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Agile Vs Roadmap

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Introduction

We often receive RFPs (Request for Proposals) that demand a firm committed five year product roadmap. Similarly we are often criticized for not having such a “golden” roadmap when other competing products have. Having now worked in an Agile world for some time now, these requests seem stranger and stranger.

The quibble here isn’t with having a plan, it’s with the inflexibility these requests imply. That a company needs to set its course for five years and then any change in that plan is somehow a failure to deliver. That as knowledge and circumstances change that you need to stick to the plan and not adapt to the new situation.

Products are now introduced in “Internet” time. This means they are updated far more frequently (sometimes several times a day). All companies are looking to be “disruptive” and to “redefine” their market. Under these fast moving and fast changing conditions does it make sense to have a fixed long term roadmap?

On the other hand a product needs direction. A product needs long term thinking. You need to decide when to do something quick and dirty versus laying more groundwork and infrastructure to support future features. Stakeholders need to have an idea where a product is developing and what might be coming down the road.

There are quite a few types of roadmaps, there are technology roadmaps, feature roadmaps, release roadmaps, stop list roadmaps, marketing, strategy and many others. This articles generally applies to any of these.

Roadmap

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the key tenants of Agile Development is to reduce and if possible eliminate waste. Waste is any extra work that is being performed by team mates that doesn’t directly add value during the agile sprints. One main source of waste is doing too much and too detailed estimating. If you want a team to commit to estimates then they have to spend a lot of time working through those estimates so that they have the necessary precision. However when you do this, this work is often just waste, since then the work isn’t done due to changing priorities or another team does the work and insists on repeating the process or the project is postponed and when its resumed things have changed.

Roadmaps tend to generate a lot of wasted work. Once a company wants a roadmap that everyone is committed to, then far too much time will have been spent working on the estimates. The trick here is to be willing to accept inaccurate estimates. Many studies have shown that inaccurate WAG (Wild-Ass Guesses) type estimates aren’t really any less accurate than carefully constructed ones. All you need to know for building a roadmap is the order of magnitude of an item, not the details.

Detailed estimates are only done when the stories are going to be performed by the agile team. This work usually happens as a part of backlog grooming in the sprint before the work is actually going to be done. This then ensures that the stories are properly broken down and that the work can fit into one sprint.

Accept the Roadmap as a Guideline

The best way to think of a roadmap is as a guideline for current thinking. It is a mechanism to elicit feedback which can then be used to produce a better roadmap. Publishing a roadmap as a “fait accompli” doesn’t serve nearly as well as using a roadmap as a starting point for a conversation.

Often getting customer feedback on direction without providing any context or ideas is quite difficult because customers don’t spend their time thinking about how you need to develop your product. With a roadmap they can see how your product will fit in (or not) with their future business directions. Then they can provide useful feedback on what will be useful, what will be irrelevant and what will actually be harmful.

Keep in mind that conversations are two way things and the only way to be successful is to incorporate the feedback received and to show that the time spent by the customer talking to you is worthwhile. Corporations that can incorporate and synthesize the feedback from hundreds of customers in an effective manner tend to be the companies that really shine.

agile

Accept that Agile Works

A lot of times the push for a fixed roadmap is a result of the organization outside of R&D not being comfortable with the Agile idea of working on the most important story all the time. They liked the old days where a giant requirements document was produced and upper level management reviewed this and then felt comfortable that they could let R&D go off for a year or two to work on this without paying any more attention.

Generally it’s proven out that Agile is much more efficient and produces better products that meet customers’ needs much better than the old waterfall execute the requirements approach. But if upper management wants to know what R&D is doing they have to pay attention since things are fluid and always changing. This can be hard to accept, but now its being found that Agile can be applied to other parts of the organization and rather than older parts of the company dragging down the Agile parts, now all departments are going to Agile and its working very well for modern companies. In fact many people now believe that if a company doesn’t make this transition then it will become less and less competitive. The sad part is that Agile produces far better artifacts showing the progress of a project, you just need to learn how to use the tracking software to see them (another wastage is producing specialized reports just for upper management consumption).

Customer Connectedness

In the end, the goal is to be as customer connected as possible. Always working on the item in the product backlog with the highest value for the customer. This is now a proven principle for success. Dictating to customers what is good for them will just alienate your customers and send them elsewhere.

