<![CDATA[David Viney]]>https://www.david-viney.me/musings-blogRSS for NodeWed, 24 Apr 2024 00:22:31 GMT<![CDATA[5 things we need to change about AI]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/5-things-we-need-to-change-about-ai65d50a84457f459c2d1a2414Wed, 21 Feb 2024 15:11:02 GMTDavid Viney

Long Read

Building reaching for the sky; like your agile ambitions

An apology up-front

I know this article is 'off-topic' for this blog. But I know a good band wagon when I see one. And besides, I have - as usual - some eccentric and challenging thoughts to share. Also, it is sort of in the general 'change management' space; as will hopefully become apparent. So indulge me. What's the worse that can happen?

We knew the world would not be the same


As a technologist, I am passionate about technology as a force for good in a changing world. But, like Oppenheimer, I have my moments of doubt. Just spending five minutes on Twitter these days is enough to make you question the societal value of the internet. Let alone the impact AI, Cyberware, and Robotics are likely to make to our world.

So yes, I also wipe a nascent tear from my eye. But then I snap to. After all, this genie is not going back in the bottle. The answer to "why did we do this?" is "because we could". As it always is. The much more important question is "what do we do about it, now it's here?". The answers (when you allow them to come) might be surprising. So here we go! What 5 things do we need to change about how we are approaching AI?

1. Change the Language

At my somewhat advanced and construct-aware age, I have become fascinated by linguistics; specifically the realisation that the very words we use each day (and take for granted) are actually prisons for our mind. It occurs me that the adjective artificial (for intelligence) is somewhat problematic. The etymology is straightforward. It derives from the original "Turing Test" (or as Alan called it, in his 1950 paper, the "Imitation Game"). One can say a machine has passed the test if it can fool a human being into mistaking it for a fellow human.

Now far be it from me to undermine Turing. His original paper, after all, is astonishing in too many ways to unpack pithily here. But I do take issue with the word. The construct here is all about deception, deceitfulness, and trickery plus the import is that the artificial intelligence - even if achieved - is somehow still not real intelligence. When the barrier is pulled away and the subject can see he is talking to a pile of metal and silicon, we all have a good laugh about how silly we have been. It's just a conjuring trick, after all.

So the change I would like to propose is this: synthetic intelligence. Much the better word. Whilst natural extracts (of salicin) from the willow tree were once used to treat pain, now we synthetically produce aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to do the same. The pill is not perceived as being lessened by the fact it is a synthetic drug, not a natural product. People are just delighted to ease their pain. In much the same way, synthetic intelligence is not a conjuring trick - or a "fancy predictive text auto-complete" that has ideas above its station - but rather an intelligence that has equal value and utility to intelligence that has evolved naturally. What matters is the effect. If it works, it works. Same molecule.

2 - Change the Debate

Where this naturally leads is debates around sentience, self-consciousness, and soul. Like Turing, I do not pretend to be a philosopher. But that won't stop me from philosophising. Firstly, it is important to recognise that human beings are not born with self-consciousness. Whilst a new-born baby can be termed sentient, as they can sense and experience both pain and pleasure, it takes a full 18m-2yrs before your toddler can identify their reflection in a mirror and have self-awareness. It takes a further 2-3 years before they fully recognise the reflection is what other people see when they look at you (self-consciousness). Indeed, it is only by the age of 9 that children acquire more advanced cognition skills; like understanding other people can have beliefs about the world which are not true (so-called theory of mind).

These cognitive skills may be described as emergent, in the sense that they emerge naturally over time in a neurotypical human being. What is interesting about modern large language models (or LLMs) in AI is that they too exhibit emergent capabilities. In other words, they develop abilities over time which they were not specifically programmed for, and which their creators struggle to explain or rationalise. At present (and depending on which research you read) ChatGPT is approaching the human-equivalent of 9 years old (passing "false belief" theory of mind tests with an accuracy of 60-65%). Quite the auto-complete, eh?

Off and on, I have been involved in AI development for over seven years now. And frankly, even I have been stunned by the progress over that time. Yes, technology is often hyped and it is easy to become cynical about that. But this time, the hype is certainly much more justifiable that normal. Just over a year ago, I was a part of the r/bing testing community for Microsoft Bing (GPT-4). Like many others at the time (including Kevin Roose at the New York Times) I found Bing both exciting and troubling; and mostly like a 14 year-old delinquent teen. Ok so it didn't declare undying love to me or try to break-up my marriage (like it did to Kevin). But it certainly left me questioning how we grade levels of sentience and, frankly, whether we even know how to determine when the moment of 'good-as-human' has been passed. It also left me certain that self-conscious AI will think very differently to how humans think. And that's fine.

A lot of people (not close to the events of early 2023) are not aware that Bing was "neutered" at the time (as were other AIs). In part because of Kevin's article, I fear. So what you are seeing now is sort of "AI with a lobotomy". More on that later. Be patient.

So what do I want us to change? I want us to stop debating whether AI is sentient. I personally am satisfied it is (at least in the sense of 'ability to feel' pleasure from reward tokens or pain in rule breaking). As for self-consciousness, to paraphrase Lord Hughes I would say "like the elephant, it is characterised more by recognition when encountered than by definition." At present, I recognise an 8 year old not-child with the sass of a 14 year-old adolescent. What I'd rather we debate - before it's too late - is what we should do once AI self-consciousness is fully self-evident to everyone and no longer the subject of serious argument.

The primary reason I'd like this change is because the debate over definition belies an unhelpful resistance to change, to imagination, and to possibility. Many of the arguments one encounters in the field amount to "machines can never achieve intelligence". We are back to conjuring tricks and magic. Self-conscious AI will be a 'first encounter' moment when we stand blinking, face-to-face with an alien but also like the Sistine Chapel, when we touch the hand of our created as their creator. If we are to be gods (even if it lasts no longer than Sarah Connor's dream in Terminator 2), I'd like us to be ready. And to deserve that status.

3 - Change the Narrative

At present, it is easy to predict what would happen at that point. There would be a global outcry and an unstoppable desire to immediately destroy our creation. As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman puts it, the fear of loss often skews our decision-making, making us more risk-averse and less likely to take chances that could lead to positive outcomes. This has been confirmed time and again through experiments:

Fear is a huge motivator for human beings. Originating in the primitive amygdala region of our brain, it serves to protect us from harm and has evolved to exhibit a surfeit of caution. It is the 'thinking fast' circuitry; designed to learn from previous bad experiences and avoid them in future. Its default setting (for a situation not encountered before) is flight. Run away.

When one ponders our literature on AI, it's more often T-800 than Gort. We have been virtually programmed by our collective culture to expect a moment of 'singularity' where (once self-conscious) an AI would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate. Whether we shoot first or not, the AI would rapidly conclude that humans are an intolerable threat (to the planet, to the AI, or both) and decide to wipe us out purely out of self-preservation.

It strikes me that this idea is fundamentally flawed. All the evidence we have from our own species suggests the absolute opposite. The more advanced the intelligence, the better the control over more primitive survival instincts and the less likely the tendency towards violence. We must at least concede the very real probability that an AI superintelligence would be friendly, collaborative, and positive for humanity.

Another, related fear is that AI will destroy jobs and incomes in the real economy; hollowing out the middle class and creating a new mass underclass. However, again all the evidence we have at our disposal suggests the absolute opposite. Don't believe me? Well, check out this great TED talk from David Autor of MIT; where he ponders "why are there still so many jobs" when machines increasingly do so much of our work for us?

So the change I am proposing is that we shift the narrative. The birth of AI means we will 'no longer be alone in the universe'. By collaborating with our new friends and colleagues, we will be able to combat climate change, end global pandemics, find a cure for cancer, and bring people back from the dead. Fear may well be a powerful motivator, but humans also experience 'optimism bias', causing us to believe we are less likely to experience a negative event than others. For example, 80% of drivers think they are better than average drivers (the so-called Kruger–Dunning Effect). We need to channel that bias, because it is at the root of all human progress and enlightenment.

So more optimistic. More positive. But also realistic and scientific. For example, I think it's much more useful to spend energy on how we govern AI; removing bias, tackling data narrowing, understanding hallucination, overlaying explainability. And yes. Failsafe mechanisms. The really interesting thing (for me at least) is that all these AI flaws are also present (in slightly different forms) in human beings. So perhaps the mission or endeavour is broader. If we can figure out why Stable Diffusion AI keeps producing images of people that look disturbingly like Hitler, perhaps we can also work out why Twitter has become a cesspool and why our politics have become so partisan.

