Archive for category Process

I Love Agile

AgileA month or so ago someone told me that they wanted to introduce Agile development but they had heard that I didn’t like Agile. I have to say that I was shocked by this as it isn’t true, I love Agile.

I love Agile for its flexibility, I love Agile as it brings the customer into the development process, I love Agile for the visibility it brings to projects, I love Agile for delivering better speed to market, I love Agile for the way it empowers the team and enables collaboration, and most of all I love Agile as a mindset.

What I don’t love is when Agile isn’t used properly, when people abuse Agile, when teams invent their own version of Agile, or when Agile is used as an excuse for lack of transparency, non-delivery or poor discipline.

Development teams that adopt Agile in a consistent way and share best practice deliver a step change for their organisation. However, to turn the step change into a giant leap, add the commercial teams into the mix and get everyone using Agile. You’ll be amazed with the results.

I love Agile (when it is done properly!)

Thanks for reading, whats your take on Agile?

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The World’s Favorite Airline – Not Today!

BA5I’ve travelled with British Airways a lot with business and pleasure over the years and I have to say my experience has generally been positive … until yesterday!

I’m off to New York on a short break with the family and my story begins upon receipt of the email from BA that check in is now open, yay!

Now, the trip involves two flights, one from NCL to LHR and then a second from LHR to JFK. I check into the LHR flight just fine, selecting new seats and printing boarding passes, great. I then check into the JFK flight, select new seats so the kids can have window seats, but is time I can’t print boarding passes, and I get an error message saying I have to go to the check in desk at the airport. This is odd as it’s never happened to me before so I pick up the phone to BA and this is where my poor experience begins…

I have to say that I found the BA IVR experience very poor… as someone who runs a large call centre telephony platform I appreciate the need for IVR, but I also know you need to put a lot of work into making them work well. It’s very obvious that the BA contact model is to push you to their digital channels and they don’t want you to ring them. Again I can appreciate that they are trying to manage costs and people manning telephony lines are very expensive.

However, support lines are very busy estimating a 50 minute wait so I give up. Instead I speculatively ask a question on twitter as to what the error message means. I’m really impressed with the speed of their response, this confirms to me the power of digital and social channels over traditional methods of contact…


I send them my flight number, but then they start to concern me with their next tweet.


So I do just that and contact my booking agent ‘Trailfinders’ who check everything out from their end and it looks just fine, no problems. I tweet back BA that the booking agent can’t see anything wrong at their end… again BA come back quickly with the even more worrying response of…


Now I’m thinking I’ll not be going to New York and so I ring back the booking agent who told me they would ring BA on my behalf… A little later the booking agent rings me back in a pretty annoyed state to tell me that they got through to BA after 45 minutes wait only for the BA agent to tell them they only speak to customers and promptly put the phone down on them. However, the booking agent then told me that they were ringing them back to complain about the hanging up and to escalate the call.

I sent another tweet to BA ask for more information but no reply this time… 😦

Whist this is going on I try again to print the boarding passes and I find that I can print one of the passes but not the others. So I log out and log back in again and this time I can print a couple of the other passes, log off and on again and then I can print the final pass. However, I’m still a little confused as the travel itinerary hasn’t updated with seat numbers etc.

Trailfinders ring back to say that they have finally spoken to someone at BA who would listen to them, and that they confirmed we were listed on the JFK flight. That brings us to the end of Saturday and I’m pretty confident we’ve done all we could to give us the peace of mind we were after.

Sunday morning arrives and low and behold I have a text waiting on my phone to say the LHR flight has been cancelled. Now, this is a huge disappointment but not really a surprise as BA have a tendency in my experience to pull the NCL-LHR flights all too often.

Time to ring the call centre, fight my way through the IVR (option 5 then option 1 is what you need in this instance), and speak to a very helpful chap who re-lists us on a later flight albeit much tighter for the connection, but promises us that BA will re-list us for a later NY flight should we miss the connection. He also says we need to go and check in for the re listed flight as this wouldn’t be done automatically.

A few minutes later I log onto BA.COM and I see the new flight, but it won’t let me check in! So I ring BA again… (option 5 and option 1) and I speak to another helpful agent who tells me we can’t check in online as he’d have to drop us off both flights in order for us to check in to the LHR flight and there would be a chance that we would lose our seat reservations on the JFK flight and the best thing to do would be to arrive at the airport check in desk where they have more options to check us iThat’s the story bang up to date… booking this holiday seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have to say our initial joy and excitement of looking forward to this break for quite some time has turned into quite a stressful experience and we haven’t even left the house yet!

