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)?

Watching customers under an omnichannel strobe light

Omnichannel will remain full of holes until we figure out a way of tracking user journeys rather than trying to prescribe (design, document, maintain) process flows.

As a customer jumps between the various channels, they move between systems. In doing so, we tend to lose the ability to watch customer’s journey as a single continuous flow. It’s like trying to watch customer behaviour under a strobe light… except that the light only strobes on for a few seconds every minute.

Theoretically, omnichannel is a great concept for customers because it allows them to step through any channel at any time to suit their unique behavioural preferences. In practice, it can be a challenging experience for customers because of a lack of consistency and flow between channels.

It’s a massive challenge for providers to deliver consistency and flow because the disparate channels have vastly different user interfaces and experiences. IVR, digital, retail, etc all come from completely different design roots.

Vendors are selling the dream of cost reductions through improved efficiency within their channels. Unfortunately this is the wrong place for a service provider to look. It’s the easier place to look, but the wrong place nonetheless. Processes already tend to be relatively efficient within a channel and data tends to be tracked well within a channel.

The much harder, but better place to seek benefits is through the cross-channel user journeys, the hand-offs between channels. That’s where the real competitive advantage opportunities lie.

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.

Building an OSS piggybank with scoreboard pressure

“The gameplan tells what you want to happen, but the scoreboard tells what is happening.”
John C Maxwell

Over the years, I’ve found it interesting that most of the organisations I’ve consulted to have significant hurdles for a new OSS to jump through to get funded (the gameplan), but rarely spend much time on the results (the scoreboard)… apart from the burndown of capital during the implementation project.

From one perspective, that’s great for OSS implementers. With less accountability, we can move straight on to the next implementation and not have to justify whether our projects are worth the investment. It allows us to focus on justifying whether we’ve done a technically brilliant implementation instead.

However, from the other perspective, we’re short-changing ourselves if we’re not proving the value of our projects. We’re not building up the credits in the sponsor bank ahead of the inevitable withdrawals (ie when one of our OSS projects goes over time, budget or functionality is reduced to bring in time/budget). It’s the lack of credits that make sponsors skeptical of any OSS investment value and force the aforementioned jumping through hoops.

One of our OSS‘s primary functions is to collect and process data – to be the central nervous system for our organisations. We have the data to build the scoreboards. Perhaps we just don’t apply enough creativity to proving the enormous value of what our OSS are facilitating.

Do you ever consider whether you’re on the left or right side of this ledger / scoreboard?

If OSS is my hammer, am I only seeing nails?

OSS is a powerful multi-purpose tool, much like a hammer.

If OSS is my only tool, do I see all problems as nails that I have to drive home with my OSS?

The downside of this is that it then needs to be designed, built, integrated, tested, released, supported, upgraded, data curated and maintained. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for a given problem extends far beyond the time-frame envisaged during most solutioning exercises.

To be honest, I’ve probably been guilty of using OSS to solve problems before seeking alternatives in the past.

What if our going-in position was that answers should be found elsewhere – outside OSS – and OSS simply becomes the all-powerful last resort? The sledgehammer rather than the ball-pein hammer.

With all this big data I keep hearing about, has anyone ever seen any stats relating to the real life-time costs of OSS customisations made by a service provider to its off-the-shelf OSS? If such data exists, I’d love to see what the cost-benefit break-even point might look like and what we could learn from it. I assume we’re contributing to our very own Whale Curve but have nothing to back that assumption up yet.

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 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?

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.

The PAOSS Call for Innovation has been released

I’ve been promising to release an OSS Call for Innovation, a manifesto of what OSS can become – a manifesto that also describes areas where exponential improvements are just waiting to happen .

It can be found here:
http://passionateaboutoss.com/oss-call-for-innovation/
And you’ll also notice that it’s a new top-level menu item here on PAOSS.

Each time I’ve released one of these vision-statement style reports in the past, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that some of the visions are already being worked on by someone in the industry.

Are there any visions that I’ve overlooked? I’d love to see your comments on the page and spread the word on all the amazing innovations that you’re working on and/or dreaming about.

Who can make your OSS dance?

OSS tend to be powerful software suites that can do millions of things. Experts at the vendors / integrators know how to pull the puppet’s strings and make it dance. As a reader of PAOSS, chances are that you are one of those experts. I’ve sat through countless vendor demonstrations, but I’m sure you’ll still be able to wow me with a demo of what your OSS can do.

Unfortunately, most OSS users don’t have that level of expertise, nor experiences or training, to pull all of your OSS‘s strings. Most only use the tiniest sub-set of functionality.

