IT Management Blog: my thoughts about putting the "i" in IT

The Business Analyst is the Tester!

I just ran into this article on CIO website: Why You Need to Break Down the Wall Between Business Analyst and QA Teams. I am a bit surprised about the fact that this wisdom surfaces only now.

I know that usually BA's and Testers are different people and have a different role. I sometimes also deal with BA's who don't like testing. However in most projects, I have always tried to make the BA the tester or one of the testers of the system. It only makes sense. The BA is the one who writes the requirements based upon his interpretation of the what is required. If lucky, the BA is doing much of the design as well.

The developers interpret this interpretation of the BA and build the system. If you then have Testers that are positioned far away from the original BA, then they test the system on their interpretation of the interpretation of the BA. You have a high risk that you end up with something that was not envisaged by the business and was not envisaged by the BA.

Having the BA doing the testing, you remove one level of the indirection and at least get something close to what the BA had envisaged. Because the BA was the person who dealt with the source of the requirements, it is the best you can get.

Of course, intensive testing involvement by the key business users will give even a better result. However you should never only rely on them because there the risk is too high they only do it superficially and won't go through all the scenarios you will encounter during normal business use. Specialist testers in combination with the original BA(s) and end users will give in my opinion the best results. And yes, testers should be involved in early stages of the requirements and design.

I found that I achieved my best results with my super coordinators (I called them Service Delivery Managers) who play a mixed analyst, design, project coordinator and testing role during the project where they work closely with dedicated BA's for requirements, design and testing. Those people are then also fantastic to help out with the business roll out and assist business users with their normal day use. (see also "Why Business Requirements don't work")

Besides this, you'll be doing the BA a favour to make them participate in testing. This way the BA gets direct feedback of how well he has done his requirements and design work. If a BA would only be involved in the early stages of a project and never is actively involved in the outcome, the will not know if he has done a good job or not. Testing makes a BA a better BA!

Personality profiling, Part 1 – The process and the journey

Recently our team did a group session facilitated by Team Management Systems in relation to our Team Management Profile. Central to this session stands the Personal Team Management Profile which is created through 60-item questionnaire. Many people are usually rather sceptical towards these kinds of profiling, but I have learned to enjoy it. Not that I belief that the results are always that correct, but the process and discussion gives you tools to think about yourself and others within the work environment. It is the process that you go through in which I see the value, not so much the profile as the outcome of the questionnaire.

There are a lot of issues with these profiling tools but when I did the session the first time with other managers in our organisation, I was enthusiastic and contacted our HR department to have this organised for our IT team as well.

I expected a bit of resistance from our team. In the end, IT people are not supposed to be too interested in these “soft” aspects of work. But in the end I was pleasantly surprised how people collaborated in the session.

The value for me was simply the fact that you talk with your colleagues about certain work aspects and personal preferences. Subjects that otherwise are difficult to bring on the table. I was surprised how open the team discussed the profile outcomes with each other. Obviously there is no right and wrong and I also think that most people accept that the profile does not give a true representation of your work preferences. The tool itself already accepts an 80%-20% rule on its accuracy, but I feel that in some cases the variation can be significantly more.

As a result of the session we created a next level of openness and team bonding and hopefully some further insight in our strengths and weaknesses as a team.

The outcome for our team was not surprising as our CTO concluded. We identified a gap in the Maintenance preference, but I am not too worried about that. We all do it as part of our job and sometimes quite a lot and also very well, it’s just not our preference. The other weaknesses in our preferences were the Advisor and Promoter roles. Again, not surprising and also areas where we are active.

When using a profiling tool like TMS, it is important to keep the following in mind:

The profile gives your preferences, not what you do
As I already explained above, the fact that a team might not have preferences for a certain role, it does not mean it is not done and that it is not done well.

Answers might be focussed on the current role, not your abilities and preferences
Some people will answer the questions based upon their current role and not their personal overarching preferences. This can give a skewed profile in relation to their abilities and preferences. A second note is to say that the tool aims at your preferences and not your abilities though it must be noted that you usually are (get) better in what you like best.

