BPM in the Real World
Software Process Improvement Essentials
Mike Phillips, ExecutiveBrief
David Rico, Software Process Improvement and Technology Consultant, ExecutiveBrief
Many technology company leaders may be overlooking one very effective approach
for optimizing the quality and effectiveness of their solutions and services
-- and improving the company's bottom line. The investment of a little commitment
and patience at the executive level can go a long way toward enhancing a company's
software development process.
There is significant business value in operational improvement. Although this
has been in question for many years, if not decades, you can achieve optimized
operations and improved profitability if you fully explore your available options,
gain buy-in from executives and other stakeholders, and apply the right mix
of quality principle, operational method, and improvement technique for the
Exploring your options
The variety of models and methodologies that can have a profound effect on
business is wider than many organizational leaders realize. Few take the time
to consider all of the suitable options first, simply plugging a system into
place and expecting results.
Exerting some effort into investigating this field -- and keeping an open mind
-- is really the key to accomplishing their objective. You must understand that
there is not one best approach and explore all of your available options before
jumping into a process improvement initiative.
In addition, the models that are implemented often receive little or no revision
to fit the individual needs of the organization, and too often there is not
proper follow-up during the course of a project. The result is teams of engineers
and researchers who are hamstrung by an unwieldy set of guidelines and beset
by low morale. It gives even a successful outcome a bitter image. This can be
prevented with the appropriate consideration and planning at the outset.
The right mix
Once you have explored your options, the first step in approaching a software
process improvement initiative in order to realize the greatest outcome is to
identify the right mix of:
- quality principle
- operational method
- improvement technique
It might be helpful to consider the following analogy: in many cases, it's
not a question of which apple we like better. It's about which apple and which
nuts we like and how we can put them together to make a Waldorf salad.
Blending these elements effectively requires an executive to know not only
how the CMMI principle, Agile method, and Six Sigma technique work, for example,
but how they can work together. They also must consider what viable options
exist that might be a more suitable fit for a particular project.
There is of lot of information out there, but the challenge is uncovering the
good, reliable resources. There are books, seminars, and consultants out there
who can help to show project leaders and executives that there is a light at
the end of the tunnel.
A delicate balance must be struck between recognizing the unique challenges
faced by each department involved in the software development process and keeping
disparate corners of the company within bounds. It is critical for every division
working on the project to be committed to the ideals behind software process
Project leaders can advocate and support joint efforts across the organizational
levels. The executive role in ensuring that all stakeholders are invested in
improvement initiatives is a key element. Another approach that executives can
take to ensure the best possible outcome for these types of projects is laying
out a plan that is long on financial goals but short on technological promises.
Business objectives may well be an excellent place to put in something that
says the company plans to speed its response to the customer, for example. Perhaps,
then, some specific ways for making this happen can be left to the project objectives.
This doesn't mean that customer demands and software process improvement are
mutually exclusive. In fact, it can be quite the contrary, particularly as IT
companies shift their focus.
Part of the challenge for software process improvement professionals lies in
convincing executives that these efforts are worth their time and money. A lot
of people believe that IT has no return investment. This is about to change.
A time of transition
The unprecedented growth and reach of the World Wide Web combined with the
advent of low-cost personal computers has led to a revolution and ever-more
widespread understanding of technology. The money being made online is no happenstance.
We are at the cusp of an important transition. More and more people and businesses
are realizing that information technology can be profitable, and what follows
is acceptance of the fundamentals of software process improvement. As executives
embrace software process improvement, they must use their leadership skills
to properly delegate and effectively regulate the flow of work.
Making systems that are already in place work better, faster, and more efficiently
is an issue of increasing importance across many industries. In our IT community,
we often find that the amount of development done as a community is getting
smaller and smaller
and then you open the door to the every-increasing
challenge of keeping everything running and maintaining satisfied and loyal
About the Authors
As director of special programs at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, Mike Phillips is responsible for leading the CMM Integration workforce in developing, maturing, and deploying the CMMI Product Suite to government and industry organizations.More by Mike Phillips
David Rico is a software process improvement and technology consultant specializing in cost, benefit, and return-on-investment analysis for a variety of government and corporate entities. He has been in the field of computer programming since 1983, serves as an international keynote speaker and lecturer, and is a well-published author.More by David Rico
ExecutiveBrief, the technology management resource for business leaders, offers articles loaded with proven tips, techniques, and action plans that companies can use to better manage people, processes and tools -– the keys to improving their business performance. To learn more, please visit http://www.executivebrief.com.