Proven, Practical Tactics For Agile IT Release Management – A Case Study

Overview:

This article is the first in a series of five that will explain how an IT organization delivered a release management process that exceeded its management’s expectations and provided a foundation for continued success. The series includes:

1. How did we get here – THE CONTEXT

2. First solution steps – DEFINITIONS AND TRIAGE

3. Intake and Release Planning – THE CORE SOLUTION

4. Production Change Control – FINAL QUALITY CONTROL

5. Metrics and Insights – LESSONS LEARNED

Summary:

Many Information Technology organizations flounder when they are tasked to understand, organize and implement numerous changes to the system and application software serving their clients and end customers over a period of several years. This article explains at a high level the very practical and common sense framework and processes that successfully conquered the problem for one corporation and its IT team. How successful was this framework? Frankly, IT metrics is a dangerous and obscure element to discuss scientifically. But this organization accomplished the following:

– In one year, it increased its client satisfaction ranking from 2.5 to 4.0 on a 5 point scale.

– In one year, it delivered 85% more change requests and projects into production than in the prior 12 months.

– The organization exceeded its own stretch targets for throughput and change request cycle time by 40%.

– It accomplished these results with no headcount increases and no expenditures for IT “toolware”.

– It did increase the IT expense budget by 3.2% to cover the cost of a single consultant to instantiate the framework and processes for agile release management.

What was the secret sauce to make these accomplishments possible? The answer requires that we carefully consider the context for this organization.

Context:

The company and its IT department can be characterized as follows:

Company

– Industry – telecommunications – one segment of a very large Regional Bell Operating Company

– Primary Products – voicemail service and ancillary features

– Consumer base – 4 million consumer accounts with 25% growth forecast

– Total company headcount – about 500 people

– Primary operation – a 24X7 call center of 300+ people selling and servicing consumers on voicemail products and features

– Financial Results – High Line-of-Business Profit Margins within very large corporate structure

– Everyone worked in the same building

IT Organization

– IT staff – about 60 – most with 2-10 years of organizational history

– Functionally aligned into – Operations, Project Management and Analysis, System Development, QA and Help Desk, Configuration Management

– Applications – 7 major home-grown subsystems serving the company’s direct operations

– HR/Financial/Corporate functions were served by corporate parent and processes, with interfaces

– Technology – fairly current languages, operating systems and technical infrastructure (hardware, network, DBMS)

– Recently installed improvements:

– Software Configuration management tools, staff and processes

– Perceived primary problem – no effective control of changes submitted to production

– Everyone worked on the same floor

Strengths

– Strong and growing revenues

– Company Management – generally very experienced in call center management and product improvement processes

– IT Management – 80% had 4+ years within this organization and very little churn, only 2 levels of IT management

– Mature and successful IT processes included:

– Project Management

– Quality Assurance Testing

– Several strong IT manager advocates for improved Release Management

– Co-location of IT and its direct clients – the managers of the business functions

Weaknesses

– Company managers negotiated private deals to get their change requests and projects installed “earlier”

– No central clearinghouse for adjudicating departmental requests for IT changes

– No tracking system to account for all change requests and projects demanded and delivered

– About 325 requests/projects believed to be in play

– A haphazard intake and control/tracking process for “small” change requests

– Programmers could independently implement an application change to production

– No single point of contact/communications between the IT organization for each small change request

– Current status and target implementation date of any single change request difficult to obtain/pin down

– IT operations changes were totally independent of organizational change control and viewed as disruptive

Opportunities

– A new chance to consolidate and share information on everything on IT’s plate in a single place

– A chance to leverage the existing knowledge and maturity of the IT staff

– A chance to reduce the start/stop nature of IT work due to competing and vociferous input from company managers

– A chance to incorporate IT infrastructure changes from Operations in a planned manner

Threats

– Software developers desired new toolware – not more management processes

– Company business managers enjoyed calling the shots directly with programming resources

