Agile approaches and the risk Trade-off

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We were discussing Good, Bad, and Ugly on Agile. As we were, we were able to appreciate many points on Why Agile? article on wunderkrautNot setting too narrow a goal on techwell.com as well as a slightly aligned and counter article on Fixed Price Contracts for Agile Teams

Here were some of our takeaways.

The Good – Agile helps reduce risk of not meeting project goals.

If the project goals are to stand up a new service, application, use case, workflow, visualization, data feed, or other very specific components, Agile will help you launch those speicifc components solving specific user stories within epic problems rapidly. You can also blend Agile development with lean to make sure you launch beta, soft, or early versions to a closed set of known users or under a brand to show to anyone. This can avoid embarassing deployments and also expose aspects missed – negative testing (think 5year old pounding on keyboard or tablet), security testing, load testing, or experience modeling. You have a better chance of this “Agile lean” blend to finding out early on the adoption and rollout issues. The Agile Lean approach allows you to move final decisions on features and form to when you have due diligence of mockups, prototypes, or initial deployments at smaller scales, which allows you learn are you go, and decide when you know, at least investment cost.

This AgileLean approach works for component or service architectures. Keep in mind, it does NOT work for legacy architectures where the architectures themselves are not flexible enough for agile development, refactoring, architecture, or deployment. Using Agile in these cases are actually HIGHER RISK as the learning curve discovers problems very late in the phase, and thus causes more problems, higher cost. So if you are doing system integration with new and legacy, balance where you can and cannot use AgileLean.

Given the focus is on the project goals, dont set the goal too narrow, and be prepared for your requirements to change, flux, and adjust as you learn and focus on achieving that goal.

The Bad – You will likely not hit the your defined project scope.

Some ask, is this bad? Was the initial project scope right anyhow? Were there too many features, functions that were on the nice-to-have list that snuck into the required for business? Sometimes Agile will help trim the fat and focus to make sure we do not shop hungry.

Then again, where it is bad, some of the initial scope desired was key, but turns out the architecture chosen and discovered through the learning curve led you down a wrong path, and there is a few re-starts that need to re-occure to introduce new patterns, components, operating concepts, etc. This could happen multiple times if the architecture reset is done with only the development and management project team. A way to avoid this is any re-architecture needs to involve the proper stake and stockholders governing and investing in the program. Whereas Agile tends to be responding to the functional manager, if the design, flow, and strategy needs to be re-set, then those questions need to go beyond the functional manager, and back to the right stakeholders.

The Ugly – Government Contracting is not ready for Agile… today

Consider if you do firm fixed price contracts, how you define deliverables up front. Articles like Fixed Price Contracts for Agile Teams give you ways to play the cards you are dealt and work within the Firm Fixed Price framework, but there is a reality. If the epics are in development, user stories unknown, specific components unknown, make sure the contracts are setup to define deliverables that show developing and deploying x # of 2 week sprints in desired environments with desired scope from clients that assumes these type of skills. Even that level of description may be complicated to reply to. How much level of effort per sprint? Are the technologies hardened or could new ones come about (Answer is the latter)? Are the sprints to productions, staging, or soft-launch? Agile development or Agile Design is VERY hard to do in fixed contracts. Legalities do tend to cause some hiccups.

Then again, the other options of T&M have their own problems of accountability, but that is a more mom and apple pie argument.

We are still seeing RFP and RFIs go out asking for the enchilada and waterfall. Its what the Contracting Officer space knows. “Systems” are being asked as the common jargon, but the layers of “services”, “components” are clearly being demarcated to help with agile bidding. This typically that does not bode well for Agile UNLESS if it prescribes system, it also “services” and “components” solution architecture principles that forces the responders to respond with an architecture that itself allows for Agile. You cannot do agile on traditional tightly coupled architectures. You end up just doing iterative instead at best which does have its differences

And somewhere in between, bidding as lowest price, technically acceptable is the WORST agile solution, as the only capability of doing that is responding to the technical specs, and not what is really needed – Agile-skilled, impassioned “Ninja” developers who can adapt to changing technologies. LPTA would bring in the Junior developer, and since a Senior developer has much increased output for Agile Development that goes live, and reduces the cost of the acceptance period as they understand how to design code for integration, negative, security, and load testing, and for the O&M teams to manage, deploy, and support.