Creating a general roadmap that is used to get customer feedback and buy-in is just one tool of many to being a better customer connected company. And again the key secret ingredient is always adapting to change and not becoming fixed in your direction.

Of course when talking to customers and often other stakeholders, they will start out with how they need everything yesterday. But you have to steer the conversation to choosing priorities and not being brow-beaten into accepting that any estimates need to be shorter.

Summary

Roadmaps are great tools for having a conversation with stakeholders on the direction of a product. You just have to be careful not to fall into the trap that the roadmap is somehow a commitment that can never change. If done properly it can serve quite a few goals that are fully compatible with an Agile methodology.

If you are presenting a roadmap at a conference or WebEx, always prefix the presentation with that this is our current thinking and that we are always looking for feedback and ways to make the roadmap better.

 

Written by smist08

October 28, 2015 at 8:05 pm

The Sage Visions and Sage Connect 2013 Conferences

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Introduction

I’ve just returned from attending first the Sage Visions 2013 conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and then a couple of weeks later the Sage Connect 2013 conference in Sydney Australia. In this blog posting I thought I’d provide a few highlights from these conferences and a few points of interest from my trips.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a city of 9 million people and 5.5 million motorbikes. There aren’t many traffic lights and traffic tends to be a continuous stream of motorcycles. Crossing the street is an adventure, since traffic never stops and there are never any breaks in the traffic. You have to just start crossing the street walking slowly and steadily, then all the motorbikes just flow around you. This is a bit un-nerving at first, but by the time you are ready to leave, you start to get used to it.

It’s interesting to visit all the historical sites that were famous from the Vietnam war like the Presidential Palace, the CIA headquarters (now an apartment building) and the Chu Chi Tunnel Complex. Generally Ho Chi Minh City is quite in-expensive to visit and has some interesting attractions, it is a very vibrant and bustling city that feels it is moving in the right direction. They are building a subway system that is half finished and are starting to build a bullet train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.

Below is a picture of yours truly with Ho Chi Minh in front of city hall.

IMG_2493

Sydney

I’ve visited Sydney a few times now, so I find it a relaxing place to visit since I know my way around and I’ve already seen most of the tourist attractions. The Connect conference was held in the InterContinental Hotel which is about a block from the Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House. Sydney has some great restaurants and things to do. I like jogging along the seawall past the Royal Botanical Gardens and swimming in the Andrew Charlton Pool.

Below is a picture I took out of a helicopter on a tour of the harbor.

DSCN7969

Roadmap

In both conferences we presented the current roadmap for Sage 300 ERP. As always with forward looking slides, they are subject to change. The dates in this version are for North America. The release of the various cloud products varies a bit from region to region. For instance in Australia they have had Sage Inventory Advisor for over a year and are just introducing Sage Payment Processing.

roadmap3

The roadmap shows the four main streams that we are working on, namely the Sage 300 ERP core product, the forthcoming Sage 300 Online 1.0, all the connected services and then the Sage 300 Online 2.0.

As we are moving to operate more as a cloud company, we will introducing features into the market quicker. For the Sage 300 Online we will be deploying new features into the cloud as they are ready. Then bundling them up for product updates to release for on premise customers. The arrows for the product updates are just meant to be frequent rather than commitments to specific dates.

Lots of Feedback

As always, it’s great to get lots of feedback on the product from all the partners and customers. I always bring this all back to the R&D and Product Management teams in Vancouver. But remember, everyone can provide feedback at any time using our feedback website at: https://www11.v1ideas.com/Sage300ERP/Accpac. At this site you can see all the suggestions we implemented and those we plan to implement. You can also vote on the suggestions and see which suggestions are getting the most votes.

Both R&D and Product Management watch this list and choose items to implement from the top of the list. So the best way to get changes implemented is to enter them here and get your friends to vote for them.

The Cloud

It was fun demo’ing our various cloud products including Sage 300 Online, Sage Mobile SalesSage Billing and Payments and Sage Mobile Service. I only managed to demo one of these at each conference, but they were all well received. The main question being when they would be available in these regions.

There was a lot of interest in Sage 300 Online since a lot of customers are looking for ways to avoid managing their own servers, especially in regions that can be hit by typhoons and other natural disasters. Having someone else install new versions and update data for you is also a big draw. Fortunately there are Microsoft Azure data centers in Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong and Melbourne to serve these markets.