– Tension between IT managers on what were the best paths for organizational improvement

– IT had failed on its first attempt the prior year at Change Control and Release Management processes

– Consultants rarely added value

Conclusion/Transition

The CIO, facing this situation, agreed to allow the Manager for Project Management and Analysis to contract for a resource to implement Release Management (Version 2). The CIO believed that she could deliver better results to her constituency by implementing change in a series of well-understood application package upgrades at regular intervals. She also wanted to take back to her peers a plan that they could understand and use to directly influence the order of implementation for their changes. The Manager of PM retained me as the Release Manager with the mandate to institute the processes and controls needed, and engaging all IT staff and VPs in business departments as needed for success.

The rest, they say, is “agile” history. To learn what it really takes, our story continues next with DEFINITIONS AND TRIAGE.

Entrepreneur’s Risk Management Strategies

Risk is as old as man and has been an old time acquaintance of businesses. There is no approach that will make risk to go extinct in business environment however; it can be controlled to an appreciable level. As an entrepreneur, you are duty bound to reduce your risk level to the barest minimum if you can continue to make profit. To this end, better risk management strategies are good inhibitors of business failures.

No matter what the sizes are, companies must have an approach to risk management since they can be easily managed when identified. To protect a business against risk, an entrepreneur needs to do the following:

1. Stop activities associated with risk: Activities that brings about risks to an organization need to be stopped. For instance, if a business fund is not separated from a personal fund, the temptation of using the company’s fund for personal expenses will always be there. Quick and unilateral decisions of top members of the management most times pose great risks to the company.

2. Spread the risk: there is no need for the risk to be concentrated on your desk. Spread the risks in form of contracting out some projects/services with a performance bond signed by the contracted firm can help. Sometimes, selling out products on credit to trusted customers can help to minimize the risk of obsolesce and high inventory cost.

3. Reducing risk through better management control: if the pros and cons of running an organization is properly spelt out for management staff, employee and customers etc, certain risks will be averted in the business. Proper management of the company’s data also helps to prevent risk. Hardcopy data can be digitalized and stored by reputable data managers for safety.

4. Insuring against risk if possible: a company need to insure against damage brought about by fire and natural disasters.

5. Apply improved technology: if risks will be averted, modern techniques will be applied in the operation and service provision of any company. This will enhance the business supply chain management hence making service provision to be excellent.

Managing some aspects of our businesses against risks takes automation. This will eliminated a lot of human errors associated with the risks. To be able to reduce risks in planning, monitoring and evaluation, software tools will be a veritable instrument.

After Decades of Conditioning, India Is Re-Aligning Itself With the Culture of Entrepreneurship

Globally, entrepreneurship has become a key engine for employment generation. As policy makers grapple with economic uncertainty and cultural changes, large corporations that traditionally created jobs are biting the dust. From 2003 to 2013, 712 corporations disappeared from the Fortune 1000. One can safely extrapolate that very few Fortune 1000 companies will be around in another 30 to 40 years. However a new breed of risk-takers and innovators in the form of entrepreneurs are beginning to line up on the horizon of business world. According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, industrial era companies in the US dismissed more jobs than they created in contrast to high-growth startups that created the maximum number of new jobs between 2000 and 2010. Facebook has been credited with having created 4.5 million new jobs, directly and indirectly. This global trend makes a strong case for supporting Indian start-ups and entrepreneurs as a means to create future employment.

However, it is even more important to create a support system that ensures the survival of the start-ups beyond the first five years. In other words, once invested in a start-up, return on investment (ROI) can be assured only when the investment finds further sustenance. This is critical as 70 to 95 percent of start-ups fail or exit, resulting in disproportionately high job destruction. Studies have shown that 47 percent of the jobs created by start-ups are eliminated by exits in the first five years. It is the surviving 53 percent of businesses that witness rapid growth and bring about broad-based job creation.