So if you are pitching Agile, beware if the customer is saying great, now respond to that FFP or competing it LPTA.

Can Enterprise Architecture be demystified

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Can Enterprise Architecture by demystified?

The following GovTech article attempts to say yes. It may be an article you find somewhat interesting. Or, if you have been burned by Enterprise Architecture in the past like many, you might find it trite. Or, you might be able to riff on it. Here’s what are some 101 points one can get out of it:

  • EA lacks support because people don’t understand what it is
  • Using the “building a home from a blueprint” analogy can help (to a degree)
  • Explaining EA terminology (framework, model, blueprint) can help
  • EA is about the business (or mission), not IT; It’s about getting IT to align with the business (or mission)
  • For EA, the federal government is leading (ahead of states and other jurisdictions)

That said, in a brainstorm, virtual whiteboard session, and here are some of our own riffing:

  1. How far can you go with the “building a home from a blueprint” analogy before it breaks down? 
    1. For example, how detailed does a blueprint have to be before you can start building? 
    2. Does the blueprint have to have the landscaping plan? 
    3. Or, does it just have to have the core, structural details? 
  2. When you’re building a house according to blueprint, how are changes handled mid-construction?
    1. If the building owner walks through the roughly-framed house and notices the natural lighting patterns and wants to add a set of windows and move a closet, the blueprint enables you to manage the change, understand the impacts, account for the impacts. What’s the EA analogy, if any?
  3. How agile and iterative can EA be? 
    1. How quickly can you get from EA to implementation to demonstrating results? 
    2. This gets to another obstacle to organizations embracing EA: it takes too long to architect the entire enterprise before the enterprise begins to experience the benefits. 
    3. Sometimes the organization realizes zero benefits because there’s no transition to implementation phase. 
    4. In any case, how exhaustive/comprehensive does the EA need to be before the organization can reasonably move out on some implementation? 
  4. As we’ve seen, starting some transformation in parallel to completing the full EA blueprint and roadmap can begin to improve the organization and move it in the right direction. 
    1. What are the boundaries, conditions for moving into incremental change? 
    2. And what are the risks of moving in the wrong direction before completing an exhaustive EA? 
    3. For example, if early analysis reveals that an organization is behaving like a products company but that it’s mission, purpose and objectives mean that it’s really a services organization, can you start implementing change to address that? 
    4. Is it still appropriate to architect just a “segment” at a time and rollout implementation then move onto the next segment?
  5. Can can organization views of EA go beyond aligning IT with the business/mission? 
    1. For example, are some EA re-alignments purely process-based?

Our comments of course were discussed in how our approach to core architecture concepts apply, so the intent of the blog was not as greenfield as it may seem, but capture some of how the now near 20 year somewhat mainstream practice may need to evolve further to adjust to agility that came about post-internet, utility commodity models (aka cloud), and moving data from ERP backoffice systems to the frontline of mission, scientific, and direct consumer service.

