled to get started, with a bit of writer’s block.  We broke the logjam by identifying a feature which the team would ordinarily focus on.  Then we identified what market problem the feature was intended to address.  Once we had a problem identified, we could add it to the board.  Then we picked another feature, and did the same thing.

It would have been much easier to just identify the features.  The problem is that customers don’t care about features – they care about solving problems.  If you focus on the features, you can lose sight of the problems.  You may also fail to identify a competitor, who addresses the same problem with a different feature.

tanning bed

As an example, someone who sells tanning booths may really focus on the features that maximize the surface area being tanned, or the air-flow in the booth, competing on speeds and feeds with other booth vendors, and companies who make tanning beds.  They might easily be blindsided by the rub-on or spray-on tan products, who end up disrupting their markets.  The problem is that the booth vendor focused on features (coverage, temperature, etc), instead of problems (skin is not dark enough).

A Holistic View of Your Market

In the whole product game, we’re using divergent thinking and brainstorming to explore a problem space.  This exercise, classifying market problems is a convergent thinking exercise.  We capture our current understanding of the market, for the purpose of seeing how well our product is positioned to address the known problems.

There are some interesting variations / analyses / discussions which come up during this exercise:

  • With the current plan, are we trying to get “a bit better” in many different directions, or really focusing on solving a single problem, for a specific market segment?
  • Now that we’ve classified these problems – which ones are more important than others, for our target customers?
  • How do we compare with our competition at providing solutions to the most important problems?  Are we investing to catch up?  Or to pull ahead? Or are we trying to disrupt an existing market with something new and compelling?
Goal Driven Benefits

Many teams struggle with backlogs or roadmaps which appear to be a collection of “a bunch of stuff.”  Most teams try and address the problems that manifest from having a giant list of stuff by getting better at managing giant lists.  This is treating the symptom, not the cause.  If you’re trying to juggle hundreds of requirements, the problem isn’t that you have hundreds of requirements, the problem is that you don’t know why you have requirements.

The investments into improving a product should be intentional.  Every item on the backlog improves an aspect of the product – but to what end?  When you identify the problems the product is intended to solve – an outcome of doing this exercise – you have a framework for mapping or tracing every backlog item back to the goal (problem) it supports.

Those hundreds of requirements probably all trace back to a few specific tangible problems.  As a fun tangent – that’s the basis for forming a good roadmap too.

Many Lenses

When you’re reviewing a roadmap in light of a strategy, there are several different ways you need to look at your plan.  One of them is to understand how it is you’re trying to compete (by being better, being cheaper, inspiring aspiration, or something else).  How complete are your solutions, how important are the problems you focus on?  How does your product compare with competitors?

This is one of the views I use to get a sense of where a product plan “is” and very quickly identifies how (and how well) a team understands their market.

*Thanks Dontworry for the amphicar photo, usgs_elwhacams for the logjam photo

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Categories: Blogs

Agile2014 - Soft Skill Presentations

Three of my favorite presentations at Agile2014 were on soft skills; Diana Larsen’s Best Job Ever, Lyssa Adkin’s Facilitating Intense Conversations, and Jean Tabaka/Em Campbell-Pretty’s Creating Agile Tribes
Diana Larsen was the keynote presenter on Wednesday. After a bit of dancing, she got to the presentation. She had three main points
  • Do Work you Love to Do
  • Work With Purpose
  • Take Care of you Tribe

The message was that we don’t have to do a job we hate. Hard work can be rewarding, but there has to be a purpose behind it. 
Lyssa Adkins presentation was about facilitation when there is conflict. Her talk started out more like a discussion on Buddhist practices; things like meditation and mindfulness. Her discussion was based on the facilitation techniques of Diane Musho Hamilton. As part of the presentation, she brought 6 people up on stage and facilitated a discussion among them and demonstrated a number of facilitation techniques such as creating safety, reframing, and listening fully. 
The third presentation was based on the book Tribal Leadership by David Logan and both presenters talked about work environment built around some of the ideas in the book and the positive impact that had on the workers. The presentation wrapped up with the attendees making t-shirts of our tribe.