This means that government policy must be attuned to the practical needs, while addressing the pain areas, of Indian entrepreneurs. The policy must address: funding to be more easily available to entrepreneurs; creating a large pool of experienced mentors and advisers who provide inputs around manpower and resource management, legal and marketing, partnerships and technology; and providing mechanisms to improve access to local and global markets.

It is evident that supporting entrepreneurship is a medium to long-term approach. The question that needs an answer is: what type of entrepreneurship should be prioritized for support so that success and subsequent job creation is assured? Today’s marketplace has become hyper competitive. Just take a look around. There are more choices available to consumers and enterprise buyers than ever before. There are new business models that don’t require buyers to own products or commit up front to long-term subscription of services. Delivery systems have changed, allowing businesses to reach customers in remote locations and new markets, bringing down geographical and political barriers. Entrepreneurs are innovating to give birth to entirely new asset-light business like Uber, Ola, Airbnb, Oyo Rooms, Zomato, Foodpanda, PayPal and Paytm. These businesses are re-shaping entire industries, forcing traditional players to re-think their strategies.

Igniting the spirit of entrepreneurship and sustaining it is also a long-term undertaking. Not everyone is blessed with the DNA of entrepreneurship. A culture of free enterprise needs to be nurtured. Today, one of the nations to have taken positive steps towards creating such a culture is the US where 1,600 colleges offer over 2,200 courses that ‘skill’ students in entrepreneurship. These courses build knowledge through academic studies, practical industry experience via apprenticeship programs, entrepreneurship clubs, boot camps and access to investor networks and support systems. Education, without doubt, is a way to ensure higher success rates for entrepreneurs. In India, we need to create cost-effective and scalable education models that help reach students using video and mobile technology on MOOC platforms that transform teaching into learning, thereby eliminating the need for massive armies of instructors and trainers.

Lastly, a substantial demographic in the form of Indian women remains untapped. Of the total number of entrepreneurs in the country, only 10 percent are women. However, even within these small numbers, women entrepreneurs from India-Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Sulajja Motwani and Ekta Kapoor to name a few-have been in the limelight. Significantly, a Dow Jones study has confirmed that start-ups with female executives have a higher chance of success. What they need to succeed is education, vocational training, access to funding and interaction with entrepreneurs and buyers across the world. According to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), annual growth of the Indian economy could improve 2.4% if the country implements pro-gender policies.

Historically, Indian society and the education system have focused on creating doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. These professionals are a necessity. But after decades of conditioning, the nation is re-aligning itself with the culture of entrepreneurship. We are at the cusp of entrepreneurial success. This opportunity must not be lost for the lack of policy and world-class support systems

Intercepting the Digital Divide

“Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” – President Obama, January 14, 2015.

Let’s pause and reflect on what we have.

In some parts of the world we have GPS controlled drones and in the rest, we have around 3.6 billion people, who do not have regular access to the internet. These are the people who are terminally failing to get the benefit of the internet as an economic engine.

Digital divide is the gap in availability and access to information and communication technology (ICT) among individuals and communities. Numerically, this gap, i.e. people with no/limited access to computer or the internet, is three times the Indian population. The idea of digital revolution cannot be achieved when 50% of the world population is excluded. In other words, this population can’t compete on an equal footing in the labour market. The ‘optimistic path’ surmised by UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 9 and Agenda 2030 also envision avant-garde industrial revolution dubbed Industry 4.0. As this industrial breakthrough is heavily dependent on the adoption of technological innovation, the population disconnected from this technological grid will be less informed and under-represented in the capital and labour market.

The ability to access computers and the internet depends on many interwoven factors i.e., social, and economic dimensions. Nonetheless, the digital split can easily be bridged if these factors are broken down into specific action plans. Aside from these obvious barriers, the following would help narrow the gap:

Develop physical infrastructure: The Mason Analysis shows that the lack of proper infrastructure conducive to internet connection is more prevalent in the developing countries, especially in Africa. In this regard, key inputs such as development of terrestrial connectivity between the submarine cables, development of training centres and data module are perquisite to overcome the induction barriers of digital divide.

