Is micro-strangulation underway within OSS?

Yesterday’s post spoke of how the accumulation of features was limiting us to small, incremental change.

The diagram below re-tells that story:
The increasing percentage of tech debt

You’ve probably noticed that microservices are the big buzz in our industry. They’re perceived as being the big white hope for our future. I have my reservations though.

If you’re at t0 in the chart above, microservices allow for rapid rollout of features, whole small-grid architectures even (in a Lean / MVP world). My reservations stem from the propensity for rapid release of microservices to amplify the accumulation of tech debt (ie the escalation of maintenance and testing in the chart above). They have the potential to take organisations to t0+100 really quickly.

The upside though is that replacement or re-factoring of smaller modules (ie microservices) should be easier than the change-out of monolithic software suites. The one caveat… we have to commit to a culture of subtraction projects being as important as feature releases.

The strangulation of OSS feature releases

The diagram below provides a time-sequence view of how tech-debt accumulation eventually strangles new OSS feature releases unless the drastic measures described are taken.

The increasing percentage of tech debt

At start-up (t0), the system is brand new and has no legacy to maintain, so all effort can be dedicated to delivering new features (or products) as well as testing to ensure control of quality.

But over time (t0 + 10, where 10 is a nominal metric that could be days, years, release cycles, etc), effort is now required to maintain existing functionality / infrastructure. Not only that, but the test load increases. New features need to be tested as well as regression testing done on the legacy because there are now more variants to consider. You’ll notice that less of the effort is now available for adding new features.

The rest of the chart is self-explanatory I hope. Over a longer period of time, so much effort is required just to maintain and assure the status quo that there is almost no time left to add new features. Any new features come with a significant testing and maintenance load.

Many traditional telcos (Mammoths) and their OSS suites have found themselves at t0+100. The legacy is so large and entwined that it’s a massive undertaking to make any pivotal change (the chess-board analogy).

This is where startups and the digital / cloud players have a significant disruptive advantage over the Mammoths. They’re at t0 to t0+10 (if the metric is in years) and can roll out more new features proportionally.

What the chart above doesn’t show is subtraction projects, the effort required to ensure the legacy maintenance load and number of variants (ie testing load) are hacked away at every opportunity. The digital players call this re-factoring and the telcos, well, they don’t really have a name for it because they rarely do it (do they?).

Telcos (and their OSS suites) are like hoarders, starting off with an empty house (t0) and progressively filling it with stuff until they can barely see any carpet for the clutter (t0+100). It generally takes the intervention of an outsider to force a de-cluttering because the hoarder can’t notice a problem.

The risk with the Agile, DevOps, continuous release movement that’s currently underway is that it’s rapidly speeding up the release cadence so we might be near t0 now but we’re going to get to t0+100 far faster than before when release cadences were far slower.

Can we all see that an additional colour MUST be added to the time-series chart above – the colour that represents reductionist effort? I’m so passionate about this that it’s a strong thread running through the arc of my next book (keep an eye out for upcoming posts as I’ll be seeking your help and insights on it in the lead-up to launch).

The biggest moonshot facing OSS today

Moonshot thinking is about making something 10x better. This forces you to throw away the existing assumptions and create something bold and new. Reality will eat into your 10x. At the end of the process it may only be 2x, but that’s still amazing.”
Brian Jansen
‘s Book Summary: “Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World,” by Peter Diamandis & Steven Kotler.

I think the biggest moonshot facing OSS today is the design and implementation of an architecture that allows other moonshots to happen.

Take a moment to reflect on that…

As of today, our OSS tend to be complex, entangled beasts, governed by the chess-board analogy. The entanglement is so profound that we tend to only do small, incremental charges. Moving a single piece on the chess-board takes soooo much planning to avoid negative consequences. lt’s the reason that some of our high-profile OSS probably still contain chunks of code that were written in the 1990’s or 2000’s.

In the world of OSS, the 10x moonshot comes with a risk of delivering -5x not just the 2x mentioned in the quote above.

Having said that, I’m all for a good moonshot project. It might take just one disentanglement moonshot to allow 1000 subsequent moonshots to fire! A disentanglement moonshot like the small-grid approach described here.

Avoiding the OSS honey trap

Regardless of whose estimates you read, OSS is a multi billion industry. However, based on the relatively infrequent signing of new vendor deals, it’s safe to say that only a very small percentage of those billions are ever “in play.”

