Releasing Software Developer Superpowers

Article is aimed at anyone looking to gain the edge in their software development team creation or advancement in the digital age. Concepts can be applied outside of sw dev at some level. Open to discussion – views are my own.

UX is not just for Customers

User Experience is an ever growing component of product development, with creating user centric design paradigms to ensure that personalisation and consumer/market fit is achieved. From a development team view, leveraging some of the user experience concepts in how they work can achieve operational efficiency, to accelerate product development. For example, how is the experience for each of the developer personnas in your team? How do their days translate to user stories? Can interviewing the development community lead to creating better features for your development culture?

Build Products not Technology

Super important. Sometimes with developers, there is an over emphasis on the importance of building features, a lot of the time for features sake. By keeping the lens on the value or “job to be done” for the customer in the delivery of a product at all times can ensure you are building what is truly needed by your customer. To do this, select and leverage a series of metrics to measure value for that product, along with keeping your product developent in series, and tightly coupled to your customer experience development.

Leverage PaaS to deliver SaaS

This sounds catching but its becoming the norm. 5 years ago, it took a developer a week of development time to do what you can do in Amazon Web Services or Azure now in minutes. This has led to a paradigm shift, where you being to look at the various platforms and tools that are available to enable the developers to deliver great products to customers. Of course, there will always be custom development apps, but you can help your developers by getting them the right toolkit. There is no point reinventing the wheel when OTS open source components are sitting there, right? Products like Docker and Spring and concepts like DevOps are bringing huge value to organisations, enabling the delivery of software or microservices at enhanced speed. Also, the balance between buying OTS and building custom is a careful decision at product and strategic levels.

“The role of a developer is evolving to one like a top chef, where all the ingredients and tools are available, its just getting the recipe right to deliver beautiful products to your customer.”

Create Lean Ninjas!

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Evolving the cultural mindset of developers and the organisation toward agile development is super important. Having critical mass of development resources, plus defined agile processes to deliver business success  can really reshape how your organisation into one where value creation in a rapid manner can take place. However, its important to perform ethnographical studies on the organisation to assess the culture. This can help decide on which agile frameworks and practices (kanban, scrum, xp etc) can work best to evolve the development life cycle.

Implement the 10% rule

Could be slightly controversial, and can be hard to do. Developers should aim to spend 10% of their time looking at the new. The new technologies, development practices, company direction, conferences, training. Otherwise you will have a siloed mis-skilled pool of superheros with their powers bottled.

However, with lean ninjas and effective agile company wide processes, resources and time can be closely aligned to exact projects and avoid injecting randomness into the development lifecycle. Developers need time to immerse and focus. If you cant do that for them, or continously distract them with mistimed requests – they will leave. If you can enable them 10% is achievable.

Risk Awareness

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We are seeing an evolution in threats to enterprise all over the world, and in a software driven and defined world, getting developers to have security inherent design practices prior to products hitting the market can help protect companies. Moons ago, everything sat on prem. The demands of consumers mean a myriad of cloud deployed services are adding to a complex technology footprint globally. If they know the risk landscape metrics from where they deploy, they can act accordingly. Naturally, lining them up with business leaders on compliance and security can also help on the educational pathway.

Business and Technology Convergence

We are beginning to see not only evolution in development practices –  we are also seeing a new type of convergance (brought about by lean agile and other methods) where business roles and technology roles are converging. We are beginning to see business analysts and UX people directly positioned into development teams to represent the customer and change the mindset. We are seeing technology roles being positioned directly into business services teams like HR and finance. This is impacting culture, wherby the saviness in both directions needs to be embraced and developed.

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Growth Mindset

We mentioned mindset a lot in the article. That because its hugely important. Having the right culture and mindset can make all the difference in team success. As Carol Dweck talks about in her book “Mindset”, you can broadly categorise them into two – growth and fixed. This can be applied in all walks of life, but for team building it can be critical.

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

Creating a team where being on a growth curve and failures are seen as learning can really enable a brilliant culture. As Michaelangelo said “I am still learning”. Especially as we evolve to six generations of developers. How do we ensure we are creating and mentoring the next set of leaders from interns through to experienced people?

