The Blog

Jun 14, 2006

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by Maxim Porges @ 9:32 PM | Link | Feedback (0)

What a year it's been. I'm just getting back on my feet after so much time in the trenches, so I figured I'd dust off the old blog and see if I can't put a post up every so often.

Let's start with the news.

We've made wicked progress with the development team I inherited at the beginning of the year. For various reasons (spanning many years and multiple managers) there wasn't much in the way of structure or process when I arrived. Those on the team who chose to take charge of their destiny and share their thoughts and ideas with me were rewarded with more structured interaction with the business, the ownership and responsibility to lead their respective specializations, and (at least for one individual so far) a promotion.

To give you a brief understanding of the business units we support, we're in a call center environment. The call center supports the largest sales and marketing machine in the organization, responsible for over $200 million in annual timeshare sales. With most of the management staff on the business side being sales people themselves, strategic planning doesn't really exist; what matters is launching new programs and putting out fires.

Unfortunately, the laws of physics for software development don't support this sort of environment, unless you have the most nimble software applications in the world - which we don't. This isn't solely a slam on our software, since we're not the only business on the planet that is held back by our legacy applications - but it is a fact.

Also unfortunately, the growth of our applications has not been managed in a structured fashion, which means that most of the growth has been untamed and organic. The net result is that there are so many interdependencies and so little documentation that we're hard pressed to keep up with the speed at which our business moves, and the applications often end up getting in the way of the success of business initiatives since they can't be enhanced fast enough.

Couple this with the fact that our process and technologies often produce new defects as old ones are resolved, and you've got a very difficult environment to maintain.

The obvious solution to this quandary is to build nimbler applications, with the process and documentation in place to support true rapid application development. The problem is that we've got a hell of a lot of catching up to do, and I'm supposed to be leading the charge since January of this year. Since I spent the majority of 2006 playing the political game, while restructuring and tuning the development team I inherited, I haven't been able to get the charge organized (let alone lead it).

So the ($200?) million-dollar question is:

(a) do we continue the way we're going, acting in a reactionary fashion to a constantly changing business environment, using an application platform that was never intended to change as rapidly as it's being forced to, or

(b) take the bull by the horns, roll up our sleeves, and get to work creating the next generation of software that will be able to meet the challenge of our business?

Obviously, we need to do (b), or we need to quit while we're behind.

If you kept up with my blog in my last iteration of posts, you'll know that we made a commitment to transition technologies and processes at the end of last year. Unfortunately, without being able to lead this initiative, it hasn't gone as far as it should have - not by a long shot.

The good news is that its moved somewhat... just not enough or as fast as it would if I were where I need to be. Sure, we've got RUP-based Flex and Java projects coming down the pipe - but we haven't expanded our internal skill set as broadly as I had planned to, and the inertia with our team members to stay where we are (rather than moving on to the new platforms) is beginning to set in again with the lack of rapid movement on the new frontiers.

If you know me, you'll know that I'm not one to sit and bitch about something without beating my head against the problem until either (a) it falls over or (b) I hurt myself. In this vein, I've taken steps to get things back on track, but like everything else in life there will be some maneuvering required to make things happen. Meanwhile, we'll continue to lose business opportunity and add fuel to the old software application's fire, while we wait on the new initiatives to ramp up and put out the blaze.

As always, I'm hopeful. Impatient - but hopeful.