Your mindset at the time of answering will influence the result
For example, take an axis of “creative” versus “practical” . If you basically are a bit halfway this axis with a  slight preference for “creative”, you can be very consistent in answering all the questions in this direction and therefore score as “extremely creative”.  The next time you answer it, you might chose to vary the answers a bit and score nicely halfway the axis.

You can stigmatise yourself to be a certain type of person
We know other people can put a stigma on you, but you can do this to yourself as well. Due to the many comments you might have received from your environment, for example your parents, you might see yourself as a very rational person. Therefore you started your career in IT, because logic and rationale are important in IT. Words like “emotion” and “ideas” get a lower ranking with you. However, if you spend more time looking at yourself you might discover that there is actually a large creative part in you and that many of your important decisions have been made based upon emotions.

On the other hand it is all about interpretation of the questions and specifically if there are only a few questions (60 as part of this survey), than a small variation in your thinking can give a huge difference in the outcome of the profile. I personally never like those multiple choice questions. Quite often they do upset me because they seem to me illogical. For example, the questionnaire made you make a choice between “ideas” and “reality” (see next blog post). For me these are two different aspects of the same thing.

But even though there is much you can criticise about profiling tools, I think they are valuable when used in combination with a facilitated workshop or training. It is about the discovery process; learning about yourself and your team. If the tool says that there is too much green and not enough red, you need to ask yourself “how come that there is so much green” and “what does it mean that there is not enough red”. And if you have obtained insight, you might want to take some actions.

But with actions you must be cautious. Changing yourself does not come overnight; it can easily take years and much more sessions of introspection. Changing a team does not happen overnight either. If you identified that you need to define the blue roles better and ideally get some blue people for that, it simply does not mean you start firing existing red staff and hiring some blue people. There is more to it.

I am happy enough with a thinking process of who you are (team of individual), even if there are no direct ideas or plans to change things.

If you do what is being told then there is no problem at all

Solving problems can sometimes be so incredible easy. Just follow the recommendations of El Salvador (J.C.):

It is a matter of seeing what goes wrong;
point out what needs to happen;
execute what has been pointed out.
All that is not that difficult.
If you do what is being told, then there is no problem at all.

Original text in Dutch:
Het is kwestie van zien wat er fout gaat;
aanwijzen wat er moet gebeuren;
de aanwijzingen uitvoeren.
Dat is niet zo verschrikkelijk moeilijk.
Als je doet wat er gezegd wordt, dan is dat geen enkel probleem.

This was Johan's response following some discussions due to the dramatic loss of Ajax FC to Real Madrid on  15 September 2010. It wasn't about the number goals being scored (only 2) but the way Ajax lost.

Wisdom doesn't come much easier!

We can make a joke of this, but we should not forget that Johan Cruyff still has a long standing relationship with Barcelona and that was basically the team that won the World Cup. And given that the Netherlands does seem to have quality players (they were runners up at the World Cup) it is surprising that the Dutch teams are performing so badly on the international stage. Something must be wrong and if no one else has been able to solve it, why not have a bit of faith in J.C?

In other words, if you have been laboring to get improvement and the improvement is not there, why not give that odd view of your colleague or consultant that goes against your own insights a try?

I love old technology!

A little while ago, I mentioned to a team member that I was considering to buy a new CD player. My Yamaha CD player broke years ago and have used my wife’s Pioneer since then. The sound quality was not as good and as audiophile, I like to get the optimal sound (for as much my wife permits it).

My colleague joked that a CD player was old technology and that many of our younger colleagues wouldn’t even know what a CD was. Storing everything on a NAS device and connecting this to the home theatre is the way to go.

Though I enjoy the progress in this technology, my problem is that I first of all like my good music played lossless and therefore don’t want MP3’s for that. And for the same reason, I want a good quality CD player that transforms the digital to analog sound with a good definition and, due to my house interior, with a certain warmth. I don’t want to use a PC for playing my music with a mediocre quality. I already had that. (I am one of those people who still has a turntable and still play my old vinyl LP’s – have Bill Bruford’s Earth Works on it right now; also just love those album covers from the old days).

