Capability Insights Consulting

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Technology Leaders: Improve Software Quality

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 11:17 AM Comments comments (0)

This post is for IT leaders who want to improve the capability of their software quality group.

The article below is all about understanding the people and process involved in testing the software you build, buy and deploy.

The article is on a great web site called Software Quality Connection. Check out the article and the site!

I Think My Software Testing Group Can Be Better

Cheers!

Brenda

Managing Software Requirements

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM Comments comments (0)

As a business leader, you can help your IT supporters to build or buy you the software applications you need to enable your business processes.

You, or the people you designate, need to work through your needs of a software application. Your IT analyst can help you. An important area to consider is how your needs or requirements relate to one another. I recently wrote an articale on the website Sofware Quality Connection that talks about requirements traceability or the relationship between requirements.

Have a read and remember to ask your IT folks how they manage requirements on your behalf.

Requirements Traceability: Why Bother?

Cheers

Brenda

Managing Requirements for Purchased Software

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM Comments comments (0)

No business runs today without software (aka applications). I recently wrote an article on this topic for a great website called Software Quality Connection. Too often business and IT downplay the need for requirements for purchased software.

Check it out!

Requirements: Not Just for Application Projects

IT Productivity Means Change

Posted on August 29, 2010 at 2:09 PM Comments comments (0)

Unlike my regular posts, this one is a link to an article I wrote for Dell and IT Expert Voice. Check it out!

 

Here's the link...

http://lt.dell.com/lt/lt.aspx?CID=57468&LID=1495471&DGC=SM&DGSeg=CBG&DURL=http://content.dell.com/us/en/enterprise/d/large-business/improving-it-productivity.aspx

 

Cheers!

 

Brenda

Technology's Role Part 3

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 12:32 PM Comments comments (0)

The previous two posts (Technology’s Role Part 1, Technology’s Role Part 2) have been exploring the role of technology in building process and people capability. This final post of this series looks at the role of technology in building leadership capability.

 

As with process and people capability, technology plays an enabling role. But that role is not as obvious and is fraught with more risk and is frankly harder to do well. Let me state upfront that technology enablers cannot make a bad leader good or a great leader significantly greater. Yet there is still some magic available when done well.

 

Improved measurement and decision making

 

Leaders must make decisions like the ones below:

 

  • product pricing decisions, product development decisions, product retirement decisions
  • sales target decisions
  • project investment and prioritization decisions
  • decisions on competitive strategies, business models, annual budgets
  • organizational design decisions
  • performance management decisions

A leader’s day is made up of a series of decisions whether they lead a fairly small business unit or an entire global organization.

 

I’d be the very last person to take a certain amount of intuition out of decision making, but decisions that are based on having good metrics and data, properly analyzed and balanced with qualitative factors are better and more consistent decisions. They are defendable and explainable which is a tremendous help when asking people to make changes.

 

Decision support systems through to complex business intelligence systems (BI systems) can help leaders make better and more consistent decisions. They can enable a leader to have exactly the relevant metrics and facts in front of them when needed. They can combine facts and trends and offer analysis far faster than us mere humans. They can weed out the data that is not relevant or not terribly important for certain decisions helping us be more focused in our decision making.

 

The risks are not in the systems or technology itself. In order to be effective as an enabler the technology needs:

  • the organization to have defined the kinds of decisions the leaders need to make
  • the organization to define the metrics and data it needs to capture to aid those decisions and to ensure that the business functions/processes actually capture this data for later use
  • the organization to define the kind of data analysis and trending to be done
  • the organization to equip the leaders with the skills needed to use the metrics, data and data analysis
  • and potentially more around building capability to ensure data integrity and to continually evolve data analysis as the organization evolves

Technology applied incorrectly here can actually make decision making worse, can have leaders buried in too much data and basing their decisions on the wrong information. Even when applied well it can result in leaders relying too heavily on the data and not balancing data with real-world observations of what is happening in their organization and with their customers.

 

In short the organization must embark on some thinking about decisions and decision-making processes in their organization before running down the technology implementation path. In this do and activity based culture we live in, thinking time is often considered a luxury!

 

Summary: Technology and Capability

Technology can and should be used to help build people, process and leadership capability. What matters is how it is applied. Technology is not, nor will it ever be, a silver bullet. Understanding what your organization needs; its goals, its employee skills, its strategies, its products, the decisions that need to be made etc is hard work! That hard work matched with effective use of technology will be rewarding. Anything less than stepping up to that hard work is like taking a cut flower, shoving it in dirt and hoping it takes root. On rare occasions it works, the vast majority of time it looks good for a short time then wilts and dies. Except that technology is typically a lot more expensive than a cut flower!

 

Cheers!

Brenda

Technology's Role (Part 2)

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (1)

In the last post Technology’s Role in Building Capability (Part 1), I talked about the promise of technology that is too often not realized. Specifically I looked at the role technology should play in building process capability. But what about the role of technology in building people capability?

 

Technology’s role in building people capability

 

The possibilities are exciting and astounding. Here’s a story to show just how far technology can go to build people capability...