In other words, OSS tend to be very sticky, in part because they’re so difficult to forklift out and replace. Some vendors play his situation extremely well, with low install costs but with strategies such as “land and expand,” “so sue us” and “that will be a variation.” These honey pots hide the real cost of ownership.

Cloud IT architectures such as containerisation and microservices can provide a level of modularity and instant replaceability between products (ie competition). When combined with a Minimum Viable Product mindset rather than complex, entwining customisations, you can seek to engineer a lower lock-in solution.

The aim is to ensure that products (and vendors) stay in-situ for long periods based on merit (ie partnership strength, functionality, valuable outcomes, mutual benefit, etc) rather than lock-in.

Guns don’t kill OSS

Guns don’t kill people, people do.
Similarly, Technology doesn’t kill OSS projects, people do… Actually people with technology do.

The following shows the escalation of global CAPEX allocated by CSPs over the last thirty years (in current currency).. apart from a few brief years around the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
Global CAPEX

The CAPEX uplift also represents the increase in complexity in the networks and solutions used by CSPs. There are just more technologies in our networks than ever before. If you follow the trendline, we can predict that the challenges caused by increased complexity will be followed by even more investment in technologies that will further increase complexity. Just wait until virtualised networking spend hits its nadir!

And all of that complexity flows downstream to our OSS. The variants are killing us.

This may seem completely stupid to most people in the industry, but the supposed holy grail of ever-faster TTM (Time to Market) may actually be killing us more quickly – a faster TTM means a faster ramp-up of variants flowing down at us.

And our response to the increase in variants? That’s right – more technology – which just happens to add more variants. Did someone say death spiral??? 🙂

But we’re made of sterner stuff. We’re not going to let that happen are we? We’re going to hire Chief Simplification Officers who will wield the Simple Stick across entire CSP organisations (not just Operations) and institute massive complexity reduction projects.

Big circle. Little circle. Crossing the red line

Data quality is the bane of many a telco. If the data quality is rubbish then the OSS tools effectively become rubbish too.

Feedback loops are one of the most underutilised tools in a data fix arsenal. However, few people realise that there are what I call big circle feedback loops as well as little circles.

The little circle is using feedback in data alone, using data to compare and reconcile other data. That can produce good results, but it’s only part of the story. Many data challenges extend further than that if you’re seeking a resolution.

The big circle is designing feedback loops that incorporate data quality into end-to-end processes, which includes the field-work part of the process.

Redline markups have been the traditional mechanism to get feedback from the field back into improving OSS data. For example, if designers issue a design pack out to field techs that prove to be incorrect, then techs return the design with redline markups to show what they’ve implemented in the field instead.

With mobile technology and the right software tools, field workers could directly update data. Unfortunately this model doesn’t seem to fit into practices that have been around for decades.

There remain great opportunities to improve the efficiency of big circle feedback loops. They probably need a new way of thinking, but still need to fit into the existing context of field workers.

An uncommon list of OSS books

Since reading the first book on this list, I’ve become a very avid and wide-ranging reader. The seeds sown by the book list below have immensely helped enrich the content you see here on the PAOSS blog and other PAOSS content.

You’ll begin to notice a very curious thing about this list though. There are only two books in the entire list that are actually about OSS. I have many OSS books in my library, but most struggle for relevance beyond the author’s frame of reference – they have been written from the specific technical experiences of the author, which are rarely transferable to other OSS. Either the technologies are now out of date and/or the details / terminologies were pertinent only to that OSS time and place. It’s one of the reasons that PAOSS content is specifically intended to abstract from technology and deliver insights, methodologies, processes and frameworks that have a broader relevance and greater longevity (hopefully).