So I bought a new Marantz CD player at Len Wallis (in Sydney) and I am extremely happy with the results. I know many people, including my wife, won’t hear the difference but for me it similar as wearing glasses versus not wearing glasses. With glasses I can see things clearly, without things become blurry. Thanks to progress in technology, I think my Marantz gives me a better sound than my old Yamaha did in the past. Maybe it is old technology, but it is definitely improved technology and technology that can’t be beaten my the modern stuff (yet).

New technology is released with a rapid speed on a daily basis. The question is whether we need to acquire all this new technology. As a business you need to think whether an iPhone is that important and brings all the benefits. Don’t forget there are many teething problems. You want a collaboration system and social technology in-house. But is it so much better and how well is it developed? Wiki’s in SharePoint 2007 is rather primitive. But should you then implement other tools and how well does this integrate with other systems? Staff might spend a lot of time with the new technology, but what is the business benefit?

There is still so much you can do with plain old proven technology. If there is important information to be written down and communicated and relevant people are currently not doing it, would a new tool resolve this? MS Word or PowerPoint are very simple a proven ways to document information and there are usually already many ways to communicate it to stakeholders.

Another issues with new technology is that you need to spend so much time on it to get it working and I do not always feel that this effort weighs up against the benefits. The most extreme example is for me still the Windows Operating System. That took years before it finally become a useful end-user tool and that can be used effectively at home.

In general I like the advancements in technology and like to follow it and use it when I see a clear need for it. In many other cases, I prefer to wait until the teething problems have been resolved and you can actually gain the benefits.

Anyway, buying my new CD player is one of the best decisions I made recently and Percy Jones rolls very nicely out of my speakers again.

Lost in SharePoint administration functionality

When selecting a software product, you always need to be cautious with just comparing features. SharePoint for example has many features, but they are not always that easy to use. One of the key problems I found with SharePoint is the ease of use for administration functions. As site owner for example, you can grant access to people, but to use these features is not that easy. Even people in our IT team get confused. Another example is the use of the “MySite”. It gives every user all the features of site administration, but you too easily get lost. Sometimes I feel that there is too much that you can do.

In the screenshot above you work according to the breadcrumb in the context of the site Oracle Financials, but you are confronted to manage groups for a much broader context. Initially you come there and ask yourself “if I add people to those groups would it only apply to this site or would it affect all sites that use those groups?”. The uncertainty is what annoys people.

What bothers me is that the whole page changes and that the context only relies on the breadcrumb. A pop-up window or at least keeping the top and left hand sides the same would have made me more comfortable.

We found that tech savvy users already picked up on many of social features such as blogs, but I can very well understand that the majority feels lost in the use of it all.

My biggest problem is the way it is presented. The breadcrumb on top displays the context to what your work applies, but the breadcrumb is small with small fonts and you also get on the left hand side data elements that you can manage outside the context of the breadcrumb.

When we selected SharePoint it was not primarily for its social features but primarily for document management and its integration with Office. Though I actually played around a bit with this before recommending SharePoint, there are always aspects which you miss during the evaluation and only run into when you really start using it. Luckily there are always upgrades so the magic word is SharePoint 2010.

The usability comes hand in hand with good understanding of the working of the system and the associated terminology. We see for example that social media has a huge uptake, but when I started with this blog, initially I found also a bit confusing in how Blogger worked. First of all you edit posts in the blogger domain, but your blog is published to the blogspot domain. Then there is the terminology of a post versus blog, the concept of RSS, the role of feedburner and finally all the ways to syndicate the content to other sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I have this blog now also published on MySite within SharePoint. Because I syndicate it from Blogger, I need to pull in an RSS feed and still wanted to make it look within SharePoint as if it was a normal SharePoint blog. You can’t just create a standard SharePoint blog and let it feed from an external blog; I had to create a sub-site to MySite with on the main page a RSS webpart. That took a little while to figure it out, but I’ve got it working now. At least trying all this out helped me better understand some of the intricacies of SharePoint.

All in all, I am on the one hand disappointed of how intuitive systems such as SharePoint are designed but on the other hand impressed how many non-techies are able to use this modern technology. To master it all requires quite a bit of time.