Economic Outlooks

At the Sage Visions conference the top awards were taken by Thai business partners as growth in Thailand has been on an upswing after a period of suffering the global economic slump, political problems and a major flood. Then the other South Eastern Asian countries are a bit of a mixed bag with some doing ok and some still suffering.

In Australia, they are suffering a bit from a high Australian dollar, but the housing and construction industries seem to be well into a recovery. Partners appear to have had a good year and are hopeful that the global economic downturn is behind them. Their growth is currently running at 2.6% and interest rates seem lower than previously. Their big worry is what is happening in China and what demand will be for their natural resources.

Summary

Attending international Sage conferences is always fun. I enjoy meeting up with all the partners in a region and meeting with a number of customers. Providing new information on Sage 300 and getting feedback on the various concerns in these regions. Plus the great opportunity to play corporate tourist and see some parts of the world that I wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to visit (otherwise known as playing in the Amazing Race, Corporate Edition).

Written by smist08

November 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Sage Summit 2011

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This year Sage North America merged its Partner Insights conference into its Customer Summit conference to have one large Summit conference in Washington DC at the Gaylord Convention Center.  The conference ran from July 10 to 15 with the first half being for partners and then with the customers joining on Tuesday. This was the first major conference to feature our new CEO Pascal Houillon who gave the initial keynote address and spent quite a bit of time mingling and chatting with attendees. The event night was the best ever at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum on the Washington Mall. There were many announcements, demos, town halls, tutorials, labs and presentations. This blog posting looks at a few of the items that I felt were most significant (at least to me).

Branding

In Pascal Houillon’s opening keynote, the first big announcement was the product branding announcement. Basically we have been marketing our products as things like Sage ERP MAS, Sage ERP Accpac, Sage Simply Accounting, Sage Peachtree, Sage Act!, Sage Saleslogix, etc. Now we are going to drop all the legacy product names (the MAS, Accpac, Peachtree, Act! part) and now combine all the separate marketing programs into one that will be focused on promoting the “Sage” brand. When partners are pursuing a new leads, often they will be competing with Microsoft, SAP or Oracle. All these companies have a strong brand and the customer will have heard of them. Having to establish who Sage is and what the company does puts you at a disadvantage. The primary goal of this change is to make Sage a well-known and respected company within North America like it is in many other parts of the world. The branding change allows us to combine our separate product marketing resources and launch large scale campaigns across North America that promote the Sage brand and as a consequence all the separate Sage products. Now hopefully when you are pursuing a new customer, they will already know who Sage is, and be willing to enter into a business relationship based on that knowledge. The other thing this does is help with cross-sell. Often if a customer has a Sage ERP product then we would like to sell them a Sage CRM or Sage HR product. But as it stands today the customer thinks they have MAS or Accpac and then selling them Abra or Saleslogix appears like completely unrelated products. We would rather they think they have Sage ERP and adding Sage CRM or Sage HR is just a natural thing to do.

Anyway there is a lot of emotion associated with all the individual Sage product brands, but it seems like here at the conference once people have a chance to think about these changes they see how they can benefit them.

Sage is a Customer Company

Pascal also mentioned that when he asked people about Sage, then if they have heard of Sage then they think we are a technology company. Pascal said he was quite surprised by this. I was also surprised by this, but perhaps for a different reason.

As part of this Pascal unveiled our new slogan: “Making your business life easier”. This represents our true focus on the customer and making their life easier. Then technology is one of many tools that we will bring to bear to accomplish this goal. This is to remind the technology people in the company, like myself, that the technology isn’t an end in itself, it is a means to an end and that we have to always keep that end in mind in everything we do.

Accpac Roadmap

I blogged on the Accpac roadmap here. In the session “Sage ERP Accpac: The Road Ahead” a new roadmap was un-veiled:

You might notice that the roadmap has changed. The marketing spin is that you are getting Order Entry in the web sooner than the old road map. The reality is that the project is taking longer than anticipated and we are switching from an all in one first release, to releasing when the first module is available and then releasing all the other modules as a stream of product updates over the next year. As a consequence of this we are also adding a number of feature enhancements as we go along. Another advantage is that we will be more feedback as we go along so we should have a far stronger product when we’ve completed all the modules, than we would have had with one single large release.