What data shows was different about the 2015 Wildfire season

This wildfire season has definitely seen a different trend. Not necessarily a massive overall national increase in fire, but definitely a change in WHERE the fires did occur. For instance, in Colorado, it has been a VERY tame season, where of course the Pacific Northwest has seen a very busy season. Climate data shows Jet […]

How to reduce time while increasing impact for complex project analysis

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Business Leaders… You are asked to lead your organization in becoming more flexible, driving down cost, reducing cycle time, and improving services to citizens across the board. In short, you are asked to do much more with way less. These are some specific Agency Performance Objectives:

  • Process Simplification
  • Standardized Procedures
  • Consolidated and Streamlined Bureau Processes, Data, Systems, Technology
  • Value-Enhanced Processes that eliminate unnecessary burden on the Citizen
  • Collaborative solutions that encourage Partnerships
  • Integrated architecture processes that facilitate knowledge transfer and reuse between business, data, application, and technology components

Prove the value through analysis to integrate pilot efforts into your broader program evolution. Prove the efficiencies, quality, and scalability sought can work – and under what factors, budget implementation, workforce impacts, data maturity, and infrastructure changes. Making sure that you can see a clear line of sight between your stakeholders goals, product and service portfolio, your concept of operations, and impacts to your resources – partnerships, data, workforce, and IT.

Our Rapid Design and Analysis Services approach can help you meet these objectives. We can support existing operations, projects, new projects, or new strategies.

Which does your organization need to focus upon for its modernization efforts?

 Read more about our Our Change Services Concepts

Sample Rapid Design Services

  • Agile Project Initiation Planning Support
  • Business Strategy Development
  • Business Process Analysis
  • Capabilities Assessment
  • Project Risk Assessment
  • Business Transition Planning
  • Business Solution Design
  • Data and Information Design
  • Business Modernization Blueprint and Implementation
  • Custom Lab Services

These types of tactical or strategic analysis or project implementation engagements should be targeted to have recommendations, transition plan, and scoped budget accepted at executive sponsor level within 3 to 6 months.

Agile Project Initiation Planning Support:

Your project plan has received approval yet you lack qualified or trained personnel to begin the implementation tasks.

The Project Initiation Support Service will assist you in forming your Core Implementation Team as well as in developing the project plan, project charter, communication strategy, funding strategy, and risk management plan.

Let us help you help you get your change effort started or back on track with our two-day workshop. This effort will be a rapid implementation planning effort that will seek to get momentum for moving forward. The workshop approach focuses on gaining consensus across your team, get the common vision, high-level, concept of operations, and priorities and dependencies for key requirements and milestones.

The effort usually requires a few weeks of preparation with the sponsor and reachback to your team, a two-day very rapid and intense workshop effort with your team, and ends with an action plan and all workshop deliverables polished after real-time capturing. The goal of the workshop, whether strategic, tactical, or technical in scope, will be to build a roadmap for the future to establish a clear “line of sight” from executive to users through costs, development, and support for your change effort. MBT:7, 10b

Business Strategy Development

Your organization needs to reevaluate its strategic direction due to changes in technology, policy, or regulations. Globalization requires that you better connect with your customers. Federal mandates require that you more effectively measure how well your organization is performing.

The Business Strategy Development Service will analyze your existing customer community and determine the exact needs and wants of that community. This service helps to bring clarity to goals and objectives, lays out an approach to reach those goals and objectives, and identifies corresponding performance objectives. Your strategy includes steps to be taken to reach your desired outcomes. MBT:1, 2, 7, 12

Business Process Analysis

Your organization has a clear mission and understands the needs of its customers, but you feel that it isn’t able to operate as efficiently as possible. Your staff is stretched too thin or is slipping in the delivery of services to your customers. Another symptom could be that benchmarking indicates that your process may be too costly.

The Business Process Analysis Service will assess how well your organization is performing by evaluating the products and services you are providing to your customers. It identifies the gaps between your organization’s objectives and your products and services, business mandates, and the needs of your customers. Once products and services are well defined, this service analyzes your business processes to determine cost factors and evaluate overall efficiency and value. Ultimately, the service provides a proposed core process that includes industry best practices as well as enhancements that result from process model simulations. It also provides guidance for implementing the needed and approved changes so that you can actually see the benefits of the analysis. MBT:1, 2, 3, 8

Capabilities Assessment

You would like an objective assessment of your organization’s existing business climate, including an assessment of current leadership, staff, organizational structure, information, and/or existing technology solutions.        