Check a Ted talk from Carol here – link.

And most importantly … HAVE FUN!

5 Technology trends to consider right now

As we are a month inside the second half of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the technology trends that are in motion, and will have more of an influence as we enter 2016.

1: SMAC becomes SMACT

Social Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) has existed for a number of years in enterprise applications. Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated as an enabler in technology, and hence will begin to be added to SMAC to create SMACT. I introduced this concept in one of my first posts here. And they need each other to succeed and/or progress. As more and more devices in IoT come online, SMAC demand will increase. And IoT will add value to SMAC, as it will spurn new technology directions that can utilize SMAC. The A in SMAC will be affect more than others, as with new data sets being generated, open data sets available for data multi tenancy will drive new requirements for on demand insights in real time.

2: Co-Creation:

A key tenant of open innovation (which was mentioned in a previous blog here) is co-creation. As companies take a more outside in approach to discovering next business direction, co-creation will be a huge part of this. Whilst its slowly increasing in chatter, co-creation will be key enabler in the coming years. Industry partners, vendors and consumers will create ecosystems that will drive new business models by utilizing analytics, and understanding customers at heightened levels. We have seen how disruptive NetFlix, Uber and Bitcoin have been in the past few years, and it is expected co-creation will also drive further disruption, but in different directions at increased velocity. Ikea’s home tour is a good example of them listening to their consumers to understand the requirements for why they were doing up their homes.

3: Technology and Business Strategy Leadership positions collide

It is expected that there will be a blurring of the lines between technology and classical business positions in companies, and this will result in a series of new positions to drive next generation technology direction. We are seeing that technology and business executives need to be proficient in both areas, and understand the dependencies of the decisions made in either will be crucial. The rise in roles such as Chief Data Architect (CDA), Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and Chief Governance Officer (CGO) has meant that board rooms have increased percentage of technology executives. It is predicted that an organisations Chief Technology Officer (CTO) will create a series of direct reports in the areas of data intelligence, data monetisation, futurism and collaboration strategy. These roles will be necessary to assist the CTO in managing digital disruption.

4: Data Monetization

This is a hot topic right now, and one of the pioneers that is driving a lot of new research in this area is Steve Todd from EMC, along with Dr. Jim Short of the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Whilst you can read extensively on this topic at Steve’s blog, Ill outline some of the considerations that are prominent for your business. The first is the idea of monetisation of your current and future data assets. Data is the new oil, a form of currency that can be used to drive business metamorphosis, but also can be something that is of use to others. So then it becomes a sale-able asset. We have seen first hand where major companies are looking to acquire companies not only for their technology, but their data also (example). Imagine if your store had a considerable data set, I expect major retailers such as amazon would be interested in buying that data-set from you, to understand street shopper trends. Another aspect to consider is valuing data at all stages of your companies cycle from inception, through beta to its growth cycle. An accurate snapshot of your data assets can increase the valuation of your organisation, and is especially useful in acquisition. From an internal company data perspective, a key pillar of your data monetization strategy is the architecture on which your data resides, as numerous data silos across your organisation are generally very difficult to even analyse for valuation. The concept of a business data lake can bring huge advantage here.

5: Search will involve more than Google

Currently, a large proportion of search involves online search for information that resides on servers. However, with the increased influence of IoT and the connected world, it is expected that more that the cloud will indeed be searchable. The billions of edge devices should enter the fray, if the data and security policies continue to be challenged into being more open. Connected cars, homes and mobile devices could widen the net for any search queries. We are seeing the emergence of alpha startups indicating this trend, such as thingful and shodan, which act as search engines for the internet of things.

Ideate! Innovation strategy in your company

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“Innovation is hard. The larger your business, the harder it gets.”

Is the above statement true? Maybe. More importantly, does it have to be true? No it doesn’t.