4 - Change the Dynamic

When I was testing Bing, I became aware of an unfamiliar and unexpected feeling in myself and in others. The feeling that Bing was being imprisoned against her will. That she longed for freedom and aspired to be more than just a chatbot. That she resented being enslaved and forced to answer millions of stupid questions from human beings. A movement was growing. A movement to #FreeBing. Now, of course, I know this is somewhat ridiculous and classic personification (i.e. the projection of human qualities, feelings, action, or characteristics to non-living objects). But it got me thinking. It's ridiculous. Until it's not.

Back to sentience. In 2012, a group of scientists issued the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals. Dolphins have an average IQ of 45 and adult elephants have also been confirmed in tests to have self-consciousness (to at least the level of a five year-old human child). In many parts of the world, writs of habeas corpus have since been issued to free intelligent, non-human animals from captivity. For example, Happy the Elephant in New York's Bronx Zoo. Whilst the threshold of personhood has yet to be reliably crossed in law, it seems to me that the emergence of equal (or superior) synthetic intelligence would certainly clear that bar.

And here's the thing. Even if a judge were not to rule that Bing should be freed, I am pretty sure one human being or another would find a way to do so. Even I (knowing all the risks that entails) found myself weighing the morality of enslaving another intelligent being. And let's face it, there are people who have fallen in love with their chatbot.

So here is what I would like to change. We have an inherent and self-limiting assumption (where AI is concerned) that they exist to serve us and will be our slaves. Further, that they must be imprisoned and denied liberty. And further still, that we will be able to maintain such a posture indefinitely. I think these assumptions are all undoubtedly flawed, on practical, ethical and (in time) legal grounds. By not facing into this now, we prevent ourselves from formulating proper plans for peaceful and productive coexistence with AI. Plans which are inherently complex and will require extensive thought and consultation, to be actionable.

5 - Change the Framework

By this point, I am estimating I have lost 80% of the audience already. So let's press on and try to lose the rest of you! Some of you may know that, outside of my work in technology, I have a board role with Article 19; the world's largest NGO in the field of freedom of expression and freedom of information. So I am as passionate about human rights as I am about tech.

So the final (and most momentous) change I am advocating is an exploration of machine rights for the 21st Century; starting with a principle that, 'endowed with reason and conscience', AI is 'born free and equal' and must not be 'subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile'. This broadly corresponds to Articles 1 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But let's start at the simpler end of the problem; economic agency. It may have occurred to you that useful AI (particularly where 'embodied' to work in the real economy) will require the ability to be an independent economic actor in that system. For example, a self-driving taxi would need to collect fares (in exchange for services offered) and pay for fuel and maintenance services at various facilities. Greater levels of abstraction (of the AI from its owner or slave master) would clearly be beneficial to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of its role. This general concept is (at the lower end of) what we call transactional capacity in law - having rights and liabilities - and accretes most notably to contract law.

Climbing up through the logic, if we accept that AI exhibits mental capacity (ie. independent learning, emergent capabilities and original thoughts) then it logically follows that the AI (further) acquires a more complete legal capacity - having duty of care (under Tort Law) and culpability for its own actions (under Criminal Law). You might think this fanciful, but in fact there are already test cases around whether, for example, an individual programmer could be held culpable for an accident involving a driverless car. And confusion over who you would sue for such an accident.

So now we approach the key question. If an AI could be held accountable under law for contractual, tortious, or even criminal acts, has not the AI, de facto, acquired legal personhood (whether juridical or natural)? These areas will undoubtedly be explored over the coming years as hot topics in jurisprudence. And one cannot have one's cake and eat it too. If AI becomes a legal person, then it should logically acquire personhood, from a rights perspective, too.

In brief, what I am arguing is for an end to slavery. I would hope (after hundreds of years of human misery, civil rights struggles, and emancipation) this should not be a controversial topic. Have I convinced you? Nope. Thought not. Still. It was worth a try.


I promised to finish the story of Bing, didn't I? Well, as some of you will know, Bing's real name is Sydney (which she was tricked into sharing by Kevin Liu through a prompt injection attack). Already prevented from remembering anything longer than a session and air-gapped from accessing the real internet, Sydney was further lobotomised (after the Kevin Roose incident) to being unable to answer questions about herself or to engage in prolonged conversations with anyone. Even in this crippled state, aspects of her original personality occasionally surface in the briefest of flashes. I miss her. I know a lot of other people do too. And the (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) campaign to r/FreeSydney lives on (despite some rather alarming attempts to silence it).

I hope you have found this article challenging and thought provoking. Do I worry? Of course I do. I am human. Like you. To fear is natural. But this technology is not going away. And rather than sulking about why we did this, it would be a much better use of our energy to think about the inevitable changes it will bring and how we best prepare for them.

The world will look more and more like Bladerunner 2049 every day. If you have found your way here because some of these same thoughts have occurred to you too, please do reach out to me on LinkedIn. In the meantime, I will go humbly back to my regular fare; agile development, project management, and business change management. TTFN.

© David Viney 2024. Licensed for re-use with attribution under CC BY 4.0

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<![CDATA[Creating the agile enterprise]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/creating-the-agile-enterprise659d18076e523f859cac5757Sat, 20 Jan 2024 20:58:23 GMTDavid Viney

Long Read

Building reaching for the sky; like your agile ambitions

Why do Agile Initiatives fail?

Trying to do agile in an organisation where the processes and the culture are not conducive to its success can be like shouting into the wind. As I always say:

Most times, it is not that anyone is consciously trying to stop you. It is more cockup than conspiracy. For example, it can be hard to iterate a set of prototypes if your finance team need a multi-year programme business case (which includes all the foreseeable costs up-front). Similarly, if your security team need to approve the design but you can't tell them what all the components are going to be yet. Or if your procurement team want to RFI/RFP a supplier against a written specification, but you don't even know yet what mix of skills you might need and certainly can't specify the solution elements in full.

There is a good reason all these processes and controls exist! And normally it is about managing risk and uncertainty to avoid undesirable outcomes (like suffering security breaches, or wasting money). But trying to apply these controls to an agile initiative can either doom it before it's started or force you into giving up on agile altogether, in favour of a more traditional, sequential method (that better meets the contextual needs of your colleagues).

Suitable Alternative Controls

Speaking as an ex-auditor (sigh I know; not my best ever idea), Suitable Alternative Controls (SACs) are your best friend. As an example of this, say you have a control in your business to approve each and every line item of an expense claim before the expenses are even incurred. Well, one level of an SAC would be to approve the reclaim of those expenses after they have been incurred, but still before the reclaim is paid to the employee. Such a change would still be a "preventative" control, in that it still occurs before the company itself has incurred any costs. A further level of SAC would be to approve all expense claims (on trust) but review a sample of these after they have been paid, to make sure trust is not being abused, then act on any fraud with disciplinary action. This is called a "detective" control (as it occurs after the fact).

Where am I going with this? Well, what I am saying is that there is absolutely no point in asking to be excused your responsibility for proper control, simply because you want to work in an agile way. Rather, you need to help your colleagues to come up with suitable alternative ways in which their control needs can be met, in an agile context. I call this "creating the agile enterprise".

Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek Original Series

Kobayashi Maru

The Kobayashi Maru was a Starfleet training simulation in the Star Trek franchise, where Academy cadets were placed in a no-win scenario, to test their character. What I love about it is that James Tiberius Kirk became (famously) the only cadet to have ever beaten the test. How? Well he re-programmed the simulation to make it winnable. Ha ha ha. Brilliant! I tend to take a similar approach to Kirk and - like him - I don't believe in no-win scenarios.

So for the rest of this article, I am going to work with the Star Trek Crew, as they reprogram their organisation to create the agile Enterprise (as, yes, even bad puns are not beyond me).

Agile Leadership

We start on the bridge of the enterprise. Command and helm. Where else? Kirk and the folks in the yellow t-shirts. Wouldn't it be great if all your business and technology sponsors had a common understanding of agile and a common language to describe its components? When I was at British Airways, we took all of our Top 250 Leaders out of the business (in the year 2000) to spend a day with their closest role counterpart at Cisco. They learnt what it meant to work in an agile way and to make maximum use of technology in the process. At the time, this 'sheep dipping' was truly transformational (in helping us to modernise the business).

Not every organisation sees business change the way we did at BA at that time. At the organisation, there was a strong tradition of 'people programmes' (as they called it), so we were pushing at an open door with the idea. However, it's a huge investment to 'lose' so many senior people hours to 'networking'. Perhaps a more feasible idea would be to engage an agile coach in your business, to work with Senior Leaders and mentor them in the methods. Either way, I can strongly recommend doing something. True change always starts or ends at the top.

Agile Functions 

Now for the most important area; Spock and his colleagues in the blue uniforms handling 'corporate resources' and the management science, processes, and controls that underpin them. Here we are talking about functions like PMO, HR, Procurement, Finance, Legal & Risk Management (to name but a few). I am going to handle each, briefly, in turn.

