Requirements Management 101

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This was a funny Dilbert on Requirements Management. 

In IT, we all know that getting requirements can be like pulling teeth. 

No one either has time or desire to provide them or perhaps they simply don’t know what they’re really after.

Knowing what you want is a lot harder than just telling someone to automate what I got because it isn’t working for me anymore!

In the comic, Dilbert shows the frustration and tension between technology providers and customers in trying to figure out what the new software should do. 

Technology Person: “Tell me what you want to accomplish.”

Business Customer: “Tell me what the software can do.”

In the end, the customer in exasperation just asks the IT person “Can you design [the software] to tell you my requirements?”

And hence, the age old dilemma of the chicken and egg–which came first with technology, the requirements or the capability–and can’t you just provide it!

(Source Comic: Dilbert By Scott Adams)


Robots, They Are Coming


I was so excited by this photo in the Wall Street Journal today.

YuMi, an industrial robot by ABB, is adroitly writing Chinese calligraphy. 

If you look at the photo and think for a moment, the notion of the robot doing and the person watching is truly prophetic of how we are evolving technologically and as a species. 

Yumi is made by ABB, a leading robotics company headquartered in Switzerland, that on one hand has over 300,000 robots installed worldwide, but on the other hand needs only 4,600 employees in 53 countries to produce all these fantastic and productive droids.  

This robot is a work of not just incredible science and engineering, but of art and beauty. 

It’s sleek black and white build with two incredibly agile arms and hands plus a viewing camera, enables it to do small parts assembly or even fine calligraphic work. 

YuMi stands for “You and Me” working together, collaboratively. 

While we surely will work together, the flip side is that with robotics, some people (who don’t make the transition to STEM) may not be working much at all. 

But of course, the positive side is that we are looking at an incredible capacity to do more and better with less! 

Leaving the innovation to humans, and the assembly and service to the bots, the bar will be raised on everything–both good and bad.

We will build greater things, travel and explore further, and discover ever new depths of understanding and opportunities to exploit.

But we will also edge people out of work and comfort zones, and be able to engage in new forms of conflict and war that only the power and skill of (semi-) autonomous machines could inflict. 

The robots are here, however, they are coming in much greater numbers, capabilities, and impact then we can currently fully comprehend. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal via WSJ)

Agile Processes As An Enabler

Bridge Up

So something that I’ve learned is that processes can be an enabler or a hinderance to progress depending on how it’s used.

On one hand, without a standardized and clear process where people know what they are supposed to do and when, we are likely to end up with a lot of chaos and not much getting done for the customer or organization.  

This is especially the case where tasks are complex and numerous people are involved requiring there to be solid coordination of team members, sync of activities, and clear communications.  

On the other hand, rigid processes that are so prescriptive that no one will get out of step for any rhyme or reason can be counter-productive, since this can hinder productivity, time to resolution, and customer service. 

For example, we all understand the importance of a help desk ticketing system in IT to document issues and deploy resources for resolution and measure performance. However, when customers, especially VIPs are in a bind and need help ASAP, it may not make sense to tell them to go open up a ticket first and foremost, instead of helping them to quickly get back online, and even opening the ticket for them and in parallel or as we get to it afterwards. 

Process should be an enabler and not obstacle to progress. Process should be followed under normal circumstances, but rigidly adhering to processes without adapting to conditions on the ground risks being out of step with the needs of the organization and a customer service model. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Remodulate The Shields For Cyber Security

I really like the concept for Cyber Security by Shape Security.

They have an appliance called a ShapeShifter that uses polymorphism to constantly change a website’s code in order to prevent scripted botnet attacks–even as the web pages themselves maintain their look and feel.

In essence they make the site a moving target, rather than a sitting duck.

This is like Star Trek’s modulating shield frequencies that would prevent enemies from obtaining the frequency of the shield emitters so they could then modify their weapons to bypass the shield and get in a deadly attack.

In real life, as hackers readily change their malware, attack vectors, and social engineering tactics, we need to be agile and adapt faster than the enemy to thwart them.

Changing defense tactics has also been used by agencies like Homeland Security to alter screening methods and throw potential terrorists off from a routine that could be more easily overcome.

I think the future of IT Security really lies in the shapeshifter strategy, where the enemy can’t easily penetrate our defenses, because we’re moving so fast that they can’t even find our vulnerabilities and design an effective attack before we change it and up our game again.

And hence, the evil Borg will be vanquished… 😉

Halo Arrives To Our Warfighters

So excited about the Army’s experimental Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS).

This is really our fast, strong, and agile fighting force of the future.

The integration of technologies for the individual warfighter, including sensors, exoskeleton body armor, weapon systems, communications, and monitoring of health and power makes this an unbelievable advance.

