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Posts Tagged ‘Performance Measures

From Vivek Kundra to Devops and Compounding Interest: Cutter’s Forthcoming Special Issue on Technical Debt

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/152453473/

In a little over a month the Cutter Consortium will publish a special issue of the Cutter IT Journal (CITJ) on Technical Debt. As the guest editor for this issue I had the privilege to set the direction for it and now have early exposure to the latest and greatest in research and field work from the various authors. This short post is intended to share with you some of the more exciting findings you could expect in this issue of the CITJ.

The picture above of the debt clock is a common metaphor that runs through all articles. The various authors are unanimously of the opinion that one must measure his/her technical debt, embed the measurements in the software governance process and relentlessly push hard to reduce technical debt. One can easily extrapolate this common thread to conjecture an initiative by Vivek Kundra to assess technical debt and its ramification at the national level.

Naturally, the specific areas of interest with respect to technical debt vary from one author to another. From the broad spectrum of topics addressed in the journal, I would like to mention two that are quite representative:

  • One of the authors focuses on the difference between the manifestation of technical debt in dev versus its manifestation in devops, reaching the conclusion that the change in context (from dev to devops) makes quite a difference. The author actually doubts that the classical differentiation between “building the right system” and “building the system right” holds in devops.
  • Another author derives formulas for calculating  Recurring Interest and Compounding Interest in technical debt. The author uses these formulas to demonstrate two scenario: Scenario A in which technical debt as % of total product revenue is 12% and Scenario B in which technical debt as % of total product revenue is 280%. The fascinating thing is that this dramatic difference (12% v. 280%) is induced through much smaller variances in the Recurring Interest and the Compounding Interest.

I will blog much more on the subject when the CITJ issue is published in October. In addition, Jim Highsmith and I will discuss the findings of the various authors as part of our joint seminar on the subject in the forthcoming Cutter Summit.

Stay tuned!

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A Devops Case Study

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An outline of my forthcoming Agile 2010 workshop was given in the post “A Recipe for Handling Cultural Conflicts in Devops and Beyond” earlier this week. Here is the case study around which the workshop is structured:

NotHere, Inc. Case Study

NotHere, Inc. is a $500M company based in Jerusalem, Israel. The company developed an eCommerce platform for small to medium retailers. Through a combination of this platform and its hosting data center, NotHere provides online store fronts, shopping carts, order processing, inventory, billing and marketing services to tens of thousands of retailers in a broad spectrum of verticals. For these retailers, NotHere is a one-stop “shopping” for all their online needs. In particular, instead of partnering with multiple companies like Amazon, Ebay, PayPal and Shopzilla, a retailer merely needs to partner with NotHere (who partners with these four companies and many others).

The small to medium retailers that use the good services of NotHere are critically dependent on the availability of its data center. For all practical purposes retailers are (temporarily) dead when the NotHere data center is not available. In recognition of the criticality of this aspect of its IT operations, NotHere invested a lot of effort in maturing its ITIL[i] processes. Its IT department successfully implements the ITIL service support and service delivery functions depicted in the figure below. From an operational perspective, an overall availability level of four nines is consistently attained. The company advertises this availability level as a major market differentiator.

In response to the accelerating pace in its marketplace, NotHere has been quite aggressive and successful in transitioning to Agile in product management, dev and test. Code quality, productivity and time-to-producing-code have been much improved over the past couple of years. The company measures those three metrics (quality, productivity, time-to-producing-code) regularly. The metrics feed into whole-hearted continuous improvement programs in product management, dev and test. They also serve as major components in evaluating the performance of the CTO and of the EVP of marketing.

NotHere has recently been struggling to reconcile velocity in development with availability in IT operations. Numerous attempts to turn speedy code development into fast service delivery have not been successful on two accounts:

  • Technical:  Early attempts to turn Continuous Integration into Continuous Deployment created numerous “hiccups” in both availability and audit.
  • Cultural: Dev is a competence culture; ops is a control culture.

A lot of tension has arisen between dev and ops as a result of the cultural differences compounding the technical differences. The situation deteriorated big time when the “lagging behind” picture below leaked from dev circles to ops.

The CEO of the company is of the opinion NotHere must reach the stage of Delivery over Development. She is not too interested in departmental metrics like the time it takes to develop code or the time it takes to deploy it. From her perspective, overall time-to-delivery (of service to the retailers) is the only meaningful business metric.

To accomplish Delivery over Development, the CEO launched a “Making Cats Work with Dogs[ii]” project. She gave the picture above to the CTO and CIO, making it crystal clear that the picture represents the end-point with respect to the relationship she expects the two of them and their departments to reach. Specifically, the CEO asked the CTO and the CIO to convene their staffs so that each department will:

  • Document its Outmodel (in the sense explored in the “How We Do Things Around Here In Order to Succeed” workshop) of the other department.
  • Compile a list of requirements it would like to put on the other group “to get its act together.”

