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).

10 ways to #GetOutOfTheBuilding

Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup,” has a short chapter entitled, “Get out of the Building.” It basically describes getting away from your screen – away from reading market research, white papers, your business plan, your code, etc – and out into customer-land. Out of your comfort zone and into a world of primary research that extends beyond talking to your uncle (see video below for that reference!).

This concept applies equally well to OSS product developers as it does to start-up entrepreneurs. In fact the concept is so important that the chapter name has inspired it’s own hashtag (#GetOutOfTheBuilding).

This YouTube video provides 10 tips for getting out of the building (I’ve started the clip at Tendai Charasika’s list of 10 ways but you may want to scroll back a bit for his more detailed descriptions).

But there’s one thing that’s even better than getting out of the building and asking questions of customers. After all, customers don’t always tell the complete truth (even when they have good intentions). No, the better research is to observe what they do, not what they say. #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay

This could be by being out of the building and observing customer behaviour… or it could be through looking at customer usage statistics generated by your OSS. That data might just show what a customer is doing… or not doing (eg customers might do small volume transactions through the OSS user interface, but have a hack for bulk transactions because the UI isn’t efficient at scale).

Not sure if it’s indicative of the industry as a whole, but my experience working for / with vendors is that they don’t heavily subscribe to either of these hashtags when designing and refining their products.

Does your OSS collect primary data to #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay? If it does, do you ever make use of it? Or do you prefer to talk with your uncle (does he know much about OSS BTW)?

Are your OSS better today than they were 5 years ago?

Are your OSS better today than they were 5 years ago?
(or 10, 15, 20 years depending on how long you’ve been in the industry) 

Your immediate reaction to this question is probably going to be, “Yes!” After all, you and your peers have put so much effort into your OSS in the last 5 years. They have to be better right?

On the basis of effort, our OSS are definitely more capable… but let me ask again, “Are they better?”

How do they stack up on key metrics such as:

  1. Do they need less staff to run / maintain
  2. Do they allow products to be released more quickly to market
  3. Do they allow customer services to be ready for service (RFS) faster
  4. Are mean times to repair (MTTR) faster when there’s a problem in the network
  5. Are bills more accurate (and need less intervention across all of the parties that contribute)
  6. Are there less fall-outs (eg customer activations that get lost in the ether)
  7. Are we better at delivering (or maintaining) OSS on budget
  8. Are your CAPEX and OPEX budgets lower
  9. Are our front-office staff (eg retail, contact centres, etc) able to give better outcomes for customers via our OSS/BSS
  10. Are our average truck-rolls per activation lower
  11. Are the insights we’re identifying generating longer-run competitive advantages
  12. etc, etc

Maybe it’s the rose-coloured glasses, but my answer to the initial question when framed against these key metrics is, “Probably not,” but with a couple of caveats.

Our OSS are certainly far more complicated. The bubble in which we operate is far more complicated (ie network types, product offerings, technology options, contact channels, more touchpoints, etc). This means more variants for our OSS / BSS to handle. In addition, we’ve added a lot more functionality (ie complexity of our own).

Comparison of metrics will vary greatly across different OSS operators – some for the better, some worse. Maybe I’m just working on projects that are more challenging now than I was 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Do you have the data to confirm / deny that your OSS is better than in years past?

PS. Oh, and one last call-out. You’ll notice that the metrics above tend to be cross-silo. I have no doubt that individual OSS products have improved in terms of functionality, usability, processing speeds, etc. But what about our end-to-end workflows through our OSS/BSS suite of products?

Do you want dirty or clean automation?

Earlier in the week, we spoke about the differences between dirty and clean consulting, as posed by Dr Richard Claydon, and how it impacted the use of consultants on OSS projects.

The same clean / dirty construct applies to automation projects / tools such as RPA (Robotic Process Automation).

Clean Automation = simply building robotic automations (ie fixed algorithms) that manage existing process designs
Dirty Automation = understanding the process deeply first, optimising it for automation, then creating the automation.

The first is cheap(er) and easy(er)… in the short-term at least.
The second requires getting hands dirty, analysing flows, analysing work practices, analysing data / logs, understanding operator psychology, identifying inefficiencies, refining processes to make them better suited to automation, etc.

Dirty automation requires analysis, not just of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), but the actual state-changes occurring from start to end of each iteration of process implementation.
This also represents the better launching-off point to lead into machine-learning (ie cognitive automation), rather than algorithmic or robotic automation.

Bill Gates’ two rules of OSS technology (plus one)

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Bill Gates
.

The pervading OSS business case paradigm is to seek cost-out by introducing automation that reduces head-count – Do more with less.

