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Process Improvement and Small Organizations

Mike HarrisThe article in the March/April 2016 edition of IEEE Software, “Software Process Improvement in Very Small Organizations,” focuses on a topic that any reader with a small organization will find interesting: the fact that very small entities (VSEs) – which have 25 or fewer employees – occupy a large part of the software business. Not only do many VSEs offer software services directly to clients, VSEs often are an outsourced provider for larger organizations, serving as a crucial factor of success.

However, there is no software process framework in place for VSEs. Those commonly used in the industry, such as CMMI and SPICE, are difficult to apply in smaller organizations due to cost, time, or other factors.

As a result, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) collaborated to publish a set of ISO/IEC 29110 standards and guides (available for free at http://standards.iso.org/ittf/PubliclyAvailableStandards/index.html), a widely adopted standard. This document introduced the term VSE and includes process guidelines based on VSE characteristics.

If you read the IEEE article, you’ll find tables summarizing the most common improvement hurdles that VSEs face and the opportunities SPI offers them, based on decades of field experience in multiple countries.

In addition, the authors of the article are in the process of building an “experience factory,” helping VSEs to start process initiatives. VSEs can join the effort or benefit from the findings to-date (for free!).  

Why is this so interesting? Because in any organization – software or not – constant improvement is a necessity. In order to thrive and succeed, an organization must be looking for areas of improvement, best practices to follow, and an increase in quality. The easiest way to achieve that is via a framework that serves as a roadmap for change (like CMMI or the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)). Smaller software organizations have long been at a disadvantage because so many of the available frameworks were not created with them in mind.

This new set of standards and guides allows smaller organizations to reap the benefits of process improvement, while also contributing to the body of knowledge. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Read the article: “Software Process Improvement in Very Small Organizations,” IEEE Software.

Mike Harris

Written by Michael D. Harris at 05:00
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Spring Cleaning For Your Processes

Spring Cleaning

In my home, like many others, it's a tradition to thoroughly clean our house, yard and even our office every spring. Spring cleaning is a little different than a normal cleaning - it's a little more thorough. Everything gets touched, sorted and perhaps even thrown away. When we are done, it always amazes me when I step back and see the stuff that has accumulated since our last spring cleaning that is no longer needed. The same spring-cleaning concept can be applied to the processes that you use at work.

Here's a simple plan for spring cleaning your processes:

  1. Convene a small team. Consider using a Three Amigos-like process, consisting of a developer, tester and process or business analyst. A small team will reduce the time needed to come to a consensus and the inclusion of multiple disciplines will help make sure that important steps don’t get “cleaned up.”

  2. Map your actual processes. Create a simple process map that shows all steps with their inputs and outputs. This will be useful for focusing the spring cleaning on what is actually being done, rather what is supposed to be done.

  3. Review your actual processes against the organizational standard and/or what everyone thinks ought to be happening.
    1. To start, identify steps that have been added to the process. Ask if the added steps can be removed. In many cases, process steps are added to prevent a specific mistake or oversight. I recently saw a process with a weekly budget review signoff because in an earlier release the team had gone over budget. The step in process added two additional hours of overhead to collect and validate signatures (the data already existed).
    2. Next, review each step in the process to determine whether there are simpler ways to accomplish the same result. In the example of the weekly budget review, we removed the step and put a simple budget burn down chart on the wall in the team room, which took approximately five minutes to update every week.
  4. Review the process change recommendations with the rest of the project team. Simple enough. I like convening a lunch session to review the changes and to share a common meal.

  5. Implement the process changes based on the review and monitor the results.

  6. Calculate and monitor the project’s burden rate. The burden rate is a simple metric that is the ratio of testing, review, sign-off and management to total time. The burden rate represents the overhead being expended to manage the project and to ensure quality. If you were able to construct a perfect engineering process, the burden rate would be zero; however, perfect is not possible. Spring cleaning should reduce the burden rate. I recommend reviewing the burden rate during a retrospective periodically so that overhead does not creep back into the process.

Spring cleaning is a tradition in many of the colder climates. When the days grow warmer and longer, all of the extra stuff that has accumulated over the winter becomes obvious and a bit oppressive. Cleaning out what isn’t needed lifts the spirits, and process spring cleaning serves the same purpose. Get rid of steps that don’t add value and simplify how you work. A process spring cleaning will lift your team’s spirits and help them deliver more value. Spring cleaning is part of a virtuous cycle!

Tom Cagley
Vice President of Consulting
Agile Practice Manager

Written by Tom Cagley at 05:00
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Tips for Implementing a Quality Model

PatA lot of companies consider implementing a quality model and run into a specific barrier that derails their entire initiative. This may come as a surprise, but that barrier is that the process of choosing the “right” quality model can be overwhelming!

As a CMMI and TMMi consultant, I understand how these companies feel, but I also know that with a few simple considerations, choosing the right quality model for your organization becomes much easier.

So, how do you choose a quality model that you’re confident in? I’ve written “Tips for Implementing a Quality Model” to address just that question. The article discusses how to identify the business objective driving your implementation, how to identify the key factors for success and then a few additional considerations that you’ll want to make.

Don’t let the seemingly overwhelming selection of a quality model prevent you from improving your organization’s quality management. Heed my advice – and feel free to leave your own in the comments – and your quality model implementation is sure to succeed!

Read it now: Tips for Implementing a Quality Model

Pat Eglin
Certified Intro to CMMI Instructor and TMMi Consultant

Written by Default at 05:00
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Improve Company Communication with Storytelling

We all like to read or to hear stories. And, in fact, storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. We often grumble about the lack of communication in our organizations. Management isn’t transparent enough, or we are taken by surprise when a special announcement is made. So, is there a place for storytelling in the workplace?

Storytelling can take many different forms and formats and can be presented in a variety of forums. One interesting and very effective use of storytelling came to light recently during a client engagement. The client had recently undergone a fairly significant and successful transformation from a traditional waterfall development shop to implementing Agile methods and techniques.

In an effort to manage and sustain such a major transition, it was suggested that an online public forum be established where people could write about or even provide video or audio accounts of their shared experiences. They could tell their stories.

The dynamic is an interesting one. People like to talk about their positive experiences and they like to associate themselves with successful events. This form of storytelling serves to reinforce the positive feelings about recent outcomes, or even to promote collective problem solving within an organization. At first, people may need to be encouraged to participate, but you will easily find some willing participants, you just have to ask.

What do you think about this type of forum? Do you think providing a space for work-related storytelling is an effective way to improve company communication? Could promoting storytelling become a key tool in process improvement initiatives?

David Herron
Vice President, Software Performance Management

Written by David Herron at 08:30
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"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG Owner

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