Transform. That’s a heavy word unless you are Optimus Prime. The term strikes fear into the most courageous leaders. Moving to Agile development or migrating a software system from on-premise or hosted deployments to Software-as-a-Service are Big Hairy Initiatives (BHIs). Often these BHIs need results swiftly, which is a difficult problem given the everyday challenges are running and growing a business.
Companies that have managed to successfully execute transformation and simultaneously keep up with the daily demands of the business recognized the benefits of calling in a third-party technology partner.
A third party can help put a plan together with a focus and depth that is difficult to achieve when teams go it alone. Why?
- Difficult to see the forest through the trees. Some legacy problems may have significant baggage and it is problematic to see beyond the symptom, particularly with a well-tenured team. This leads to a bias by existing behaviors. For example, bugs may be prevalent because a system was not designed to be testable and prevents usage of some key practices without doing some work first.
- Difficult to compare benchmarks. An effective third party has experience with benchmarks and best practices. Benchmarks can be established comparing your business to other high performing companies, both generally and in the same vertical. For example, is your Agility leading to the business results your competitors are achieving?
- Team is reserved. With management doing the digging into organizational challenges, team members may be hesitant to open up and “tell it like it is”. An effective third party can quickly build a trusting relationship and be more successful in extracting true feelings and issues, particularly with promises of anonymity of the comments.
- Failing to go deep enough. Often it is too easy to focus on the symptoms and not the root causes. A third party can leverage the right techniques to point out issues that may not be obvious. For example, one company wanted to focus on test automation to improve quality, but it turned out to be the wrong approach after a deep dive.
- Specialists vs. generalists. Identifying the top ranked issues requires looking at many different areas, including organization, product, process, tools, and technology. Individuals in organization might be able to focus on 1-2 of those things, but won’t have the bandwidth or possibly the perspective to focus on all of them. For example, quality issues can start at backlog/story creation-time.
- Not sure where to start. Leaders may have many issues continuously thrown at them and it can be difficult to know where to begin to address them. A third party can put an objective lens on the issues and help rank them. It might be that making a few small organizational structure changes can have a quick impact, such as moving Product Owners closer to engineering.
- Mapping technological needs to the business. Engineers often have difficulty thinking about their effect on the business. For example, what pay-off will a refactoring effort provide? An objective third party consulting team is not afraid to make wild suggestions for improvement while continuously factoring in business needs, and is used to performing this mapping.
- New leaders. A new C-Level, VP or Director in the organization can be overwhelmed while trying to come up-to-speed, but at the same time, the Board of Directors is anxious for improvement. A courageous leader is not afraid to call for help to generate results in a more timely fashion. The exercise can make them look great with a limited cash outlay.
A good collaborative third party improvement team can help you maintain control, clarity and confidence in a number of ways:
- Understand the business and technology. Every business is unique. Should your software development practices automatically move to Agile because “everyone else is doing it”? Not necessarily. A third party can help you figure that out.
- Help you define the future you aspire to. Know the results you want to see before we even find the problems. Ask the right questions in advance. What measurable results are you hoping to achieve? That informs the plan in the end. A third party can help think through questions that may not be as obvious and then supply you with the appropriate metrics for success.
- Help you identify and gain consensus on the problems. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. A third party facilitates and collaborates to help you uncover the issues through structured brainstorming sessions and to find root causes of the issues. Some teams affectionately call it “Group Therapy”, albeit a very constructive one.
- Find root causes. Why is customer satisfaction down? Is it quality issues? Is it slow deployments? It is product usability?
- Collaboratively derive solutions. Ultimately, you have the answers. A good collaborative improvement team helps extract them in creative and objective ways someone embedded in the culture may not have thought of.
- Help identify the top issues. You have some solutions, but what to do first? What improvements provide the largest gain in business value or ROI for the most reasonable cost? A third party helps you figure it out. How to address quality? Is it hiring the right people, enhancing development practices, installing the right tools, or something else?
- Start with quick wins. An effective change management practice starts with bite-sized chunks to generate quick results and adjust from there. Is the team new to unit testing? Start with a small chunk of new code, write and review unit tests with some coaching, measure the results with code coverage, and then get bigger.
Change is hard. Transforming is scary. BHIs can be overwhelming. Going it alone is really, really tough. Enlisting the help of a proven third-party consultant will bring you the control, clarity, and confidence to achieve your goal. A third party can provide the guidance and help necessary to push the organization beyond its comfort zone…Then reap the rewards with enhanced business results.