But it seems that’s the antithesis of how to look for cost reduction. It’s adding more complexity into a given system. Fundamentally, more complexity can not be the best approach to a cost-reduction strategy, right?

The cost-out paradigm should be built on reducing, not adding complexity – Let’s stop doing more that delivers less.

To add to Bill Gates’ two rules of technology, my third rule is that if you’re going to add technology (ie complexity), it should attempt to create growth opportunities, not seek to reduce costs.

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.

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?

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.

You want more (OSS)?

Something dawned on me recently – People who want to save money don’t want to spend money.

That statement has more profound implications for the world of OSS than you might initially think. Let me explain.

If someone’s main priority is to save money, what are the chances that they’ll spend money to buy a product (let’s say a book) that shows them how to save? I imagine it takes REALLY compelling marketing to overcome the customer’s primary urge.

Is it the same in business? Does someone who’s been tasked with saving money for their company readily open the purse-strings in order to save? This is a little less clear-cut than for the individual case – the employee may’ve been assigned a budget to spend with expected savings attached to it.

What if I offered these alternatives:

  1. Spend money to save money; OR
  2. Spend money to make money

Which is more compelling?

The “cost out” sales model appears rampant in the OSS industry at the moment – if you buy this tool, your headcount / costs will go down by X. [Did someone just mention AI?]

That’s just capitulating to the mantra that OSS will only ever be cost centres (and allowing bean-counters to dictate that costs must be reduced).

We don’t strive hard enough to fasten our metrics to the positives (eg income generation)? If anything, our OSS tend to be associated with loss-related metrics (eg network outages, faults, SLA degradation, etc). That’s the O (Operations) in OSS talking. If we only frame our thinking to building solutions for Operations, we’re pushing the figurative ship uphill to make a sale*.

Here are some suggestions on how to positively re-frame your OSS messaging.

* the “sales model” that I’m talking about here refers to internal pitches / business-cases, not just sellers from third-parties like vendors/integrators.

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 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.

Deciding whether to PoC or to doc

As recently discussed with two friends and colleagues, Raman and Darko, Proofs of Concept (PoC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP) implementations can be a double-edged sword.

By building something without fully knowing the end-game, you are potentially building tech-debt that may be very difficult to work around without massive (or complete) overhaul of what you’ve built.

The alternative is to go through a process of discovery to build a detailed document showing what you think the end product might look like.

I’m all for leaving important documentation behind for those who come after us, for those who maintain the solutions we create or for those who build upon our solutions. But you’ll notice the past-tense in the sentence above.

There are pros and cons with each approach, but I tend to believe in documentation in the “as-built” sense. However, there is a definite need for some up-front diagrams/docs too (eg inspiring vision statements, use cases, architecture diagrams, GUI/UX designs, etc).

The two biggest reasons I find for conducting PoCs are:

  • Your PoC delivers something tangible, something that stakeholders far and wide can interact with to test assumptions, usefulness, usability, boundary cases, etc. The creation of a doc can devolve into an almost endless set of “what-if” scenarios and opinions, especially when there are large groups of (sometimes militant) stakeholders
  • You’ve already built something – your PoC establishes the momentum that is oh-so-vital on OSS projects. Even if you incur tech-debt, or completely overhaul what you’ve worked on, you’re still further into the delivery cycle than if you spend months documenting. Often OSS change management can be a bigger obstacle than the technical challenge and momentum is one of change management’s strongest tools

I’m all for deep, reflective thinking but that can happen during the PoC process too. To paraphrase John Kennedy, “Don’t think, don’t hope, (don’t document), DO!” 🙂

One unasked last question for OSS business cases

OSS business case evaluators routinely ask many questions that relate to key metrics like return on investment, capital to be outlaid, expected returns, return on investment, and more of the same circular financial questions. 🙂

They do also ask a few technical questions to decide risk – of doing the project or not doing the project. Timeframes and resources come into play, but again tend to land back on the same financial metric(s). Occasionally they’ll ask how the project will impact the precious NPS (Net Promoter Score), which we all know is a simple estimate to calculate (ie pluck out of thin air).

As you can tell, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here so far.

One incredibly important question that I’ve never heard asked, but is usually relatively easy to determine is, “Will this change make future upgrades harder?

The answer to this question will determine whether the project will have a snowballing effect on the TCO (total cost of ownership – yes, another financial metric that actually isn’t ROI) of the OSS. Any customisation to off-the-shelf tools will invariably add to the complexity of performing future upgrades. If customisations feed data to additional customisations, then there is a layer multiple to add to the snowball effect.