Categories: Blogs

Natalie Warnert Talks About the ‘UX Runway’ at Agile 2014

BigVisible Solutions :: An Agile Company - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 18:58

User Experience? Lean? Scrum? Agile? How can these all fit together and be incorporated into stories and Sprints? Natalie explores the benefits of high quality, more usable and consistent software with a shorter user feedback loop by cohesively incorporating UX into the Agile process via the ‘UX Runway’. The idea was originally from the Scaled […]

The post Natalie Warnert Talks About the ‘UX Runway’ at Agile 2014 appeared first on BigVisible Solutions.

Categories: Companies

Mitch Lacey & Paul Hammond – Discuss Agile 2014 and Beyond

BigVisible Solutions :: An Agile Company - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 18:34

Mitch Lacey – Current Agile 2014 Conference Chair and Paul Hammond – Future Agile 2015 Conference Chair sit down with Dave Prior at the BigVisible booth to discuss the past, present and future of the event.

The post Mitch Lacey & Paul Hammond – Discuss Agile 2014 and Beyond appeared first on BigVisible Solutions.

Categories: Companies

Pat Reed – ‘Value Innovation’ Driven Portfolio Management at Agile 2014

BigVisible Solutions :: An Agile Company - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 17:35

As the pace of organizational change and complexity accelerates, it’s critical that we find a way to move out of the “Do More with Less” mindset and build our competitive edge at truly doing less to create more time and space for innovation and sustainable value creation. Managing scope continues to remain elusive and most […]

The post Pat Reed – ‘Value Innovation’ Driven Portfolio Management at Agile 2014 appeared first on BigVisible Solutions.

Categories: Companies

David Bland – How to Build Products that Matter with Innovation Accounting – at Agile 2014

BigVisible Solutions :: An Agile Company - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 17:20

David Bland – the awesome – stops by the BigVisible un-booth at Agile 2014.He talks through How to Build Products that Matter with Innovation Accounting Innovative Accounting will land you in prison, but Innovation Accounting will land you a product that matters. David covers the basics of Innovation Accounting and dives into Pirate Metrics, Lean […]

The post David Bland – How to Build Products that Matter with Innovation Accounting – at Agile 2014 appeared first on BigVisible Solutions.

Categories: Companies

Jean Tabaka on Scaling Agile & Challenging Your System View at Agile 2014

BigVisible Solutions :: An Agile Company - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 16:29

You’ve been adopting Agile and want to scale. Perhaps you want to create an intrapreneurial practice in your organization. But as you scale Agile, you want to maintain or improve your speed. In fact you want and need to go faster. Merely being the incumbent while adopting Agile is death; it’s a winner-takes-all market. If […]

The post Jean Tabaka on Scaling Agile & Challenging Your System View at Agile 2014 appeared first on BigVisible Solutions.

Categories: Companies

Implementing Kanban when there is no "what you do now"

David's recent post Kanban Litmus Test prompted an interesting question on kanbandev: How does Kanban apply if you don't have an existing process to change?

My first experience of Kanban was with a team that was still coming together. It was less start with what you do now, more start with a rough understanding.

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Categories: Companies

Playing around with Yo

Xebia Blog - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 14:09

Yo has been quite a bit in the news lately. Mainly because it got a lot of investment, which surprised and shocked some people because it all seems too simple. Yo only allows you to send a Yo notification to other users. However, it has a lot of potential to become big while staying that simple.

Screenshot 2014-08-01 14.23.48

After reading Why A Stupid App Like Yo May Have Billion-Dollar Platform Potential a few days ago I felt it was time to play around a bit with Yo and it's API.

I came up with 3 very simple use cases that should be simple to solve with Yo:

  • Get a Yo when it's time to have lunch when I'm at work
  • Get a Yo when I forgot to check out from my parking App
  • Get a Yo when a new blog post is published here on the Xebia Blog

Time to register a couple of Yo developer usernames. The Yo API is, just like Yo itself, very simple. You register a username from which you want to receive notifications at after which you'll receive an API token for that username. Once you have that, people can subscribe to that username with the Yo app. Then you can send a Yo to either all subscribers or to a single subscribe with a simple POST request and the token. All this is explained at in more detail.

Let's start with our lunch notifications. I created the TIME2LUNCH username for this. I want my notifications at 12:00pm, since that's the time I go to lunch. So all I need is some service that sends the POST request every day at 12:00pm (for now I don't care about getting one in the weekend as well and I only care about my own time zone, Central European Time). Using NodeJS, it's just a single line of code to do such a request:

      form: {api_token: 'my_secret_api_token'}

Now we need to have a scheduler that executes it every day at 12:00pm. Luckily Heroku has a scheduler that can do exactly that:

Screenshot 2014-07-31 17.43.51

So after deploying our javascript file with a single line of code and creating our scheduled job we will receive our daily Yo from TIME2LUNCH. Not bad for a first attempt.

