Tuesday, 28 January 2014

2013 theme park ....

Just before January is out I thought I would do my annual appraisal - just to make sure the 'revival' is on track!

2013 has been a roller coaster year for me on a number of fronts - but just how is the revival going. Well 2013 has been a bit of a milestone on the revival path. I've realised I am not as far off-piste as I thought I was when I started reviving myself. In fact, some bits don't need reviving at all they are revived and operating quite well thank you very much. However, not the bits you normally associate with software engineering!

The one thing that the past year has brought home to me is the pace of change in the industry. Frantic! Managing a business critical project in this constantly changing environment has been an exciting challenge in 2013. It just so happened that I started off the year studying for a 'certificate in complexity' at the Santa Fe Institute. Just out of curiosity, interest, development, not quite sure which. I didn't quite realise how useful this was going to be in understanding some of the issues that went throughout the rest of the year. Its a fantastic course (and book), I have said it before but say it again, thoroughly recommended. Plus its offered free, or was this past year, it was so good though that I donated to the cause anyway!

So complexity, in all its guises, is cropping up everywhere from social networks through to 'big data' and was the No. 1 theme for 2013.

The revival had started off as a wish to get back into some form of programming again. I did have a foray into Fortran a couple of years ago which basically told me not much has changed. This past year though this trail has led to specification and assessment of big-systems architectures. What started of ass an analysis of a requirements set ended up as a full on programme of work to install an asset management system for a large corporate. So a bit of a detour from the original but its a journey that I am very glad I took as it has given me an insight into both process and capabilities at this corporate system level. Something that I would normally have avoided like the plague being a more 'signal processing' guy! Although I didn't have much to offer in the big-systems front, or 'solution architect' front as it is called, I found I did on the process and management side of things. Specifically requirements and 'selection' processes and the management and engagement of teams. If you can codify what it is you are doing then you are half way to being able to explain it and indeed get others engaged in what you are doing.

So, codifying complexity in a process, a necessity to be able to focus development efforts and the team, is the No. 2 theme for 2013.

During this project there were two points throughout the year where there was opportunities to 'get on and do something'. Elements of the system could have been designed and built by the internal business software teams. That is rather than paying someone external to do it of course! However, the governance processes in the business essentially delayed activities to a point where it was then no longer viable to build internally anymore. Don't ask how this happened, safe to say that everyone was pushing for it to happen but the 'engine' couldn't turn fast enough. Which is a real shame, not to mention a costly impact on the business. The not-so-hilarious thing is that the external (big)company who was then employed to do the work suffered exactly the same issue! Blind leading the blind comes to mind. Its endemic - governance processes don't seem to have kept up with either the business environment or the agile working nature needed to service this modern climate.

So agility, not just in software development but also in decision making is the No. 3 theme for 2013.

A final thought relates to systems management - there are 'architects' at all points of the compass with conflicting advice - all very well though through of course. The trick however, is to know what the art of the possible is, and this requires clear business led management. Not IT, not any 'architecture' and not any expert system! It's engaging brain and putting in effort to understand exactly what the business needs and can handle in terms of change. 

So, taking back technical management control of complex projects, not project management or cost management is the No. 4 theme for 2013.

Here's to 2014 then!