Promote investment and cooperation: The cardinal element to independent development of physical infrastructure is the liberalization of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) investment. Such a measure would boost investor confidence and could maximize the effectiveness of new investments conducive to financial and infrastructural resources. At this stage, policy remedy is required to lower licensing cost and high taxes on equipment and services. At the same time, integration of internet into the service delivery of government agencies and usage of communications infrastructure should also be highly prioritized.

Develop customized content: Developing physical infrastructure and providing training modules are not enough if local demand is not met. To welcome the next billion users, technologists need to deeply engage with local communities to understand their demands and ways to use this access. That way, internet and communications networks can be built to serve the demand. Responding to internet’s actual demand is equally important as devising new schemes.

Less dependency on social media: Excessive indulgence into social media cannot help uplift the internet penetration because of its limited use. People can disregard the real power of internet penetration and benefit of usage if they are confined into the 140 characters on Twitter or the square boxes of Facebook profile. The challenge to adopt and apply the divergent tools of internet can be overcome if internet platforms and its hosting devices are used in smarter ways.

With its ubiquitous and inclusive presence, internet is the key to next-gen technological access. Realizing it, companies such as Google and Facebook are assessing the form factors of attracting more people online. Individuals, government, and corporations are equally responsible in bringing the mass people into the internet bracket. At the same time, the government should also have smart policy interventions to combat the handicaps brought by the usability divides and any other forthcoming obstacles for digital divide.

Not Your Grandfather’s Factory: Modernizing Manufacturing to Attract Millennials

Why is engagement such a big deal in manufacturing and the skilled trades? Because according to a 2013 industry report, for every four trade positions that workers retire from, the industry is producing only one replacement. Worse yet, it’s predicted that in the next decade, that 2 million out of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs available will go unfilled because of the lack of available talent.

Now you may be asking, how can that be? With millions of jobless Millennials, who happen to be facing an unemployment rate that is double the national rate, don’t we have enough people to fill those positions? Not until we change the image and perception of manufacturing – for both kids and their parents.

For the past two generations, young professionals haven’t exactly been leaping at the chance to work in manufacturing. Part of the problem is the stigma that manufacturing has – working in an unclean environment, with outdated thinking, and little room for growth. The other, bigger issues are the parents who have discouraged their kids from attending trade or technical school and instead promote the value of a four-year degree from a college or university. According to the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute (NAM), only 3 in 10 parents would consider encouraging their child toward a manufacturing career. The perception has been that you go into the trades if you are not “college material.” And parents want their kids to be “college material.”

As the United States is now undergoing a “manufacturing renaissance” and looking to produce their goods on American soil again, there is an urgent and growing need for new talent.

So, how do you make manufacturing jobs more attractive and appealing to prospective employees? You can start by modernizing your brand. If your company is stuck in an old, calcified way of doing business, you’re going to have a hard time finding and keeping younger workers.

Today’s workers are digital natives. They are “wired” for technology in a way unlike any previous generations, and they expect to access it in the workplace. That’s why it’s critical for manufacturers to not only have cutting edge Industry 4.0 technology available, companies need to promote the technology used in their production process. Millennials will be pleased, if not surprised, so know that more than two-thirds of U.S. manufacturing companies are adopting 3D printing and more than half use robots.

Look for ways to better utilize mobile devices, videos and virtual reality in your hiring process as well as throughout the plant. Millennials are used to watching videos to learn about new things, so why not use YouTube or another video website to give potential hires a realistic view of “a day in the life” of a worker at your facility. Keep the videos to 2-3 minutes of less and capitalize on the “wow” factors of the job. Not sure what they are? Ask your current team members what they enjoy most about their job. You may even want to interview them and let them share their story in the video. In doing so, you’re letting job applicants know that this isn’t their grandfather’s factory!