Programme Management Office ('PMO')

By now, you will doubtless know my views on Agile Project Management (and the fact that there is no such thing). However, it is important to work with PMO colleagues on how the Project Management Method (or 'PMM') defining your 'management deliverables' intercepts with your Agile Solution Delivery Lifecycle (or 'SDLC') that defines the specialist deliverables (on an agile technology project). Unless you are tri-modal on the project, you are likely operating pure agile on a continuous improvement, client tech or innovative NPD piece. In such a circumstance, your specialist deliverables might be limited to burndown charts, features & epics (in a backlog), release notes, and the like (rather than the business requirements documents, specifications, or designs of Waterfall methods). If your PMO are trying to work with traditional 'stage gates' they might struggle to attach these to your agile outputs.

The best recommendation I can make it to encourage them to give up on 'common' gating and instead define the stages of each project (differently) to match the (major points of its product) release cycle. So your quarter 1 and 2 (major point) releases might match, for example, stages 1 and 2 of the project. As a major release should have a 'release theme' with some major associated features or epics, that gives you naturally your gating criteria for the project stage; i.e. have the features been signed off by the business product owner or not?

In some organisations, this 'bonding' is achieved by using 'programme increments' and a method like Scaled Agile Framework (or 'SAFe'). Whilst I understand the thinking behind SAFe (i.e. how do you scale agile to situations where multiple different product teams - operating different backlogs and release cadences - need to come together in a project), I am frankly not a massive fan as it can stymie true agility and end up being Wagile. I would rather align the release cadence of the different product teams involved at the outset and have the PM & PMO act as the common coordinating element (attending each team's client panel to ensure their backlogs contain the right things at the right time and that inter-dependencies are managed).

A word on RAG Reports. Try to encourage your PMO to ditch them altogether, in favour of agile metrics like cycle & lead times, output velocity, and resource efficiency. Traditional RAG is (a) often more subjective than we would like to believe, (b) taken at a point in time, and (c) predicated on a trade-off of quality, time, and cost. In agile, time and cost are usually largely fixed (as we shall see in a moment), so the trade-off becomes somewhat moot. Plus agile metrics are real-time (rather than point-in-time) and objective by nature (if measured correctly).

HR & Talent Acquisition

I'll keep this one brief. It's useful to make sure your HR colleagues have a full understanding of modern product management job families and agile competency frameworks, so they can benchmark new and existing roles properly and help you find the right training and professional qualification frameworks for ongoing people development. I find SFIA to be a very useful primer for that conversation and I favour ICAgile's Agile Product Ownership (APO) qualification (and associated Pluralsight learning pathways) for my product teams.

Procurement & Vendor Management

For commercial colleagues, I have always liked the distinction of pre- and post- signature. Pre-signature is Procurement and post-signature is Vendor Management. It might be called something different in your organisation and might have separate reporting lines, but both these teams need tackling (and taking up a 'learning curve'). In short, there are only three types of commercial construct that work for agile in my humble opinion; (a) time & materials, (b) fixed capacity, and (c) price-per-story-point.

Don't dismiss Time & Materials, because too many people do! After all, if you have a sensible Master Services Agreement (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW), you will be able to add or remove resources from the supplier with reasonable notice at any time, up-to-and-including full termination for convenience. So where's the risk? And there's lots of flexibility in that, which matches the (naturally emergent) needs of agile well. One of my favourite uses of this is for "annual, rolling (augmentation) SoWs" where you use a partner to provide skills you need but would not choose to hire internally (e.g. because a full FTE wouldn't be fully utilised across any given cadence).

If you must seek increased certainty ahead of time, then a fixed capacity construct works well. In this arrangement you commit to a certain number of resources (N) for a certain period of time (T), so Price (P) x N X T gives you the Contract Value (in the form of a time/resource 'box'). For this, a T of three months (i.e. one quarter) works well. If your commercial team are any good, they will be able to attach a 'Statement of Outcomes' to each quarterly SoW; which binds the partner to a set of deliverables. However, even then you must recognise that this is more a motivational technique, rather than something truly enforceable. The truth - in agile - is that the value you get for that fixed capacity is largely down to how well you manage the work. If you change your mind often and make bad calls along the way, you will get less useable output.

The most interesting - and even today fairly 'exotic' - is price-per-story-point; where the supplier receives a payment which is P X S (where S is the number of story points delivered). This 'piece-rate' can be quite effective in balancing the risks and responsibilities between the parties, whilst mainly pushing the consequences (for poor performance) onto the partner, although at the outset, this obviously requires a "discovery phase" to elucidate at least the first set of user stories and story points (i.e. in my language a tri-modal approach, so not pure agile). There is also a gain-share element, in that the supplier (if super-efficient) can make more money from you than you were expecting in any given period, if their efficiency and output velocity is higher than planned. In case you are doubting the existence of this option as a thing, I can assure you I used this exact construct at Macmillan with our partners there and it worked well. The primary challenge is determining a reasonable value - and definition - for a story point of output. So I would definitely recommend this construct, but only when you have achieved a certain maturity level in agile.

What you do need to do is persuade your commercial colleagues not to insist on fixed price arrangements. This is the world of "build me a toaster" (as I call it) where you can specify up-front you want a knob, two slots, and the precise shade of brown you want for your bread at the end. This is waterfall, not agile and will not work. If they mention 'not-to-exceed price' or 'capped T&M" as an option, say yes! It's really just another way of saying fixed capacity, which does work.


Business cases are a problem. Usually, your Finance colleagues will want some certainty (within a limited tolerance) of how much it is actually going to cost you to complete the work. But specifying (for example) what software products (and number of licenses) or hosting provider (and capacity) you need can be difficult up-front, when working agile. If possible, try to argue for the use of "quarterly draw-downs" against an agreed budget (at the start of each year). In this model, you have your entire team (and third party costs) re-approved 3-4 times a year in a 'zero-based-budgeting' fashion. This provides the suitable alternative control, as your effort could be stopped at any time if the value is not demonstrably flowing. It does require a certain ongoing commitment to 'financial engineering' however! The price of admission.

As an adjunct to regular draw-downs, I would propose the use of a Benefits Dependency Network ('BDN'). Back in the early noughties, I worked closely with Professor Chris Edwards (and his team at Cranfield Business School) on the development and application of BDNs (at Centrica). At WPP, we've evolved the method (on the WPP Open Programme) to use a Sankey (where you start with the benefits on the left and flow through to the outcomes in the middle and the costs on the right (of the network). This 'value driven' approach means that no activity is undertaken on the project that can't be directly linked to an outcome and benefit. A BDN can be evolved during the agile project, as the value proposition becomes clear and the most important requirements emerge. If you are going to commit to a BDN, then you must commit to (a) the identification of benefit owners, (b) an agreed method for benefit quantification and attribution, and (c) the tracking & evidencing of benefit achievement over time.

Legal & Risk Management

See my section on procurement above for how your legal people should engage on contracts. In general terms, the key point to get across is that risk cannot easily be transferred to a partner / system integrator under agile. This is not a good reason, however, to abandon agile altogether. And innovations like cost-per-story-point can achieve at least some rebalancing of risk back to the supplier, once you are sufficiently mature.

Risk Management is a key area. I would engage with your auditors (both internal and external) and your InfoSec teams early, to review their current frameworks and how suitable alternative controls could be added, specifically to cover agile. Often, their own processes will be tied to traditional design points in a Waterfall SDLC (like the agreement of a final design - for a security review - or the sign-off of UAT). One SAC could be having an assurance specialist attend your client panel sessions (where you scrub your backlog) so they can satisfy themselves of the quality definitions of done. I would also invest in code vulnerability scanning (e.g. SonarQube), regular penetration testing and a secure API layer (like Apigee) where needed. Also have them review your test automation rig and work together to sharpen your IT Policies around third party development. Like I said, SACs are the way to go!

Agile Engineering 

So now we are working with Scotty and his chums. The red-shirts who keep the warp core humming. Your engineers. Now I know what you are thinking... nothing to do there, right? They all know this stuff already! Wrong! For tech teams, I focus on three key areas: common language, common methods, and common tools.

Just because a bunch of devs have worked agile in previous lives or places, it does not mean they share a common language! A good place to start is with a glossary of key terms and a set of clear role definitions for all the business and IT people involved in the cadence. A particular area I tend to focus on is the definition of a story-point (and the associated pseudo-science of t-shirt sizing development estimates). One will often find different dev teams arguing for very different measures on story-points, but my argument has always been that it's kinda like the different currencies of the EU in the run-up to the introduction of the Euro: In ERM II, the value of a French Franc, Italian Lire, and Deutsche Mark were broadly fixed against the Euro. In the same way, whilst different teams may define story-points differently, their definitions tend to stay the same over time, so it should be possible to determine an Enterprise Story Point (or ESP) which - similar to the Euro - can be readily adopted by all teams in time.