The remaining books in the list have not been written with OSS in mind but definitely provide insights and perspectives that are transferable to the challenges we face in the OSS industry. In no particular order (except the first being the first…)

Rich Dad, Poor DadRich Dad, Poor Dad
by Sharon L. Lechter Robert T. Kiyosaki
This was the book that changed it all for me. Whilst its intent is to educate on personal finance, the effect it had was to lift my eyes beyond the purely technical. Like 95%+ of people in our industry, I had previously only ever focused on delivering the best technical solution I could with the assumption that this would deliver a great customer outcome. I now know that the challenges we face are far  bigger than that!
Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's SuccessInsanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
by Ken Segall
The greatest OSS (but non-OSS) book I’ve read. The first half of this book in particular delivers powerful examples of simplification at all levels of an organisation as experienced by an advertising executive working alongside Steve Jobs at Apple. The OSS and communications industry need more people who are able to wield the simple stick like Steve did.
ReworkRework
by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
These gentlemen have built a strong business around the Basecamp project management suite of tools. In Rework, just like their blog at 37signals, they provide brilliant contrarian insights into how to run a software business… Or any business for that matter. Efficiency and simplicity are the mantra ahead of the Red-Bull fuelled heroics spouted by many organisations in the software industry. One of my all-time favourite business books.
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
by Guy Kawasaki
Guy defines enchantment as, “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organisation or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” If there was ever an industry that was in need of enchantment, it is the OSS industry right now.
Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About BusinessRain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business
by Jeffrey J. Fox
An easy to digest story about a boy with a paper-route learning the key tenets of rainmaking, the ability to delight customers and make sales (and projects) happen.
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any AudienceThe Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
by Carmine Gallo
There are two acronyms that pervade in the OSS / telco / tech industry; DBA (Death by Acronym) and DBP (Death by Powerpoint). This book provides some stunning insights into how to make a compelling presentation on your latest OSS project.
Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your IndustryKilling Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry
by Stephen Denny
There are a number of goliath incumbents in our industry. However, I suspect that most of the required disruption is coming from the Davids of our industry, despite the burning platforms at the goliaths. Interesting reading for a different perspective on innovation and change.
Jack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEOJack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEO
by Robert Slater
This book describes a number of key strategies for how Jack Welch pared back the weighty bureaucracy of General Electric upon his ascension to CEO. I suspect our industry needs similarly brutal change leadership to thrive into the future
The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control CostsThe Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs
by Bill Price, David Jaffe
There is a distinct difference between the customer service models of the typical communications service provider (CSP) and digital service providers (DSP) like Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. Most CSPs can only wish for the level of customer self-service that the DSPs enjoy. I was working on a project for a customer-facing business unit of a CSP whilst reading this book and the parallels were almost scary.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Think: Less but better. A motto for our industry, one individual at a time.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of EntrepreneurAnything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers was a professional musician before starting his own business, one that helped sell the CDs of the long tail of the music industry, musicians overlooked by the big labels. This might sound barely relevant to the OSS industry but there is an uncommon clarity in the way that Sivers views businesses, customers and delivery. Many of his thoughts really struck a chord with me (bad pun intended).
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
by David Robertson, Bill Breen
Bespoke creativity took this icon of childrens’ toys to the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps counter-intuitively, paring it back to the basic building blocks (another bad pun) allowed creativity and profitability to thrive at Lego.
Principles: Life and WorkPrinciples: Life and Work
by Ray Dalio
Built around the principles that Ray Dalio codified at his company, Bridgewater Associates. Many of his principles of team and culture seem like common sense, but helpfully compiled into a single volume. Not all OSS teams have these principles mastered.
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition IrrelevantBlue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
This book provides frameworks for shifting an organisation out of fragmented, highly competitive markets (bloody red oceans) into a unique market segment (blue oceans). I’ve even added some of the concepts in this book into a framework that helps my clients plot differentiated strategic roadmaps and product evaluations.
Leading ChangeLeading Change
by John P. Kotter
OSS projects are challenging to implement. Through harsh experience, I’ve learnt that even technically perfect implementations are prone to fail if the organisational change effort hasn’t been managed well. Whilst there are newer change management methodologies available, I still find that Kotter’s 8 steps provide a valuable framework for building OSS change management strategies around.
Everything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every TimeEverything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time
by Gavin Kennedy
Introduces some fascinating negotiation tactics such as “The Mother Hubbard” (ie the cupboard is bare). There is more negotiation required in OSS than I first gave it credit for.
Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into SalesEndless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales
by Bob Burg
