The Crucible

We recently had the opportunity to interact with groups of Product Managers, Technical leaders and then an Innovation think tank and listen to the targets and points of pain for each. What was of particular interest was that when our team came back together and performed our internal review of the information we had collected we were struck with how our own processing was mirrored and supported by the experiences of each group.

So we wanted to share some of our observations and to talk about the APS internal structure used to accelerate our decision making, The Crucible!

First lets describe the players involved:

The Visionary; The Director/Entrepreneur, they have “The Idea” of how to make the world a better place, and preferably make money doing it! This person is the director of activity and they have the functional blueprint of how that product or project will be delivered. They set the blue sky for the team, while also navigating money and resources.

The Voice of the Customer; The Product Manager, they have the requirement and understand the market for the product or project, they are the empathetic representative for the customer and hold a firm understand of ‘The Problem’ that the team is trying to solve and eventually sell. They keep everything grounded and keep focus on what the customer wants.

The Technocrat; The Technical Lead, a technically skilled elite, they hold “The Plan'“ which sets the architecture for the deliverable. They are engaged in constant research and development looking for the best and most effective answer to the technical challenges.

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The blend of disciplines here allow for some real interrogation of the project at hand, in fact it’s not unusual for each party involved in the Crucible to feel challenged.

It’s this mix of conflicting interests and motivations that can lead to the best innovations and invention to occur, if the conflict is tempered by the third party in each instance, effectively observing and limiting the push and pull to manageable and identifiable targets.

The Visionary and the Customer Voice

Here the focus is Reality, does the idea meet a requirement that could be leverages or made successful? Does the idea stand up to the real world implications of the industries that they are playing in? The question should always be “What problem are we seeking to solve / sell?”

Push too far in either direction and the team can suffer from apathy, where enthusiasm is drained because there is no target to achieve.

The only fix for this is ground the conversation in reality without dismissing ideas that currently appear to be too outlandish. Instituting a back log or internal wiki of some sorts to act as a bucket for these can pay off in a big way and reduce the pressure. In our environment the Technocrat mediates this and manages the systems to capture the blue sky.

The Customer Voice and the Technocrat

When discussing the Capacity of a project we have to consider both the cost and time associated with effort. The Customer Voice should be able to discuss what the Customer will pay for and develop the idea of how much, while the Technocrat must understand at least in ‘gross’ modeling what each Demographic will cost in infrastructure use.

If Capacity is challenged either one side or the other can be forced into ‘Crunch’. Crunch can be recognized by a sense of loss of control over outcome, too much work stacking up in pursuit of vague or loosely defined targets. This problem is huge in Software development in particular, but can be felt in any suitably complex problem solving environment.

The worst of this one is that it will frequently go unidentified until you are sitting square in the middle of it.

To stop the creep towards Crunch, we focus on making our user stories and technical targets as small as possible, if it’s too big or can’t meaningfully be broken down, the Visionary is brought in to prioritize and sometimes take out the knife.

Using automation such as Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) can server to accelerate and sometimes draw attention to the creep before Crunch happens but doesn’t always set off the alarms before hand. We have also worked on adding Continuous Compliance workflow to our automated safety nets with some success, so we can apply specific telemetry to our workflow that indicates pressure building.

The Technocrat and the Visionary

Here we maintain a weather eye on the skills and Capability of the people doing the work for the project, the technology limitations and the money needed to commit and deliver. Resource management in regards to education and finding the right people is something that is shared by everyone in a small business but the framework for this has to be directed in order for a project to have the best chance for success.

If this isn’t done over commitment and under delivery is the biggest risk.

In our case we make sure that we have a good definition of our corporate structure (who is responsible for what and who) and make sure that we keep our position descriptions up to date. The position description should include a Rubric describing how each position can meet and exceed the requirements of the position.

We’ve also found that encouraging our people to get involved with communities and always be looking for educational opportunities is helpful and gives us a better measure of what we can succeed at.

MAKE THE TIME!

The Crucible needs to be engaged with, which can be difficult at times, every party within it can have their ideas challenged and proposals can frequently be sidelined and paused. But this is the strength of having the three influences present, each actively supporting the reinforcement of vision and the definition of new targets.

Hopefully this brief overview has given you some ideas, as always if you’d like to discuss more of the methods we use to support this process don’t hesitate to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter or via the webpage.