Monday, June 23, 2008

System Requirements Review

Completed Systems Requirement Review (SRR) on a big program last week and here are some lessons learned:

1. Know the approvers. You'd think this would be easy, but there are circumstances that complicate this. For example, when deploying a COTS product that will be deployed as a general service, who approves? Don't forget security folks!

2. Get to the approvers a minimum of two weeks ahead of time and review.

3. Leadership will provide an endless list of people that 'need to be involved'. Our SRR had over 30 people! Clearly only about 10% would really add value. Figure out who these people are and focus on them.

4. An SRR is about communicating status, not a review of requirements. Give enough detail so that the audience knows you've been in the details

5. Review the slides with the team at least a week before.

The temptation is to see the SRR as a formality, a box to check, since all the hard work has been done. While that's true to a large extent, it really represents the time from when the requirements are completed to the review - that time period is when you're formally closing with the primary stakeholders, and that's important.


The weather couldn't have been better - clear blue sky, mid 70's, breeze, low humidity. Jonathan had been asking me about fishing so we went on Saturday. Took the canoe to Shackham pond up in the state land. Had to carry the canoe back in, but it was worth it. Had been to the pond since the last time that Jonathan and I had been there fishing in the fall last year. We just puttered around the lake casting. He caught a fish not to long after we started, but then nothing for about an hour. The frogs, you should have heard the frogs! There was a big old bull some place around the pond and when he got going, he sounded like he was everywhere! The other frogs would join in.

We found this one section were we caught a bunch of sunny's, then moved on into a stand of dead trees that stuck out of the water like a bunch of bones. Kept hearing splashing in this area. Brought out the Wayne lure - I call it that because Wayne kept telling me what a great lure it was, 'hey I caught a bass last weekend with this', 'caught a bunch last Saturday', etc. Figured I'd buy one and give it a try. Haven't caught anything with it in 3 years. Well today was the day to break the spell, Jonathan and I started raking in the bass with the Wayne lure! We only kept 2, but it was fun! Cast out and as soon as the lure hit, a bass would pounce on it - wham!

After about an hour it was like someone switched off the fishing and we didn't catch anything more. The sun was intense, but with the breeze and mid 70's it was very nice. Then I looked down - my legs were a pair of lobster tails! Forgot the sun tan lotion. Won't do that again!

What a gift of God this weekend!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Caleb has an interesting job this summer - weeding. The twist is that he's doing this under water! There's a project at Skaneateles Lake to reduce the population of an invasive weed called milfoil. The weed is aggresive and clogs lakes. With Skaneateles being the primary water source for Syracuse, the goal is to cut the weed population as much as possible. His first day on the job, the air temperature was about 48 degrees!! And if you know Skaneateles lake, you'll know it's very cold even in August. Things have warmed up, so he doesn't look as blue as he did!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Personal Pages

I have to laugh! In 1996 when the web was young I had stood up my own web page in the company. At the time, I was working with people all over the country, so giving people information about me and what I was doing was important. I had proposed to the web governance council at the time that we allow anyone to have a personal web page and add those to an existing directory of web resources. The response was swift and strong - no way! People might post inappropriate content! Here, 12 years later, personal pages are a multi-million industry to the point where the current generation feels out of it if they don't have one!

This isn't so much about how these people screwed up, but the dynamic of innovation. How did this happen?

1. A general fear that people will do something wrong, isn't a reason not do it. There will always be people that will do wrong stuff intentionally. Identify the specifics and brainstorm on possible solutions.

2. Ideas don't stand or fall based on their own merits, they typically fall because of the people we 'think' need to approve. This is the hard part - we've got to go find the people that can sponsor an idea, and that usually will not be someone higher in the organization.

3. Know the role of your organization in the overall company. Is your organization responsible for operations, program management, policy, etc.? Probably not the place to start. May want to find an organization whose financial model benefits from innovation.

4. You'd think the IT organization would be the place for IT related innovation. Don't assume that.

I'm still laughing!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Telecommuting & Singing

I've been telecommuting for about a year now since my job only requires a telephone and a network connection. So I'm basically home all day. This, plus the fact that my kids are home schooled, has created some interesting situations. The other day I was on a conference call with a lot of people with the phone on speaker phone mode. The door suddenly bangs open and my #4 kid appears in the room singing, "daddy, Daddy, DADDY, dAddY!!" This results in the mad scramble for the mute button!

I've told them once, I've told them twice....

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Taco

We were at a church retreat this weekend at Vandercamp on the north side of lake Oneida. Close to Syracuse, but far enough away to call an escape. Lake, woods, mountain bike trails, blue sky, rustic lodges - it was nice.