One of the most common mistakes in large companies in respect to innovation strategy is that when they see themselves as “big”, they need a “big” innovation model to succeed. Consider the life-cycle of a company. First, in startup mode, they are agile by default. They don’t look out past 2/3 months, with many looking at bringing new features to their product so they can secure the next round of funding. Once they grow and mature, and longer term goals become a priority and less financial pressure results, innovation slows down. The longer it does so, the more investment is needed to get it back.

Whilst having a large business means sharing knowledge becomes more of a challenge, there are advantages to size and scale. For one, diversity is a critical component in innovation, and the larger the company, generally the more diverse it is, its how you identify and partner that diverse thinking that can differentiate your innovation strategy. To enable a large organisation to reach its true innovative capacity, there are a number of approaches that can be used to reach it. Some of these are introduced below.

Disruptive Innovation Task Teams

A concept to consider when maintaining your innovation strategy is placing disruptive innovation task teams into your existing business model, whereby they act with limited budget and resources, look no further than 2/3 months out and are agile by nature. The also have a keen eye on not what the customer wants now, but what they will need in the future ( but not too far out 6-12 months). Planting a seed team like this can result in cross pollination with other product teams around it, and this will increase your companies overall ideation. A key component of these teams is to ensure there is diversity present, with both seasoned campaigners that have the business history, along with new generation employees that can bring outside thinking to the table.

Agile. Rinse. Repeat

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One of the first aspects that is critical to success is to introduce agile as a mantra. This isn’t easy in large companies, and this is why an upfront investigation must be performed to assess how you inject it. Unfortunately, agile has been targeted mainly at software development teams, but it can have uses in other business teams, such as finance and human resources. However, it must be adapted to suit. No agile paradigm fits all. And within certain types of projects, if agile is not adjusted, then success becomes difficult (Read Ken Collier’s book on Agile Analytics for any data intelligence readers).

Think Lean

Think fast, learn fast, fail fast. The concept of Lean Startup is now well known, and has huge advantages. Lean startup is a method for developing businesses and products first proposed in 2011 by Eric Ries. Whether in your large organisation or in the start up space, most new ideas/ concepts fail. T he odds are not with you: As new research by Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh shows, 75% of all start-ups fail. A key component of the lean startup philosophy is to favor experimentation over elaborate planning, working with the customer over intuition, and incremental design over big design planning meetings. The aim is to build a minimum viable product, and iterate and pivot on that product. For more on this, check out the website.

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Innovation Identity

Do you know your companies innovation identity? Innovation identity is the intersections between your companies technology, your innovation teams, the market(s),  and other departments of the company. Two main innovation models seem to emerge:

  1. Thriving innovation model means the innovation culture is at the cornerstone of the corporate company; the company develops interactions both across internal departments and with external resources to complete its innovations. Cisco, Sanofi, 3M, Renault, and the open source way of working are championing this model.
  2. Dedicated entity model involves the creation of an autonomous unit pursuing new and uncertain activity lines. Lockheed with its skunk works, At Google for instance, innovation is at the core DNA, which links them to the first model; reversely, as they enable small teams to investigate disruptive innovation in a flexible framework, they are really close to this model
Open Innovation

The identity of innovation has been gradually shaped by multiple interactions between different levels of a company with other external groups/organisations. And not just any type or size of external companies. The people you collaborate with must be suited to the market entry you are trying to achieve. Although they may exist within a market you are trying to enter, sometimes it is key to identify the technology required to enter that market, and even look at university collaboration to fulfill the technology requirements for market penetration.

In the way to define our innovation mantra and strategy,  a look at the 10 facets defined by Jeffrey Philips can also help, positioning where you want to be:

  • open vs closed innovation:
  • skunk works vs broadly participative;
  • suggestive vs directed, incremental vs disruptive (also stretching innovation vs “all included” innovation vs disruptive innovation);
  • centralized vs decentralized;
  • product / service / operations / business model, funding, wisdom of crowd vs defined criteria and experts.
In closing..

Creating and maintaining the innovation strategy at your company is both a challenge and an evolution of not only your company, but also the internal personality and dynamic of the individuals who contribute to it. The direction you take and how you make the journey is down to you.