I do hope this is the last you’ll hear about this particular journey!

Updated … A much better experience from arrival at the airport onwards. Check in staff were excellent, everything was sorted out swiftly, we made the connection to JFK and were delighted to discover we had been upgraded.


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Scottish Power – A story of Excellent Customer Experience

If you read my blog you’ll know I’m a great believer in shouting about great service when I come across it and this time I’d like to shout out Scottish Power.

We’ve been a customer of Scottish Power for a few years now and we’ve generally been happy with their service. However a few weeks back during our normal process of reading the meter and entering the readings into the website we hit a problem when the website wouldn’t accept the figures and advised we call them up.

We rang up Scottish Power and spoke to a chap called Adam Heywood. Adam advised that there was a problem with our reading and because it was so far away from our normal usage pattern the website wouldn’t accept it.

Adam suggested there may be a problem with the meter and advised us to send him a photo of the meter (iphone is ever so handy for this), wait one more week, read the meter again and he would ring us back at a predetermined time to compare the new figures with our normal usage profile.

At the predetermined time, not a minute later, Adam rang and we gave him the new reading. He said he’d have to speak to a colleague and he’d get back to us, and he did within a couple of minutes, to tell us that it was indeed the meter and we needed a new one.

He arranged a convenient time for us to have the replacement fitted and that’s where the story ends.

So what’s excellent about this?

Adam got back to us exactly when he said he would, how many times does that happen?

Whilst Adam had to seek advice from someone else in the company he didn’t pass us over to someone else and forget about us, he took ownership of our problem until it was resolved.

Throughout the engagement we felt like Adam was working for us and not against us.

So, thank you Adam and well done Scottish Power for this excellent experience. I hope all your agents share the same customer care mind set as Adam.

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The one question that every CIO should ask themselves… What are you going to do when (not if) your cloud systems fail?

I’ve deliberately used the word Cloud to grab your attention but the question is equally applicable if you use Cloud systems or in house systems.

This post was prompted following an interesting twitter conversation I had last night with Frank Scavo and Dennis Howlett around yesterday’s outage of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

Frank started the conversation with this response to my tweet about Azure:

Frank: “Exactly the type of thing that reinforces CIO fears about cloud…”

Stuart: “working on the assumption that cloud outages are inevitable… I feel it’s how vendors respond that will give CIO’s confidence”

Frank: “No, fewer outages will give confidence…”

Stuart: “I’ll meet you half way… Fewer outages and proper service management around problems when they do happen…”

Frank makes the point that some of his CIO contacts were livid following this outage. And this is where this post really starts, as I challenged Frank as to exactly who they were livid at on the basis that to overall accountability for a company’s IT systems, whether they be on premise or in the cloud lies with the CIO.

Stuart: “as CIO you’re accountable for everything as you choose to use cloud or not!”

Alongside the Azure thread there was a parallel thread running on cloud security that had been started by Dennis Howlett in his Accman blog.

“Anything that connects to a network is vulnerable. That includes EVERY cloud player, regardless of the service they offer. What matters is the extent to which vulnerabilities exist AND are capable of exploitation.”

Let me share my belief here, these two topics are intrinsically linked, i.e. when you’re appointed as a CIO you’re trusted to deliver competitive advantage for your company through IT. Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you can’t maintain availability and adequate security of your systems then you’ll only manage to deliver disadvantage, and you probably won’t be around very long.

So, let’s get back to the title of the post… what are you going to do when your systems fail (which is inevitable)?

If you’re running in house, the apps themselves (if they are decent apps) are least likely to fail, more likely failures are from switches, disks, networks, cables and other parts of infrastructure. You protect yourself against this by designing your datacentre(s) around redundancy with zero single points of failure.

If you’re running cloud services, you pick a reputable supplier who works with a reputable hosting partner right? Well, yes but as we saw with Azure yesterday (and previously with Amazon and Rackspace and most other reputable cloud vendors) the same hardware failure points exist in cloud provider datacentres as they do in your own. If you appreciate and accept this this then you’ll also be mindful that you could be introducing a single point of failure in your enterprise platform and that your service availability is now at the mercy of their service availability.

When you running outside of your own bricks and mortar you also need a high bandwidth and high availability WAN, Firewalls and Proxies, etc  that all need to be fault tolerant and designed around redundancy to ensure adequate access and security at all times. Even then you can’t mitigate around someone digging up the cable which has happened to me twice this year and is more common than you might expect.

