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Case Studies: Software Systems Failure

Software nightmare stories are very common - but one thing I've learned by listening to these stories over the years is the technologist must be optimist at heart.  Why - because they deal constantly with tons of failure.  And out of those failures they create innovative disruptive new sectors of the world economy (sometimes, case in point the Apple Newton and then the iPod and iPhone).



Let's look at a few case studies.

Time has just published a look at the Obama Healthcare rescue team.  Code Red by Steven Brill

"What were the tech problems?  Where they beyond repair? Nothing I saw was beyond repair.  Yes, it was messed up.  Software wasn't built to talk to other software, stuff like that.  A lot of that,"  Abbott continues, "was because they had made the most basic mistake you can ever make.  The government is not used to shipping products to consumers.  You never open a service like this to everyone at once.  You open it in small concentric circles and expand" -- such as one state first, then a few more -- "so you can watch it, fix it and scale it."
What Abbott could not find, however, was leadership.  He says that to this day he cannot figure out who was supposed to have been in charge of the HealthCare.gov launch."

The Secret Startup That Saved the Worst Website in America  How a team of young people, living in a repurposed McMansion in Maryland, helped rebuild Healthcare.gov

Stock Options? Don’t Need ‘Em! I’m Coding For Uncle Sam! (Medium)
The people behind the new government agency that’s recruiting the nation’s best tech talent to reform its hideous computer systems.
"The Healthcare.gov experience shows how great the differences can be. In newly released figures, the government says that constructing the original enrollment system, known as the Federally Facilitated Marketplace operating system, cost $200 million and would have required $70 million a year to maintain. The new version of the site, revamped by USDS engineers from Google, Y Combinator startups and other commercial tech outposts, cost $4 million to produce, with annual maintenance costs also $4 million."
Or take a look at an Agile/Scrum successful rescue -- the FBI Sentinel case management system.
FBI's Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned by InformationWeek's John Foley
Case Study of a Difficult Federal Government Scrum Project: FBI Sentinel by Michael James
DoD Goes Agile by Jeff Sutherland 
DOJ's Report on Sentinel Project by Inspector General - Dec. 2011
How the FBI Proves Agile Works for Gov. Agencies by CIO's Jason Bloomberg
"Wait, agile rescued a huge money-pit fiasco of a government project? You mean, iterative, skunkworks, put-the-customer-on-the-team, forget-the-plan agile? You betcha. Agile turned out to be the hero in the tights and cape, coming to save the day."

Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods  GAO-12-681: Published: Jul 27, 2012
What can one make from failure? Well, author John Kotter of the airport best seller's shelf (Leading Change) created his 8 step model from investigating why companies consistently fail to institute the desired organizational changes that they assumed were mission critical. His conclusion, if they had just done eight things well then the organizational change would have succeeded.
So what can we learn from two of the US governments most recent software project failures?  I think it can be summarized in one phrase - the Big Bang model only works for universes (or God).  The rest of us better learn how to iterate, grow, and evolve systems.

See Also:
Before Scaling up, Consider...

Agile Failure Disrupting Organizational Performance - by Agilitrix

Agile Succeeds 3X more than Waterfall - CHAOS Report 2011 - MountainGoat Software
ObjectMentor success stories:
    Primavera
    Sabre takes extreme measures - ComputerWorld

"Led by IS&T’s vice president, John Charles, the ambitious reorganization began in February 2015 and aims to spur innovation through agile software development practices adopted from industry. Charles emphasizes that this is not a typical reorganization, but rather a complete transformation of MIT’s IT department."

The famous SalesForce all-in, one day transition
    Slideshare presentation   The Development Dilemma PDF

Scrum at Scale Keynote 2015 (Scrum Inc.) - has infographic from 2015 Chaos Report




A Case Study of SME Web Application Development Effectiveness via Agile Methods  by: Peter Clutterbuck, Terry Rowlands and Owen Seamons University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Agile Delivery at British Telecom  by Ian Evans, British Telecom  (Methods and Tools)


Live from LA Success Tour: 5 Stories of Agile Success (RallyDev)

LeSS Case Studies (over a dozen, mostly European companies)

Microsoft's agile case study - would you believe it? by Steve Denning of Forbes

Whole Foods Market case study Home Grown Agile - An Agile journey with one of America’s most trusted brands.