In the early days of my career, I’d gone from one project to the next, with my head down focusing on delivery. This book opened my eyes to the value of staying in touch with past colleagues and adding value to my network. The results have surprised me so I recommend this book’s teachings to anyone who is purely tech-focused.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American InnovationThe Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner
Put simply, this is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in relation to the communications industry. The groundbreaking innovations (including OSS) that were developed within R&D powerhouses like Bell Labs during the 1900’s are staggering and something that we can barely even aspire to today. It’s no coincidence that the OSS Call for Innovation references this book
nullLinchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
A call to action to become a linchpin, someone who delivers in territory where there is no map / rule-book, someone who inspires those around them. OSS needs more linchpins.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
The term “stickiness” was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.” This book borrows the term and looks to explain why an idea or concept remains sticky. OSS tend to be so sticky, in many cases to the detriment of the customer experience, but our industry is also in desperate need for powerfully sticky new ideas and approaches.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About ItThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
by Michael E. Gerber
The ideas in this book are based on growing small businesses, but there are certainly take-aways for OSS. The biggest for me is the need for repeatability. We need to codify and systematise if we are to refine and improve.
Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being RemarkablePurple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
by Seth Godin
In a cluttered or fragmented marketplace, like OSS, it is difficult to stand out from all other suppliers. Seth Godin introduces the concept of the purple cow – when you’re on a long trip in the countryside, seeing lots of brown or black cows soon gets boring, but if you saw a purple cow, you’d immediately take notice. This book provides the impetus to make your products stand out and drive word of mouth rather than having to differentiate via your marketing.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
From the creative brilliance of Pixar Studios comes this book of how to cultivate inspired creativity. My biggest take-away was the amount of time and money Pixar spends on upgrading its hardware and software platforms between films…. unlike some of our OSS that are still rooted in tech from the 1990s.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New RichThe 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss
Starts off strongly but drops away rapidly in the second half IMHO. The words of a friend of mine aptly paraphrase what Tim Ferris talks about in this book, “Only do what only you can do.” Prioritise your efforts on what make you truly unique and use other efficiency tools and/or engage others to do the rest
OSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service ProvidersOSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service Providers
by Kornel Terplan
Finally, a book that’s actually about OSS. Whilst covering some obsolete technologies, this is one of the very few OSS books that retains a longevity of relevance (it was published in 2001)
Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth EditionMillion Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth Edition
by Alan Weiss
Alan Weiss has the ability to cut through the waffle that’s offered in many consultancy how-to manuals. He provides insightful and often contrarian advice that will make you a more professional consultant, no matter what area of expertise you cover.
Mastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and TechniquesMastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and Techniques
by Ryan Jeffery
This is the best OSS book that I’ve written (so far), but with new material in the pipeline, watch this space for even better publications. It provides the frameworks, processes, insights and recommendations that will help guide you through the myriad of challenges, technical or otherwise, that you will face in the world of OSS.
Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of AllPower Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All
by Bernard T. Ferrari
Bernard Ferrari advises the use of the Pareto Principle to listening. In other words, spending 80% of the time listening and only 20% talking. It’s such an important trait for all technical resources, yet perhaps somewhat uncommon unfortunately. As the “hired gun,” there is a tendency to start firing from both barrels verbally as soon as you meet with the customer. But the most insightful insights are the ones that are understandable to the customer. They have to be relevant in terminology, desired outcomes, roles/responsibilities, respective capabilities, etc, etc. You only get that context from Power Listening.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable WorldThe Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World
by Frans Johansson
Johansson also introduces the concept of the “smallest executable step” as a mechanism for harnessing the apparent randomness of our modern, rapidly changing world. He suggests that we make many small bets rather than one massive bet as a means of improving success rates. OSS are complex systems so any small deviation makes predictions of completion time, resources and cost difficult. As implementers, it’s our job to remove as much complexity as possible
 Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century LeaderHarder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader
by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan
More than anything else, one paragraph has stuck with me from this guide to project change leadership, “….once you start a company transformation, it’s like a stampede. If you try to lead from the front, you get trampled; if you try to lead from the back, you have no impact. Best to lead from the side by carefully nudging and turning the stampede to avoid everyone going over the cliff.”
Waging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational ComplexityWaging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational Complexity
by Stephen A. Wilson, Andrei Perumal.
Amongst other things, this book introduces the concept of The Whale Curve, a model that breaks products into the profitable or the cannibalistic.
Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic OrderCryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order
by Paul Vigna, Michael J. Casey
You may (or may not) be interested in cryptocurrencies right now, but this book provides brilliant context for two concepts that are likely to have a big impact on future OSS – blockchains and smart contracts.

