Category Archives: business

Working Out Loud


It’s time…

I have followed John Stepper and his “Working Out Loud” program for a couple of years now. It makes sense to me.  When I was still working at Deutsche Bank, I was privileged enough to read a pre-release pdf version of his book (the art of Working Out Loud in its purest form — Thanks John!).  I knew he was onto something.

Ever since, I have tried my best to promote the movement but haven’t actually done anything meaningful about it.  Sure, you can talk about it, you can try to support, mention it in passing to your friends etc., even get quite passionate about it after a couple of beers, but all of that is passive and not very fulfilling.

So.. I finally resolved to make the first step.

What happened?

I sat down at my Mac last Saturday morning anticipating the long holiday weekend (Monday Feb 08 was Chinese New Year holiday — a holiday in Manila) and decided to set up a personal website where I could begin to narrate my work. It was surprisingly easy to do.

For the first time in a long time, I actually had fun. The hours melted away as I tweaked the new site.  (I’ll write more about that experience in another post).

After buying the latest Kindle version of John’s book… and rereading it – pretty-much in one session – I logged into and downloaded the Linchpin Toolkit and the latest Circle Guides which I printed on Tuesday afternoon.

By Thursday, after reading through the material, I had chatted to some of the staff at work and identified the members who will form the first “Circle”.  Everybody is “in”.. all twelve meetings are now being scheduled.

And next week, the journey begins.

Stay tuned.

Software Testing


Delivering good news is easy

However, people who test software for a living need to do one thing really well – and that is:

have the uncompromising ability to deliver bad news.

And there are lots of really dedicated folks out there who do just that.  But there are also some who often mean well, but bend to real (or perceived) management pressure and compromise.  A deadline after all, is a deadline!

By “managing the message” – i.e. avoiding red RAG status events – Quality Assurance Managers often lull stakeholders into a false sense of security.  This can result in different types of unsavory scenarios, it does wonders for lowering overall team morale (who more often than not know the real story) and it wastes time and money.

How often have we seen elaborate test strategies degenerate into last-minute scrambling as integration and acceptance-testing cycles shrink and are pushed out to the right due to dirty data, broken functionality and environment issues? It’s a cycle that’s tough to break – but it needs to be broken.

Use The Force

Testing needs to be given the attention and recognition it deserves.  Just because it appears at the end of the food chain doesn’t mean that it’s not vitally important.

Tollgates that restrict movement of functionality from Development to System Integration Testing (SIT) through to Functional and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and final implementation need to be strictly observed and deadlines that inevitably shorten cycle times need to be flexible enough to accommodate doing what is right, not just what is allowed.  On paper it’s all very simple, but in practice it requires conviction, courage and resolve.

Releasing untested code into UAT – or worse into Production – should be avoided. “Conditional Sign-offs” at the end of the day mean very little (as everybody ultimately forgets the conditions and only remembers the sign-off). Once bad code is implemented, operational “workarounds” are inevitable and extra work to plug the holes often prevails. Succeeding releases are delayed while bugs from the earlier release are being rectified and the vicious cycle deepens.

Over time, these workarounds are often baked-in to normal day-to-day operations and are accepted as common practice.  They linger sometimes for years; users work longer hours and overall cost increases.


Once your company has adopted an agreed testing approach and standard terminology, changing the language to suit the level of tested code only leads to confusion. Where I worked, there was no such thing as “Pre-UAT” – the correct terminology was “SIT”. “Functional Acceptance Testing” may as well have been called “Failure Acceptance Testing” because that’s all that was really happening.  Don’t allow any re-branding – this only serves to mask the real issue.

So the next time you see a quantum shift in the project RAG status – have a word with the testing team; check the Traceability Matrix to make sure that all requirements bases are covered and make sure the users are happy with all testing results.  It can save you a lot of money in the long run.

For those interested in the complexities of Software Testing – you should check out the wiki page.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images

Post Implementation Reviews


Note: This post was originally published (by me) on May 22 2014 on Linkedin.  You can navigate to the original post by clicking here.

Where I now work (and in several places past), a Post-Implementation Review (or PIR) is routinely performed by the Program or Project Manager, assisted by PMO, after every reasonably-sized project has been implemented – and then the “Lessons Learned” from that effort are meticulously applied to benefit subsequent projects. At least, that’s the theory…

The PIR process – which is rarely a trivial exercise – typically seeks to identify, document and highlight several things:

  1. Determine “Lessons Learned” – how can future projects benefit from mistakes made or new “best practices” that have been identified as part of the current effort?
  2. Determine whether or not the project was “effectively managed” and was run according to pre-agreed standards (these tend to vary, but invariably follow the same set of precepts).
  3. Determine whether or not project objectives were met and anticipated benefits were ultimately delivered.

“All good stuff” you might think. And it is. But this is where the fun begins.

When the next project is kicked-off, we expect everyone will automatically be familiar with the updated list of “Lessons Learned“, that people will actually fine-tune their future behavior to incorporate the findings and we also assume that the larger problems identified in the PIR will have been addressed as a matter of course.