Throw in enough multi-layered (meshed?) customisations and otherwise routine upgrades start to become massive undertakings. If upgrades are taking months of planning, then your OSS clearly no longer facilitates the level of flexibility that is essential for modern service providers.

The burden of tech-debt insidiously finds its way into OSS stacks, so when evaluating change, don’t forget that one additional question, “Will this change make future upgrades harder?

Use cases for architectural smoke-tests

I often leverage use-case design and touch-point mapping through the stack to ensure that all of the use-cases can be turned into user-journeys, process journeys and data journeys. This process can pick up the high-level flows, but more importantly, the high-level gaps in your theoretical stack.”

Yesterday’s blog discussed the use of use cases to test a new OSS architecture. TM Forum’s eTOM is the go-to model for process mapping for OSS / BSS. Their process maps define multi-level standards (in terms of granularity of process mapping) to promote a level of process repeatability across the industry. Their clickable model allows you to drill down through the layers of interest to you (note that this is available for members only though).

In terms of quick smoke-testing an OSS stack though, I tend to use a simpler list of use cases for an 80/20 coverage:

  • Service qualification (SQ)
  • Adding new customers
  • New customer orders (order handling)
  • Changes to orders (adds / moves / changes / deletes / suspends / resumes)
  • Logging an incident
  • Running a report
  • Creating a new product (for sale to customers)
  • Tracking network health (which may include tracking of faults, performance, traffic engineering, QoS analysis, etc)
  • Performing network intelligence (viewing inventory, capacity, tracing paths, sites, etc)
  • Performing service intelligence (viewing service health, utilised resources, SLA threshold analysis, etc)
  • Extracting configurations (eg network, device, product, customer or service configs)
  • Tracking customer interactions (and all internal / external events that may impact customer experience such as site visits, bills, etc)
  • Running reports (of all sorts)
  • Data imports
  • Data exports
  • Performing an enquiry (by a customer, for the purpose of sales, service health, parameters, etc)
  • Bill creation

There are many more that may be required depending on what your OSS stack needs to deliver, but hopefully this is a starting point to help your own smoke tests.

Use-case driven OSS architecture

When it comes to designing a multi-vendor (sometimes also referred to as best-of-breed) OSS architecture stack, there is never a truer saying than, “the devil is in the detail.”

Oftentimes, it’s just not feasible to design every interface / integration / data-flow traversing a theoretical OSS stack (eg pre-contract award, whilst building a business case, etc). That level of detail is developed during detailed design or perhaps tech-spikes in the Agile world.

In this interim state, I often leverage use-case design and touch-point mapping through the stack to ensure that all of the use-cases can be turned into user-journeys, process journeys and data journeys. This process can pick up the high-level flows, but more importantly, the high-level gaps in your theoretical stack.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Just because you’re afraid of doing something doesn’t give you a permission slip to not do it.”
Debbie Millman
.

There’s a lot of fear in OSS. So many things can go wrong (the OctopOSS theory), so much incompetence is created, so many nearly insurmountable integration challenges await and their complexity means that there is no perfect plan going into a project.

They do require a leap of faith, a confidence in your team to work your way through all the challenges and a commitment from senior stakeholders to help drive change through (with compassion for those whose working life is about to be impacted of course). They also need an eye for simplification, like the Mechanical Turk model.

Oh, and I’d like you to have a think about how the momentum spiral or corkscrew model might help you to get from afraid to delivered.

Functional silos can be dysfunctional

OSS are often delivered into large organisational structures, structures that are functionally siloed. For large OSS, even the OSS team can have multiple functional silos.

Where there are functional silos, there are activities within OSS that need to be delivered across silos. That’s where things can get a bit dysfunctional. Jurisdictions, ownership of responsibilities, agreements on approach, misalignments of performance indicators, downstream impacts and dare I say it, turf wars, can make it more difficult to deliver an OSS organisationally than technically… and OSS can be incredibly difficult to deliver from a technical perspective.

Organisational change management is often completely overlooked, or only brought to bear far too late in the delivery process. Often there are so much dysfunction between silos, even where each silo has the best of intentions, that a bigger change management accord needs to be invoked.

These include:

  • A burning platform – communicating the need for urgent, radical changes brought about by dire circumstances
  • A moon shot – focussing the attention of the entire organisation on incredibly ambitious challenge
  • Dictatorship of decision making rather than democracy

Alternatively, insert any other method to help ensure all members of the team, across all silos, have a clear understanding of the greater objectives the team is trying to meet. I’d love to hear of examples that you’ve invoked to get great team results on complex OSS projects (or any other project type for that matter).

When in doubt, connect

When in doubt, connect.
That’s what fast-growing, important organizations do.
Making stuff is great.
Making connections is even better
.”
Seth Godin
in his post here.