I was standing with Al and asked him how his new vocabulary was coming. Huh? Yea, words like "fiance", "marriage", etc. He laughed. He was getting married this summer, but he was still struggling with the words - too new. There was a 12 year old kid standing with us, he turned and looked at Al and said, "why don't you just call it a taco? Like, you can say you're getting taco'ed or she's my taco. You're okay with the word taco, right?" Al pondered a moment at this very sound bit of advice, "yea, I guess that's easier!"

Friday, June 13, 2008

What are system requirements?

In the defense industry the word requirements means a series of statements that have the word 'shall' in them. These statements are testable, measureable, and specific. This approach has carried over into the IT industry so that those deploying systems have similiar documents with all the 'shall' statements that the system must do.

For the delivery of information systems, this approach sucks. No one, and I mean NO ONE, can take a document with 300 shall statements and understand what the system will do. Did I say no one?

But here's the rub: when it comes to design, development, testing and deployment, shall statements are very helpful. Shall statements are the machine code that makes the information system development process work, so we can't ignore them.

Too many times I see battles between those that work with users to identify requirements with group facilitation techniques, wireframing, etc. and say the systems engineer's won't connect with users due to their stupid requirements documents (and their right). And the systems engineer's say that the facilitators don't provide enough details to adequately develop systems (and their right).

This is the roll of the chief engineer and program manager - make sure both are happening and that what we discover from the user with user centered techniques translates into the machine code that the developers need.

System Requriements

It used to be easy when developing system requirements to identify who signs off. It was the guy that handed you money and said, 'build me one of these'. Many corporations are deploying commercially available software applications (COTS) as a general service, such as Sharepoint, Tomoye, LiveLink, etc. If the corporation is big, then who signs off? It's really important to get this established early on in the requirements development process - everyone seems to want to sign off!

Who is paying the bill? They always have to sign off! But this isn't always easy. Councils and steering committees who usually fund these kinds of efforts are typically the holders of the general vision and won't be able to sign off on specifics.

What is the scope of the work? If the people paying the bill say stand it up as-is, is there budget to get wider adoption? Was that part of the original estimate? You may have to be firm on this and it won't be easy, cause, who doesn't want to get wider input on requirements?

If the budget for the scope of work allows, a no brainer is getting together a steering committe of representatives from the different organizations that will be impacted.

Getting sign off from those who manage the corporation IT security is important. With the heavy emphasis on security these days, they are critical path.

Who is managing the product/service road map? They will need to sign off.

The bottom line is: know the budgeted scope of the activity and identify stakeholders early. Let them know that they will be expected to sign off on requirements.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hot Biathlon

At 95 degrees and 60% humidity, well that's just plain stink'n hot for Syracuse! Given that about a week or two ago it was in the low 50's and rain, it's been quit a change. I was sweating when I got out of the car and I had even put my runn'n shoes on!

The plan was to run a sprint - 5km race with one prone and one standing shoot. And in typical fasion for a Syracuse biathlon race, that was all going to change. With only 8 people showing up for the race and 8 shooting lanes we decided we'd make it a mass start with everyone going off at the same time, shorter loops and four shooting positions, prone-prone-standing-standing. Still a 5km race. I'd never done a mass start summer race, so this was going to be interesting - I'd get to see what impact the shooting had on position. Age range goes from a 12 year old girl, a high school guy, a college guy, and in the over 40 group four guys and 1 woman.

If you suck at something, the great thing is that you'll try things that you wouldn't normally be humble enough to try. So we all lined up and took off - I let the whole mob take the lead knowing that everyone would be all hyped up and ready to go. With the heat and more laps (read: doing the hill more times) I though they can come back to me later when the heat takes it's toll. After the first lap I was last and we came into the range. Then the magic happened - I knocked down four out of five targets! That hardly ever happens, so I must have been doing something right. That immediately picked up four or five places! Two people caught up with me on the second loop - we came into the range again and I got 3 out of 5. I shot four rounds and found I didn't have another one - now either things jamed and I ejected a live round or I hadn't put a fifth round in so I got a bonus penalty loop. Third loop and I'm starting to really feel the heat with my heart rate hitting 188 which is max. I think: it's early in the season, it's stink'n hot, if the HR goes over 190, I'm walking. And walk I did up part of the hill, but still holding position. Now it's time for standing: the sweat is pouring off of me and it's hard to hold the gun cause it's sliding around. The result is 1 out of 4. Not good. Four laps on the penalty loop, but I'm still holding my position. Each lap I'm taking in lots of fluids, but still sweating like a water fall. HR continues to climb. At the end of the fourth lap before the range, I decide to slow way down up a slight hill before the range. Way down - got to get the HR down. This pays off with 3 out of 5. This holds off the two guys behind me and the person in front of me is now within range. On the last lap I try and pull her in - it's funny, she's about 1 penalty lap away from me. Grandually I pull her in, but she's just a little too far ahead when we hit the finish.