What have I missed? What should I be adding to my reading list? Alternatively, which books on the list do you think I’ve over-rated?

The OSS cosmetic surgery analogy

I love the fact that we’re constantly seeking incremental improvements for our OSS. However, cumulative OSS changes can be a double-edged sword, just as they can be in the cosmetic surgery industry. In both cases, these well intentioned changes can distort as readily as they can improve.


Photo-collage courtesy of DailyMail.co.uk.

I’ve seen OSS go from being open, intuitive, adaptable and flexible tools to being so customised for a single client purpose that they need additional reconstructive work for even the tiniest change (eg process revision, network configuration / topology type, new card type in an existing device, etc).

Embarking on a course of incremental customisation, such as an Agile methodology, can become dangerous without careful consideration. Be vigilant of where your changes might be guiding you.

The alchemy of OSS

Alchemy is the ancient practice of trying to turn lead into gold… alchemy was an art based partly upon experimentation and partly upon magic.”
Benjamin Radford
here on Live Science.

The definition of alchemy is, “part science, part art,” according to Geoff Leong. To William Whewell, “In general, art has preceded science. Men have executed great, and curious, and beautiful works before they had a scientific insight into the principles on which the success of their labours was founded. There were good artificers in brass and iron before the principles of the chemistry of metals were known; there was wine among men before there was a philosophy of vinous fermentation… Art was the mother of Science.”

In OSS, we have the science / experimentation part well covered. Indeed, we have great creativity in science / experimentation.

But are we lavished with the curiosity, the art or the magic (apart from the “magic” within some OSS product slide-decks)? Who are our Michaelangelos, Ben Franklins, Steve Jobs, et al – those who are preceding OSS science with art?

Simple question – Do you have any in your organisation?

Do you, like me, feel that we need art and magic to be the instigators of The Call for OSS Innovation?

This is NEVER going to happen

Have you noticed all the recent headlines about the big, iconic brands in our industry struggling to make targets, cutting headcounts, etc.? This covers vendors and service providers alike.

As a complete generalisation:

  • Vendors are going backwards
  • Traditional CSPs are going backwards
  • Profit decline means projects and investments in OSS can only be trending downwards too

We know it’s a burning platform. We know that the current arc isn’t working. We know that change isn’t just an option, but a necessity.

Given this environment, today I’ll talk about an idea that will never happen, but I’d love to imagine just for the purpose of experimentation – to see whether it would disrupt in a positive way or just cause destruction.

The one big impetus we need is increasing eyeballs on a smaller number of OSS (ie decreasing fragmentation) – a critical mass of eyeballs on a smaller number of code bases. That means all the big, but flailing OSS vendors throw their code over to an independent arbiter to make a unified, powerful core product suite that then becomes open-sourced.

The core manages inventory, alarms, performance, workflows, service ordering, provisioning, security, scalability, APIs and all the other elements of a foundational OSS.

The vendors can then just innovate and differentiate with add-ins and services and content since there’s currently marginal differentiation in the core anyway (ie everyone has the “entry” functionality).

What are your completely contrarian ideas that will never happen but you’d like to trial just to see the outcomes?

Lighting the fire under OSS

Forcing people to follow new rules is always an uphill battle, but getting them to buy into a concept to the point where they start contributing their own ideas can literally create a movement within an organisation.”
Ken Segall
.

I’ve really diverted away from direct discussions about OSS in a couple of recent posts about influence, persuasion and change. However, as the link suggests, I recently had a late-onset epiphany in relation to what’s needed to take OSS forward. I’ll give you a hint – it’s not OSS technology change per se.

The recent Call for Innovation has sparked significant direct feedback and a large up-tick in traffic here on PAOSS. This interactivity says that there’s a significant latent appetite for drastic change in our industry.

We’re all really busy, mostly on implementations, so its not change we’re lacking. It’s a lack of fundamental change. Big picture change. The type of change that takes significant collaborative effort, but a correspondingly massive mindset shift of the collective.

That’s the challenge that I’m now grappling with. How do we take the leap from being an implementer of incremental change to sparking something much bigger? It’s also a realisation that the skillsets are different to what most of us in OSS tend to try to develop.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and words / experiences of inspiration.