In 2016 there is a preponderance of organizations stating they are doing Digital Transformation.  What could this term mean?  Are they changing from analog to digital systems -or- are they mutating all employee numbers from arabic to binary?

Southwest Airlines’ Digital Transformation Takes Off - FastCompany
Rolling out new software is hard in any company, but it’s even harder when your employees still send faxes.

David Anderson suggest Agile is Costing You Too Much - makes the case that there are few if any Agile Case studies and publishes 8 Kanban case studies.  I loved the Sabre story David tells of circa 2006 Sabre reboot of "agile", I lived through a 2011-2013 reboot at Sabre.  They are continually rebooting that initiative - pondering why?

Agile Fails by Teri Christian


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Team Performance Model - by Drexler and Sibbet

Many of you have all heard of the Tuckman model of team dynamics (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing).  It was created in 1966 and has become the most popular model for describing team behavior.  Is it time to level up in your mental model of team dynamics?  Are you ready for a richer more functional model?



Introducing the Team Performance Model by Drexler and Sibbet



Orientation - Why am I here?
"Orientation is about understanding the purpose of a team and assessing what it will mean to be a member.  you need to understand the reason the team exist, what will be expected of you and how you will benefit from membership.  In a new team, these are individual concerns, because the group is only potentially a team.  that is why these concerns are illustrated as occurring in your imagination at an intuitive level.  As a team leader it is important to provide time and space for people to answer these internal questions themselves."

Keys to when Orientation challenges are resolve…

Where is Shakespeare When We Need Him?

We are desperately searching for a term for people that connotes the best of human kind.  The creative, sensing, combinatorial synergistic, empathic solutioning persons that have yet to been labeled with a role name that works.

Some of the old terms:
Staff, Workforce, Human Resource, My Team, Army, Company

Shakespeare created 1700 words in his time.  He mutated verbs to nouns, and vice-a-versa, transformed verbs into adjectives, and formed words from whole cloth never before heard.  This skill is rare, but there is a poet that can create the term we need in the twenty-first century.

What should this term define?

21st Century Human Resource; the generalizing specialist.

Yes, but what more?  What less?

Suggest your poetry in the comments, let us see if we cannot do 1/1700 as well as The Bard.

By-the-way; who create the phrase "coin a word"?



A TED Play List - How do you create new words
6:52
Erin McKeanGo ahead, make up new words! In this fun, short talk from TEDYouth, lexicographer Er…

Software Development terms applied to Home Construction

Let's Invert the typically wrong headed view of Software Development project management as a construction project.  We can map it the other way just to see if it works... to have some fun, to explore the meaning of phrases we toss around quite frequently.


Normally Project Management terms come from a construction domain.  We are going to apply the lexicon of modern software to the construction of a home.  We will follow the construction project and meet some of the people doing the work.

This is a very small (8 homes from $600,000 skyward) program in my 30-40 year old neighborhood.

About 6 months ago I saw the programs landing page go up.  It gives casual observers and some of the stakeholders a general idea of the intent of the program.  And most importantly who to contact for additional information if you happen to be interested in their products.

The Refuge program has 8 product projects and has them running independently.  Yet much of their DevOps infrastructure has already b…

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One Dark and Stormy during a Hurricane

I'm from the Carolina's where legend has it that our family commonly just hunkered down in the home on the coast and waterways than to head for inland shelter. Now that's from the old school days of barely improved (read paved) roads. They counted a storms severity by how high on the back porch steps (about 15 - top to ground) the water reached.  I don't recommend this action in todays world of long range forecast and transportation options.

I do recommend a drink or two in a hotel bar, far far away.

This is the week that Harvey came ashore in Texas.  I live on a hill in the little old town of Grapevine outside Dallas and Fort Worth.  And thank you all for letting me know that a storm is coming... I didn't get out and walk Malibu before the rain hit, so I grabbed a hat and we went anyway.  Much nicer walk with the drizzle, I'd say.

I'll raise a glass to you - if you were not smart enough to do the responsible thing, at the last responsible moment.

I do re…