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Author Archives: Sameer

About Sameer

http://about.me/bendre

Enterprises – Ignoring users is killing your software adoption!

Published originally on medium on June 12, 2017

If you lead any kind of software delivery team as an executive, manager, leader, or whatever title makes you happy, take a moment to meet your delivery teams and tell them this: “..keep up your work, just remember that whatever you are building, only 25% of it is going to be really used…”

What do you think their reaction will be? In today’s enterprises, it’s a reality. There is a lot of waste: of effort, money, and creativity.

Especially, in large organizations where we have:

  • Removed the involvement of users who really need help to solve their problems
  • Added layers of communication, documentation, and processes to capture their needs, that in turn are handed over to somebody else developing the solution (with little to no context of the problem)

During my first decade in IT, I was very proud of the software solutions I was responsible for: as a developer, business analyst, and project manager. Had I known only a fraction of it made any real difference, it would certainly not have helped my motivation. I have met product owners who have NOT seen, met or had any interaction with the users that they are building the solutions for.

Agile software development tries to address the gap but, in my experience, many organizations fail at it because there is no direct user involvement. Unless the delivery teams meet the real users, they simply cannot relate to what problem the users are facing. If you don’t understand a problem, how can you solve it? Direct interaction with users helps uncovers hidden assumptions, provides the overall big picture and specific context, pains, gains of how their actions impact the business.

At times, the problem doesn’t even need something to be done by the software! Yet, we form layers of communication channels to capture user’s needs, wants and requirements and pass them through multiple teams until it reaches the delivery team — convoluting and diluting the real needs. Some enterprises provide the excuse that their users are too busy to provide inputs to the new effort that will make their lives better. (Where have I heard about it…Oh, wait!)

Picture courtesy: Alalia Lundy

Delivery partner(s) and their teams are often brought in as an afterthought and are handed over deliverables (requirements or user stories) to craft the state of the art software solution, with latest and greatest technologies.

Jeff and Josh mentioned about this problem in their book Lean UX.

From: http://www.leanuxbook.com/ by Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden

In the recent decade, using more and more of lean software development approach, UX (User eXperience) and modern business analysis skills, in conjunction with working side by side with users, taught me a lot.

It starts with empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

We need to empathize with the users, be in their shoes. Ask yourselves, how can a person sitting in a cubicle, who has never been a part of the domain in question, can understand the needs of a user (Example: a bio-technician, a warehouse worker, salesperson etc.) who is using the software in a particular environment?

Empathy is a life skill that everyone in software needs to acquire. Some people are naturally skilled and it, others need to work at it. Understanding users and what they want is a laborious and tough skill, but one worth acquiring. Only by empathy can we create better software that has a higher user adoption rate.

One of my projects was about providing an on the ground sales team access to their data in a convenient format which they could easily update. The customer decided to move off of a commercial off the shelf (COTS) product as it was too cumbersome to use and configure. During the initial discussions of the project, we were told by the customer leadership that they wanted to have a custom built solution to tailor to their user’s needs.

Challenge was, they did not think it was important for us (delivery team) to get to know the users. It took a lot of convincing of the immediate leadership to get us access to users. Once our (User eXperience) UX team did their research and analysis, the same leaders were surprised to find things that they were completely unaware of:

  • The sales reps were not at all using the COTS product and hated it
  • They instead created shadow excel spreadsheets to help themselves track their numbers
  • Each group and every person had their own different versions of it
  • These reps spent lot of time creating and maintaining this data, spent time coordinating with other teams and still had data reporting issues

Once this detailed research was shared with the customer leadership, we saw an immediate change in their attitude and approach. A year after delivering the solution, when I checked in with the IT management we were interfacing with, they were beaming with joy and shared that the delivered solution had a very high adoption rate. The simplicity and usability of the solution had spread throughout the company and that application is one of the most successful deliveries in their company history.

I can cite more examples of success when users were involved early on and failed projects where users were an afterthought. Sometimes the user themselves don’t know what they want!

It is an iterative process, an art to research and explore what the users want. A process of skillfully drawing out assumptions and validating (or invalidating) them using multiple tools in your pocket — continuously throughout the delivery.

In my experience, when we focus on the following:

  • Do we really understand the problem?
  • Does the proposed solution solve the issue?
  • Just don’t take the information on its face value: Challenge and improve their processes, enhance the experience
  • What impact does it have on their lives (and in turn the business they represent)?

In the end, remember that business is engaging with delivery partners to solve a business problem. Business is operated by the users, involve them as early and often as possible.

So next time when you hear in your enterprise projects that “..we will have to work without involving the users directly..”, I hope you will challenge that stance and help initiate the dialogue about why user involvement and input is necessary, beneficial and economical in the long term.

