Friday, 10 December 2010

Stakeholders Don’t Just Kill Vampires – Sometimes They Talk

Alex continues to blog valuable insights into the art of capturing requirements...

Typically requirements analysis begins with some sort of user requirement document (URD) and often engineers consider this to be the only source of input. In modern development, however, customers are producing fewer requirements but, instead, becoming more capability driven. What this means is that, rather than identify a long list of “The system shall…” statements, customers are identifying gaps within their capabilities and asking industry to propose an appropriate solution. In order to effectively handle this absence of a URD it is vital that engineers take the time to identify and investigate the needs of the system stakeholders.

 So what is a stakeholder? As my title suggests, in this context, it is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer; nor is it the waiter at your favourite restaurant. A stakeholder represents anyone who has an interest in the system for some part of its development or operation. The obvious stakeholders are those who are paying for its development and those who need to use the system but is that where it ends? What about internal stakeholders? I know that whenever I develop anything that Derek looms over my shoulder wanting to know if the deadline will be met and whether I’ve blown the budget or not (naturally I never do). As a requirements engineer I have to take into account, not only those whom the final product will be delivered to but also those who will take my work and further the development; designers, implementers, testers – they are also my customers.

Successful development is based on good communication. Regardless of how your system functions, the project has failed if it doesn’t meet the needs of your stakeholders and the only way to guarantee that it will is to involve them in the development process all the way through. Learning how to ask the right questions is as important a development skill as understanding the technology on which the system is going to be based.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Progress with Strategic Alliances

Cat writes about how we can achieve more through Strategic Alliances...

The world is making such technological advancements it is sometimes hard to comprehend, never mind keep up. How do technology companies do it? Are employees akin to elves and work all hours of the day and night to create this high-technology magic? Quite possibly. But more commonly, technology companies are forming strategic alliances to not just stay ahead but lead the way.

Strategic alliances are all about the collaboration of companies, or even individual people, with complimentary resources and capabilities to achieve, together, more than they could separately. It is important that the relationships formed are in line with an organisation’s own strategy and direction and the potential benefits are huge. Market entry, risk sharing and expenses are among such benefits. In terms of innovation, the shared expertise, with each organisation bringing different skills and ideas to the table, is where the most extraordinary shifts can be made by strategic alliances.

We have focused on creating strategic alliances this year and the results have been greater than any of us could have imagined. The key is to find the mutual opportunities and create win-win situations. The parties are then dedicated to the relationship and working together to push the boundaries. It is important to keep pushing forward too.

Meetings are not meant to get longer nor the decisions slower. Strategic alliances are about being fast thinking and rapid moving to be innovative and gain competitive advantage. It is about setting the standard, the creation of new ideas and leading the way. The approach particularly suits fast growing companies but long established companies, such as Toshiba, often have a company culture of collaboration that has proved sustainable.  

Toshiba‘s main business is infrastructure, consumer products, electronic devices and components. They firmly believe that a company cannot achieve everything by itself. Their approach is to develop relationships with partners who have different technologies. For example, they formed a relationship with Apple to develop multimedia computer products. Whilst Apple’s strength lay in software technology, Toshiba had a great deal of manufacturing expertise. Interestingly, even on a local level in Japan, Toshiba is a part of group of companies whom all have interlocking business relationships and shareholdings. This set up became incredibly common in Japan post World War II and is known as a keiretsu.

Whilst the true keiretsu model hasn’t appeared outside Japan, many non-Japanese businesses are described as keiretsu such as the Virgin Group, Tata Group and Cisco Systems. These companies are always associated with innovation, breaking boundaries, and prosperity. And I’m sure Mr Branson doesn’t employ little elves to achieve all that success.