Table stakes of solution success: face the challenges. Pierre Frigon is a seasoned expert who has worked with a number of companies in lab automation solutions empowered by methodologies including Lab as a Service (LaaS) and DevOps. In this M2M blog installment, Pierre shares his insights from the frontlines of solution adoption, examining the short- and long-term challenges adopting organizations may experience in a LaaS solution integration.
Know your jungle. In my last blog on the J-Curve effect, I described how many solution adoption leaders underestimate the distinct cycle of a drop in productivity that must be experienced before benefits of a successful transformational change can be leveraged. That’s if everything goes as planned! But there are other factors involved in a solution adoption of this complexity. And understanding the plethora of X-factors – the challenges both short- and long-term – is critical for navigating to success. While this blog cannot cover all the challenges, it provides a profile of many of the common factors encountered on the long winding road of change and solution adoption. When an explorer sets out on an uncharted path through the jungle, it’s good at least to know the nature of the flora and fauna, and which ones are dangerous.
Rapid change in the marketplace creates emerging factors. Over the last ten to fifteen years, digital disruption has applied an increasingly amplified influence on organizations to remain competitive. They need to get their products and/or services to market faster, with reliable quality. While many enterprises have responded with the best intentions to address the challenges of stepping up speed to market, in some cases the old adage of “haste makes waste” is too often true. Any complex solution must consider the three factors of people, technology, and the solution development process. Sometimes they overlap. I’ll examine a number of challenges in these categories.
People factors. It's always a challenge to go through significant organizational change. Some organizations navigating through those challenges have more success than others. Some efforts have totally died on the vine because of lack of effort, persistence, and perseverance. Once they begin to see pushback and resistance, many executives simply drop the ball because they don't want to deal adversity. They won't persevere. Another big factor around failure in change is the lack of vision. Having a very clear vision of where you're going and what you’re trying to do is essential.
The criticality of a unified and shared vision. All the concerns above are deeply rooted in the change of culture required in a complex process such as a DevOps or LaaS adoption. Without an organization’s holistic understanding, acceptance, and support of the clear vision for adoption of a solution, it is doomed to fail. (See my DevOps and LaaS Adoption - Phases of Productive Team Culture Evolution blog.) These factors must be taken into account from the inception of a solution and through to completion. Without this sensibility in place, the technology elements are meaningless. Successful change comes from running a marathon, not a sprint.
A significant part of the challenges to solution adoptions relate to technology. The solution’s promise of accelerated time to market, increased productivity, cost savings, and enhanced resource management are easily appreciated by all members of the organization. It’s great to have software and tools that help you to accelerate and streamline your processes to ultimately achieve continuous testing (CT). However, you must maintain and manage that solution you've built. Maintenance and management comprise the long tail component of the solution. When times get tough, maintenance-and-management is usually one of the first things to go. When it does, the entire organization suffers. Long-term planning, as well as proper allocation of budget and resources for sustained maintenance of the solution, must be accounted for to assure long-term success of a solution.
An automation solution is an answer to a productivity challenge. The solution development process includes a proof of concept (PoC), which is executed and measured for success against specific vetting requirements, to gauge the solution’s capabilities. Once the PoC is accepted by the customer, the delivery team designs the actual solution, validates it, and rolls it out. However, in too many cases these steps are outlined as part of a general dialog but not documented with enough specificity. That’s when serious problems can arise. If left unresolved, they can threaten the success of the solution itself. Process issues can include:
The statement of work (SoW) not providing an accurate definition of deliverables, or the stages of delivery, which can lead to ‘engagement creep,’ where well into the project the customer indicates they expected something different from what was delivered
Failure to account for customer and lab documentation that is not available, and yet is essential for development and delivery of the automation
The project development and integration schedule not properly mapped to the real-world requirements or factors, resulting in missed deadlines, which leads to confidence erosion of stakeholders and poor solution quality
Unclear definition of the overall success criteria, or metrics to support that definition, leading to an inability to assess the quality of the solution at any given point
Budget allocations for the solution falling short of the requirements, resulting in a substandard final solution and/or budget overruns
Technical requirements not properly identified, resulting in ad hoc solutions that are not in sync with the overall objectives of the solution
Properly qualified resources not assigned to the critical tasks of implementation, leading to an integration that doesn’t match the original requirements or expectations
Ad Hoc solutions: the good news and bad news. When an organization chooses to adopt an automation solution, the stakeholders frequently presume they’re getting a one-time quick fix. Reality, however, is all too often at odds with this expectation. Organizations developing their own solution typically realize far too late that the solution required is far more complex than initially anticipated and rarely provides the full range of capabilities necessary to address the organization’s needs, or, in some cases, to address even the original requirements that prompted consideration of the solution in the first place.