One link in an OSS chain reaction

Have you ever experienced an event where you realised that you’d spent the previous 10+ years doing something wrong (or at least incomplete)?

I had one such experience last Friday during a presentation by Roger Gibson, a Partner at Infosys Consulting.

Now you all know that I’m a passionate spruiker of change management on OSS projects, mainly because one of the biggest reasons for OSS failure is the lack of CM. You may’ve even noticed a recent article here on PAOSS relating to the techniques we can use to influence change.

My entirely random guess is that about 95% of people in OSS focus primarily on the technical aspects of what’s being implemented, leaving only 5% who’ve grasped the significance of influencing change. My lightbulb moment on Friday came in realising that there’s actually also a 1% group (to be honest, it’s probably far less than 1%).

As an external consultant on most projects, I’ve generally figured that client representatives have far greater tenure and more ability to influence change within their organisation than me. My modus operandi has been to create change strategies and persuade the project team (plus key stakeholders) to start change initiatives as early as possible.

In effect, I’ve been delegating change responsibility. l now realise that’s not going far enough. It is MY responsibility to light the fire under every project I work on – to initiate the chain reaction.

Do you agree that it’s also YOUR responsibility to light the fire under every project you work on?
To quote Wayne Dyer, “It’s never crowded along the extra mile.”

The colour palette analogy of OSS

Let’s say you act for a service provider and the diagram below represents the number of variations you could offer to customers – the number that are technically supported by your solution.
13,824,000 Colours
That’s 13,824,000 colours.

By comparison, the following diagram contains just 20 colours:
20 Colours

If I asked you what colours are in the upper diagram, would you say red, orange, yellow, green, blue, etc? Is it roughly the same response as to the lower diagram?

If you’re the customer, and know you want an “orange*” product, will you be able to easily identify between the many thousands of different orange hues available in the upper diagram? Would you be disenfranchised if you were only offered the two orange hues in the lower diagram instead of thousands? Or might you even be relieved to have a much easier decision to make?

The analogy here to OSS is that just because our solutions can support millions of variants, doesn’t mean we should. If our OSS try to offer millions of variants, it means we have to design, then build, then test, then post-sale support millions of variants.

However, in reality, we can’t provide 100% coverage across so many variants – we aren’t able to sufficiently design, then build, then test, then post-sale support every one of the millions of variants. We end up overlooking some or accept risk on some or estimate a test spread that bypasses others. We’ve effectively opened the door to fall-outs.

And it’s fall-outs that tend to create larger customer dissatisfaction metrics than limited colour palettes.

Just curious – if you’ve delivered OSS into large service providers, have you ever seen evidence of palette analysis (ie variant reduction analysis) across domains (ie products, marketing, networks, digital, IT, field-work, etc)?

Alternatively, have you ever pushed back on decisions made upstream to say you’ll only support a smaller sub-set of options? This doesn’t seem to happen very often.

* When I’m talking about colours, I’m using the term figuratively, not necessarily the hues on a particular handset being sold through a service provider.

Linus’s Law of OSS defects

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
Eric S. Raymond
, whose quote is now known as Linus’ Law in honour of Linus Torvalds.

In other words, if you have enough people looking at the code, someone will surely categorise the problem and then the community will also figure out a way to solve it.

The fragmentation of the OSS industry means that OSS eyeballs are spread across thousands of code bases. Based on the inverse of Linus’ Law, there’s an implication that OSS bugs are deep. In fact, there are so many defects and/or enhancements waiting to be resolved across our industry that only the highest priority tickets tend to get any eyeballs at all.

The open-source revolution has ensured that the code of the most important applications (I use the word “important” figuratively) get lots of eyeballs. It’s one of the reasons that I believe the next OSS revolution will come about when an open-source OSS (an OSS OSS??) starts getting a critical mass of eyeballs. That OSS OSS just needs to be compelling enough to draw the eyeballs to it.

This is one of the pillars in the Call for Innovation that will be released here on PAOSS shortly.

Do we actually need less intellectual giants?

Have you ever noticed that almost every person who works in OSS is extremely clever?
No?

They may not know the stuff that you know or even talk in the same terminologies that you and your peers use, but chances are they also know lots of stuff that you don’t.

