Tips for Visualizing the Value of Software

Mike HarrisI’m an avid reader of industry publications – probably like many of you. So, when I come across an article that I think others may be interested in, I’m inclined to share! The latest article to pique my interest is, “Why They Just Don’t Get It,” from the May/June 2016 edition of IEEE Software.

The article itself is all about how to communicate about software architecture with business stakeholders. I’ve talked about it before (and we’re all aware by now), but there is a serious gap between the business and IT – to the detriment of the entire organization. Thus, it’s important for IT to find ways to effectively communicate with the business to facilitate thoughtful decision-making. This is true about software architecture and it’s true about software value.

The part of the article I want to focus in on is the section, “A Crash Course in Visual Communication.” In essence, the section discusses how it can be hard to put something complicated into words (like software architecture), so sometimes visuals enable improved communication. It reinforces what I have been communicating over the past year in many of my other blog posts and speaking engagements – the need for visualizing value. The section lists six lessons for creating architecture-related visuals, but they apply to value visuals as well.

1)      Our brains focus on things that are different, even in minor ways. When you’re making visuals, call-out the things you want the audience to pay attention to by making them different (changing the color is an easy way to achieve this).

2)      We also unconsciously organize visual elements into bigger groups. Help the viewer by making these groups more obvious (place like items close together or make them the same color, etc.)

3)      The colors you choose send messages, so choose wisely. For instance, many people associate red with negative emotions (anger, stop, etc.). Have these associations in mind when you select colors for your visuals.

4)      Don’t overcrowd your visual. Use icons and logos to make the image clean and easy to interpret.

5)      Read and learn about graphic design and apply basic principles whenever you can. You may not have the time for this, but I would suggest trying to look at the visuals you create with a more critical eye – or asking for someone else to review them.

6)      This is my favorite tip – try sketching! Not every visual that you share has to be a professional-looking graphic. If you’re in a meeting and having trouble communicating your thoughts, try sketching your thoughts – it may spur the right kind of conversation.

Visuals are a powerful communication tool, and when words aren’t serving us well, it’s wise to remember that we don’t always need them! When it comes to interacting with those outside of IT, think about how you can communicate in ways that will make sense to the other person – it will benefit both parties equally. My May 18, 2016 blog post, “Visualizing the Value Through Information Radiators and Business Dashboards” discusses two different visualization tools that help teams more easily manage their software development projects and demonstrate the value. Check those out – they could be useful!

How do you use imagery in your professional life for improved communication – or, how do you think your business could benefit from such a strategy?

Read the article: “Why They Just Don’t Get It,” IEEE Software.



Mike Harris

Written by Michael D. Harris at 05:00
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How Software Value Can Impact Competitive Positioning

Mike HarrisSome might argue that a CEO should not be concerned with software development initiatives; instead, they should be focused on more strategic aspects of the business. I do not argue that the CEO is the visionary of the company and should turn to his/her executive team to manage the details; however, today, software is entwined in almost every aspect of an organization and can significantly impact the success of a business.

CEOs need to be focused on guiding his or her team to gain or keep a competitive advantage. In today’s technology-dependent business world, software is typically leveraged to enable businesses to be more efficient and effective, helping to lower costs and increase profits. Therefore, if the CEO’s vision is to be the lowest-cost/highest-value provider of a certain product, for example, and a software application needs to be developed to allow them to streamline a process to be able to offer their product at a lower cost while still providing greater value to their customers, then the CEO will be very interested in how quickly this software solution can be developed.

Time to market can be a critical factor in gaining a competitive advantage. In the rapidly changing banking industry, for example, banks need to continually offer new products and services in order to retain their existing customers and attract new ones. Most of these new offerings are driven by software. If they are unable to develop a software application quickly enough to beat their competitors, then they run the risk of losing customers and prospects.

If the CEO understands the business value of a software application and that it will help fulfill their vision, then they are likely to also be concerned whether or not it’s being prioritized appropriately so that it can be developed, implemented and brought to the market as quickly as possible to maintain high customer satisfaction and competitive advantage. 

How involved is your CEO in your software development initiatives?

Mike Harris
DCG President & CEO


Written by Michael D. Harris at 05:00
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Fourth Volume of Trusted Advisor Anthology Now Available

Trusted Advisor

We're excited to announce the release of the fourth Trusted Advisor anthology!

As you know, every month we publish a Trusted Advisor report. We research and draft this report based on IT-related questions that are submitted by members of Trusted Advisor. This helps us to keep up with IT trends and issues plaguing those in the field - and it means you can spend your time working instead of looking for the answers to your problems. In essence, we do the research for you!

At the end of the year we package the reports, 12 in total, into an anthology, making it easy to have the research available at your fingertips.