Is this a story of cloud bashing? No it isn’t, it’s a story of how the CIO needs to take full accountability for managing risk within their platform.

  • If you’re running mission critical systems and your business can’t afford any outage then you simply can’t design a single point of failure into your enterprise platform.
  • If you’re running non mission critical systems, then you may choose to take a little more risk around availability and accept a single point of failure and manage any disruptions that may arise.

What you deem to be mission critical or not is your own decision and it doesn’t have to be one or the other. For my part I run a hybrid platform where some parts are mission critical and some parts less so and the platform design and location of services (in house vs. cloud) reflects this.

Of course from a customer perspective people outside of IT expect things to work 100% of the time and if you’re running either of the above, or a combination, then any outage no matter what damages your credibility with users.

So as an effective CIO, you need to design an effective platform around what your business needs, you need to manage the risk, you need to pick the suppliers that you work with, and you need to take full accountability when things go wrong. Yes you can get livid with your suppliers, but just remember who picked them and remember who chose to introduce a single point of failure into your platform in the first place.

So, what are you going to do when (not if) your cloud systems fail? Make sure you know the answer today.

Footnote: This post relates to large enterprise businesses and the role of the CIO and the point I’m trying to make is you have to plan for failure to guarantee success.

Part of this cross posted here

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Converting from a PC to a Mac, it’s dead easy and you’ll never want to go back!

A month or so ago I fuelled my apple addition further with the purchase of a iMac. I have to say I’ve been delighted with the iMac so far and thought I’d take a few minutes to share some of the things I’ve discovered.

As with all the other apple kit I’ve bought getting started with the iMac was a piece of cake, take it out the box, plug it in and you’re away. Well not quite but almost, you need to go through a set up routine but this really is very easy and straightforward.

Next comes the task of moving years of ‘stuff’ from my PC over to the iMac. This again was a very simple task. I had a Seagate external hard drive, which I could just copy files onto from the PC. It didn’t matter that this was formatted NTFS as the iMac could read the files and simply copy them over. This also gave me the opportunity I needed to clean my content up along the way.

After doing the easy stuff I turned my attention to iTunes, which had grown to a considerable size over the years and was literally scattered all over the PC. I remembered reading horror stories of how bad this was to do well and I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. That was until I googled for some help and found some excellent instructions on (click on the link to get the instructions)

What used to be a complex procedure is now relatively simple with iTunes 9. So make sure you’re running the latest version of iTunes on both systems, and then follow these easy steps.

There is an option in iTunes that consolidates all of your iTunes content into one directory structure and then you just need to copy it over just as you would do for ordinary files. What’s more I feel it’s made iTunes housekeeping much better for me as I add more content on the iMac.

I have over 100 movies converted to Mpeg format, which I use on my apple TV and on my iPad when travelling. On the advice of someone who has been a long time mac user I installed the conversion package called Handbrake. You wont find this on the app store, you’ll need to google for it. You’ll also need to install a new codec and I chose the one that comes as part of the VLC media player. I tried Handbrake once before on the PC but it didn’t work for me. However, on the iMac I’ve had a 100% success rate and I’ve already converted 20 or so movies.

Next was Office software. I chose Microsoft Office for Mac on the basis that I use this all the time at work and my iMac being in my homeworking office it makes it easier to share documents etc. Again this was very east to install and setup. I can’t remember it being as easy on the PC, but then again I haven’t done it for years. Now the 27″ screen on the iMac might be having an effect on me here but I feel the user experience of Office on the Mac is much better than it is on the PC.

Now I’m thinking I should have this thing backed up, so I check out Time Machine. It just gets better, this sounds good but I need a Time Capsule to get it going. Actually it would be nice, and I’ll probably buy one some day, but it’s not essential as Time Machine works with any hard drive. So I decide to reformat my Seagate external hard drive to Mac format, which only took a couple of minutes, and use this (it sits neatly under my iMac). Then it’s a simple job of turning on Time Machine, pointing it at the external drive and we’re up and running.

My Kodak ‘all in one’ wireless printer was just as easy to connect and I’m printing in minutes.

Along the way I also decide that I need a new wireless router and so after a bit of research I buy a dual band Cisco router. It’s great and instead of the 54Mbps I was used to on the PC, I instantly benefit from 300Mbps on the iMac.

