Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Making Software Operations Effective, Efficient :: Do Some Executives & Managers See a Gap?

It's an interesting question that often crops up. Executives & Managers are continually looking for ways to improve their operational effectiveness – focusing attention on the P&L, encouraging on the business to hit the year's revenue and profit targets. Yet many overlook the connection to the operational effectiveness of their software teams.

The same issues that impact operational effectiveness impact software teams' effectiveness too;

  • Improving productivity
  • Attracting/retaining customers
  • Hitting "Time-to-market" (TTM)
  • Avoiding unnecessary expense, reducing costs
  • Building a flexible responsive organization

The gap between the two is more apparent in smaller, medium-sized organizations, the so called SMEs. Larger organizations have less of a problem, being much more focused on improving efficiency wherever they can. Here's an example from the oil-giant BP, in a recent Information Week article CIO Dana Deasy describes how he went about transformation their IT Organization making it more effective and efficient. Acknowledged it is a large scale example and not representative of all situations. But it highlights that to achieve operational effectiveness at the business level it is necessary to address the operational effectiveness of software teams too.

For many SME leader's a challenge they face is they don't have access to the same depth of resources and support that organizations like BP enjoy. Leaders in SME s have few resources to turn to. For most the first stop is a Google-search on the internet.

Unfortunately there's not a lot of directly applicable information available. Much information has a strong technical focus, discussing technical aspects of effectiveness and efficiency, rarely making the connection to business results. A couple of representative examples;

  • Mendelt Siebenga on the Agile Software Development blog discusses efficiency and effectiveness from the perspective of Agile practitioners.
  • On MSDN John Meier shares his advice to mentees at Microsoft on being more effective.

The information presented is technically sound in these and many other sources. The problem for executives and managers– it doesn't go far enough, falling short of their particular needs. What's missing? Simply put, the dots aren't connected to business outcomes they need.

In an SME setting it's much easier to see how the dots are connected, and even more so when they're not. So how come it doesn't help executives and managers to answer their questions? There is a gap, a disconnect. To many executives and managers what is presented to them as improving effectiveness, is really about improving efficiency.

In other words, what being effective 'means' to line managers, or practitioners is really 'efficiency' when viewed from the perspective of executives and managers.

So where does this leave those wanting to improve business results by improving the productivity and effectiveness of their software organization? It means that to take your organization to the next level of productivity and effectiveness you need start and understand where the unique disconnects are for your organization.

Identifying what is impacting you and your team's ability to deliver the business outcomes and results that you need. In future posts I'll discuss how to go about dealing with different types of gaps in effectiveness in the list at the top of this post.

Some points worth considering until then. You should reflect if your team has the resources, time, perspective and necessary independence to correctly diagnose the root-cause of the situation. Many teams are too close to the problem, frequently discounting viable solutions, or trying to second-guess what will be a palatable option for the organization, executives and managers. If you consider this a likely scenario, then as an alternative seriously consider bringing in an outside expert who has the skills to help you identify opportunities that may be just around the corner.

Identifying and solving the real problem promptly means reaping the benefits improved software operations effectiveness brings quicker.

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