Usually my co-workers will remind me when it's time to go to lunch so let's do something that's actually a bit less useless.

To park my car near the office I always use the Parkmobile service. At the end of the day I have to check out to avoid paying too much. Unfortunately it's an easy thing to forget. Parkmobile knows this and can send sms alerts at a specific time or after parking a certain amount of hours. Unfortunately they charge € 0.25 per sms. They also send e-mails, but they're easier to miss. It would be nice to get a Yo instead, for free of course.

What we need is to send the Yo POST request each time we receive the Parkmobile e-mails. Sounds like we might be able to use IFTTT (if this then that) to accomplish this. When browsing for channels and recipes on IFTTT I saw that they already support Yo as a channel. I thought I was gonna be done fast. Unfortunately it's only possible to use Yo as a trigger (if Yo then that) and not as an action (if this then Yo). So we need another solution here. I couldn't find a way to send a cURL request directly from IFTTT, but when Googling for a solution I found a webhook project: The ifttt-webhook works by acting as a WordPress site, which is something that can act as an action of IFTTT. It then allows us to send a POST request to a specific URL. Not exactly the POST requests that are accepted by the Yo API though. But we already made some NodeJS code to send a Yo request so I'm sure we can add some code to accept a request from the ifttt-webhook and then pass it on to something that Yo does understand.

If we follow the instructions on the Github page and set our username to our Yo username and use our API token as password, then the webhook will send a POST request with a JSON body that looks something like this:

{ user: 'MYUSERNAME', pass: 'ab1234-1234-abcd-1234-abcd1234abcd', title: '' }

We can handle that in NodeJS like this:

var express = require('express');
var bodyParser = require('body-parser')
var app = express();
var request = require('request');

app.use(bodyParser.json());'/api/yo', function (req, res) {
  var user = req.body.user;
  var apiToken = req.body.pass;'',
      form: {
        api_token: apiToken,
        username: user

var port = Number(process.env.PORT || 5000);
app.listen(port, function() {
  console.log('Listening on ' + port);

This is just a simple express web server that listens for POST calls on /api/yo and then uses the user and pass fields from the body to send a POST request to the Yo API.

This is deployed at so everyone can use it as a IFTTT to Yo action.

We can now create our IFTTT recipe. Creating the this step is easy. I receive the e-mails from Parkmobile in my Gmail and their e-mail address is So the rule becomes to trigger each time when I receive an email from them. Then in the that step I activate the WordPress channel with the Yo username and api token and in the body I set the URL.

Here is the recipe:

Screenshot 2014-07-31 18.32.12

The last use case I had is to send a Yo each time a new blog post was posted on this blog. For that I registered the XEBIABLOG username (so make sure to subscribe to that in your Yo app if you want to get Yo'd as well for each new blog post).

Since this blog has an RSS feed, I figured I could poll that once in a while to check for new posts. We also already used the Heroku scheduler, so we might as well use that again. I found a little node library called feed-read that makes reading RSS feeds easy. So here is our little app that runs every hour:

var feed = require("feed-read");
var request = require('request');
var ONE_HOUR = 60 * 60 * 1000;

feed("", function(err, articles) {
  if (err) throw err;

  var lastArticle = articles[0];
  if ((new Date() - lastArticle.published) < ONE_HOUR) {
    console.log('Sending Yo for ' + lastArticle.title);'',
        form: {
          api_token: 'my_secret_token'

We now have completed our 3 little use cases. Not the most useful things but nice non nonetheless. When looking back on them, we can imagine a couple of improvements. For example for the TIME2LUNCH it would be possible to make a little service where people could register and set their timezone at which they want to receive their notification. We could create a little database that store Yo usernames and the zone. But at this moment it's not possible to verify that USERX is really USERX. Yo doesn't support third party authentication like Facebook and Twitter have with OAuth. Perhaps that's something they will add in the future to make platform more useable for user specific notifications.