The fourth edition of the book features reports written throughout 2015, such as:

  • Why Should I Have More Than One Technique for Retrospectives?
  • Our Software is Full of Bugs. What Can We Do About It?
  • Story Points or Function Points or Both?

Buy the Book

All the reports are individually available to download from our website. But, if you're interested in the full anthology of reports, it can be purchased on Amazon.

Join Trusted Advisor

Do you have a question you'd like to submit to our research team? Membership to Trusted Advisor is open to all IT professionals at no cost. Registration details, and more information about Trusted Advisor, is available here.

Written by Default at 05:00
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Software Overkill and the Software Arms Race

Rob CrossThis past year I leased a new car, and it has all of the gadgets, sensors, widgets, "whatchamacallits" and "doohickeys" you see on the commercials. I'm certain this thing has millions of lines of code piping through it at light speed when I turn the ignition ... WAIT! I just forgot ... I don't turn a key anymore, I now push a button. When I shift the car into drive ... WAIT! I just forgot ... I don't shift anymore, I now push a button. In fact, while it’s moving, this vehicle is monitoring everything from the outside temperature, to my seating posture, to a 360-degree picture of where it is in relation to other cars on the road and the road itself. I'm amazed at the advances in vehicle technology in the past five years and a bit frightful of the ones coming in the next five years.

I recently watched the 60 Minutes expose on self-driving cars, where they interviewed the heads of automotive self-driving car development from Mercedes-Benz and Google. You can watch it here. (By the way, how does an internet search company get into self-driving cars? I'll save that for another time.) The car they were driving … oops, I mean the car that was driving them … has traveled 20,000 miles without an accident. That's impressive. Sure, there are some shortcomings with the car. The technology can't handle snow. Google's cars can't operate in heavy rain. The Mercedes S500 can't decipher hand gestures from traffic cops or pedestrians. These problems were all claimed to be solvable over time.

The Driverless Car Arms Race      

UBER, Google, Audi, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and others are investing in technology to move as fast as possible towards a driverless model. I remember as a kid being envious of George Jetson's capsule car but never thought autopilot in vehicles would come true in my lifetime. What's the rush? Well, these companies claim that having a driverless society would make the roads safer, and I believe them, but that would mean adoption would have to be 100 percent. The most unpredictable element on the road today is the human, and we are trying to engineer them (us) out of the equation.

What's to Come?

If you know how to write software or how to be a part of the software development ecosystem, then you should be gainfully employed in Detroit or in other high-tech companies looking to move in this direction for the rest of your life. Most of the innovation to accomplish this will have to be in software.

You know what's coming next, right? Government regulation. Which, by the way, I'm a fan of in this case in order to hopefully hold these companies accountable for meeting software safety standards that other industries have to comply with, like aviation. What's the difference between a jet plane on autopilot and your car being on autopilot, and why shouldn't the two be held to the same standards?

Respect the Human

I get it. Cars driving themselves are safer. This would allow us to do more productive things with our life, such as bury our heads further in our smartphones to catch up on Facebook or play a vicious game of Candy Crush.

Personally, driving a car is an emotional experience. You are in control of your freedom knowing that you can drive almost anywhere.

Software Quality and Security

Did you really think I would write all of this without mentioning the importance of software quality and security? I don't believe traditional car manufacturers understand the investment it will take to ensure the quality and security of software going into these vehicles. They have to evolve, from their operations to their culture. I openly admit companies like Tesla, Google and even Apple (if they decide to build the "iCar") have an advantage because they see the car as a software platform that you plug hardware into. Unfortunately, others view it the other way around and will have a hard time getting out of their own way.    

In the meantime, I have turned off my lane departure warning and forward collision warning sensors because of too many false-positives. My passengers think perhaps it's my aggressive driving. They might be correct, but at least it's still my decision if I want to exceed the speed limit, beat another car off the line at a stop light or get to my destination 15 minutes early. That's right! It's my freedom of expression through driving! So get your “vroom vroom” on while you still can, before the autobots take over the roads and your garage.  

Rob Cross
PSC, Vice President

Written by Rob Cross at 05:00
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Estimate in the Agile World

Some Agile organizations deliver software very effectively, while others do not. Why? What is the key to effective Agile delivery? At DCG, we believe the keys are:

  1. A clear focus on value
  2. Knowledge of the organization’s capabilities and rate of delivery

All software is developed to ultimately increase profits or to make a service more effective. This is the value that the business cares about; thus, development should always maintain a focus on this as well, which can be achieved via estimation.

Value-based estimating at the project level, and quality, sprint-focused estimating in development teams, can work together to ensure delivery for successful business software development in an Agile environment.

Download, "Estimating in an Agile World - Delivering Value" for more information on how this can be done.

Download Now.

Written by Default at 05:00
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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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