The Capabilities Assessment Service will analyze the skills and capabilities of your staff in relation to your mission requirements. The service will also analyze the leadership and current organizational structure in relation to your mission requirements as well as the specific needs of your staff. Once the existing business climate has been assessed, this service will analyze the existing information availability and exchanges as well as the technologies and applications that you are currently using to meet your mission. Overall, this service is designed to assess your operational capacity to meet customer demands. MBT:1, 2, 3, 4

Project Risk Assessment

An existing project of yours has been challenging with respect to technology, management, and/or funding. Unknown risks continue to emerge, forcing the management team to be reactive rather than proactive. This has resulted in senior management concerns that the project is at risk.

The Project Risk Assessment Service will identify and document overall risks by looking at all facets of your project. The service will document these risks and develop mitigation strategies and provide guidance to eliminate or accommodate the risks. MBT:2, 3, 4, 7

Business Transition Planning

Your organization is faced with a large-scale change either in leadership, vision, or a new technology implementation that will impact the way you do business. You know that this large-scale change will affect your people, processes, and organizational structure but you need help planning for that change.    

The Business Transition Planning Service will analyze the major changes that your business organization is facing, and how those changes will impact your strategy, processes, people, and/or technology resources. Since most major change events will actually impact many facets of your business, this service will take a robust and broad look at all areas that will most likely be impacted by the change. This service is focused on equipping you with a strategy that accomplishes a phased implementation of change components resulting in a pre-determined future state. MBT:1, 2, 3, 4, 7

Business Solution Design

Your organization has a clear challenge in performing tasks related to one of your mission areas. You feel that your organization would benefit from an automated solution (new system) to meet this mission challenge. 

The Business Solution Design Service is focused on a specific need or problem within your business organization. Specifically, it will analyze those aspects of the business that contribute to the problem. Additionally, it will analyze scenario-based alternatives that will simulate the problem with the use of technology. The service will define required technology components based on needed business features. MBT:1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10a, 11

Data and Information Design

You feel that your organization could be more effective in sharing internal information, or in sharing data with other organizations. You know that the data you need is out there, but your organization can’t seem to find it, get it organized, or use it.    

The Data and Information Design Service will analyze your current and future data needs, determine whether the required data should be independently gathered and stored, and will assist in defining the steps to implement any required data-sharing relationships. This service is focused on producing actionable recommendations to improve the way data flows within and between DOI business organizations. MBT:1, 7, 9

Business Modernization Blueprint and Implementation

Your organization needs a make-over starting from a thorough customer analysis, thinking through the organization’s strategy and processes, understanding information needs, and then recommending the right technology solutions for the future.      

The Business Modernization Blueprint and Implementation Service is the most robust and thorough analysis service provided by the lab. This service begins with detailed customer analysis and extends into developing new goals and objectives for the business. The service then takes a closer look at the products and services for the business, followed by an analysis of needed and existing processes, skills, and technology solutions. This service provides guidance for the development of a Modernization Blueprint and its implementation. MBT:all steps

Custom Design Services

Your transformation support needs are cross-cutting, complex, and requires more combinations of discrete intermediate staffing support, and definition will come over time.

Ten thoughts on fixing search on our opendata catalogs

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If you go to any data catalog: academic publication catalogs, Government agency opendata clearhinghouses, and federated catalogs, marketing lists, metadata search sites, or even popular sites, most have actually a lot of great data, but it is extremely hard to make sure you are pulling down data that can actually be informative – that truly information – without spending an increasing amount of time.

So, we are on this great opendata train. The phrase du jour is too much information, I say too much data.  Data is different from information:

Data are values or sets of values representing a specific concept or concepts. Data become “information” when analyzed and possibly combined with other data in order to extract meaning, and to provide context. The meaning of data can vary according to its context (Source: Federal Enterprise Architecture Data Reference Model).