So overall I took 6 out of 8, and number 2 out of 4 in my age bracket. 2nd best overall in shooting, which I was really pleased about. Fun day!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Let the Idea Happen Would You?!?

Marshall Goldsmith in his Jan 21, 08 blog posting, makes a very interesting observation: if someone shares an idea with you let them have their idea. "Hey that's a really good idea - you know what should should also do...". As Goldsmith puts it - you may add 5% value to the idea, but the gal that had the idea may have lost 50% of her motivation in execution. This happens in all kinds of ways.

In one large company, in 1997, the idea of people having their own personal web page was brought up to a 'committee' that oversaw the company's intranet. The committee said no way, people might put bad things on their sites. Of course it's now a million dollar industry! In 2007 with the advent of an innovation program at the company, the idea was re-introduced. The idea went to this group of directors and that group special innovation people. After 9 months - yes, 9 months - the idea had become some watered down thing. It's bad when I say you should add thus and such to your idea. It's down right nasty when a committee does that! Who can feel good about an innovation process that takes 9 months (some kid in his garage probably invented myspace in that amount of time) with a committee that changes it. If I can bring down your desire to execute by 50% can you imagine what a committee can do??

What's it all about? My ego. Ego goes into the closet, your idea should go to completion.

Old Propaganda

You ever been in a company office and see a 'propaganda' poster - something like "Quality is Job #1" or "Innovation, Our Crown Jewel"? And how about when those posters have been around for a couple years? Isn't there something pathetic about that - especially for the people that work there? I think those posters are part of our branding effort whether we think it or not and keeping our brand up to date is really important.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

First Summer Biathlon Race

First race of the summer on Saturday and I am sooooooo not ready. Went over and ran the course this past weekend and felt like I was crawling. Work outs have been going well, but feel like it's all up hill, feel like I'm really struggling.

A few things are clicking this summer workout wise. I'm using heart rate more to throttle workouts and mix hard and easy. I'm doing more nordic 'running' - running with poles and simulating ski motion. I'm also getting in roller skiing once per week, which I think will make a big difference. First time out felt my first time - woobly and unbalanced. Gessh, does one or two months do that to a guy???

Very humid here and 90 perdicted for this weekend. First time this year - feels aweful, but I guess that's link people down south complaining about 40 degrees?

Tagging Tagging Tagging

It's all the rage. Tag your blog. Tag your bookmark. It's the new way to find things.

And it's about time! Someone asked me the other day, what makes a good tag? So here's a couple things I came up with.

Tagging is about you finding your stuff. If it makes sense to you, then use it!

Do some research - got to an application like Delicious and search for items similar to what you're looking for. Steal tags! If other people are using it, you should use it.

If a tag appears to be vague, like 'tuesday', pick another tag that puts it into some context, like TV or sports.

More tags, the better. Make a game of it and pick as many as you can in 30 seconds!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Presentations and Email

I site through a LOT of presentations. Distraction is deadly for a presentation - it can come in the form of animated graphics, noises in the room, or if the presentation is given over the phone, poor sound quality. One type of distraction I see a lot is that little window that pops up that says you've got mail - the pop up is used by a lot of MS Outlook users and provides a quick overview of the email: who it's from, couple lines of text from email, etc.

First, very rarely does anyone need to know instantly that they've got email. We can't have great thoughts if we're interupted every 3 minutes by a new email coming in. That's another discussion about email use, but in this case having that little popup appearing during a presentation is very distracting to the people being presented to and the person presented. It communicates to the audience that their second priority and suggests that given the right email, they may be put on hold. Not good.

So the recommendation is first, turn off that pop up - it will ruin your productivity - you'll be glad you did. At the very least, turn it off before a presentation.

Monday, June 02, 2008

This Blog Thing

So time to think about where this blog is going since it hasn't been going anywhere for the past whatever. Started off to talk about biathlon and training, but can only do that for a couple months! I've been blogging at work about professional related stuff, but thinking that may be too narrow. So I'm thinking about blogging on a wider range of stuff. You've been warned!