404i

Web design, Business Analysis, Communications

Onwards and Upwards… 8 years in the making

After 8 years with the NHS ePortolio I’m going to be moving onto a new position with JP Morgan Asset Management as a technical Business Analyst; I start in October. Quite a change in many respects – C# becomes Java, SQL Server become Oracle, TFS becomes Jira. Regular home-working becomes a 25 minute commute, public sector become the financial sector. Still web-based technologies though but looking forward to developing my BA knowledge and experience in a new and most likely more challenging environment.

So much to learn, and a fond farewell to the thoroughly excellent team I’ve worked with since 2006.

 

Rubic’s cube: solving it as a process

The Rubic’s cube is 40 this year, a puzzle that to many people seems to be the play thing of maths geniuses and the friendless. I can solve a cube in about 2 to 3 minutes and I’m certainly no maths genius (and I have a couple of friends at least). If you don’t believe me check out the video below, those are my hands. So how do I do it, what makes me so clever?

Simple, I learned a process…

How to solve it (this isn’t the actual solution, just how to get there)

People who don’t know how to solve a cube think that solving it means being able to see and understand from the very beginning how to move every square colour about so that it will all fall into place. In fact all you need to do to get all the same colours on the same face is follow a set of progressive steps:

  1. line up the bottom centre colour as a cross with side centres
  2. fill in the bottom corners
  3. fill in the colours between the side centres
  4. make a cross with the top face colour
  5. line up top face colour with the side colours
  6. put the corners in the right place
  7. rotate the corners to the correct orientation and cube is solved

For each of those 7 steps there are a couple of standard moves to learn for each step to get the colour in the right place. Easy.

The point I want to make is that a seemingly highly complex task is solved by just breaking it down into simple steps and following a process. So how many other impossibly difficult tasks in life can be understood and resolved by just understanding how to get from start to finish in simple, manageable steps?

Something to think about.

Return to PRINCE2 – better than I remembered too

About 4 years ago I qualified as a PRINCE2 Practitioner. Returning to work the following week I was fired up and ready to get everything running in this way. And yet, some how, it never quite works like that. The projects we worked on were too small in terms of several work packages across numerous customers in a semi-agile environment. Yes PRINCE2 can be used with Agile, and in theory no project is too small, but realistically there’s too much supporting documentation and processes to keep on top of it all, especially is being a PM isn’t everything you have to doing during the day.

Nonetheless, I still cherry picked items like incident logging, daily logs etc… The key however is the Business Case, but again, when commissioned to do a piece of work for a customer the business case is their document – us accepting to do the work is more to do with service management than project management.

What interested my most was the alignment and crossover of business analysis and PRINCE2, or rather, the activities of the BA and the PM – seemingly often the same person in smaller organisations or projects. The Business Case again featuring highly for both roles. For interest I looked around for articles/papers that discuss PRINCE2 and the BA:

http://www.somos.com/resources/know/articles/11112101 (BA and PRINCE2)

And for completeness
http://eprince2.com/articles/prince2-is-agile/2011/03/17/ (PRINCE2 and Agile)

http://businessanalystlearnings.com/blog/2013/4/21/traditional-to-agile-the-role-of-bas-in-agile-projects (BA and Agile)

It’s all about the numbers.

Last week I was asked to gather some metrics about the development process – some numbers around timings, effort assessments, time to deploy, how many code review failures, how many test failures  and so on. Ok says I and start extracting data from Team Foundation Server. The problem is, well, which numbers? So this is the challenge is determining (a) what are the numbers that tell us the about the development process and (b) are we able to extract this data from what we have?

The key point is being sure to generate metrics and KPIs on what is relevant to the critical success factors (CSFs) and not just pull out numbers based on what you can see on the spreadsheet of extracted data.

Data -> Information -> knowledge -> wisdom

So now I’m going through the books to get some guidance (Metrics for Service Management published by Van Haren is very good for this) and will make the questions first and then look for the answers.

Old tricks for a new dog. Sort of.

I think this is something that happens to a number of people who do a similar job to me – i.e. you send your working years developing specifications, talking to customers, looking at internal processes for support, change requests, reporting, little bit of this, little bit of that. And whenever a new person starts in the team they go around the introductions: “I’m Dave, developer”, “I’m Jane, developer”, “I’m Gary, trainer”, then the inevitable “I’m Tim, er…[mumble][cough]..er…stuff…well I’m doing something all day, you know…”

So it came as a great relief when it turns out that what I do is IT Business Analysis. Seems this is something that happens to many BAs who find they’ve effectively been one for a long time but didn’t have a title for it. What’s interesting is that when you have a label for it it becomes easier to understand what you do, what it links into the other things you do; it tidies things up and gives you access to other people who have been aware of BA for a long time (LinkedIn groups is great for this). I got the book (Business Analysis, 2nd Ed, BCS) and sure enough, these indeed covered a much of my job description (though the book nicely formalises it and has much more that I have to learn from – and I should do the exam too).

Of course there’s a heck of a lot more to being a BA, and the thing you really need to grips with (and that’s next on the reading list, or at least get familiar with list) is BABOK 2 (Business Analysis Body Of Knowledge version 2).

Anyway, so finally I have crystallised my job title to “Business Analyst / Communication Consultant” – I dropped “IT” at the beginning for brevity, but added Communications Consultant at the end for levity [are you sure that’s the right word? Ed] to cover all the comms work I’m doing, particularly with social media development (Twitter chats, Google+, YouTube channel, help desk self service). It’s quite refreshing when you can find you can tell people what you do with surety and conviction.