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Posted by on June 22, 2017 in Agile, Business Analysis, UX

 

Organizational agility in practice

Posted originally on Medium on April 15th, 2017

Joseph Flahiff states in his book, “Being agile in a waterfall world”, Agile is about the ability to adapt (to changing circumstances), it is an adjective and not a noun.

For a person, agility could mean — physical agility (someone with a flexible body) or mental agility where they have the ability to learn and adapt to a new skill (language, subject etc.). For a business it is about their ability to respond to changing marketing needs or customer demands.

In the IT industry, this word has been lost it’s meaning. It has become a fashion tag that everyone claims to be associated with. You hear individuals, companies saying, “We are agile, because..

  • We do Daily stand-ups
  • We use Scrum..or any other framework
  • We use JIRA … or any such tool
  • We write User Stories..”

… the list goes on. These statements reveal a lack of understanding of the essence of agility. Such Businesses and enterprises chase the end state without changing their behavior, implement new tools or frameworks, but fail to inspect and adapt. They fail to cater to their customer’s needs — the reason for their existence.

In my nearly two decades of software career, I have experienced many businesses trying to “Go Agile” but in the last 3 years since I joined OutSystems, I have experienced what I can identify as organizational agility. During my tenure here, I have seen the core of OutSystems (the platform) evolve in a dramatic way. I started with platform version 8 and saw the product evolve in multiple increments in just few months — an already robust product, becoming the best and most extraordinary tool I have experienced in the market. It was a great feeling using the latest and greatest product and implementing enterprise grade applications for our customers. In matter of 10 to 12 weeks we completed enterprise grade projects and then tackle the next customer to solve their challenge.

OutSystems Engineering, Product and Leadership teams had a trick up their sleeve. Some of us were unaware of the change brewing. In Paulo Rosado’s words, there was an open heart surgery going on to create OutSystems 10.

It’s not just a new version of the product, but latest version that supports mobile development with offline capabilities — a redesign of a decade plus old product which has improved in increments. A reinvented product that came into being to ease enterprise customers struggling with mobile application development challenges.

Following this incredible change to the product that OutSystems developers around the globe are thrilled about the capabilities OutSystems 10 is providing them! This is a major win for the organization that has always been focused on helping customers succeed. Pivoting to put the customer right in the middle and reorganize the whole organization in the new direction. We have experienced changes and realignment in multiple departments like: Marketing, Sales, People operations, Support, Delivery-Enablement and Training.

This organizational change did not happen as a big bang. It came through a series of experiments with the product, testing those with the participating customers and by following lean-startup principles in an enterprise. The results have been outstanding with stories that make an impact.

If you have ever been through at least a departmental change, you can appreciate the impact of change at an organizational level. It is not an easy task, but at OutSystems various teams welcomed that with open and experimentation mindset, reorganized for the ultimate goal — Customer Success.

There are times when the environment can get cloudy, unstable, negative. But, even with the rapid growth the company has been experiencing, the culture at OutSystems is guided by The Small Book of the Few Big Rules and I personally really appreciate the benefits of such open, safe and supportive environments.

Conclusion

Agility does not come from copying some frameworks, but from people who can lead, a culture that enables to experiment, inspect and adapt.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Agile, Musings

 

Tracks issue on Agile2017 submission form

The reason for this post is simple: I am not sure if there is a way to report discrepancies to Agile Alliance (@agilealliance) on it’s site – especially for the #Agile2017 program.

It is an attempt to collect these issues reported/observed, a running backlog and not any criticism. After all, I am a part of volunteer in #Agile2017 and want to make it the BEST conference ever.

Thanks to Dave Rooney, Chet Hendrickson and conversations on twitter, here’s the comparison:

  1. The tracks listed on the main site (with their definitions), do not match the options available on the proposal submission page.
Track available on main page Is this track available on submissions page?
Agile Companies

 

Yes (Under – Process at Scale)
Agile Foundations

 

No
Audacious Salon

 

No
Coaching & Mentoring

 

Yes (Under – People)
Collaboration Culture & Teams

 

Yes (Under – People)
Customers & Products

 

Yes (Under – Process at Scale)
Development Practices & Craftsmanship

 

Yes (Under – Technical)
DevOps Yes (Under – Technical)
Enterprise Agile Yes (Under – Process at Scale)
Experience Reports Yes (Independent Category)
Leadership Yes (Under – People)
Learning Yes (Under – People)
Project, Program & Portfolio Management

 

Yes (Under – Process at Scale)
Stalwarts

 

No
Testing & Quality

 

Yes (Under – Technical)
The Future of Agile Software Development (IEEE Software)

 

Yes (Under – Miscellaneous)
User Experience

 

Yes (Under – Technical)

In addition to this post, I have used the contact us form on Agile Alliance site to report the issue. Hoping this gets fixed soon.

