computing, design, environment, Mobile, philosophy

Beyond Mobile, Part 2: Thriving in the Shattered Future

This article was originally published by InformIT and can be viewed on their site. It is reproduced here with kind permission.

Part 1 of this series examined the explosion of mobile and embedded devices that characterize our future, explored the challenges posed by these changes, and considered a methodology for reliable innovation in this environment and the technology enablers required to support that approach. In part 2, we look at what types of strategies are likely to be effective in this new world.

Visionary Strategies

Once you have a reliable methodology in place for fostering innovation and engaging the market, supported by the technology enablers mentioned in part 1, you are finally ready to start growing and developing visionary strategies to help you capitalize on the emerging world of ambient computing.

The big question becomes, “What should our vision and strategy be?” Unfortunately, there’s no stock answer I can prescribe (though I’ll be happy to help you figure it out), but I do have some pointers toward directions you should be considering.

The growing ubiquity of computing and omnipresent interfaces points to opportunities such as “any customer, anywhere,” and the explosion of profiling data opens up services based on the idea that “we know what you’re about to think.” The key is not what your exact vision is, but how you validate it and course-correct based on that feedback. This in itself is the strategy of rapid product evolution for which part 1 of this article attempted to lay out the foundations.

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computing, design, Mobile, UI

Beyond Mobile, Part 1: Surviving the Shattered Future

This article was originally published by InformIT and can be viewed on their site. It is reproduced here with kind permission.

The world is changing, and we all need to prepare for it. The proliferation of mobile devices we are witnessing right now, and the associated challenges related to creating applications that work across those devices, are just the thin end of the wedge of what the future holds. Cisco predicts that by 2020 each of us will own an average of 6.58 connected devices. People are interacting with organizations and services with an ever more diverse set of technologies, they are doing this in a growing number of contexts, and the data being created is growing exponentially. In two-part series, we’ll look at strategies for not just surviving (part 1), but thriving in and capitalizing on the opportunities provided by our hyper-connected future (part 2).

A Shattered Future

If we look closely at the technology trends, of which mobile is just one part, it becomes clear that we are witnessing a shattering of input and output mechanisms. In the past, interactions with computers have been through fairly narrow channels. The vast majority of inputs have historically been via keyboard, and outputs were predominantly through a single fixed screen. That simple past and the strategies we developed to operate in that world are no longer useful guides to the future. We are witnessing an explosion of channels for interacting with computers. Those channels are no longer tightly coupled to each other, and even the concept of “a computer” is being blown away.

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Agile, coding, computing, visualisation

Dealing with creaky legacy platforms

The following article, written by myself and my colleague, Matt Simons, was published in the December 2010 issue of the Cutter IT Journal and is re-produced here with kind permission. It was also the subject of a talk we delivered in Santa Clara.

The landscape is changing

Since the dawn of the software era, systems have generally followed a lifecycle of develop/operate/replace. For the type of systems our company, ThoughtWorks, specializes in (typically built over the past 10-15 years), organizations expect as much as 5-10 years between significant investments in modernization. And some of the oldest core systems have now reached 40+ years – far longer than the average life-span of most companies today!

IT assets are relatively long-lived largely because modernization often represents a significant investment that doesn’t deliver new business value in a form that is very visible to managers or customers. Therefore organizations put off that investment until the case for change becomes overwhelming. Instead, they extend and modify their increasingly creaky platforms by adding features and making updates to (more or less) meet business needs.

For decades, this tension between investing in modernization versus making incremental enhancements has played out across technology-enabled businesses. Every year some companies take the plunge and modernize a core system or two, while others opt to put yet another layer of lipstick on the pig.
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computing, consulting, lean, productivity

Change your attitude and the process will follow

Adopting a new development methodology is less about process change and more about attitude change. The binder is useful, but the mindset is vital.

Much of my work over the last few years has involved helping organizations “adopt” Agile. It is, after all, a poor, unloved orphan and needs to find a good home. The key to whether the new approach sticks doesn’t seem to be affected by how many checklists, process maps or charts of roles and responsibilities we provide; what matters is whether an organization can adjust their collective and individual attitudes.

There’s a great quote from the 14th Dalai Lama that says:

If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, change your mind.”

Beyond the double meaning of “if you don’t like it, decide to like it” is the more important idea that to change your behaviors you need to change your thoughts.

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build, consulting, lean, philosophy, productivity

Don’t push requirements – pull information

I always struggled to see how what Lean teaches us about pull systems can be applied to software development processes. That was until I had an “Aha!” moment a little while ago helping a client apply lean and agile principles to their delivery process.

The big fat lie

I understand how queuing theory can help identify and reduce bottlenecks in processes and have used finger-charts and kanban-boards to do this for a while, but I still find calling this a “pull system” to be slightly disingenuous. All that’s happening is that more “stuff” is being pushed based on a trigger when certain buckets get too low. This reminds me of my annoyance with early technologies on the web that were touted as being “push” but were really just “repetitive-pull” (but not in a good way). I’ve never seen a software organization where the developers have said to the business or product people “we’ve got nothing to do, can you think up some new projects or features for us please?”.

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coding, computing

Simple code is music to my ears

Have you ever opened up a file of source code and flinched at the complexity that comes screaming out at you from the screen? Well I’m imagining an IDE plugin that could do the screaming for you.

There are many measures of code that are objective and metrics driven, but there are others that are more subjective and taste based. I can’t tell you from a quick glance how many afferent couplings there are in a given piece of code, but I do have an almost immediate sense of how elegant the code is. In my mind elegance is all about solving complex problems with simple solutions. That’s the art rather than the science of computer programming.

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computing, design, environment

Design can change the world

My new favorite t-shirt says “design can change the world”. I got it from a cool little not-for-profit whose cunning designs have a disproportionate impact in solving problems in developing countries.

Their current flagship project, the hippo roller, though not much more than a tough plastic barrel and pulling handle, is beginning to have an immense impact on the role of women in developing societies.

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computing, design, UI

The first bite is with the eye

I think I first heard the phrase “the first bite is with the eye” from a TV chef, but it applies equally to the software creation process as it does to cookery.

A user’s interaction with a piece of software or web site is as much emotional as it is functional. Compare the soft, warm, fuzzy feeling you get when first interacting with a product from 37 Signals, say, to the stomach churning reaction you get when booting up Lotus Notes, for example.

This immediate emotional response will pervade the whole of a user’s long-term impression of a product, imbuing their relationship with whatever feeling was conjured up in those preliminary interactions. They say that in most job interviews the interviewer makes up their mind within the first 5 minutes. The same is equally true for software.

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build, computing, consulting, visualisation

Build Transformation across an Organization

My most recent project was helping a major online retailer to mature their build process as part of a wider effort to improve their IT effectiveness through the injection of development best practices.

When we came onboard manual intervention was needed for any of their builds or deployments to work and so it was rare for more than a couple of builds or deployments to be completed successfully in a day. Now we often have up to 1,000 builds running every day – what’s more the majority of them now pass!

This article looks at a few of the techniques we’ve had to put in place to enable this transformation and what we’ve learnt along the way.

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