 

A few years ago I led a team of people looking at advanced learning systems. We completed a number of great projects but one stands out. The learning system was designed to help new insurance sales reps build their skills and confidence in the sales process and in matching the organization’s product to the potential customer’s needs. The system was built on a simulation model, not unlike many computer games today. So, for example, one simulation had the sales rep cold-calling door-to-door. The system has built in video and the rep could choose their “script” at the door and then the potential customer video was tailored to react to reps choice of approach. The result was anything from a slammed door in their face to the opening they needed to enter into the next part of the sales process. In every situation there was performance coaching available – some automatic and some that the rep could call on – to help them learn what they did right or wrong and what they could do better. The system was very popular as it was extremely engaging, very realistic and provided a safe and private learning environment. I can also tell you that it quickly proved to me that I was not cut out for the sales rep role!

Unfortunately technology is often under-utilized or ignored as a people enabler.

 

We use technology to improve processes and functions which typically means we are changing the workflow and skills needed for the people executing the process. Here’s 4 ways technology can be used as an enabler.

 

1. The system supporting the function/process is built with humans in mind.

Whether building a system from scratch or customizing or configuring a purchased application, ensure the workflow embedded in the technology matches what your people are really going to do and how they are really going to do it. Ensure the system reacts well to needed hand-offs, to approval checkpoints, to interruptions that force the users of the system to temporarily abandon their work to deal with another business issue. Ensure the system is designed to allow power users to get around easily while still providing the flow needed for new users as they learn both the system and the business process.

There is a vast body of knowledge available on human-computer interaction, human- centered design and usability engineering; mountains more than this one post could cover! But if you start from the principal that the system must enable the people using it, you will have better results. Also if you start with a clear understanding of how your people are currently working and exactly what workflow needs to change you’ll be better prepared to factor effective workflow design into the enabling technology. See the post Do a Reality Review for more on getting to the truth of the current state.

2. The system has built in performance support.

Imagine your people using a system that helps them learn the new business process, business terminology or business policies simply as part of doing their work; where new hires are provided with what they need to do the job as they do the job. This is not a pipe dream. Technology has never been more able to build in contextual help, integrated learning aids, policy updates and the like. Having this or not is a choice we make as leaders when we embark on improvement projects that involve automation.

3. Technology-based training and education.

Some skills and concepts that employees need to improve their capability are not about the specific skills for a specific process. These may be more general skills like analysis and problem solving, project management concepts, time management or specific technical skills. The range of technology-based online learning available is huge and can be arranged with remarkably low expense.

Of course, not everyone can learn this way and no training whether technology-based or in person has any staying power unless it is treated as a learning process vs. a training event. There needs to be a commitment from the organization and its leaders to help people get access to this training, schedule time for them to take the training and work with them to translate the general learning into specific organizational scenarios where the learning can be applied. In short, technology-based training can and should be a key part of professional development but does not replace the role of the leader as a coach to determine the training needs and help people integrate the new material into their business practices.

4. Simulation training.

This relates back to the story above. This kind of technology driven training is sometimes built into online training as mentioned above or is created for the specific needs of an organization. Clearly much more sophisticated it also often comes with a higher price tag. You would want to focus this level of technology enablement at very complex and high-value processes that typically have a long learning curve.

The last post in this series will look at technology’s role in building leadership capability.

 

Cheers!

Brenda

Technology's Role in Building Capability (Part 1)

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 10:19 AM Comments comments (0)

Having worked inside IT and consulted with many IT and business leaders, I have to state upfront that I am a fan of technology. Some would say I’m borderline geeky! I believe that every organization and most business functions need technology to reach their potential.

  • Manufacturing processes rely on technology; Business processes/functions are often more efficient and effective when people are paired with enabling applications
  • Business Intelligence and analytics applications help leaders make better informed decisions
  • Social media applications help organizations reach out to a broader community for sharing information and recruiting
  • Entrepreneurs can have a business idea, create a corporation online, get a web site set up and be in business inside a week

Technology can create whole new industries and change the fabric of business.

 

But mostly, it doesn’t. Doesn’t improve things as much as expected, doesn’t change the way organizations run and doesn’t live up to the hype.

 

Technology’s role in building process capability

A poorly designed business process automated by technology is just a poorly designed business process that may execute faster. Automating existing processes without a good look at how they can be designed to use fewer resources, produce better products, improve customer service or retention, increase fundraising success etc is just leaving money on the table. You must have a clear picture of the goal of the process and how that goal helps the organization.

 

Technology’s (hardware, software, networks or infrastructure) role is to:

  • Improve the efficiency of the business process – make it easier and yes, faster to execute; to help it cost less for the organization to support
  • Increase the effectiveness of the process - provide the opportunity for that process to create new products or services or to deliver existing ones in new ways; improve the experience of the customer of the process; reduce errors; create more useful data for analysis and product/service improvement

Technology plays an enabling role. A very important role but not the only one. People have to execute the process. Leaders must oversee the process and support the people executing it.

 

When process improvement projects are called technology projects (because they happen to be implementing a new system), they are set up to produce subpar results. If the “project” is just about the technology without considering the people needs and skills and the leadership requirements, the “project” is building a one-legged stool. There is no balance and it will not work well.

 

In the next post I’ll explore technology’s role in building people and leadership capability. As with building process capability there is promise, yet too often it is unrealized.

 

Cheers!

Brenda