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Entries in Frameworks (3)


The Value of Frameworks

There are two sides to me. There’s the go-to-work-every-day-and-pay-bills guy, and there’s someone longing to be in New Hampshire, where the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” is appealing.

The same is true of frameworks.

I want to be able to do things my way and “slam” things to production. Yet I recognize such anarchy (applied to everyone) will inevitably lead to a very shaky production environment. And when I hear of organizations where it takes longer migrating items to production than to do the development and testing, I want to pull my hair out.

A neatly dressed cable plant is a thing of beauty, readily maintainable:

And left to their own devices, sometimes you’ll end up with this:

So where is the dichotomy?

The issue is frameworks, such as Systems Development Lifecycles (SDLC) or IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), applied indiscriminately, can cripple an organization.

My belief is you have to understand the framework, and then selectively extract those items appropriate for your organization (or an organization of your size.)

For example, ITIL describes a program change management process. Should a two person firm implement the exact same process as a 1200 person development organization? I would submit “no.”

Do I believe changes should be documented, understood, tested, released and verified regardless of the organization’s size? Of course. In the two person firm, a change management meeting can be accomplished over coffee…where a larger firm will need commensurately larger process.

The underlying tenants and directions are always the same…it’s the degree organizations implement items that varies.

As IT consultants, we see many organizations where the nuances of implementing processes are lost. And since processes are living things, they need occasional maintenance.

It’s rare we see an organization truly devoid of process (although undocumented processes, or “local practices,” are more common than one might expect.) We find helping organizations dial in the right degree of process key in “rightsizing” the process to the organization so they receive the benefits without being bogged down in a bureaucratic nightmare is a true value add.

When changing process, it’s important to analyze proposed changes and make sure the root cause is being addressed. We recently got a call from a client concerned their recently enhanced problem/incident process was failing. Quickly, we determined a process “role” went unfulfilled on a single incident. This does not mean the process is bad; to the contrary the process was right and all roles need to be filled.

By rightsizing process, and regularly evaluating effectiveness and appropriateness, we believe organizations can operate with high performance.


… but Macs don’t break

Let me begin by stating I have no bias as to what type of computer people want to use. For me, it’s about people having the right computer to do their jobs and to not have to ask me for support.

With that said, let me share a story of the first day at a new account. A colleague wanted to use his personal Macbook instead of the clients PC. The Macbook had MS Office and could easily connect to the client’s wireless network. The problems all started when the client provided us with a dedicated printer (HP LaserJet) for our use. After downloading drivers, the PC was able to fully able to use the printer while the Mac was unable to connect. This followed with the requirement of MS Project leading to the installation of Windows XP running on the Mac in order to run the application.

What was interesting were the number of people who thought I would be happy about a Mac not being able to perform the functions of a PC. Why do we still feel this way? Unless you are a support organization, what difference does it make?

These feelings stem from corporate PC support organizations. Over 20 years ago corporations began to purchase large numbers of PCs for their employees. Then, one day, someone brought in their Mac from home and wanted to use it in the office. They said it was much more productive for them and we (those providing PC support) were living in the Stone Age. The same thing happened when we selected BlackBerry’s as the corporate standard for PDAs. Within days from the announcement of the iPhone, users were asking why they had to use an antiquated device such as a BlackBerry.

So, why can’t establish desktop/laptop/PDA computing standards that allow multiple devices to be used? Progressive firms are considering allowing employees to “Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT)” to the office. Managing an environment of mixed hardware requires standards, processes, and support training designed to treat problems more in the abstract. The diagnostic process for resolving issues on any platform is the same. The problem is support people don’t follow the process. They tend to be so busy knowing how to solve the technical issue; they lose sight of the problem.

At the same time, I get pretty upset with support personnel who ask me 20 questions in order to understand what I could explain in one sentence. They are following a process in order to deliver a consistent set of information for problem resolution. Maybe I need to be a little more tolerant and practice what I preach.


Plug and Run

I want software to plug and run. Plug and play wastes my time. Too many times I find myself having to play to get things to work.

I recently upgraded the Counterpath softphone software on my Windows 7 PC. The old version (2.5) didn’t uninstall, the settings didn’t come over (even though I accepted the option to do so) and the software couldn’t connect to the PBX server. After emailing the vendor for support for this (paid) product, I have time to shoot off a Curriculotta on the topic since I can’t make or receive phone calls.

This is after spending 40 minutes today getting a “Plug and Play” router to work (a Verizon Novatel “MiFi” device.) In the end, the software had to be installed twice, the promised process to set up an account never appeared, and I had to hunt around to get it to work. Once set up it has worked fine. Technical skills needed to get this to work were 1.5 on a 1 to 5 scale. Why didn’t it work immediately?

And how about McAfee with their most recent virus software update prompting infinite reboots?

After all these years of writing software, why can’t we make it work seamlessly?

I contend we can. Those Apple people have it good. Apple understands most humans don’t want to look under the covers at the bits and bytes. Humans want software to install easily, configure instantly, and work. Apple shows we know how to do this.

Companies need to understand most humans don’t want to do configurations. We want the software to work. We want it to install silently. We don’t want to reboot. If a product needs to be brought down, and back up, then just do it. Don’t involve us in your software upgrade process.

Windows 7 took me 7 hours on the phone with Dell support. My HP 8500 multifunction printer works perfectly on XP, and chokes on Windows 7 (even the Mark Hurd executive escalation group failed at getting it to work.)

iTunes updated on my PC today. It politely asked if I wanted to upgrade, then worked quietly in the background. My iPhone upgrades similarly, although I can’t take out of the cradle during an upgrade. (One could argue Apple takes advantage of their generally silent upgrade process by sending a large number of large updates.)

My Verizon FiOS cable box upgrades silently (I’m normally asleep during the upgrade.)

As professionals and consumers, it’s time we raise the bar on what we produce and accept. Shoddy install and upgrade processes need to be escalated as issues…companies do respond to squeaky wheels, and as a community we can be vocal.

That said, it starts with us. When was the last time you wrote software silently installing or upgrading?

Editors note: 24 hours later and the SoftPhone still is not working. An article on vendor support models (including email support) will appear later!