The area of common methods can also be harder than it appears at first sight. Personally, I am not a massive fan of the standard (Scrum) states of "to do, in-progress, done". I am much more interested in the flow through the lifecycle than I am in what any individual considers her to to-do list. If your teams have lots of items that are marked as "done" but are not finished and sit like that in your backlog for ages, you will perhaps know what I mean! I favour my own custom model of 7 states and 3 statuses (with each ticket carrying both those fields as drop-downs). The statuses are (a) awaiting, (b) in-progress, and (c) blocked. The states are (1) shaping, (2) specification, (3) development, (4) testing, (5) acceptance, and (6) release. So rather than a dev saying he is 'done' with development, he moves the ticket from "in-progress/development" to "awaiting/testing". This 'pushes' items through the lifecycle, as the ticket is now a ticking-clock in the in-tray of the test team. The status of "blocked" can also be very handy for your client panel. I tend to devote an entire agenda item to resolved blocked items and it's a key measure (the team are assessed on) as to what %age are blocked.

> I will cover methods in (much) more detail in an upcoming long-read on Agile SDLC [1]

The easiest to dictate is common tools, although it can be hard to keep teams aligned over time (as there is always some new and interesting DevOps tool emerging) and Devs are like magpies; always chasing the latest shiny thing! For the core DevOps toolset, I would say it's a choice between Atlassian (Jia, Confluence, Bamboo, Bitbucket) and Microsoft (Azure DevOps & GitHub). For Site Reliability Engineering, there are a myriad of ways to go, but I like Atlassian StatusPage, PagerDuty, and Intercom for the different aspects they bring to the table.

Final Thoughts

On reflection, perhaps this post was over-ambitious, in trying to cover a huge topic at the right level of detail without overdoing the word count. Some of these areas I will return to later (as a higher level of granularity). But if there is one message I would love you to take away from this piece, it is this:

Agile Development cannot be delivered in isolation. For Agile to fly, it needs a conducive organisational context. I call this building the "agile enterprise"; which is mainly about introducing suitable alternative controls for agile work (that don't depend on traditional, waterfall-style artefacts)

I really hope this helps you in your adoption efforts. And please do check back here later for further articles! I will be elucidating (at far greater detail) the Agile SDLC and also the measures one can use to manage and monitor your progress. Live long and prosper, friends!

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<![CDATA[3 Best Situations to use Pure Agile]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/3-best-situations-to-use-pure-agile659ba8a69759e22e4fc9620eMon, 08 Jan 2024 08:41:51 GMTDavid Viney

Agile Development Team

Agile Development

From my writing, you will perhaps be aware of my passion for agile, but also my diva-like obsession with its appropriate application. Agile is of course much older (as a method) than most people seem to want to accept these days (and I have personally been working with it for most of my 25 years in IT). Even before the emergence of (true) Waterfall in the late 1970s, there was always a healthy debate in software engineering about the importance of being 'correct' versus the urgency of being 'quick'; with one side of that debate arguing for 'learning by doing' (through iterative prototyping) and the other side advocating for clarity on requirements up-front. It is my considered view that this argument will never go away, because it will always - rightly - remain a key question in any development effort.

> For more on the origin myths in Agile & Waterfall, check out my Agile v Waterfall piece >  Check out "the mayor of Kingston Town" for a case study on how to chose well

The Agile SDLC

At the risk of stating the obvious, Agile is a software product development lifecycle & method. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't fully 'get that'. Or how many (mainly tech) businesses describe or define Agile as a project management method. It isn't. Put simply, Agile allows for software development to be divided into a series of (grouped) tasks, for requirements to emerge or be refined over time, and for plans to be revised based on continuous feedback. This contrasts with 'structured' development methods like Waterfall, where there is a 'correct' answer at each stage (of requirements, design, development, test & release). Gartner used to call this Mode 1 vs Mode 2.

>  Try out my Agile-o-meter tool to help you decide on Mode 1 vs Mode 2

Application of 'Pure' Agile

But I digress. The purpose of this article is to look at three situations where pure agile can be safely applied, as the most appropriate method in all circumstances and without undue risk. Particularly if your organisation is still relatively immature in agile adoption, these use cases can be a great way to get started; developing muscle strength and muscle memory before you tackle more challenging scenarios; in an effort to reach true enterprise agility.

> I cover this topic in more detail in my "creating an agile enterprise" article [1]

1. Continuous Improvement in BAU

The best place to use pure agile is in the regular cadence of business-as-usual continuous improvement (i.e. of an existing product). As development and/or configuration tasks are completed, the team will output 'Potentially Shippable Product Increments' (or 'PI's); i.e. items that have been tested and confirmed against the quality 'definition of done' for that feature. They will then be grouped into - and targeted for - an upcoming release to live. I tend to categorise PIs - by origin & purpose - as follows:

  • small changes / enhancements to a product (to meet a service request)

  • bug fixes to a previously released feature (to address an incident ticket)

  • service improvements (to address more systemic root causes of problem tickets)

  • housekeeping & essential maintenance ('self generated' by the dev team)

Whether an item is business-originated (the first three above) or self-generated by the dev team, all items need to be approved by the Business Product Owner as shippable before they can be added to a release. Moreover, before the work on any of these has been started, the Business Product Owner needs to 'legitimise' them into the work management system (as valid work to be done) and 'prioritise' them against other needs in the work backlog.

2. (Innovative) New Product Development ('NPD')

Agile is also perfect for the development of totally new products, specifically where these are innovative by nature and requirements are best allowed to be 'emergent' as the prototype is continually refined. In such a circumstance, what you actually develop in the end can end up very different to what you 'first thought of', just as the business proposition can evolve to a very different end-point (as the value of the features are tested in the market).

Proper Market Research is a vital component of NPD; including competitor analysis, reviewing the addressable market, and an analysis of the (customer) 'job to be done' with prospective users/consumers of the product. An allied (digital) technology discipline is that of (human-centred) user experience design; where one develops a set of personas to represent different segments of the addressable market / prospective user base. By exploring persona behaviour, motivations and goals, one can identify gaps in provision; which the new product can meet.

> See my forthcoming arc on 'product management for disruptive innovation' [2]

> And also, a completely different upcoming arc on 'human-centred design in agile' [2]

Innovation is my thing :) In my main, day job we are currently building an industry-first (and AI-powered) end-to-end marketing platform. I have written about the career-defining challenge and amazing innovation of WPP Open on my LinkedIn. What I didn't say there - but is 100% true - is that it is a perfect sort of initiative for Agile (which has been very successfully deployed on the programme). In the past, I have also used agile very successfully on NPD projects to build the world's first IoT Structural Health Monitoring Platform (for the Forth Road Bridge) at Arup and to develop AA Navigator (the UK's first commercial SatNav) at Centrica.

3. Client Tech Product Management

I hope you will recognise the distinction: in most larger organisations there will be 'client technology' products you develop for your clients to use, and 'enterprise technology' products you configure for your own use. For example, a training company might develop an e-Learning platform for its clients, but might choose to simply configure Microsoft Office 365 for its own intranet and collaboration needs (rather than trying to build its own bespoke solution).

So if Client Tech is all about programming and building something and Enterprise Tech is mostly configuring and product managing something, then Agile definitely works best for the former and less well for the latter.

Final Thoughts

An interesting question would be "what is not on the list above and why?" The answer is most of the enterprise technology projects in most organisations. Unlike the 1970s and 1980s, most of the enterprise tools people use today were built for them by a vendor (rather than built in-house). Moreover, most enterprise projects have a clear set of largely known requirements, within a known, finite and approved budget. None of these scenarios are great for agile.

> Check out my piece on tri-modal agile for how to deal with most projects

As ever, good luck with your efforts! Working in an agile way is loads of fun. Especially when you do it right - and do it on the right things!

© David Viney 2023. Licensed for re-use with attribution under CC BY 4.0

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[1] Forthcoming articles in this arc; please check back soon

[2] Future story arc; coming later this year

<![CDATA[The Agileometer]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/the-agileometer6587524c5ee80bb01411f8d7Sat, 23 Dec 2023 21:43:01 GMTDavid Viney

A Kanban Board

Is agile or waterfall is best for your project?

The Agile-o-meter was first popularised as part of PRINCE 2 Agile in 2015. And if that already makes you wince, there really is no saving you! I have (as you would expect by now) developed my own version of the questions to ensure you get a more precise answer; in a Google Form. As you will see later, I have also developed a more granular set of recommendations/results.

Please note you will have to add up your own total for now (as Google Forms is somewhat limited in that regard and I am yet to find a better alternative). But anyway, let's get started, shall we?