OSS sets a very high bar. I’ve been lucky enough to cross into many different industries as a consultant. I’d have to say that there are more geniuses per capita in OSS than in any other industry / sector I’ve worked in.

So why then are so many of our OSS a shambles?

Is it groupthink? Do we need more diversity of thinking? Do we actually need less intellectual giants to create pragmatic, mere-mortal solutions?

Our current approach appears to be flawed. Perhaps Project Platypus gives us on alternate framework?

Actually, I don’t think we need less intellectual giants. But I do think we need our intellectual giants to have a greater diversity of experiences.

The OSS Think Big juxtaposition

I recently saw the advertisement below:

I’ve clipped only the last 10 seconds because that was the part that struck me. The ad is for BHP*, one of the world’s largest miners. The mining industry thinks in long-term projects because it takes many years to deliver results – for exploration, planning, approvals, for the infrastructure to be built and operationalised, etc.

Mining is “only” the process of pulling natural resources out of the ground, but despite all our complexities, mining projects tend to be far more complex than for OSS. The decade-long duration of projects means that technologies that were originally included in plans frequently become obsolete mid-flight and have to be re-planned. That means major contracts also need to be obsoleted and re-planned mid-flight. Work-force management has a completely different scale than for OSS.

Mining thinks in time-frames of decades. OSS transformations are planned in time-frames of years. OSS delivery, especially Agile deliveries, often only think in quarters (or much, much less).

In OSS, do we really Think Big?

But there’s a twist on this question. In the rare cases when we do think big, are we constraining ourselves by then following into the “deliver big” mindset too? In OSS, I’ve always felt that we deliver most efficiently when very small numbers of very clever people group together.

So there’s the juxtaposition with the clip above – Think Big… Think Small.

When you’re thinking of OSS roadmaps, what’s your thinking time-frame?

* For disclosure, I’m not an investor in BHP to my knowledge, but perhaps my super fund is.

Think war!

Think war. Extreme times call for extreme measures. When your ideas are facing life or death, that’s an extreme time. Like a soldier in battle, you can’t even afford to suffer a single hit – so make sure you hit first. Pull out all stops. Remember, when your idea’s life is on the line, the last thing you want is a fair fight. Use every available weapon. If possible, grab the unfair advantage. And never forget what might well be your most effective weapon: the passion you feel for your idea.
Ken Segall
in his book, “Insanely Simple.”

I’m normally involved in OSS projects as a delivery or strategy resource rather than the instigator of the project. However, the quote above represents one of the key messages I suggest to customers during the early days of a project, especially on significant OSS transformation or implementation projects.

Plan to bring (and sustain) all the firepower you can to the change effort. Don’t just scramble for air support if you’re losing the change battle.

Expect there to be many obstacles to arise that are outside the level of influence the delivery teams can exert. What are your unfair advantages?

My least successful project

Many years ago I worked on a three-way project with 1) a customer, 2) a well-known equipment vendor and 3) a service provider (my client). Time-frames were particularly tight, not so much because of the technical challenge, but because of the bureaucratic processes of the customer and the service provider. The project was worth well in excess of $100M, so it was a decent-sized project as part of a $1B+ program.

The customer had handed the responsibility of building a project schedule to the equipment vendor and I, which we duly performed. The Gantt chart was quite comprehensive, running into thousands of lines of activities and had many dependencies where actions by the customer were essential. These were standard dependencies such as access to their data centres, uplift to infrastructure, firewall burns, design approvals, and the list goes on. The customer had also just embarked on a whole-of-company switch of project management frameworks, so it wasn’t hard to see that related delays were likely.

The vendor and I met with the customer to walk through the project plan. About half-way in, the customer asked the vendor whether they were confident that timelines could be met. The vendor was happy to say yes. I was asked the same question. My response was that I was comfortable with the vendor’s part, I was comfortable with our part (ie the service provider’s), but that the customer’s dependencies were a risk because we’d had push-back from their Project Manager and each of the internal business units that we knew were impacted (not to mention the other ones that were likely to be impacted but we had no visibility of yet).

That didn’t go down well. I copped by far the biggest smashing of my career to date. The customer didn’t want to acknowledge that they had any involvement in the project – despite the fact that they were to approve it, house it, host it, use it and maintain aspects of it. It seemed like common sense that they would need to get involved.

