Friday, January 19, 2018

Career success in three year cycles

My career seems to go in three year cycles. I've given up trying to determine if this is my unconscious doing or my skills and knowledge lend themselves very well to successful three year project life-cycles. Either way, I'm 35 years into a successful technology career and another three year cycle is coming to an end. And I'm very excited with what is coming! Before I get into the details of the most recent cycle I went back over my past 12 years of blogging to get a sense of my working ebbs and flows, and to confirm my three year cycle theory. The past four, three year cycles also seem to swing from being an employee to working on startups and as a consultant;

My most recent three year cycle has been with Provincial Aerospace (PAL) in St. John's Newfoundland. It has been a fantastic and exhausting three years. If I was to pick a few themes, they would be; team building, shipping software, quality management, and an acquisition. So what do I consider my achievements over the past three years and where do I best give thanks. In giving thanks, I will not be calling people out by name - they know who they are.
  1. Team Alignment
  2. When I joined PAL there was so much raw software engineering power with good team trust and camaraderie that my focus immediately moved from team building and skills development to team alignment and clearing the way for their success. And successful they were! We got to the point where every customer was very satisfied and we had solved some lingering and potentially expensive issues.
    Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to PAL senior management for being patient, keeping the team together, and trusting me to start shipping software. It took some time, we had to clean up some minor releases and complete a significantly complicated major release with a very broad deployment scope.
    • SED Team
    • What is most important here is the team was solid within itself as a software engineering team. They had very good end-to-end practices and audit proof trace-ability. The organization as a whole struggled with getting software out to the production environments due to many factors. Keeping in mind deployment is beyond the responsibility of the software engineering team and we had to deploy into highly secure customer networks in very rugged environments. Once we had a realistic schedule the team held the vision for success and delivered.
      Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to our project manager who is insanely detailed in the best of ways and the team for not only building quality code, but taking on the quality assurance roles for each others work. 
    • Business Intelligence Team
    • Innovation within a strong corporate culture can be hard and an organization will struggle to understand a team with a different rhythm and dance step. And the pressure for the team to align itself back with the corporate rhythm will be ever present and an effort to avoid. If you want innovation you need to allow teams to dance a different step, and allow them to master their new dance. We built a scrum - agile data analytics / business intelligence team from an exceptional group of transactional developers used to a more waterfall type development approach. It took us 12 months (which I consider a short time) to have a performing group of analytics and intelligence developers who ship new data dimensions in a sprint cycle time of 4 - 6 weeks.
      Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to the whole team for deeply embracing the learning toward becoming knowledgeable analytics developers. With the ability to analyse, design, develop, and deploy for multidimensional data from a plethora of different data sources. I want to thank the scrum master for holding the vision toward the value scrum would bring. I want to give thanks to the business intelligence consultant we brought in for the first six months of the project, they did an excellent job of leading by example and transferring the knowledge required to get the team more than started. I again want to give thanks to PAL senior management for being patient, keeping the team together, and trusting that the data dimensions will come and the team would exceed the targeted number of KPI's.