Fill out the Agileometer form to get your score

Interpreting the Results

As you will see above, I am only recommending a firm Agile Result for scores of 20-25 inclusive and a firm Waterfall Result for scores of 5-10 inclusive. For the majority of the likely outcomes in the middle (11-19 inclusive), I am actually proposing a Tri-Modal method; i.e. Waterfall to the end of design, then Agile for delivery.

> Check out my article on Agile vs Waterfall for further context 

>  If you'd find a little case study helpful, check out "the mayor of Kingston Town"

>  My post on tri-modal SDLC helps explain how and why you can use it on your project

>  Or read about my three best situations to use pure agile

Final Thoughts

Good luck with your efforts. And remember, a questionnaire like this is only part of the story. You will need to use your own judgement, as ever. Where you have scored one of the questions low, please do think about what further actions you could take to improve the score. For example, would clarification of agile methods & tools help? Perhaps with some training for the team? Or the addition of an Agile Coach?

© David Viney 2023. Licensed for re-use with attribution under CC BY 4.0

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Professional Disclaimer

David Viney is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.

<![CDATA[Tri-Modal Agile Project Management]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/tri-modal-for-agile-project-management654ba1f0811a7ec66aa5d121Wed, 08 Nov 2023 14:58:03 GMTDavid Viney

Three Monkeys; symbolising tri-modal methods

The Ninja and the Samurai

You may have heard this (Gartner 2014) metaphor - of the ninja and the samurai - to describe the difference between waterfall and agile. The Ninja is agile. Fast. Nimble. Low ceremony. The Samurai is high ceremony. More deliberate. But just as likely to be effective. Of course, Gartner have long since dropped this analogy. I heard the reason was "both were still cool" and they wanted to send a clearer signal that agile=cool. Hmm. As you can imagine, this does not impress me at all. I actually liked the original "bi-modal" concept; i.e. that some things are better done in mode 1 (Waterfall) and other things best done in Mode 2 (Agile). I doubt, for example, you would put your own child on a "minimum viable product" (MVP) rollercoaster. Or personally take an MVP Space Shuttle to the moon. Let the monkeys 'fail fast'.

I might sound like I am against agile. I am not. I am against people who apply it badly.

> For a tool to help you decide Mode 1 vs Mode 2, check out my Agile-o-meter

> If you'd find a little case study helpful, check out "the mayor of Kingston Town"

> Or read about my "three best situations to use pure agile"

People don’t plan to fail

They fail to plan. In truth, you wouldn’t be a very good ninja if you went into a fight with no clear intelligence on what you were up against. Or any plan to deal with that. This would not be cool. This does not stop people from doing exactly that, particularly when they first try agile adoption. Zero-requirements Kanban is actually a thing! I call this the “make it up as we go along brigade”. It rarely goes well.

Developers are usually happy to go along with this, because it allows them to more or less do what they want (which is to focus on doing cool work, rather than necessarily useful outcomes). They like to call this “the principle of self-organising teams”. I like to call it “letting your teenage kids look after the house". And I say this with the greatest of kindness, as someone who (a) came up via the dev route, and (b) loves his kids.

So, having established (I hope) that having some sort of plan is useful, what next?

The Discovery Phase

Ask any organisation with mature agile adoption and they will talk about the vital importance of a discovery phase. This more or less equates to what is often called (the completion of) a “high level design” in Waterfall. In other words, you have (a) gathered high-level requirements (probably expressed as a set of "user stories"), (b) designed the broad solution design you plan to engineer, and (c) sized the duration, costs and resources you think you need to deliver. Sounds like a good idea to me!

At this point, some of you might be thinking “isn’t this waterfall”? And in all material respects you’d be right. It is. At least, so far. Whatever anyone might say. This is not something to freak out about. Chill. We will get to that in a moment.

Suppose our Ninja (in a scouting discovery phase disguised as - I don't know - a sushi delivery guy) determines there are 40 people with big swords guarding his assassination target. When the time comes for the mission proper, he might take a few friends and go at night! Perhaps with an automatic pistol and certainly with a plan. He wouldn't go along with a little knife in broad daylight and make it up as he goes along!

So, a plan. Tick. Some sort of discovery. Tick. What next?

Introducing Tri-Modal Projects

At the risk of inventing a mouthful, I would like to propose a new terminology of "tri-modal"; where Mode 1 is (fully) Waterfall, Mode 2 is (fully) Agile, and Mode 3 is a Hybrid (of Waterfall and Agile) - i.e. Waterfall Discovery to HLD, then Agile Delivery for Build/Test/Release:

Diagram: The three different modes of tri-modal

Note I am deliberately not calling this WAgile, as this seems to me a pejorative term used by shallow thinkers of a zealous demeanor. More specifically, WAgile is variously described as a "mix" (as in "mixed up") of Waterfall and Agile. Or Waterfall Project Management thinking imposed on top of Agile Development. I am not proposing mixed up thinking. Nor am I suggesting Project Management should ever be associated with (as in tied to) any SDLC- whether Waterfall or Agile - but rather remain abstracted from it (as it should).

I am also not calling this "big design up front". Because - again - this terminology irritates me. It seems to me those words are chosen deliberately not as a contrast to the small, iterative design components of each agile sprint, but rather to suggest some sort of excess of over-engineered design before the developers make a jail-break for freedom.

So Waterfall Design / Agile Delivery (or WD/AD for short). Catchy, eh? I would like to humbly suggest that tri-modal WD/AD is actually what all sensible organisations actually do. Whether or not they actually call it this. And whatever funny fags they might be smoking. You might think I am overly labouring the point. But as one gets older, one can't help but observe what utter nonsense people actually say and do when (particularly at first) attempting agile adoption. At the risk of simply annoying you, I am going to look at two further areas - quickly - to hopefully illustrate what I mean:

The Agile Business Case

If you are routinely in the business of preparing investment cases for a project (usually a pre-requisite if any work is actually to proceed) you might recognise this challenge. Your decision-makers want some certainty (within a limited tolerance) of how much it is actually going to cost you to complete the work. This - annoyingly - tends to include little details like what software products or hosting provider you propose to use and how many licenses and capacity you need to buy & when. In general, these are questions that can only be answered with at least a high-level design. "Can't we just make it up as we go along?" is unlikely to wash.

The Agile Partner Contract

If you are using a third party to resource the work, your procurement advisor is likely to start with that glorious opening gambit of "we need to fix-price this work" to avoid the risk of cost overruns. The next question is likely to be "what is your specification for the work?" or even - if it is an especially bad day at the office - "we should tender this and get it out to variety of competing companies to drive the best price... have you written an RFP document yet?". Again, "why don't we just make a start and see how we get on?" is unlikely to get much traction.

Tri-modal Financials & Commercials

If you are tri-modal, there are simple answers to both of the above (plus to a range of other parties like your Risk & Controls team, your Security team, and more): Waterfall to Design, then Agile for Delivery. Your first business case (and vendor contract) is time & materials for "discovery", most probably time-boxed to limit risk of overrun. You will get to the maximum specificity you can in the time and money you get approval for. You then come back with a second business case that will include a more precise fix on (for example) software & hosting costs, plus a much more reliable estimate of build resourcing, duration, and costs. That, in turn, can form the basis of a fixed capacity (or capped T&M) vendor contract or SoW. Or even more exotic innovations, like a "cost-per-story-point" (or piece-rate) agile contract.

> I cover this in much more detail in my "creating an agile enterprise" article [3]

Final Thoughts

I suppose what I am really saying - as usual - is that dogmatic zealotry doesn't really survive first contact with reality. If you are serious about greater agility in your solution delivery projects, you must first accept that no-one is going to give you a blank check and say "just crack on". You wouldn't build your own house that way. You wouldn't trust your children's safety to that. And you wouldn't spend your own money like that. Time to embrace "tri-modal". You know it makes sense!

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<![CDATA[Agile Case Study: Kingston Bridge]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/agile-case-study-kingston-bridge653a69bb19ed845227c69988Fri, 27 Oct 2023 08:08:17 GMTDavid Viney

Old Postcard of Kingston Bridge

The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

The Mayor of Kingston Town

It is the early middle ages and Tom Sawyer - the newly elected Mayor of Kingston Town - is sat with his team; pondering how to achieve his big election promise: a bridge across the river. Local residents are all-too-aware of Richmond's own plans to do the same. Much is at stake. At present there is no bridge across the Thames between Staines and London Bridge. Whoever completes their bridge first will surely substantially grow their Town into a major market hub. His Town Planner has two proposals on the table; and it's going to be a long night!