The CEO also indicated she will convene and chair a meeting between the two departments. In this meeting she would like each department to present its two deliverables (world view of the other department & and the requirements to be put on it) and listen carefully to reflections and reactions from the other department. She expects the meeting will be the first step toward a mutual agreement between the two departments how to speed up overall service delivery.


[i] “Information Technology Infrastructure library – a set of concepts and practices for Information Technology Services Management (ITSM), Information Technology (IT) development and IT operations” [Wikipedia].

[ii] I am indebted to Patrick DeBois for suggesting this title.

© Copyright 2010 Israel Gat

Technical Debt at Cutter

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No, this post is not about technical debt we identified in the software systems used by the Cutter Consortium to drive numerous publications, events and engagements. Rather, it is about various activities carried out at Cutter to enhance the state of the art and make the know-how available to a broad spectrum of IT professionals who can use technical debt engagements to pursue technical and business opportunities.

The recently announced Cutter Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation service is quite unique IMHO:

  1. It is rooted in Agile principles and theory but applicable to any software method.
  2. It combines the passion, empowerment and collaboration of Agile with the rigor of quantified performance measures, process control techniques and strategic portfolio management.
  3. It is focused on enlightened governance through three simple metrics: net present value, cost and technical debt.

Here are some details on our current technical debt activities:

  1. John Heintz joined the Cutter Consortium and will be devoting a significant part of his time to technical debt work. I was privileged and honored to collaborate with colleagues Ken Collier, Jonathon Golden and Chris Sterling in various technical debt engagements. I can’t wait to work with them, John and other Cutter consultants on forthcoming engagements.
  2. John and I will be jointly presenting on the subject Toxic Code in the Agile Roots conference next week. In this presentation we will demonstrate how the hard lesson learned during the sub-prime loans crisis apply to software development. For example, we will be discussing development on margin…
  3. My Executive Report entitled Revolution in Software: Using Technical Debt Techniques to Govern the Software Development Process will be sent to Cutter clients in the late June/early July time-frame. I don’t think I had ever worked so hard on a paper. The best part is it was labor of love….
  4. The main exercise in my Agile 2010 workshop How We Do Things Around Here in Order to Succeed is about applying Agile governance through technical debt techniques across organizations and cultures. Expect a lot of fun in this exercise no matter what your corporate culture might be – Control, Competence, Cultivation or Collaboration.
  5. John and I will be doing a Cutter webinar on Reining in Technical Debt on Thursday, August 19 at 12 noon EDT. Click here for details.
  6. A Cutter IT Journal (CITJ) on the subject of technical debt will be published in the September-October time-frame. I am the guest editor for this issue of the CITJ. We have nine great contributors who will examine technical debt from just about every possible perspective. I doubt that we have the ‘real estate’ for additional contributions, but do drop me a note if you have intriguing ideas about technical debt. I will do my best to incorporate your thoughts with proper attribution in my editorial preamble for this issue of the CITJ.
  7. Jim Highsmith and I will jointly deliver a seminar entitled Technical Debt Assessment: The Science of Software Development Governance in the forthcoming Cutter Summit. This is really a wonderful ‘closing of the loop’ for me: my interest in technical debt was triggered by Jim’s presentation How to Be an Agile Leader in the Agile 2006 conference.

Standing back to reflect on where we are with respect to technical debt at Cutter, I see a lot of things coming nicely together: Agile, technical debt, governance, risk management, devops, etc. I am not certain where the confluence of all these threads, and possibly others, might lead us. However, I already enjoy the adrenaline rush this confluence evokes in me…

Use the Agile Triangle Instead of the Balanced Scorecard

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As the name implies, the Balanced Scorecard strives to strike a balance between various performance measures.  When Financial, CustomerBusiness Processes and Learning and Growth measures are presented together, as in Figure 1 below, the Balanced Scorecard allows managers to view the company from several perspectives at once.

Figure 1 – The Balanced Scorecard (source:  Trump University)

Likewise, the Agile Triangle depicted in Figure 2,  presents in a single “dashboard” the three dimensions critical to Agile performance measurement – Value, Quality and Constraints. Just as in the Balanced Scorecard, it is easy to see imbalances between the three, to respond to them and to restore balance. For example, the tendency to produce more and more lines of code is held in check through the quality metrics.

Figure 2 – The Agile Triangle  (based on Figure 1-3 in Jim Highsmith‘s Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products.)

My recommendation to clients who do Agile as a strategic initiative is to drop the Balanced Scorecard and use the Agile Triangle instead. There is precious little, if any, to be gained by using the two in parallel. As a matter of fact, one could easily interfere with the other.

The Learning and Growth dimension of the Balanced Scorecard, which does not explicitly show in the Agile Triangle, is, of course, important. As part of an Agile initiative I would expect Agile proficiency to be closely observed. However, I would not include it explicitly in a system based on the Agile Triangle. Agile proficiency is not and end to itself. If the outputs and outcomes we measure through the Agile Triangle are unsatisfactory over a prolonged period of time, a close examination of the way Agile is practiced is called for.