Consequences of misaligned homegrown solutions. When an automation solution, such as a homegrown ad hoc project, is implemented without full organizational support or knowledge, it can create a critical disconnect between operations and the organization’s overall needs, strategies, and objectives. Later, when a more holistic automation solution is evaluated, the requirement to integrate the next generation of automation with the original solution may carry inherent and crippling inefficiencies. In addition, the champions of a skunk-works project may highlight the advantage of the speed with which it can be implemented, when in reality that very aspect may possibly create roadblocks to an inclusive and effective automation solution. As the old adage goes: “A shortcut is the fastest way to get to somewhere you don’t want to be.”
Additional concerns with homegrown solutions. While a homegrown solution may help to bootstrap a fledgling company, team or project, it is rarely scalable as the project or product matures. In the process, the project invariably takes on characteristics and requirements that the original automation developers, or the organization sponsoring it, ever envisioned. Too often new use cases emerge from adopting organizations and test teams that represent new paradigms of challenge. Then the question is how do you incorporate testing that addresses these use cases while also addressing the explosion in the number of test cases. This scenario is far too common with homegrown solutions. The bottom line becomes: How flexible and extensible is your homegrown solution? How can your testing keep pace with the features that get added?
The side effects of acceleration. One of the change efforts I was involved with generated extremely successful results. We sped up and optimized the lab environment, maximizing our capabilities. The increased speed we achieved was incredible. But the one thing we never anticipated was that when you operate at a certain speed, a phenomenon occurs where you begin to encounter problems at an accelerated velocity. When you're accelerating that rapidly, you face the same problems you had before, but now those problems hit you at a much faster rate. Alongside the acceleration factor, the scale of problems increases as well. In some cases, this will demand an unexpected magnitude of adaptation. You must be ready for that. You must understand that as well as you can foresee, as well as you can plan, change will always deliver unpredictable elements.
Continuous adaptation. While you know where you want to go with your solution and what you want to achieve – your destination – you may not necessarily know which road will take you there. It's something of a discovery process, across a vast landscape of challenges you will need to navigate. It's a massive management process. Sometimes, when you're trying to make a left turn, you might find there's a brick wall. Unknowns such as these surface as you move the project forward, and they require constant adjustments to the plan based on what is continuously being learned.
Final thoughts on the facing long- and short-term challenges. The bottom line for solution leaders is: “Never assume anything.” You don't know what you don't know, and you're only going to know once you get there. To me, this is one of the key tenets of navigating through change successfully. By its very nature, a solution of this kind is being adopted because of rapidly changing challenges and opportunities of digital disruption. Once a solution is in place, there will continue to be adjustments in the long tail of the solution which should be accounted for in the holistic planning process for the solution. Starting, and maintaining momentum with an initiative must be handled with the careful consideration of the factors described above. This means taking time out of the process to reflect on progress, and identifying where adjustments should be made to maintain positive velocity in solution success. In other words: working on the business, not in the business.
The Months to Minutes blog series highlights how continuous testing, driven by test and lab automation, optimizes the validation of an organization’s networks and business offerings amidst the growing challenges of digital disruption. The result: taking testing processes which too often take months to perform, and deliver improvements where it can all be achieved in minutes – with increased efficiencies and capabilities.
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