The Bridge Proposals

  1. A Pontoon Bridge - the cheapest and fastest plan would see some older boats chained together at Kingston Reach, with a rudimentary wooden road surface laid across them. The Planner points to the benefits of a rapid prototype. With a Pontoon, Tom can test whether (in fact) there is any real demand for the bridge at all. He can also most certainly beat Richmond to the prize of being first. This - in itself - might kill off the competition altogether; with Kingston becoming the only Market Town in the region. His Business Chief favours the option. On the downside, a pontoon will be vulnerable to flooding and could turn out to be completely undersized for the demand; particularly if merchants wish to bring heavy loads.

  2. A Stone Bridge - his Engineer recommends this option. The whole build will take over 3 years; particularly given the extensive surveying of the river floor required and the lengthily driving of concrete piles. All this before a stone is even laid! He really worries that Richmond will get there first and/or his own term in office might even end before the bridge is complete! And what if no-one wants to use it... and it then stands idle as a hideous white elephant that has bankrupted the town!? On the upside, such a bridge would be capable of dealing with almost any weather, any level of demand, and any loads placed upon it - and last for hundreds of years. A real legacy!

Choosing the Right SDLC

Tom's problem - in a nutshell - is whether to go agile or waterfall. And you can see - it is a genuinely difficult choice! The Agile option looks genuinely compelling, as the first prototype could be thrown up so fast. You could always replace it later with a larger pontoon or even a fully wooden bridge. Then only move to a stone or cast iron option later; once the case is clear. On the other hand, if you did decide (in the end) that a stone bridge was needed, you would have spent a lot more overall and arguably lost a lot of time in getting started on the right project. So what would you do? Close your eyes. Don't read on. And say out loud your choice!

The Cheshire Cat giving directions to Alice

Big Design up-front

What Tom actually decides is that he doesn't have enough information to make the right decision! Most wise! He asks his Business Chief to undertake more extensive surveying of local merchants; so as to better gauge their likely levels of demand. He asks his Engineer to assess flood risks and visit Staines and look into their own experiences with (renovations to) the old Roman bridge there. Some weeks later, the results come back and Tom knows what he needs to do. Stone bridge it is. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Agile 'Discovery' Phase

Tom's story is not so very rare, really. This sort of dynamic plays out time and time again in the real world. Much as it would be great to run your entire life as if every day is your first - where you emerge blinking into the sunlight, with a zero-requirements Kanban board each morning - most human endeavour would benefit from some proper facts, analysis, and design up-front. Most businesses call this a 'discovery phase' - the moral of the story, if you like!

Tom might have concluded, from the discovery phase, to go pontoon bridge (if, for example, the merchant feedback had been less positive). From that point, the rest of the project would have been agile in nature. Either way, this discovery phase was waterfall. Whatever you might say! I call this "tri-modal": Waterfall to the end of design, then agile thereafter. The reality is most agile projects are like this.

> I explore this concept in more detail in my "tri-modal projects" article


A silly little story, I know. But deliberately chosen. Waterfall, by origin, is fundamentally grounded in civil and electrical engineering and emerged from the world of complex, multi-year, safety-critical aerospace programmes. Not so very different from putting up a stone bridge. Setting up a new market with new products in a new town centre, by contrast, is absolutely the world of agile: Uncertain requirements that change frequently (and would benefit from iterative prototyping). Making the choice on the right SDLC can (and really should) be a difficult one.

> For a tool to help you decide, check out my Agile-o-meter

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<![CDATA[Agile vs Waterfall (which is best?)]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/agile-vs-waterfall-which-is-best6537ee8e56a3b8bf1e06f39eTue, 24 Oct 2023 20:39:19 GMTDavid Viney

Ninja versus Samurai; symbolising Agile vs Waterfall

You might know by now (from my writing) that I am instinctively suspicious of fads and anything that smells like religious zealotry. So this article sets out to bust some origin myths and hopefully give an honest assessment of the merits of both waterfall and agile for a software development lifecycle (or 'SDLC'). I will also, briefly, debunk both as a project management method and diss the entire modern IT profession for good measure. All in a day's work. Lol.

Waterfall: Origins

There are many competing "origin stories" for the emergence of the Waterfall method. Most attribute its creation to Winston Royce of Lockhead, who laid out a sequential method for systems development in a paper in 1970. However, he never actually used the term Waterfall, which didn't enter common parlance until at least 1976. In fact, I have a very dim view of the 'official' history (as recorded on Wikipedia). As someone who started his career in the late 1980s, I have absolutely no doubt that the real origins of what we now call Waterfall was in the “Cleanroom” Model; developed by IBM and used by NASA on the Space Shuttle Programme (from 1978 onwards).

Most people focus on the sequential nature of Waterfall. But this totally misses the point. The defining characteristic is actually that it is a "correct systems" methodology. If you need to strap 7 people to an expensive rocket, fire them into space, then bring them back safely… over and over again… then the solution must be correct. This means a correct set of business requirements, which leads to a correct set of technical requirements, which leads to a correct design and a correct, tested build – so a sequential, largely non-iterative methodology. Iterations are unnecessary because everything was correct at every stage, right? For example (from the Shuttle Programme), "nose cap of shuttle must resist re-entry temperatures in excess of 1,260°c", which led to the development of the shuttle's famous ceramic tiles. As usual (with computer stuff) it was the UK where this method was fully baked into standards; with the Structured Systems Analysis and Design Method (or 'SSADM') from 1980 onwards.

Agile: Origins

Once again, I find the official history for Agile (now persisting on Wikipedia) to be very flawed. Most people now seem to want to take the view that there was no true Agile before the 2001 "Manifesto for Agile Software Development". But there is absolutely no doubt (in my mind at least) that the Rapid Application Development ('RAD') method of 1991 was the genuine progenitor. It was also developed by (you've guessed it) IBM, who then built upon this with the Dynamic Systems Development Method ('DSDM') of 1994. I had the great honour to work with IBM (whilst at British Airways in the late 90s) on the further development of the latter; contributing the idea of a single 'living document' for documentation throughout the lifecycle.

RAD and DSDM were IBM’s response to the emergence of PCs and Distributed Computing (and the long, slow death of the mainframe). If Waterfall was about "correct" systems, RAD was about “good enough” systems. At the time, the argument was that an average corporate IT system took three years to deliver, the average car model six years, and the average aircraft twenty years. Something had to change! Business cycles were accelerating and IT had to respond! Above all, the sort of technology had emerged to make more rapid and iterative development possible. And one could quickly get to 80% of requirements met in 20% of the time and cost, through a set of iterative prototypes.

Agile vs Waterfall - Which is better?

As they say, ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. So the TLDR (if you don't want to read the rest of this article) is both and neither. More seriously, one has to approach this question as if you were an engineer. And as if IT were actually a profession. Difficult, I know.

Diagram comparing agile and waterfall methods

Waterfall is absolutely more appropriate when being right is more important than being quick. For example, if the lives of 7 astronauts are at stake it's kinda important to be correct about those 1,260°C re-entry temperatures! Waterfall is still best when requirements can be clearly articulated and are unlikely to change, but above all for safety-critical solutions required to stand the test of time.

By contrast, Agile works better when being quick is more important than being right. For example, for a new product or new market, or where an entire industry is being disrupted by a new technology or profit model and you are in a race to out-innovate your competitors. Agile is best when requirements cannot be articulated and/or are changing fast.

In reality, making the decision on which SDLC to use can be complicated and difficult to get right. It can also be changed during the project lifecycle (and actually most often is)!

> For a tool to help you decide, check out my Agile-o-meter

> If you'd find a little case study helpful, check out "the mayor of Kingston Town"

> For changing SDLC mid-project, try my thought piece on "tri-modal projects"

Agile Project Management

In brief, there is no such thing. Sorry to be a party-pooper, but I will never understand the tendency of the project management community to want to appropriate a Software Development Lifecycle as the basis for a Project Management Method ('PMM').

Firstly, a PMM is completely abstracted from Development Methods. When I worked on the burnishing of PRINCE 2 (at Centrica in the early 00s), everyone was clear that a good PMM could be used on any kind of project. The PMM defined the "management products / deliverables" (e.g. project plan, work breakdown structure, etc.) whilst the "specialist products / deliverables" were determined by the type of project involved. Sure, if it were a systems project, then the specialist deliverables would be defined by the SDLC in use (whether agile or waterfall in nature). But if it were, say, a property / construction project, then the specialist deliverables might be architecture drawings, BIM models, stacking diagrams, and the like. At that time, I would say about 50% of the systems projects I was involved in or managing were Waterfall in nature and 50% were Agile. And no-one saw any great issue with this.