Over the last couple of decades of delivery projects, one trend has been particularly clear – the customer gets back what they put in. That project had at least twelve PMs on the customer side over the 18 month duration of the project. It moved forward during stints under the PMs who got involved in internal solutioning, but stagnated during periods under PMs that just blame-stormed. Despite this, we ended up delivering, but the user outcomes weren’t great.

As my least successful project to date (hopefully ever), it was also one of my biggest “learnings” projects. For a start, it emphasised that I needed to get better at hearts and minds change management. There were many areas where better persuasion was required – from the timelines / dependencies to the compromised architecture / hardware that was thrust upon us by the customer’s architects. What seemed obvious to me was clearly not so obvious to the customer stakeholders I was trying to persuade.

You have to love being incompetent

You have to love being incompetent in order to be competent.”
James Altucher
.

Not sure that anyone loves feeling incompetent, but James’ quote is particularly relevant in the world of OSS. There are always so many changes underway that you’re constantly taken out of your comfort zone. But the question becomes how do you overcome those phases / areas of incompetence?

Earlier in my career, I had more of an opportunity to embed myself into any area of incompetence, usually spawned by a technical challenge being faced, and pick it up through a combination of practical and theoretical research. That’s a little harder these days with less hands-on and more management responsibilities, not to mention more demands on time outside hours.

In a way, it’s a bit like stepping up the layers of TMN management pyramid.
TMN Pyramid
Image courtesy of www.researchgate.net.

With each step up, the context gets broader (eg more domains under management), but more abstracted from what’s happening in the network. Each subsequent step northbound does the same thing:

  • It abstracts – it only performs a sub-set of the lower layer’s functionality
  • It connects – it performs the task of connecting and managing a larger number of network elements than the lower layer

Conversely, each step down the management stack should produce a narrower (ie not so many device interconnections), but deeper field of view (ie a deeper level of information about the fewer devices).

The challenge of OSS is in choosing where to focus curiosity and improvements – diving down the stack into new tech or looking up and sidewards?

Warring tribes and the five paper ball technique

The following extract from Ken Segall’s book, “Insanely Simple,” provides a great story on persuasion:
At one agency meeting with Steve Jobs, we were reviewing the content of a proposed iMac commercial when a debate arose about how much we should say in the commercial. The creative team was arguing that it would work best if the entire spot was devoted to describing the one key feature of this particular iMac. Steve, however, had it in his head that there were four or five really important things to say. It seemed to him that all of those copy points would fit comfortably in a thirty-second spot.
After debating the issue for a few minutes, it didn’t look like Steve was going to budge. That’s when a little voice started to make itself heard inside the head of Lee Clow, leader of the Chiat team. He decided this would be a good time to give Steve a live demonstration.
Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad (yes, notepad—Lee was laptop-resistant at the time) and crumpled them into five balls. Once the crumpling was complete, he started his performance.
“Here, Steve, catch,” said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back.
“That’s a good ad,” said Lee.
“Now catch this,” he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor.
“That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.
I hadn’t seen that one before, so I rather enjoyed it. And it was pretty convincing proof: The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember. Lee’s argument was that if we want to give people a good reason to check out an iMac, we should pick the most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way
.”

For most people in our industry, initiating OSS change is all about designing a technical solution that can fulfill a list of requirements. This may be effective in some situations, but in large carrier environments the bigger challenge is almost always in getting the many stakeholders contributing towards a common goal. If the project is big enough, multiple different business units will be involved and/or impacted. Each will tend to have their own objectives / metrics – and they’re often metrics that are misaligned or even in conflict – what common goal?

In the all-too-common “warring tribe” situation, persuasion techniques become essential. A great place to start is by creating an inspiring vision, much like John F Kennedy established when in 1961, he exhorted America to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.

There are many persuasion techniques, but I put them into two categories:

  • What you’re going to add
  • What you’re going to take away

I’m sure you want to go deeper, so Kellerman and Cole’s 64 Compliance-gaining Strategies give some great persuasive food for thought. Different strategies will work better/worse with different stakeholders of course, .

But to loop back to Ken Segall again, if you’re responsible for a significant change that crosses multiple domains and multiple stakeholders / influencers, you may choose to start with a vision based around the “most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way.”

How many of you are wondering whether you could use the five paper ball technique to persuade in your next OSS stakeholder group when complexity is running rampant?