One of the first places to start is your company website. Yes, it’s a great place to share what your company is all about, but it needs to be real – not a bunch of mumbo-jumbo “marketing speak.” Look for ways to share your company culture and mission. What is it like to work there? Demonstrate how your products and services serve a greater mission that simply making a profit. Take advantage of your online presence to show how your company makes a positive impact on society.

Next, check out your social media. (Now, if you’re saying “What’s that?” or “That’s just a fad,” you have your work cut out for you.

Figure out where your potential hires are hanging out. They may not be on Facebook, they may choose Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn instead. It’s important to make sure your channels are active and up-to-date. Give your employees opportunities to share what’s going on from their perspective. Post pictures from social events, charitable projects, and other fun occasions. Does your company look like a fun place to work from a social media standpoint? If not, look for ways to improve public perception. When done well, this can be a relatively quick fix – just start posting! When you have an active, engaging online social media presence, it builds credibility with potential hires from the younger generations.

Finally, keep in mind that Millennials are always connected. They look for one-on-one communication and immediate feedback. They consider their managers and leaders their peers and want to have access to them. If the only time you’re giving feedback is during the annual review process, you’re going to lose. There are lots of online tools, pulse-type surveys, and artificial intelligence programs that can help give feedback on demand. Communicating frequently and keeping employees in the loop will do wonders for engagement and performance development.

The digital nature of today’s manufacturing is opening up many opportunities for skilled positions, transforming the manual nature of a factory job to the high-tech environment it is today. According to Vicki Holt, President and CEO for Protolabs, “Digital manufacturing is revitalizing our industry and is igniting new opportunities. The skills gap presents a critical roadblock for all of us. But it’s encouraging to see a renewed optimism from a new generation of workers, and to hear that they understand this isn’t their grandparents’ manufacturing industry. Much work remains ahead of us, but this is a good start.”

Is Your Company Ready For Industry 4.0 Transformation?

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is the 4th industrial revolution. To give a little history, industries used steam to make the machine work which increased production and reduced cost in the industrial revolution. The next phase of the revolution was the mass production with implementing electricity and assembly lines. The third revolution introduced automation and computers. We are now here in the fourth revolution through digitizing and networking where we can connect the digital world with the physical world.

With hassle free wireless networking you educate the machine. Earlier the intelligence lied with the humans and machines just helped with the physical work, but now we can educate the machine and the products itself, also get a virtual image. Using Internet of Things (IOT) you can connect all the physical machines with software, networks and censors and they would exchange data with each other making human life and production much more simpler.

How many hours have you spent to hire a mechanic because your machine stopped working and the mechanic failed to understand what went wrong with the machine? With Industry 4.0, the machine will tell you what part has been failed and what has to be replaced. With artificial intelligence, it also tells you which spare parts need to be fixed.

Why Transform to Industry 4.0?

The Cyber ​​Physical systems enable your product to communicate with your machine. Your product will instruct the machine as to the quantity and the type of product that needs to be produced, and the machine is then produces and labels the products. After detecting the product, you can never go wrong with packaging, also your quality check has been performed by the machine while packaging itself.

Industry 4.0 allows you to have a flexible manufacturing process that will better react to customer demands. This new manufacturing technology reduces your cost of production, cost of wastage, reduces errors, increases efficiency due to use of robotics, yields higher revenue, improves customer service and increases innovation. It also allows you to create a virtual image of the real world using 3D printers and help you test your product and know your contingencies beforehand which would allow you to change the process in order to avoid the contingency before you even start your production.

You don't need to manually check your stock. You can add a censor to your forklift and your products, and while stacking up your goods, you get the data of the quality, description, weights and dimension as well as the location of the product. This would immensely reduce errors and damages.

Feed your machines, knowledge of automated systems with this new manufacturing trend and let them communicate with each other while you see your profits rise up high and costs go low.