Twitter API stumbling blocks

Xeream is done, mostly. And live at http://xeream.404i.com and works fine but for the Twitter OAuth sign in has suddently started to fail (and causing the log in page to bomb). I also seem to be unable to get the Twitter API to work for posting tweets (to signed in user’s feed). Once these are done then that’s virtually it.

Then we can move onto persuading people to use it. I have at least 2 specific tweet chats I would like to run so I need to get this rolling. Getting some help with this is my next step: I’ve stared at stackoverflow pages long enough and want to get things moving.

Nearly there.

Getting tricky now, but if it works….!

I’ve been tweaking and fiddling with Xeream (still on my local environment) and thought I should at least have a go at plugging in the Twitter API to allow users to post tweets from the, and to list a search of the appropriate hash tag. So I installed TweetSharp into the project (which appears to be updated for Twitter’s 1.1 API). So it sort of works, but doesn’t (gave a stack overflow error). I’m thinking this may be an authentication issue as the API call is coming from a http://localhost/ address but the application is set up to call from 404i.com (which it will do eventually).

With that in mind then I thinking, time to move to host that has 4.5 framework – and I think I’ll do it in the next few days (get Xmas out of the way first). Most likely going to go with HostForLIFE.eu – the reviews look good and is at the right budget.

Meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Xeream done: all wrapped up and no place to go

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks and on my laptop I’ve developed the tweet chat/discussion web site Xeream. Lots of Bootstrap and jQuery and a little code in the background and it’s all ready. I was all set to get it live  on 404i.com when I stumbled into a small problem – my hosting account is .Net 4.0 framework but Xeream requires 4.5. Oh dear. I may have to wait until January to get a new host, or alternatively I can persuade my work to put this onto one of our cloud servers.

In the meantime, here’s a Prezi thrown together as a “How to guide” as a preview.

Xeream – Fun with Bootstrap and JQuery

I mentioned a while back how I wanted to get going with MVC – sadly not far after the Hello World app was put together I moved onto the next part of the MVC ebook and found myself facing reams of code that was going to take quite a lot more time than I had available to understand and hope to become proficient in. I hope I’ve done enough to understand the principles behind MVC at least.

Meanwhile, what I did need to get better acquainted with with Responsive Design and using Javascript libraries. I had a site that I wanted to build using standard .net web forms (no longer using MVC as my original intention) but I wanted to use Bootstrap as the design framework, and throw in what ever handy javascript plugin bells and whistles come to hand.

Introducing the project: Xeream

So what to build? Well at a medical education conference in the Summer (IAMSE 2013, St. Andrews) I attended an interesting presentation/demo about how the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) were trying out Twitter-based journal clubs* to discuss a recently (or soon to be published) scientific paper. This is not necessarily something new and TweetChat have been doing this type of thing for quite a while. However, it seemed like there wasn’t a simple way of organising an upcoming event where additional materials and any initial discussion could be provided for potential participants. Tweetchat does provided scheduling facilities though didn’t find them particularly easy to use, and the option for additional resources not obvious.

So, using a made up word (Xeream) I decided to create a very simple solution to this. In a nutshell, create an account, create an Event (title, summary, description, hash tag, links to resources, and start and end date and time) and that’s about it. When the event is complete then the resource can be added to by Storifying the Twitter discussion the had ensued.

A simple (Jumbotron) Bootstrap template was used and immediately the site has responsive design. Shrink the browser window and the menu changes, images shrink, 3 column format becomes a single column. For the bells and whistles, date picker, time picker, hash tag copy to clip board (with whizzy text animation as you see with Bit.ly copy button), keyword styling as you type… All this done using mainly JQuery plugins.

Some things on the To Do list include Add Event to my Outlook calendar, OpenAuth sign on using Twitter log in which would allow for the twittering to happen within a Xeream page, and possible and email invites facility.

If it was to be monetised then perhaps the option to brand an event, e.g. with a journal’s logo. Just a thought…. It assumes that this would get some use, a tall order when it’s up against Tweetchat. The value has mostly been to me and what I’ve learned along the way.

I hope to get this online to demo quite soon and see if it rolls.

Business Analysis – the next road on the journey

Since entering IT nearly 8 years ago (as a developer) my role has changed ever further from coding more towards requirements gathering, account management, support, ITSM, comms and more. Along the way I’ve picked up certificates in project management (PRINCE2) and IT service management (ITIL and ISO20000). As time passed it became increasingly difficult to state what my job actually was. Whenever a new person joined the team we would go round the room to each introduce ourselves and state our job (“I’m and I’m a developer”) but when it got to me I’d find myself waffling about “…this and that…”

I knew I was doing something every day, quite a lot actually, but it was hard to state in a single job title what this was. I’d tried technical consultant analyst was sort of it but not exactly.

Then I came across the notion of the Business Analyst. This is a job title that appears to cover a good proportion of what I actually do for much of the day. To that end I’ve now bought the book (Business Analysis 2nd Edition, Paul, Yeates and Cadle [Editors], BCS), joined the LinkedIn group, and will ultimately attempt to persuade my employer to at least pay for the exam (if not a full taught course).

BA appears to be what I’ve been looking for, so let’s see where this takes me….