Categories: Companies

Project Management with Kanban (Part 1)

This fall, we are introducing a new curriculum to our class offerings - Project Management with Kanban. Note the subtle choice of title - "Project Management with Kanban!" It isn't "Kanban for Project Managers." Kanban for Project Managers makes as much sense to me as "Kanban for Refuse Collectors" Why would such a class be different from say, "Kanban for Grandmas"? It's all just Kanban! Perhaps the case studies and examples might be different but the curriculum would be the same. On the other hand, Project Management with Kanban" offers us the chance to provide a new curriculum, specifically targeted at managing project where kanban systems are in use and the Kanban Method is part of the organization's management approach.

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Categories: Companies

Day 4 at Agile2014

Growing Agile - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 02:05

Our next video podcast summary of what we learned at Agile 2014, with special guest appearance icon smile Day 4 at Agile2014

Here are some links from the sessions we attended:

Facilitating Intense Conversations by Lyssa Adkins
Kanban Pizza Game from Agile 42
Coaching Product Owners Effectively

Thanks to everyone who attended our session, and for all the great tweets and feedback.
Take a look at our books!

Categories: Companies

Recap of Dallas’s July meeting: Overcoming the fear of Sprint Retrospective

DFW Scrum User Group - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 02:05
July’s topic was posted by a community member on our meetup site, and after receiving a number of votes, we decided to make it the focus of a Wisdom of the Crowd night. What’s a Wisdom of the Crowd night? … Continue reading →
Categories: Communities

Agile in a Remote Workplace World

Leading Agile - Mike Cottmeyer - Fri, 08/01/2014 - 01:44

Two of the twelve Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto  are about people working together in close daily collaboration.

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

In a well functioning Agile team, this collaborative connection is the fuel that propels the team’s success.  As an Agile coach, I love being able to coach a team that sits together, is able to connect in person throughout the day, and can effortlessly pull together to solve problems.  But in a world where good developers are in short supply and in high demand, and where work/life balance becomes ever more important for being able to hire and retain good employees, allowing people to work from home is a fact of life for companies today.

How do you enable collaboration when team members are working from home?

How do remote teams engage in stand up meetings, sprint planning sessions, retrospective meetings, and other Agile ceremonies?

You just have to leverage the right tools.

Some are obvious. Online meeting tools such as Webex, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Imeet are essential.  Use these for stand-up meetings and for planning and review sessions where you need full team participation.

If you are using VersionOne to help manage your Agile process, consider the team room capability that it provides to drive your stand up meeting.  Don’t make the mistake that some teams make after they experience success and start to feel comfortable.   Avoid the temptation to drop off important ceremonies, like the stand-up meeting.  I’ve coached teams who had a handful of good sprints, and felt that perhaps they no longer needed to meet in person and could just email in a daily update.  Bad idea.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Google Hangouts work well to keep the team engaged together and collaborating throughout the day. The key is to do group chat as opposed to individual chats. Let the whole team monitor the chat room as a way to stay in contact with each other. While this is certainly not as powerful as team members being able to roll their chairs to the middle of the team room to talk, it can nevertheless be quite effective.

I use a tool called Notepp for running team retrospectives with remote team members. Noteapp allows you to create an interactive retrospective board and publish a URL to the team. You can watch the whole team contribute ideas to the retrospective in real time as they type notes on the board, almost as if you were doing this together in a conference room with sticky notes.

Noteapp also works great for story workshop sessions. remote workplace

Co-locate teams if at all possible. The payback to doing so is significant. But if you’re going to be Agile in a remote workplace world, get the right tools in place to support the team’s ability to collaborate.

The post Agile in a Remote Workplace World appeared first on LeadingAgile.

Categories: Blogs

[Recap] Fast IT: Concepts and Examples from Assembla and Attivio

Assembla Blog - Thu, 07/31/2014 - 22:51

Last week, Sid Probstein, CTO of Attivio, and Andy Singleton, founder of Assembla presented a webinar about “Fast IT,” a new way of managing rapidly changing and Agile projects in areas like mobile, Web, analytics and marketing applications, while working smoothly with reliable core systems ("Core IT"). Andy discussed the dynamics of Fast IT, and Sid presented a case study of how Attivio spun up a major Business Intelligence app in two weeks with two people.

If you missed the webinar, view and download the slides

Want an overview of Fast IT in 60 seconds? Watch the video below:

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Categories: Companies

Knowledge Sharing

SpiraTeam is a agile application lifecycle management (ALM) system designed specifically for methodologies such as scrum, XP and Kanban.