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Current business climate

Business is booming, and your people seem happy. Marketing is reporting that sales are at an all-time high this quarter. To meet the forecasts, the firm will have to double the software staff during the next year to handle all the planned upgrades and new project starts. Where the firm will get all these skilled people is a concern, and management is starting to lose sleep over the challenge. Many managers seem to be spending most of their time recruiting. As expected, the firm is also experiencing some turnover because the market for good software people, even in the face of an economic downturn, is hot.

As expected, morale is high. Management has refocused its energy to capturing market share from positioning the company to be acquired. As a result, managers have become more open to investing in process, people, and technology. However, every time they are asked for money, they respond with "I don't understand why you software guys need this." They don't seem to grasp what software people do. As a result of internal pressure, they've started to make limited strategic investments in their software competitive capabilities and capacity. Process improvement is the central theme because CMM Level 4 is believed by many to be a necessary prerequisite for winning future contracts with the government. However, every time you ask for money for process improvement, management asks for additional justification.

The software organization's four-part strategy for improvement is illustrated in Figure 5.3 [Reifer, 1997a]. As already mentioned, process improvement comes first. It is viewed as the central thrust because it provides the organizational framework for the other improvements (tool the process, train people in its tailoring and use, and so on). In parallel, the workforce is being educated and trained according to newly established career paths. The training is aimed at fanning out the process to projects. As the third thrust, open systems and architecture concepts are to be introduced into the business units. These will be the unifying concepts for developing future product lines/families. With architecture comes use of more COTS and increased software reuse. Last, a structure has been developed to enable projects to prioritize and better tap the internal research and development (IR&D) efforts. This will enable the research leads to justify continuance in next year's battle of the budget.

Figure 5.3: Four-Part Improvement Strategy

Let's complete the picture of the current business climate by looking at other factors that management believes directly contribute to software cost, productivity, quality, and staff continuity:

Overall experience The current workforce experience averages over 20 years. The reason for this is staff attrition. During the lean years of the early 1990s, the younger engineers were frustrated as the firm downsized, and many of them left. Jobs were plentiful, and it was easy for them to find positions with other firms who were hungry for talent. Not so for the older troops. Jobs were not so easy to find for them, and they were reluctant to leave because they were vested in the profit-sharing plan.

Staff capabilities and morale Workers are energized and enthusiastic about management's focus on process. They view positively the return to process and management's willingness to invest in them, their environment, and technology. In addition, the positions that were eliminated during the early 1990s have been reinstated, and younger and more dynamic workers are being hired. The newcomers are more open to doing things differently.

Education and training The addition of new workers has opened up a myriad of training opportunities for the entire engineering and management workforce. In-house courses have been created to introduce non-software program managers to software. Seminars are being held in software engineering and other interesting topics. This focus on education and training has created a climate in the organization that views change more favorably.

World-class facilities and environment Managementhasrecentlystarted to invest in better facilities, equipment, and tools for software workers. Managersrecognizethattheyareundercapitalizedandaretryingtoprovide engineerswithpleasantofficesandpowerfulworkstations,networks,and tools.Theyhavejustifiedthisinvestmentintermsof reducingturnover.By creatingaconduciveworkingenvironment,theyhopetoreducethenum-berof peopleleavingforwhattheyperceivetobegreenerpastures.

Technology adoption Internal research and development funds for software technology development have tripled this year. This turnabout resulted after a major client criticized management for not spending enough on software research. Efforts to channel software architecture, smart agent, and network security developments into the product lines were funded. The challenge is finding people to work these projects. The best people always are too busy because they are working the high-visibility, tough projects.

As part of these initiatives, your firm has tasked the process group to develop a game plan for reaching Level 4 by the end of the year. The plan will have to be sold to middle management. As already mentioned, skeptics and critics abound. While upper management is championing the effort, many in the middle are still resistant to yet another process push. They need more convincing. This situation dictates the following seven rules of engagement when the game of Dungeons and Dragons is played for real.

  1. Let the numbers do the talking. Your primary job is to figure out how to get the recalcitrant middle managers into your corner. Because their bosses support the initiative, they will talk the talk. But because of the perceived risks involved, they won't walk the walk. Your job is to get these managers to embrace joint efforts with projects aimed at reaching Level 4. You know these managers relate to numbers. They will support any believable proposal that helps them get the product out the door cheaper, quicker, and better. Your strategy for getting support must be to let the numbers do the talking for you.

  2. Don't assume that program managers understand software. Most of the middle managers don't come from a systems/software background. Most are old-fashioned hardware engineers who grew up during a time when software represented a problem, not a solution. Some were hired from the customer community because they understood the operational aspects of the system. Others were hired right out of college and have been with the firm for 30 to 40 years. When you talk with them, most of them tell you war stories about the good old days when there wasn't any software to worry about. Most of them need to update their knowledge of systems and software because their technical skills are outdated.

  3. Justifications must be made at a project level. Project management is tasked to maximize profit and keep costs to a minimum. In support of these goals, middle managers are ranked and rated on their ability to deliver quality products that satisfy agreed-on requirements on schedule and within budget. They aren't rewarded when they spend money on processes that benefit the firm at large; they receive recognition, promotions, and bonuses when they achieve project goals. To get their support and sponsorship, you must build a bulletproof business case that justifies your proposed investment of time, talent, and energy in terms of project benefits. Even though they care about their peers, they need incentives to motivate them to help others.

  4. You must address past experience, both pro and con. The organization has a lot of history and folklore associated with process improvement. Unfortunately, many managers view previous initiatives negatively. That's because they burned a lot of resources and generated few perceived benefits at the project level. To succeed, you must address this experience as you sell your program. Otherwise, these managers will sabotage your effort and try to steal your funding. To overcome these obstacles, you must convince these critics that your efforts will help them get their jobs done cheaper, quicker, or better. If you can't, your plan is doomed.

  5. Your plan must focus on near-term results. Budgets for initiatives such as process improvement are funded as overhead activities. Such budgets are developed annually. To win funding approval, you must generate near-term results. If you don't, you could lose your funding to competing projects. The budget process starts in June with proposals for both new and continuing programs. Competition for money is keen, and there is never enough money to fund everything that needs to be done. Worthy projects are screened and ranked by business area managers in Sep-tember. Criteria for the final selection and funding revolve around how well you support business area objectives, projects, and new business proposals. If these managers aren't sold on reaching Level 4, you will lose out.

  6. Any software processes must be compatible with your existing management infrastructure. The process initiative establishes the underlying framework that you will use to pursue the remainder of your four-part software improvement strategy. To be accepted, you must make sure that the processes you come up with integrate with and into your firm's existing management infrastructure (organizational structures, decision processes, management reviews, metrics, and so on). Otherwise, the software processes you devise will be perceived as out of sync, and their usefulness will be viewed as marginal. In other words, you can't change the way middle and upper management does its job. Even if the processes it uses are flawed, changing them is outside the scope of your improvement effort.

  7. You must track and demonstrate accomplishment of goals. Because middle managers are goal-directed, you must crisply define your goals, justify them, track them, and celebrate their accomplishment (or note their failure). This is how you will earn respect in your organization. Although setting a goal of reaching Level 4 within two years is enough for seniors, those in the middle expect you to tell them why it is important to their bottom line. They want to know what you expect to achieve inquantitativeterms.Theyalsoexpectyoutotrackandreportprogressanddeliverwhat you promise. If you don't, they will probably recommend using the money allocated for this worthwhile activity elsewhere during the budget process next year.

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