If we look at the millions of features of your OSS in a decision tree format, how easy will it be for the regular user to find a single leaf on your million-leaf tree? To increase complexity further, OSS workflows actually require the user group to hop from one leaf, to another, to another. Perhaps it’s not even as conceptually simple as a tree structure, but a complex inter-meshing of leaves. That’s a lot of puppet-strings to know and control.

A question for you – You can make your OSS dance, but can your customers / users?

What can you do to assist users to navigate the decision tree? A few thoughts below:

  1. Prune the decision tree – chances are that many of the branches of your OSS are never / rarely used, so why are they there?
  2. Natural language search – a UI that allows users to just ask questions. The tool interprets those questions and navigates the tree by itself (ie it abstracts the decision tree from the user, so they never need to learn how to navigate it)
  3. Use decision support – machine assistance to guide users in navigating efficiently through the decision tree
  4. Restrict access to essential branches – design the GUI to ensure a given persona can only see the clusters of options they will use (eg via the use of role-based functionality filtering)

I’d love to hear your additional thoughts how to make it easier for users to make your  (their) OSS dance.

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!” 🙂

This is the best OSS book I’ve ever read

This post is about the most inspiring OSS book I’ve ever read, and yet it doesn’t contain a single word that is directly about OSS (so clearly I’m not spruiking my own OSS-centric book here 😉 ).
It’s a book that outlines the resolutions to so many of the challenges being faced by traditional communications service providers (CSPs) as well as the challenges faced by their OSS.

It resonates strongly with me because it reflects so many of my beliefs, but articulates them brilliantly through experiences from some of the most iconic organisations of our times – through their successes and failures.

And the title?

Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success.
Book by Ken Segall.
Insanely Simple

OSS is downstream of so many Complexity choices that this book needs to be read far beyond the boundaries of OSS. Having said that, we’re incredibly good at adding so many of our own layers of complexity.

Upcoming blogs here on PAOSS will surely share some of its words of wisdom.

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.

The alternative to canned OSS reports

Reports are an important interaction type into any OSS, obviously. What’s less well observed is the time (ie cost) it can take to create and curate canned reports. [BTW in my crude terminology, Canned Reports are ones where the report format and associated query is created / coded and designed to be run more than once in the future]

I’ve seen situations where an organisation has requested many, many custom reports, which have been costly to set up, but then once set up, have not been used again after user acceptance testing. I know of one company that had over 500 canned reports developed and only ~100 had been used more than a few times in the 12 months prior to when I checked.

My preferred option is to create an open data model that can be queried via a reporting engine, one that allows operators to intuitively create their own ad-hoc reports and then save them for future re-use (and share them if desired).

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.

The OSS Mechanical Turk

The Mechanical Turk… was a fake chess-playing machine constructed in the late 18th century. From 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854 it was exhibited by various owners as an automaton, though it was eventually revealed to be an elaborate hoax.
The Turk was in fact a mechanical illusion that allowed a human chess master hiding inside to operate the machine. With a skilled operator, the Turk won most of the games played during its demonstrations around Europe and the Americas for nearly 84 years, playing and defeating many challengers including statesmen such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin
.”
Wikipedia.

This ingenious contraption can be mirrored in certain situations within the OSS industry.

I once heard of an OSS fulfilment solution that had consumed a couple of years of effort and millions of dollars before management decided to try an alternate path because there was still no end in sight. There was so much sunk cost that it was a difficult decision.

The problem statement was delivered to a new team brought in from outside the organisation.

They had it working within a single weekend!!

How?

They had focused on what the end customers needed and developed an efficient self-service portal (a front end) that created tickets. The tickets were then manually entered into the back-end systems. Any alerts from the back-end systems were fed back into the portal.

It did the job because transaction volumes were low enough to be processed manually. The first approach failed because integrations, workflows and exception-handling were enormously complex and they were laser-focused on perfect automation.

The Mechanical Turk approach to this OSS conundrum proved to be far more successful. It doesn’t work in all situations but it could be used more often than it is.

Warren Buffett’s “avoid at all costs” OSS backlog

During the last week, this blog-roll has talked about the benefits, but also the challenges facing implementation techniques like Agile in the world of OSS. There’s no doubt that they’re good at breaking down challenges into smaller pieces for implementation. Unfortunately there’s also the risk of doing for the sake of doing – stuffing more stuff into the backlog – without necessarily thinking of the long-term implications.

Warren Buffett’s “two-list” prioritisation strategy could be an interesting adjunct to Agile, microservices and the like for OSS. Rather than putting all 25 of the listed goals into backlog and prioritising the top 5, the Buffett technique sees only the top 5 entering the backlog and the remaining 20 put into an avoid-at-all-cost bucket… at least until the top 5 are complete.

I know I’m as guilty as Mike Flint in not just tackling the top 5, but keeping the next 20 bubbling away. Is your OSS implementation queue taking the same approach as Buffett or me?