These sites are more like an eHoarder of data in hopes of being an information destination. There is a lot of junk, while at same time, it all started because some things had value, and well, we are losing perspective.

I think part of the problem is that the metadata is bad. But even when good, it sits beside data that is bad. The internet “click” folks rely on this and hijack data discovery on search engines for this exact purpose. They hijack typo’d web site names like netfix.com or the like. They hijack keywords. The manipulate with SEO techniques to get their sites higher on search engines.
In closed communities, its not intentional manipulation, but there is a lack of incentive to fix discovery.
What are ways we can fix our open catalogs? Here are ten ideas:
  1. Make searching more fun – Take facets, like in tools like CKAN and do more like kayak.com jquery filters, time-based, charts that pop-up with context of record counts. Look kayak, is a site scraper hitting APIs, then simply re-presenting it in simple ways, then they get referral fees (in a nutshell). All because they made it easy, but more important, made travel searching sort of fun.
  2. Make Separate Search Components from your WebMIS– Stop fronting MIS systems with advanced form search engines. Keep that if you are required or need for your 5% users, but Instead make a SOLR or NoSQL or fast search that allows you build in search signals as you get data on users. NodeJS feeds to the search database/index are fast, and millisecond updates fast enough for 99% of cases
  3. Use Enterprise Search instead of rolling your own – Try to take search functions in standalone sites in your organization, and make enterprise service, where the standalone group can control or have input on their search signals
  4. Feed Schema.org for SEO with a virtual library card – Beyond traditional SEO tuning, broker relationships or invest in patterns for search engines like google so they can build good signals/rules on top of your data – do this by putting schema.org tags on your data which can be extracted from your inputted data. 
  5. Register to be harvested – Get registered on multiple harvesting sites, as maybe they can find ways to get your data more discoverable, and when they find you, they see the details on your site or your site pushes that as well, but point being, its still authoritative.
  6. CrowdSource and Gamify Search Signal Tuning – Can we get crowdsourcing going to dogfood site usage and help build in better search engine rules signals. Whether crowd from your own organization with corporate awards, or gamify. Or crowd from true external stakeholders? Bonus: More Student Power – Can we get STEM or university systems involved as part of curriculum, projects, etc. as a lot of search signal improvement is really about person-power or machine2machine power.
  7. Make Events to force data wrangling – In Colorado, we (our team is doing the data side) just did gocode.colorado.gov, as a way to get application developers to build apps off OpenData Colorado – the reward was essentially a reverse contract which made it legal to give monetary award, create various set-aside, and incent usage. That usage in turn got more opportunities for exposure as a time-based event, which got data suppliers more engaged to put things up.
  8. Find ways to share signals? This is more of a perspective theory, but could we feed things like Watson, Google, etc. for a brain of search patterns, tell it our audience differences by having it scan our data and some stereo equalizer tweaks, and figure out what rule expression patterns to take from and share signal libraries?
  9. Learn more what our librarians do. Look, our librarian 20 years ago did more than put books back on shelves and give you mean looks on late returns. They also managed what went into the library, they helped on complicated inquiries to find information, even helping in curating across other libraries. Our network of organic capital or public sector driven meta-sites grew up out of computer science and IT, and not Library science. We need to get computer science/MIS/IT, and Library science to start dating again. Get to know each other again. Remember the good times when we used to be able to find things, and help each other out. 
  10. Can we score OpenData sites? We have watchdogs on making data open, which is great. This helps make sure organizations provide what they are suppose to provide and keep as openGov. But, this approach would be more on scoring the reality for discovering what you have provided. For example, we know the lawyer trick when they want to make problems with discovery – they provide their opposing side with so much information that they are inundated and their is not enough time to do discovery, and yadda, yadda, legal gamesmanship. Can we find ways to score or watchdog sites on data discovery as either a part of transparency, or a different type of consumer report? 

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