If you see any such issues, please feel free to share on twitter using #Agile2017 tag, Comment here or @ me!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2016 in Agile, Volunteering

 

Managing professional connection requests

LinkedIn as a product, tool has great uses. HOW one uses it, varies from person to person. That creates an interesting challenge for you if you are a subscriber. When I joined LinkedIn I just wanted it to be a place where my professional career summary is available and there are “recommendations” from people I worked with to provide credibility to my experience & expertise.

LI

LI

In past few years, through my consulting and volunteering activities, I met a LOT of people. Attended classes, training(s), certifications, conferences and then conducted many! Many amazing individuals: sharing and learning. People started to the send me “friend” or “networking” requests and that’s when things started to get out of control.

In the recent past I realized, I have so many connections that I don’t know where I met them or even if I interacted with them or not. So, to take care of the situation, since few months I have started a practice. Here are few points I am following to help me manage the professional networking chaos:

  1. Only accept invitations from people you know or have interacted in some capacity
  2. Ask the person requesting to be connected, what’s the benefit in connecting for BOTH the parties? I’m not on LI to get brownie points for I have 5K+ connections.
  3. Validate if you get a response back
  4. Validate if the connection is beneficial BOTH to them and you!
  5. Ignore the rest

I try to reply back when I log in to individuals about, why should we connect using this format below. Let me know if you think I should make any changes:

“Hello XXXX,

Thank you for your request. Could I kindly request you to help me remember where we have met or interacted? Please accept my apologies for not being able to place our meeting.

What are your expectations from this professional connection we make, that would help both of us in future?

With Best Wishes,
Sameer

I have seen this work pretty nicely so far as genuinely interested people DO write back and admit what they accept. I will continue this process and refine/tune as needed.

What’s your side of the story? Do you get overwhelming requests and what strategy works for you. Share with us!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Personal Kanban

 

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Reflecting

I am not even going to look at how long I haven’t posted. Cause, I know it’s been a long time.

But during that time, I have a LOT to be thankful about. Few of them listed here:

  • I joined an incredible company and happy with the environment, work culture and colleagues. I am valued for what I am and get to work with the brightest minds in technology, project management and business analysis. Coaching & learning at the same time!
  • To the wonderful clients that I have met in the last year: Every experience makes you wiser, stronger, mature.
  • We got our green cards in 2014. It was just 6 year journey, but thankful to all the people who were involved.
  • To my friends, community in Atlanta: Without them, life in the suburbs would be dull.
  • To agile community at large that I have been part of. It’s amazing to see volunteers you worked with, finding you online and connecting so that they can work with you again. It’s an incredible feeling.
  • Last but not the least, to Meghana: For being there to celebrate, for envisioning the goals and make them happen, for sticking to our personal kanban. To the planning that we did that allowed us to – enjoy time with our families, pay off flat in Pune!
  • To the small & big celebrations we do together by traveling internationally. It’s great to learn about other cultures, people and of course the cuisine!

A decade later, I am a better person because of you! Here’s to the next one and many more to come!

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2015 in Musings

 

Distances suck..

There are times in life when you really hate the distance – being away from Parents, especially when they need help and you just can’t be there. The chain reaction of thoughts it starts, takes you back to “What am I doing here?”, “Why can’t we be all together?”…

While growing up, my parents helped me guide through choices that kept me with them until I got my Bachelors in Engineering. Whenever I was sick, had accidents (fractured arm, busted forehead, a complex left arm fracture and an appendectomy..) Mom and Dad have always been by my side. Dad spent nights on uncomfortable beds, drove me around the town to make sure I was able to attend school and tuition’s when my hand was in cast and traveled from Nagpur to Pune for being with me.

Recently, he tore his shoulder muscle – pretty badly. He went through a surgery and has been recuperating fine and attending his physical therapy sessions. Doctors say his recovery is good (definitely a good news) but his shoulder hurts during the exercise sessions.

A surprise call to my Mother-in-Law (one of the most active persons I know), revealed she is down with symptoms of dehydration and sunstroke.

It’s times like these when you just want to be there. Can’t express the feelings in words. Just counting our blessings that they are feeling better than before and recovering.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
Quote

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”

– Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

While the world is trying to comprehend the activities in Newtown, CT about the inhumane incident, the first thought that crossed my mind was about the quote above. Lots of thoughts and emotions surfacing but I will refrain from expressing them.

Prayers and thoughts for everyone affected by this evil act.

“Safety and security..”

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Musings

 

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