And finally I go down to the local apple store and come back with a Magic Trackpad. Words can’t describe how good this thing is. Who would have thought the day would come when you don’t need a mouse? Well this thing has rendered the mouse obsolete, its fantastic.

So, If you’re thinking of switching to a Mac then my advice would be to go for it, its dead easy to convert and you’ll not be disappointed. Other than if you have to go back to using a PC for any reason.

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Customer Service whose job is it anyway?

If you follow my blog you’ll be well aware of my recent trials and tribulations I’ve been having with Dell. I suppose like many others before me I innocently thought that when I placed the order that I was buying from Dell and that they would take accountability for my order until it was delivered. Sounds sensible don’t it? Well from the many conversations I have had with them during this debacle this obviously wasn’t the case. For example, here are some quotes I got from their call centre that made me think otherwise:

“Our customer service team is not to blame for mismanaging your expectation; the delay to your order was a supplier issue and it was beyond our control.” – and who picks the supplier?

“Your order is delayed because of a high level of demand at this time of the year.” – I always thought supply was a vendor issue not a customer issue?

“Delivery is now with UPS and you should talk to them about the status of your order.” – erm, I thought my order was placed with Dell not UPS?

It’s quite obvious here that Dell didn’t take ‘end to end’ accountability for my order and therefore the customer experience I recieved was abysmally poor.

Another example I’ve had recently is with Next Directory, if you’re from the UK you’ll know of them as the catalogue outlet part of high street chain of clothing stores right… well I thought the same but it turns out I was wrong!!! In this scenario I ordered something for collection at one of their high street stores. They sent me a email that it was ready for collection, so off I go to collect. When I arrive it isn’t there, there has been a delay and this is what I’m told by the Next shop assistant?

“Sorry your order isn’t here it’s because Next Directory isn’t part of Next and so it’s not under our control.”

Sigh! How about a simple hang on a minute, I’ll check with the Next Directory people for you… would have turned this into a good experience instead of a poor one.

In both cases there was a clear lack of accountability, if someone had taken accountability instead of saying it’s not my job then they could have dramatically changed my experience.

Now compare this to Amazon (Amazing), and a department store called John Lewis in the UK… they both have amazing customer experience because no matter who you talk to they look after you and their people make sure your issue is resolved whether it is their primary role or not.

The lesson here is very simple… no matter what role you have in a company, you are accountable for customer experience… do everything you possibly can, and then a bit more, to make sure your customers have a good one.

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Stories vs Facts

There is a great piece by Johann Hari in today’s independent where he gives a personal apology around using some not so ethical techniques when creating stories, I’d encourage everyone to read it here:

This piece struck a chord with me for a number of reasons. As someone on the receiving end of this type practice it was nice to see someone acknowledge that this is poor form, and I admire Johann’s courage and humility in owning up.

Two years ago I set up this blog as an experiment. I wanted this blog to represent my own thoughts on technology gained over 25 or so years in the IT industry and importantly I wanted to do it without affiliation or to prejudice my employer Sage (incedentally this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned my employer on this site).

Don’t get me wrong I love Sage, it’s a great company to work for, and I already write posts for the official Sage blog. But this was my blog it wasn’t about Sage and I wanted to use this to collaborate with people who have interests similar to my own, to learn more about the industry I chose as a career, and to share my considerable experience of the IT industry.

So away I went and I took the greatest of care to state that all comments I make are my own. What’s more I set up a twitter account to lead people to my blog based on exactly the same principles and ethics.

Has this worked?

Absolutely not… despite what I set out to do and the care I took not to use Sage’s name to promote my personal blog in any way, the comments I make and the things I write about are automatically attributed to Sage by those industry commentators and Sage critics looking for a story.

On numerous occasions the personal comments I have made about IT industry trends or events have been deliberately manipulated and in some cases used against Sage. There could be a number of reasons for this, someone has a personal agenda against me, someone has a personal agenda against Sage, or sometimes the facts on their own don’t make for a very compelling article, so the author embellishes the facts to build their own version of a story in a similar way as described by Johann’s piece earlier. Of course Johann isn’t alone in this, indeed he probably isn’t the worst, and I’m sure it will continue to be a widely used technique for the rest of eternity.

So, the advice I would offer to people in a similar position to myself would be… everything you say will most likely come back to your employer, don’t let anyone sucker you into a position where they can use you to get to your employer (believe me they won’t stop trying), and don’t let anyone make you look like a fool.

Be careful out there people….

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