I think the MIT research on magnetorheological fluids–which convert from liquid to solid body armor in milliseconds (sort of like Terminator 2) with a magnetic field or electric current (controlled, so the enemy doesn’t bog down the forces) is a true game changer for balancing agility and force protection.

In the future, I believe these suits will even incorporate capabilities to drive, dive, and fly.

This will complement unmanned swarms of dumb drones with intelligent human fighters that will take the battlefield on Earth and beyond. 😉

At The Speed Of Innovation


Here are three perspectives on how we can speed up the innovation cycle and get great new ideas to market more quickly:

1) Coordinating R&D–While competition is a good thing in driving innovation, it can also be hinder progress when we are not sharing good ideas, findings, and methods in a timely manner–in a sense we are having to do the same things multiple times, by different entities, and in some more and other in less efficient ways wasting precious national resources. Forbes (10 February 2012) describes the staggering costs in pharmaceutical R&D such that despite about $800 billion invested in drug research between 2007-2011, only 139 new drugs came out the pipeline. Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 Nov 2012) notes that for “every 5,000 to 10,000 potential treatments discovered in the lab, only one makes it to market” and out of the pharmaceutical “valley of death.” The medical research system is broken because “there ultimately no one in charge.”  The result is that we are wasting time and money “funding disparate studies and waiting for researchers to publish results months or years later.” If instead we work towards our goals collaboratively and share results immediately then we could potentially work together rather than at odds. The challenge in my mind is that you would need to devise a fair and profitable incentive model for both driving results and for sharing those with others–this is similar to a clear mandate of together we stand, divided we fall. 

2) “Rapid Fielding”–The military develops large and complex weapon systems and this can take too long for the warfighters who need to counter evolving daily threats on the battlefield. Federal Computer Week (19 July 2001) emphasizes this point when it states, “Faster acquisition methods are needed to counter an improvised explosive device that tends to evolve on a 30-day cycle or a seven-year process for replacing a Humvee.” There according to the Wall Street Journal (11 December 2012) we need to move to a model that more quickly bring new innovative technologies to our forces.  The challenge is to do this with reliable solutions while at the same time fast tracking through the budgeting, acquisition, oversight, testing, and deployment phases. The question is can we apply agile development to military weapons systems and live with 70 to 80% solutions that we refine over time, rather than wait for perfection out of the gate.

3) Seeds and Standards–To get innovation out in the hands of consumers, there is a change management process that needs to occur. You are asking people to get out of their comfort zone and try something new. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (17 December 2012) on an article of how bar codes changed the world–it comes down to basics like simplicity and reliability of the product itself, but also seeding the market and creating standards for adoption to occur. Like with electric automobiles, you need to seed the market with tax incentives for making the initial purchases of hybrids or plug-in electric vehicles–to get things going as well as overset the initial development expense and get to mass development and cheaper production. Additionally, we need standards to ensure interoperability with existing infrastructure and other emerging technologies. In the case of the electric automobiles, charging stations need to be deployed across wide swathes of the country in convenient filling locations (near highways, shopping, and so on) and they need to be standards-based, so that the charger at any station can fit in any electronic vehicle, regardless of the make or model. 

Innovation is the lifeblood of our nation in keeping us safe, globally competitive, and employed.  Therefore, these three ideas for enhancing collaboration, developing and fielding incremental improvements through agile methodologies, and fostering change with market incentives and standards are important ideas to get us from pure exploration to colonization of the next great world idea. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Dance Robot, Dance!

This robot has rhythm and can dance Gangnam Style.

It is called CHARLI-2 (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence–Version 2).

Charlie was developed by Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa).

At five feet tall, CHARLI is the United States’ “first full-size humanoid robot.”

Charlie can do things like walk, turn, kick, and gesture–he is agile and coordinated–and as you can see can even dance and also play soccer!

One of the things that makes CHARLI special is his stabilization technology–where it can orient itself using sensors such as gyroscopes.

According to Wired Magazine (19 October 2012), The Office of Naval Research has provided a grant of $3.5M to CHARLI’s creator to develop a nextgen robot called the Autonomous Shipboard Humanoid (ASH) to work aboard Navy ships in the future and interact with humans.

CHARLI won the Time Magazine “2011 Best Invention of the Year” as well as the Louis Vuitton Best Humanoid Award.

While the CHARLI robots still move relatively slowly, are a little awkward, and are almost in a child-like “I dunno state,” we are definitely making exciting progress toward the iRobot of the future–and I can’t wait till we get there.

For me, I see the potential and this robot can certainly dance circles around me, but that’s not saying much. 😉