We are often disappointed.

Ground-hog Day

The problem is, some of the bigger problems identified such as:

  • Data Ownership / Data Issues
  • Language/Taxonomy Issues
  • Environment Availability/Setup Issues
  • Configuration Management
  • Production Support

are more than likely large enough to warrant their own remediation projects if deemed insufficient. These remedial projects rarely happen given the already full “book of work” and so the same problems tend to persist. They wreak the same havoc on project after project – time and money are invariably wasted.

Additionally, recommended behavioral modifications with regard to (for example):

  • Inadequate Planning
  • Discipline regarding Requirements Traceability

which would normally dictate additional training, are often overlooked. A major false-economy in my opinion.

Benefits are also sometimes difficult to gauge when only a 90% solution has been delivered. Hidden work – and hidden costs – plus antiquated systems persisting past their life expectancy – along with tactical workarounds (some manual, some automated) make an accurate benefits assessment subjective at best. Constant flux provides the real challenge.

Are Lessons Really Learned?

From my point of view, collating the “Lessons Learned” is often one of the only objectives that is ever effectively realized and this is where it gets really tragic (and interesting).

Companies spend vast amounts acquiring tremendously powerful knowledge and – despite the recommendations of every Project Management framework – then ignore it when it’s time to actually leverage that knowledge.

Would you, using some extreme examples, attempt to walk/run across the Sahara or swim the Channel without intense preparation, research and training? Not likely. So why do so many Project Managers ignore this crucial first step of discovery?

So – how do we become more effective? How do we really incorporate “Lessons Learned” and break the vicious cycle?

At a minimum, scouring the Firm’s knowledge-base or PIR Repository (assuming you have one) should be the first order of business when embarking upon any new project. If you know what you’re up against, you then at least have a fighting chance. Bake this discipline into your Project Initiation schedule and promise yourself never to short-change the effort.

What do you think? What happens where you work? Please feel free to comment.

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images


17372572-Audit-Assertions-word-cloud-with-data-sheet-background-Stock-VectorNote: This post was originally published (by me) on March 24 2014 on Linkedin.  You can navigate to the original post by clicking here.

I first heard about CEAVOP a year or so ago.

After he had looked through a presentation the team had prepared, my previous manager, an accountant by trade, gave us insight into how he thinks by explaining and then challenging each dimension of the presentation per his CEAVOP ‘method’. I left the meeting having learned something new – always a bonus!

I have been working in Financial Services for many years and as far as I can remember, I had never heard the term up to that point. I was intrigued – so I Googled it and was really surprised to find a relatively small number of results (the search yielded 1110 results at the time of writing this article, with most results not really being that applicable).

In a nutshell, “CEAVOP is an acronym used to represent assertions of a control in financial auditing”. It stands for:

  • Completeness
  • Existence
  • Accuracy
  • Valuation
  • Ownership
  • Presentation

If you think about it, it is not a bad system to apply to most pieces of work. From my point of view, its value is not just limited to audits. For example: It can also be applied to pretty much any document/specification or even a Project Plan:

  • Is the specification/plan Complete?
  • Are all requirements/tasks represented (Existence)?
  • Are all requirements/tasks Accurate?
  • What Value will the initiative add?
  • Has Ownership been determined for all work, risks, issues, dependencies and any next steps?
  • Has everything been adequately and clearly Presented in the specification/plan?

Try it out on your project – think flexibly when using it. Chances are, after challenging your efforts by applying even some of these assertions, you will have created a greater quality product.

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images

Project Planning


Note: This post was originally published (by me) on March 19 2014 on Linkedin.  You can navigate to the original post by clicking here.

So what exactly is Project Planning? From my point of view:

“If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail”

A lot of people learn about creating plans when they are mentored, self-study and/or take Project Management classes or courses. It is an essential element in any Project Management effort and without planning, most projects fail.

I have tried to get to grips with the art of planning for a very long time and it still kicks me in the pants when I least expect it – and for me, planning is an art – and not a science. You can give somebody a laptop and a copy of Microsoft Project – it doesn’t make them a Project Manager or a great planner. Skillful planning requires understanding, practice, persistence and time.

Everyone who has worked with me work knows that I am passionate about having a plan, but few understand what I think is the most important thing about the plan. It isn’t the Microsoft Project ‘Tracking Gantt’ or “Missed Milestones” report that is important. Far from it.

It also isn’t the scope, cost, resource or risk/quality profile although each of those aspects are critically important.

Realistically speaking, the plan is never fixed, it constantly moves, morphs and develops. It changes every day as understanding deepens and it requires almost constant attention if you want to get it even close to “right”.

The real value in any plan is when the people involved in the project sit around a table and understand where exactly they fit into that plan.

When people in the team appreciate the sequencing, what is expected of them and where the dependencies are, the real power of the plan is exposed.

Without this realization, it’s just another piece of paper.

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images