Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tired of Pushing Rope - A Cathartic Rant

I left my last position with a major PC manufacturer and services company because I was simply tired of pushing rope, a.k.a. "Hacking Work".  Everything that I tried to do for the organization or our customer seemed hopelessly complex and laborious as though I was trudging threw quicksand or trying to push rope.  I really started to doubt that I was the right person for the job.  I felt as though I was failing.  Now that I have had time to reflect on the recent past, I realize that what i thought was my failure really resulted in a success:  I walked away with my integrity, and work ethic (not to mention ethics in general).

Since then I have talked with friends, colleagues, and customers.  It wasn't just me. However, no one is harder on me than me.  So I know that I did not walk away from that position clean.  I failed to deliver all the value that I wanted, to the team I managed and to the customer I supported.  In fact, when I stepped down from managing my team, it was because I no longer felt adequate and I was burned-out.  That was somewhat of a selfish motive I guess.

During my time there, I witnessed how we as a delivery and outsourcing company failed to deliver.  In fact our delivery methodology was broken.  Several customers came to me and told me that we were too slow and too expensive.  I know that I did not have all the right answers, but I did know that since I was there we routinely delivered late and mostly with reduced customer satisfaction.  Therefore, I pursued Agile/Scrum training.  I was very excited about the iterative approach and I put together a pitch to my management about this approach.  It was shot down immediately.   Never mind that we were not delivering late and sometimes not at all, never mind that our delivery was essentially broken and over-priced, no one wanted to hear what I had to say and business went on as usual.  Our technical project teams were exercising a "Hope-Driven" approach.

In my opinion we were more afraid of what the customer would think about our new approach.  We could not show that we knew something was wrong with our approach, no matter how inadequate it really was.  We were also afraid to introduce any new process to the customer as we thought we were already perceived and heavily process laden.  I continue to say we, as I did fail to convince anyone of the virtues of changing our delivery model.

One of the major issues was how we traced requirements to testing and sign-off.  We actually had no formal requirements traceability.  Sure, we collected the requirements, but we never linked them directly to verifiable and repeatable test cases.  This became evident when I witnessed ad-hoc  testing as part of the System and User Acceptance testing cycles.  In my opinion the customer simply signed off on the projects when they were satisfied that we could deliver no more value if we continued.

As a benchmark, I consulted with some of my colleagues that also work in the IT Application Services and Consulting industries.  I described how we did business with regards to requirements linking to testing and user acceptance.  They were shocked, as I expected them to be.

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