Simple words. Simple concept. Interesting message…. with a traffic-light of OSS layers.

Layer 1 – A connection red light
The more connections an OSS has, the more enriched the data tends to become. However, by contrast the more interconnected an OSS gets, the more inflexible and difficult it gets to maintain. The chess-board analogy and the handshake analogy attest to the challenges associated to a highly connected OSS. In this case, when in doubt, don’t connect.

Layer 2 – A connection orange light
Five of the top seven companies (by market cap) in the world are tech companies (1. Apple, 2. Alphabet (Google), 3. Microsoft, 6. Amazon, 7. Facebook). They have become valuable through the power of connection. China Telecom represents one of the original connectors, the telecommunications carriers, and just makes it into the top 10 whilst Verizon and AT&T are both worth over $250B too. Our OSS allow these connections to be made – but they’re making a connection “for” the customer rather than making a connection “with” the customer. Until brand-OSS starts making a connection with the customers, we’ll never be fast growing like the tech titans. When in doubt, connect at a deeper level.

Layer 3 – A connection green light
Tripods or Linchpins are the most valuable of OSS resources because of their ability to connect (ideas, people, products, workflows, contracts, etc). They are the pinnacle of OSS implementers because their breadth of connections allows them to interconnect the most complex of OSS jigsaws. If you want to become an OSS tripod, then Seth’s lead is a great one to follow – When in doubt, connect.

The top-down, bottom-up design process

When planning out a full-stack business / network / services management solution, I tend to follow the top-down, bottom-up design process.

Let’s take the TMN pyramid as a starting point:
TMN Pyramid
Image courtesy of www.researchgate.net

Bottom-up: When designing the assurance stream (eg alarms, performance, etc), I start at the bottom (Network Elements), understanding what devices exist in the network and what events / notifications / monitors they will issue. From there, I seek to understand what tool/s will manage them (Element Management / Network Management), then keep climbing the stack to understand how to present key information that impacts services and the business.

Top-down: When designing the fulfilment stream (eg designs, provisioning, moves/adds/changes, configuration, etc), I generally start at the top* (Business Management), what services are being offered (Service Management) and figure out how those workflows propagate down into the network and associated tools (such as ticketing, workforce management, service order provisioning, etc).

This helps to build a conceptual architecture (ie a layered architecture with a set of building blocks, where the functional building blocks start out blank). From the conceptual architecture, we can then identify the tools / people / processes that will deliver on the functions within each blank box.

This approach ensures we have the big picture in mind before getting bogged down into the minutiae of integrations, data flows, configurations of tools, etc.

To get momentum quickly, I tend to start with the bottom-up side as data flows (eg SNMP traps) are more standardised and the tools tend to need less configuration to get some (but not all) raw alarms / traps into management tools, perhaps just sand-pit versions. For the next step, the top-down part, I tend to create just one simple service scenario, and perhaps even design the front-end to use The Mechanical Turk model described yesterday, and follow the flow manually down through the stack and into element management or network layers. Then grow both streams from there!

* Note that I’m assuming services are already flowing through the network under management and/or the team has already figured out the services they’re offering. In a completely green-fields situation, the capabilities of the network might determine the product set that can be offered to customers (bottom-up), but generally it will be top-down.

What is your lead domino?

OSS can be complicated beasts with many tentacles. It can make starting a new project daunting. When I start, I like to use a WBS to show all the tentacles (people, processes, technology, contracts) on a single page, then look for the lead domino (or dominoes).

A lead domino is the first piece, the one that starts the momentum and makes a load of other pieces easier or irrelevant.

Each project is different of course, but I tend to look to get base-level software operational as the lead domino. It doesn’t have to do much. It can be on the cloud, in a sandpit, on a laptop. It can show minimal functionality and not even any full use cases. It can represent only a simplistic persona, not the many personas an OSS normally needs to represent.

But what it does show is something tangible. Something that can be interacted with and built upon. Most importantly, it gives people a context and immediately takes away a lot of the “what-if?” questions that can derail the planning stage. It provides the basis to answer other questions. It provides a level of understanding that allows level-up questions to be asked.

Or it might be hearts and minds exercise to get the organisation deeply engaged in the project and help overcome the complexities and challenges that will ensue. Or it could just be getting key infrastructure in place like servers, databases or DCNs (Data Control Networks) that will allow the pieces of the puzzle to communicate with each other.

On an uplift project, it might be something more strategic like a straw-man of the architecture, an end-to-end transaction flow, a revised UI or a data model.

For OSS implementations, just like dominoes, it’s choosing the right place/s to kick-start the momentum.