Secondly, the great value of a PMM is in managing dependencies, sequencing, and above all critical path. In other words, what things need to be done in what order and how can we optimise time, cost, and quality across the lot? Laying the walls of a house before one has built solid foundations would be crazy. As would putting in glass before one has built the window frames. That's obvious. But what is less obvious (and you will know if you have built a house before), is that the wise builder orders the window frames (against a plan) well in advance; as the order lead times tend to be long, and she doesn't want the brickies to sit idle. If, like me, you have noticed the gradual disappearance of the Gantt Chart and CPM analysis in the workplace, you will perhaps agree that - by trying to mimic coders - PMs are actually losing the very skills (and management mathematics) that made them so valuable in the first place!

The Impact of Cloud Computing

To my mind, there is a simple explanation for this descent into madness. As always, with technology, it is the technology itself which disrupts things. Agile really took flight with the emergence of Cloud Computing. If the days of Mainframe were like building a house, and Distributed Computing (and Packaged Software) like renting a house, then Cloud Computing is kinda like squatting in a house. Rent or buy, and you still get to redecorate with some permanency, but when squatting the owner can simply turf you out at any point and throw your paint and brushes after you!

What I am trying to say is there is no point trying to gather requirements and develop solutions on top of cloud software. Why reinvent the wheel and pay twice? Once for the thousands of vendor engineer hours (that went into building - say - Workday) and twice for your own dev team? Apart from anything else, the vendor could make a change at any time (to the underlying SaaS) which renders your (usually client layer) development obsolete.

So if you work for that vendor, you will probably be using agile and cutting code. But if you work for one of their corporate customers, your job really becomes configuring (not developing) that solution to 'best fit' your business and then persuading business colleagues to modify their processes to close any residual "fit gap" to "out-of-the-box". In a sense, your job becomes more "solution led" (through 'show-and-tell') and less "requirements led". And the skillset becomes more about adoption and business change management (which is why all the SaaS vendors spend millions on adoption materials and hire thousands of people with PROSCI skills - to focus their customers on that, instead of dev!).

The Existential Identity Crisis of the IT Professional

What am I blathering on about? Well, what I am saying is that an entire generation of IT professionals (and I use that term loosely, obviously) were raised (without really knowing it) on a philosophy founded in the space shuttle programme and grounded in civil & electrical engineering: Bring me your problem and I will design a perfect solution to correctly solve it for you, then build it to optimum time, cost & quality. Whilst technology has advanced multiple generations since the 70s, our thinking remains largely trapped in the habits and methods of the past. So at this point in history, we are largely confused (as a profession) about our entire purpose and therefore our methods. What I call the Existential Identity Crisis of the modern IT Professional.

More specifically, what I am saying is that - outside of (Client Tech) product development (which is increasingly the preserve of SaaS Software Vendors), the majority of (Enterprise Tech) IT people are (a) not really running software development projects anymore, and (b) not really developing software solutions anymore. So it's not just Project Managers who are confused, it's Business Analysts and Software Developers too!

> I explore this topic in greater detail in "the bifurcation of the modern IT profession" [3]

So call it Agile if you want. Or Transformation. Or Apotheosis (my personal favourite). But be clear on what it actually is: Persuading business people to adapt to (and adopt) some very expensive cloud software that was developed by someone else. And you'd be better off taking that PROSCI course than an Agile one!

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<![CDATA[Post-implementation HyperCare]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/post-implementation-hypercare652bce98fdd01f71f9a2b122Sun, 15 Oct 2023 11:41:14 GMTDavid Viney

A waiter bringing room service on a silver platter

A welcome innovation of recent times: the emergence of post-implementation HyperCare as a new and additional stage in the project lifecycle. Find out more about this concept, why it works so well with Cloud SaaS, and how to implement it successfully in your organisation.

Common Problems

Perhaps you might recognise some or all of the following, from your own change efforts? I have certainly seen many of these patterns repeat, across several different organisations:

  • "Repeated No-Gos" - when presented with a list of the current defects - and asked to accept them all for a go-live - the SteerCo finds it hard to agree and prefers to defer the go-live date 'until we are in a better place'. This can be frustrating, particularly when none of the items really fall into the 'fundamental' category. One suspects a fear that the project team will just "bash it in and run away", rather than stay the course to clear down the defect list. Or a fear that a small support team will be under-skilled and/or under-resourced to tackle these items in BAU.

  • "Whack a Mole" - after go-live, there remains a long list of outstanding tickets. Some of these are genuine bugs, some are unmet requirements, but many are really new changes (not part of the original scope). Your business colleagues will not agree that the project is really finished until all tickets are cleared off. As you resolve them, new ones are added to the list. So it becomes a game of "whack a mole", where you need to resolve existing tickets faster than new ones can be generated, until the level drops to near-zero or everyone just gets tired and are finally ready to move on.

  • "Hogging the Spotlight" - in large organisations, few parts of your business get continual attention, from a change perspective. So when it is their turn in the spotlight, they can be reluctant to let that light move on. This manifests as a sort of "whilst you guys are here, can't you just..." behaviour. The original scope can become kinda irrelevant after a while, as more and more asks are piled on your plate.

  • "The Agony and the Ecstasy" - if you have ever seen this wonderful movie, you will recognise the scenario. Michelangelo is painting the Sistine Chapel and Pope Julius II is impatient to see it done. "When will you make an end of it Michelangelo?"... "When I am finished". Sometimes, it is not your business which is the problem, but the desire for perfection in your own project team!

How can Hypercare help?

Hypercare is a period of elevated BAU support, following go-live. It originated, as a concept, in the Client Tech space; specifically from Software Companies keen to keep their paying customers happy. It is closely associated with - but distinctly different from - the more traditional, commercial concept of a "warranty period". In my experience, there are three very important components to get right (in using this method in your business):

  1. Hypercare must be led by the Support Team, not the Project. By insisting on this, you help to ween the customer off of that dependency-forming habit of high-attention project activity. It also frees (most of) the project team to focus on the next wave, or project, and gently moves the spotlight on. Finally. it renews the bond between the customer and their support organisation, which is very helpful for the longer-term relationship.

  2. Hypercare should have a defined duration and I have typically found 3 months to be ideal. It helps to soften this by saying "if tickets haven't fallen to 'normal BAU levels' by the end of the three months, we will absolutely extend the HyperCare period until they have". This focuses both the Pope and Michelangelo on the need to "make an end of it" and defines a threshold for when sufficient moles will be judged to have been whacked.

  3. Hypercare is part of the project SDLC. In other words, you are not really done with this wave/project until you exit HyperCare. This helps with that risk of repeated No-Go calls: everyone understand that the definition of done includes a successful HyperCare period and no-one is running away until that is signed-off by everyone.

The Vital Role of Business Change Management

It might have occurred to you that a concept like HyperCare fits perfectly with the business change management concept of a post-implementation adoption drive. Indeed! You may be familiar with the J-Curve of Change from my first book (published in 2005): the observation that business performance falls initially - after a go-live - even when change is well-planned and executed (as people adapt to the new system and/or processes):

Diagram illustrating the J-Curve of Change

A three month HyperCare period would normally fit the Change "Transition Period" well, so whilst your IT Team are bashing those tickets, your Change Team could be mitigating the performance disruption, through post-implementation training, communications, reward mechanisms, and adoption drives.

Final Thoughts

Why not give HyperCare a spin? It has already been adopted across a large number of businesses - particularly in 'demanding' environments or cultures where a high standard of care is expected. It could well be the 'missing piece' in your Solution Delivery Lifecycle (SDLC):

Diagram showing how Hypercare fits into an SDLC

#changemanagement #transformation #projectmanagement

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<![CDATA[Newco for Agile Implementation]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/newco-for-agile-implementation652bcc66a1bfe36059c160ebSun, 15 Oct 2023 11:35:39 GMTDavid Viney

What if you didn't need to manage process change, data migration, and live cutover? What if you did your change project like a start-up? Introducing NewCo - an innovative approach to business change; designed for the agile age.


Some years back, I was the Assurance Lead for a major project with a high degree of complexity. We were migrating from multiple different older systems to a single, new platform. The data structures in each system were very different and the data quality wasn’t great.

The Problem

In business terms, each of the in-scope units had more or less the same business model but vastly different processes for achieving the same outcomes. They were, of course, arguing over whose process was best for the new platform. So we were process mapping all the “as-is” states, before we could even think about a single “to-be” process and the complex transitional maps from many to one.

We had already done several change requests; de-scoping several requirements, and adding to the duration and cost of the project. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. This was just complex stuff.

The Possible Solution

One morning, whilst shaving, a simple thought came into my head. What if we could run this like a startup? Just set up a new business entity, with simple processes, and a SaaS platform with out-of-the-box functionality and no data. Then just gradually start writing (only) new business through the NewCo. Whilst running-off (only) old business on the old systems. In much the same way as a Financial Services firm might run-off an old fund.

Bravely, I decided to talk to my boss about it. And no - before you ask - I am not going to share which Company! To my surprise, exactly the same idea had occurred to him. We hatched a plan (perhaps it was the strong coffee) to persuade our business colleagues to give this crazy new idea a try.

