Within the modern applications era, regardless of whether new software applications are being developed and delivered for mobile, tablets, or the Web, the truly successful app-dev leaders will be those who focus on delivering constant value and incremental improvement to their business. That is a totally different perspective from “I need to keep control of my team’s productivity to make sure that we stick to our estimated costs, scope, and project dates.” Of course, the interest in cost is never going away, but app-dev leaders today have a great chance to enhance their conversation with executives and business stakeholders and add value to the conversation.
However, as the recent research I just published, Agile Metrics That Matter, proves, while some of the most advanced Agile teams do use new progress, quality, efficiency, and value/benefits metrics (these to a lesser degree), some software development industry luminaries have worked and are working on new methods to measure value in software development. But it’s still early days!
I’d like to summarize here some good old practices on establishing metrics that count together with some of the new findings of the research:
Tablets drive worker productivity in part due to their hyper-portability, as I argued in a recent blog post. Workers can (and, we showed with data, do) use tablets in more places, places where they wouldn’t (and don’t) take their PCs.
The top question I’ve received about tablet hyper-portability is this one: “Tablets are very portable, sure, but are people using them as creation devices or as (mere) consumption devices?” The general assumption behind this question tends to be that “creation” activities are equal to “productivity,” while “consumption” activities are not. I believe this is a false dichotomy, however. Consuming the right information at the right time can increase worker productivity in and of itself. Let me offer a few examples showing how that can work:
Retail sales associates using tablets with customers. Retailers are equipping sales associates with tablets to use on the retail floor, creating richer interactions with customers – and driving higher sales.
Physicians conducting patient rounds with tablets. Physicians can gain rich, immediate insight into their patients’ health records – saving time and driving more accurate diagnoses in less time. They also use the tablets to show patients results (like x-ray images), creating a better patient experience.
Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.
Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.
We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.
Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.
There is growing evidence of a harmonic convergence of Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) with Security and it is hardly an accident. We often view them as separate worlds, but it’s obvious that they have more in common than they have differences. I live in the I&O team here at Forrester, but I get pulled into many discussions that would be classified as “security” topics. Examples include compliance analysis of configuration data and process discipline to prevent mistakes. Similarly, our Security analysts get pulled into process discussions and other topics that encroach into Operations territory. This is as it should be.
Some examples of where common DNA between I&O and Security can benefit you and your organization are:
Gain economic benefit by cross-pollinating skills, tools, and organizational entities
Improve service quality AND security with the same actions and strategies
Learn where the two SHOULD remain separate
Combine operational NOC and security SOC monitoring into a unified command center
Develop a plan and the economic and political justifications for intelligent combinations
My colleague and friend Mike Gualtieri wrote a really interesting blog the other day titled "Agile Software Is A Cop-Out; Here's What's Next." While I am not going to discuss the great conclusions and "next practices" of software (SW) development Mike suggests in that blog, I do want to focus on the assumption he makes about using working SW as a measurement of Agile.
I am currently researching that area and investigating how organizations actually measure the value of Agile SW development (business and IT value). And I am finding that, while organizations aim to deliver working SW, they also define value metrics to measure progress and much more:
Cycle time (e.g., from concept to production);
Business value (from number of times a feature is used by clients to impact on sales revenue, etc.);
Productivity metrics (such as burndown velocity, number of features deployed versus estimated); and last but not least
Quality metrics (such as defects per sprint/release, etc.).
Like many movements before it, IT is rapidly evolving to an industrial model. A process or profession becomes industrialized when it matures from an art form to a widespread, repeatable function with predictable result and accelerated by technology to achieve far higher levels of productivity. Results must be deterministic (trustworthy) and execution must be fast and nimble, two related but different qualities. Customer satisfaction need not be addressed directly because reliability and speed result in lower costs and higher satisfaction.
IT should learn from agriculture and manufacturing, which have perfected industrialization. In agriculture, productivity is orders of magnitude better. Genetic engineering made crops resistant to pests and environmental extremes such as droughts while simultaneously improving consistency. The industrialized evolution of farming means we can feed an expanding population with fewer farmers. It has benefits in nearly every facet of agricultural production.
Manufacturing process improvements like the assembly line and just-in-time manufacturing combined with automation and statistical quality control to ensure that we can make products faster and more consistently, at a lower cost. Most of the products we use could not exist without an industrialized model.
What if there was an easy way to increase employee productivity by 10% using the technology that’s already in place? What would that do to the bottom line? Even a 1% gain would be significant for most large organizations. In this day and age when CIOs are competing for budget and every dollar of technology investment must be justified, CIOs should not overlook training as a means to boost employee productivity and the ROI of existing technology investments.
Unfortunately it seems that too few people really know how to use the applications they have available in an effective way. Take for example the proliferation of spreadsheets in the workplace. Tools like Microsoft Excel have amazing features that support some powerful analysis and reporting. Yet many people fail to utilize basic productivity features built into such applications. We probably all observe people misusing tools and completing work the hard way simply because they don’t know any better. And Excel is just one tool that many of us use day-in-day-out. Outlook has some amazing features to boost productivity but few people know how to take advantage of them.
Even where some level of training in core ERP applications is provided to new employees, we know that very little is actually absorbed in early training. And much of IT training is focused on what buttons to press in what sequence to get a job done; very little seems to focus on how to use all the technology together as part of a productive business process.