Product Demos

Now that we are starting to see Accpac accounting modules in the web, we can give quite a good demo, entirely running in the browser from front office functions in SageCRM to back office functions running in Accpac to even charging credit cards from the Web based interface to Sage Exchange. I’ll blog about these individual components in more detail in future posts, but here is the cliff notes version.

The demo started in the front office with SageCRM 7.1. Here we showed a number of add-on components that we will be releasing for free on our web site over the coming weeks. Below is a screen shot of our new collections dashboard where you see the aged data for how much is overdue and you see a list of customers with overdue invoices. When you select a given customer in the left grid you get the list of overdue invoices in the right grid. We then showed a number of these add-ons.

Then we went into the Accpac Quote to Order feature with-in SageCRM. Here we showed someone entering an Accpac order from the Accpac web screen embedded in the SageCRM frame (you can do this part with the released 6.0A product).

Then we went to the back office, where an accounting clerk picks up the order that the salesperson entered in SageCRM and performs some edits to the order. Below is a screen shot of the new Order Entry screen:

We then showed a number of the zoom forms, popups and hyperlinks that make up this screen. We pointed out how the screen is modernized and updated but still familiar to long time Accpac users. We ran it in the Chrome browser to emphasis how version 6.1A supports all the major browsers and hence will run on Macs and tablet devices as well as Windows.

Then we entered a pre-payment and pressed the button to charge a credit card. The screen was then re-directed to https://www.sagevault.com/VirtualPaymentTerminal/frmCreditCardPayment.aspx where the credit card was processed (this link won’t work directly from this blog posting).

The cool things here is that we did front office tasks in SageCRM, back office tasks in Sage ERP Accpac and then processed a credit card transaction with Sage Exchange all in web pages, all from the browser. No Windows desktop programs involved.

Other Notables

Sage is continuing its strategy of releasing connected services. All the Sage products are starting to have cloud versions similar to AccpacOnline.com. The Sage Advisor technology that appeared originally in Sage Peachtree will be coming to all products. Frictionless upgrade is a high priority to reduce TCO at upgrade time.

Summary

This was a very quick overview of some of the goings on at Sage Summit. I’m sure these themes along with others will be intertwined in all my blog postings over the coming year. Looking forward to Sage Summit 2012 in Nashville next August.

Written by smist08

July 16, 2011 at 1:01 am

Posted in Business, sage 300

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Sage ERP Accpac 6.x Product Roadmap

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Sage ERP Accpac 5.6A recently shipped with:

  • New Serialized Inventory, Lot Tracking
  • Improved Bank Reconciliation
  • Sage Accpac Intelligence
  • Simplified Installation and Data Activation
  • Free Training
  • Built in A/R Inquiry Tool
  • Many other great features.

Now we can look ahead to Sage ERP Accpac 6.0A and 6.1A. In previous blog posts I’ve talked about many of the features individually, but here I just want to summarize and present the current roadmap.

The main goal of Sage ERP Accpac 6.0A is: Solving Customer Requests with Web Technology

Usability: Improve Productivity

  • Role Based, Personalized Portal
  • Task Oriented Navigation
  • Contextual User Assistance

Reporting: Faster Information Access

  • Integrated Dashboards/KPI’s
  • Ad-hoc Inquiry Tool – Quick Information Lists

Integration: Streamline Processes

  • Enhanced Quote-to-Order Workflow for SageCRM Users
  • Elimination of Lanpak Requirement for SageCRM User for Order Entry
  • SageCRM 7.0 Support

Then the main goal of Sage ERP Accpac 6.1A is to bring all the Accpac Accounting Application screens to the Web. The Views (Accpac’s Business Logic), Reports and Database Schema will be largely the same as previous versions. The big change will be moving the User Interface forms from a Visual Basic Windows Desktop program to becoming a true Web Based application.

User Interface -> Modernized with “Web 2.0” Experience

  • Improved Productivity for Faster Data Entry
  • Improved Learnability
  • Financials: General Ledger / Accounts Receivable / Accounts Payable / Bank Services / Tax
  • Operations: Order Entry / Inventory Control / Purchase Order

The look of the product and all the screens is quite updated; see my previous blog postings for screenshots and fuller descriptions. Below is the current product roadmap slide with the mandatory disclaimer.

Written by smist08

January 5, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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