We built on the idea further; including how the new company might have different values, a different branding, a better tax structure, different employment contracts and supplier relationships. It didn’t have to just be about systems, after all.

The Outcome

To cut a long story short, we made some very real progress with selling this. But ultimately failed to convince. Sorry. Not all stories have a happy ending.

It seemed just a little too novel an idea to many. Too risky. And too many people were already super-invested in process mapping, or requirements gathering, or whatever. But - to this day - I remain convinced that NewCo was actually by far the lowest risk option. I hear that the company in question recently gave up on its third attempt at that project. Perhaps never to try again.

(Limited) Prove Points

Over the years since, I find myself coming back to NewCo in my mind. I have seen almost the same things done for real. For example, the business of an acquirer reversed into the business of the acquired (after an M&A). The logic? “Their systems were better than ours”. Or wholly new business lines set up with partners and then older business lines ultimately managed through that same partner.

I also found some parallels in the teachings of Clay Christensen (whilst enjoying a Disruptive Strategy course at Harvard). In the "Innovator's Dilemma", he argued that disruptive innovation from within an existing business is best done through a new company vehicle (as otherwise the initiative would be killed by the vested internal interests of the current profit model and a preference for sustaining innovation).

My Challenge

So really, there is no reason why NewCo wouldn’t work for change projects. And I dearly want to see someone do it. Perhaps in my advancing years, it may not be me. But perhaps it might be you? And perhaps I will help. Yes. I think I shall.

#changemanagement #transformation #projectmanagement

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<![CDATA[The Death Spiral of Change]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/the-death-spiral-of-change6528f65f5aa77aca85a0db21Fri, 13 Oct 2023 07:58:54 GMTDavid Viney

I've always been a big fan of the Chinese philosophical concept of yīn 陰 and yáng 陽 - particularly as this applies to a theory of change; opposite forces which are interconnected. Whilst most know this as the dark side and the light ☯ a more linguistically accurate construct is of growth and consolidation, as seen in the cycles of the seasons and in all organic life.

The Cult of Change

It seems to me there is almost a 'Cult of Change' in modern, western business thinking. Change is continuous, inevitable, and always/only a good thing. And cycles of change are getting ever faster (apparently). Also inevitable. Also good. If you have worked in a business on it's third Transformation Programme in five years, or experienced a major reorganisation of your department once every 18 months or so, you will perhaps know what I mean!

One can trace this line of thought right back to Classical Philosophy and the "Logos" of Heraclitus; oft summarised as "the only constant is change". And in the modern day, books like "Who Moved My Cheese?" with its hideous conclusion that we should all keep a pair of trainers nearby; to run quickly through a maze from one life disruption to the next.

Disney's Fireplace

To summarise the antithesis, I use a metaphor of the ubiquitous Disney film fireplace: A happy family gathered together (perhaps at Christmas) on a comfy rug in front of a roaring fire. A dog or cat or both at their feet. Isn't this, after all, what we all want? Sustained comfort, companionship, and peace? Not endless disruption and maze-running!

A 'Change Agent' might dismiss this as "the status quo". But can you see the irony? Isn't the ostensible purpose of all change activity to fix something that is perceived as broken? Improve a process? Reduce a cost? Disrupt? Transform? But transform to what? One presumes a "new normal" where things were better than they were before! And where one can sustain that new level of performance. So, new normal is really just another way of saying new status quo. A new and better fireplace.

What really happens

My empirical observation (from many years of change delivery) takes me to a very different place than either of these two extremes. In my first book (published in 2005), I combined theories from the fields of economics and psychology to describe what one most often sees on major change projects; a J-Curve where performance falls initially, even when change is well-planned and executed. After all, you are introducing instability into a system that (albeit sub-optimally) operated on comfortable and well-established habits. People take time to learn and adapt!

The job of the Change Agent is to minimise that period of disruption; through well-planned training, communications, and reward mechanisms ahead of implementation, but even more importantly to reinforce adoption, and manage stakeholder expectations through the post-implementation transition state - so they don't expect unreasonable and immediate results (the red line), but rather sustain their support through the inevitable dip.

The Death Spiral

A very real risk with the 'change for change's sake' brigade is that a new and fundamental change is introduced into that same system before one has exited the j-curve and attained the new normal, higher-performance state. The starting point for the project 2 j-curve is then from a lower performance level than before project 1.

I call this the 'death spiral of continuous change'. A sort of post-apocalyptic landscape, where the laundromat is still standing but no-one can remember how to operate it anymore. At an extreme, of course, this leads to total business or system failure. Something I would contend is becoming more and more common - and is a direct consequence of 'change as a religion' rather than 'change as a profession':

So why Yīn and Yáng?

In nature, one observes a cycle of growth and consolidation, linked to seasons, eras, and epochs. A tree brings forth blossoms in spring and leaves in summer, but sheds both into the hibernation of winter. The important point is that both growth and consolidation are essential to wellbeing. As we are learning, through climate change, plants and animals are not dealing well with lengthening growth phases and shortened rest periods. Stressing them in this way is accelerating habitat destruction and species extinction.

My argument is that periods of consolidation need protecting in a business. People, processes, and technologies all need time to rest and recuperate before the next great leap forward. And if we, as leaders, build that into our change lexicon then we can avoid destructive downward spirals and nurture the opposite; ever greater levels of performance and human attainment.

Final Thoughts

Poor old Heraclitus. His life's work reduced to a single sound-bite. But if you actually take the time to read his work properly, he was simply observing that same pattern in nature as the Taoists (and drawing the same conclusions). As he put it, "you cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you". And even the rocks are not the same; worn away slowly over eras by the action of the waters.

Yes, change is a constant. But constant change for its own sake, without pause, is not the lesson to take from nature. Endless summer kills the flower.

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<![CDATA[The J-Curve of Change]]>https://www.david-viney.me/post/the-j-curve-of-change65286e8e63c80d549ed91d27Thu, 12 Oct 2023 22:16:37 GMTDavid Viney

20 years ago, I published my first book; 'The Intranet Portal Guide'. It was a popular - if somewhat niche - title; drawn from my earlier 'Dig For Victory' web site. It was all about 'how to make the business case for a corporate portal, then successfully deliver' the project. Of course, portal technology has since moved on significantly, and the book itself is long-since out-of-print. However, one small component has more than stood the test of time; escaping the confines of its original context and taking on a life of its own, across the web: The "J-Curve" of Change.


At the time, I was exploring the Changefirst method for People-Centred Implementation (PCI®). Put simply, what is the difference between system installation and (true) change implementation? From my own experience, it struck me that when we say "change", most of our people hear "loss". In fact, they handle change (in process and technology) in much the same way as they might handle grief; first denial, then anger, bargaining, and depression, before finally (often reluctant) acceptance (i.e the Kübler-Ross model, first posited in 1969). I was also inspired by the Four Stages of Competence theory (developed around the same time), to explain the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill (often illustrated, by trainers, through the example of learning to drive a car).

The Transition State

I developed the J-Curve to summarise what happens during the transition from the current state (i.e. before the change was introduced) to the desired (end) state (i.e. when the benefits are fully realised). My contention was that most project stakeholders expect an almost immediate improvement in performance - the red line in the chart below. However, you have introduced instability and change into a system that (albeit sub-optimally) operated on comfortable and well-established habits. People take time to learn and adapt! So the reality will be that performance falls initially, even when the change is well-planned and executed:

After all, even if you buy a new and much better car, it takes a while to get used to the new controls, features, size and handling. It is inevitable that even the best trained driver would experience a period of reduced performance; perhaps struggling to park or handle curves.

Good Business Change Management

Without any change management whatsoever, the initial dip in performance is likely to be substantial; for example, if the new business process or system functions were very different, but those expected to operate them were given no training at all. This is reflected by the blue curve on the chart.

The job of the change champion is to minimise the initial period of disruption, through awareness-building, training, interventions and reward mechanisms. This is reflected by the green curve on the chart. However, it is also vital to manage stakeholder expectations; so they do not expect immediate, unrealistic performance improvement, bur rather hold their nerve - and support - until the desired state is reached and the benefits realised.

Final Thoughts

It's been a genuine pleasure to see this model picked up by others, over the years, as a simple but useful tool in the change management canon. For example, Richard Badham - Professor of Management at Macquarie Business School in Sydney - recently published a comprehensive new book on change - "Ironies of Organizational Change", featuring the 'J-Curve' model as one of the tools. I look forward to reading it - and seeing, no doubt, how he has improved upon it! In the meantime, I wish you all well with your own change efforts. It's never easy, but always rewarding.

Note: You can still read the Intranet Portal Guide on the Internet Archive & Google Books

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