  3. Shipping Software
  4. Shipping software can be really hard or it can be simple and repeatable. Shipping and deploying software has become an understood and well managed process as the practices have built toward Agile approaches and DevOps over the last 10 - 15 years. The time of failed non-deployed projects should be a thing of the past. If its not, you should either; clear house at the senior leadership level or send everyone to upgrade their literacy of how to provide leadership to software and technology development.
    Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to the team leadership who came before me. The use of Microsoft TFS within the SDLC made team alignment really easy. I also want to give thanks to the team for adapting so well to adopting more agile and devops type approaches. I may have cleared the way, but the team did the real work!
    • IDNS 2.x (ADAM8 and SIS)
    • This was an eighteen month project that included many major features within its release scope. The main considerations for the project were;
      1. the schedule restraints [we could NOT go-live to production during iceberg-season (Feb - June)]
      2. the breadth of the feature set we were delivering included;
        • Increased security constraints
        • Service Orientation
        • Directory Integration
        • Content Management
        • Geo-referencing with advanced search
        • Off-shore client deployment
        • Legacy application support
      3. deploying to a new data center and multi-server architecture.
      4. Having two versions run in parallel for an ice-season to allow for comprehensive testing and customer network / security integration.
      Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to everyone involved with this project to hold the vision and getting to finished. We exceeded expectations. I'd also like to give thanks to the IT department for building out the infrastructure, owning the active directory deployment, and being sure we are secure to the levels required by our customers.
    • Business Intelligence - Data Analytics
    • We started to ship software as releases of new data dimensions (or clusters of key performance indicators). Once we had the basic infrastructure in place with the beginnings of the Extract, Cleanse, Transform, and Load (ECTL), data marts and warehouse we moved into using a scrum type approach to ship new dimensions out of each sprint. This worked well as it gave a reasonable velocity to complete a set of deliverables and then have retrospectives for learning. The team shipped 12 cubes with consistent and interval data refresh which took data from three distinct and distributed data sources. The challenge going forward for the team is in assisting the product owners and subject matter experts in leveraging all the cubes into dashboards and analytics.
      Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to the team for putting in the extra effort from being on a steep learning curve and focusing on the delivery of data cubes as our measure for success. I want to recognize the commitment of our senior developer in being a learning machine of the business intelligence and  data analytics subject domain. I want to give thanks for our DBA taking on all the system and database level tasks to make the project a success.

  5. Quality Management
  6. I'm a strong believer that good software quality management (QMS) brings significant business value. The value comes from; being able to ship software on schedule and on budget, more easily integrating new and unexpected features, ease in adding and training new team members into well known process', and the ability to easily address the scrutiny from customers, auditors, and potential investors. Our team regularly exceeded the procedures and practices within our quality management system and much of our success was due to this rigor.
    Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to the PAL director of quality, she saw beyond the business of quality certification and her enthusiasm for quality made us all better. I want to again give thanks to our project manager; her commitment to process, record keeping, and traceability is a thing to behold.
    • Rock solid processes
    • We were fortunate to have developed an end-to-end SDLC process that was reflected in our use of Microsoft TFS. The team was committed to following the process' and we passed all our insanely rigorous ISO audits. We were continuously improving our process' to better suit a more effective and efficient SDLC. We adjusted our QMS to our practices, rather than adjust our practices to our QMS. And our adjustment followed solid change management practices.
      Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to the software engineering groups leadership team for being willing to continuously improve our SDLC as it was reflected within our QMS, and vice-versa. I want to give thanks to the team for following our practices. I want to give thanks to the auditor for providing candid feedback and encouragement to make change within our ISO certification.
    • Traceability
    • Having the ability to see an idea through to working software is an accomplishment. Having evidence of how the idea became working software, from an auditors perspective, is a thing of beauty.
    • Multiple Successful ISO audits 
    • Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to all those who participated in our ISO audits. They can be stressful, but for us we embraced them and used them for our continuous improvement.

  7. An Acquisition
  8. I feel very fortunate to have had an amazing 35 years working within the technology realm. I've written a lot of code, tuned my share of databases, managed a number of talented teams, architected working solutions that are used daily across Canada and around the world, and held leadership roles with amazing peers. I have had my share of working with startups as an employee, shareholder, and outsider performing technical due diligence. My 30 years in the Vancouver technology scene included working with angel investors and VC's to perform technical due diligence to provide them much needed information. During my time at Provincial Aerospace I was asked to again perform technical due diligence for the PAL acquisition of CarteNav. What made this different is it the first time I did it as an employee of the acquiring company. And fortunately I became a member of CarteNav senior team after the acquisition. This allowed me to see firsthand some of the success and challenges that happen during the first 18 months after an acquisition. Such a great professional experience.
    Special Thanks: I want to give thanks to senior management for giving me the opportunity to see an acquisition from the other side. It confirms that acquisitions success are about cultural integration during the months that follow. I also want to give thanks to the top tier consulting firm that confirmed my due diligence findings, and were very focused and gracious. I want to give thanks to the CarteNav leadership team (and all the CarteNav employees) for being so welcoming and working so hard through the challenges that come with any acquisition.
So there you have it, a reasonable summary of the standout themes from my last three years working with Provincial Aerospace. My next adventure begins... more on this to come. Be well...