Monday, 8 October 2012

Meeting Tom Gilb & his take on Competitive Engineering

Last week I attended a two day masterclass workshop on Competitive Engineering by the world-reknown, and much respected Tom Gilb.  Taking a paragraph out of the training brochure from Secolo Consulting.  Book  Competitive Engineering: A Handbook For Systems Engineering, Requirements Engineering, and Software Engineering Using Planguage

Tom Gilb is a competitive engineering consulting mainly serving multi-national clients in improving their organizations and methods. He works with major multinationals such as Boeing, Bosch, Qualcomm, HP, IBM, Nokia, Ericsson, Credit Suisse, Sun Open Office, Microsoft, US DOD, UK MOD, Symbian, Philips, BAe, Intel, Citigroup, Telenor, BAA, Den norske Veritas, Schilumberger, Tektronix, Thales, GE, GSK; and many others - including smaller organizations such as Confirmit, University of Trondheim IT, Enlight, Avenir, Clearstream, UECC....Gilb is the author of 9 books, his latest book is "Competitive Engineering: A Handbook for Systems Engineering"...

I have heard of Gilb before, and have, for a very long time, a few of his books on my Amazon Wishlist, namely Software Metrics & Software Inspection, as these books come well recommended by other famous people in Software. But admittedly I had held off buying Gilb's books because they were written way back then, pre-1990 stage, before my time - surely there can't be anything of relevance in those books?? They must be out-dated, filled with stuff around structured and sequential programming techniques, classic traditional Waterfall methodology of project estimation, implementation & delivery...why bother with these old relics, better learn from what's current and trending...

How naive was I? Just as I my eyes were opened when I read the Mythical Man-Month, realizing that the challenges that were faced in the early days are still very much relevant today, my eyes again opened on being enlightened by the ideas presented by Gilb in person, not through reading his work, but with face-to-face, personal human interaction. It was truly an honor & privilege to have spent two days with Tom...

So what did I take from this course then?
The workshop was really around navigating through the book, Competitive Engineering, discussing ideas and spending time on a few sample case studies and Tom's war stories. It was basically a seeder, an introduction to share this concept, to instigate new ideas and ways of thinking - and introducing the fundamental mindset changes required from people and organizations alike.

We had no time to do any practical tutorials - it was much a one-directional push from Gilb, we just had to listen, absorb and catch any ideas worth following up.

Of course, I need to give the book a read at least two attempts, it is very dense and probably requires a third read to be fully grounded. At the same time, I need to choose a few concepts and start working on them on my current projects. Whilst the ideas are fresh in my head, my take aways are:
  • Value-driven project delivery.  The idea of delivering incremental value is not new, I've always tried to work in this fashion, especially with my uptake of Scrum & Agile.  However, the fact that Gilb started this technique off back in the seventies or eighties was enlightening, Agile is not a new concept.
    • The tools & methods used to derive at kicking off the value-based delivery project is really interesting and requires more focus and experimentation.
    • Impact Estimation Table - seems to be a very powerful, multi-dimensional view of establishing the core values of the project/architecture/design. Everything starts off with the Impact Estimation Table
    • I need to look at synergies of applying some of the rigor and discipline of generating the Impact Estimation Table whilst simultaneously mapping this with existing  Scrum/Agile methods of creating the Product Backlog
  • Quantification is Key. Everything can be quantified. You're either too lazy or too stupid, or really ignorant (or can afford not to) to spend the time and energy in quantifying your core project requirements / architecture / design. If a thing is important and of value, then it must be Quantified
  • Evolutionary Project Management or Evo. This is the concept invented by Gilb which really implements the techniques for iterating on value-based deliveries. Deliver incremental value that can be easily measured on a week-by-week basis. Involves clearly defining the definition of done, which again is borne from the Impact Estimation Table.
  • Concepts such as Credibility, Evidence, Past Metrics. Gilb's tools forces you to dig deep, to really drill down into the details, quantifying everything as much as possible. I was going to share my generic Risks Register Template that I use for most of my DTV projects, actually I will share the first version, and then follow-up with an updated version to introduce concepts in the Risks Register such as: How credible is this risk? Do you have proof this risk happened before? What was the past project's benchmark, if any? All of this factor into determine the overall value of a risk. Isn't it obvious the project should really do all it takes to mitigate a risk if it came from someone who was expert in the field and hence very credible, has enough evidence to back it up and a sample of data backing up the risk??
  • Planguage. Planguage (Planning Language), pronounced "Plan-guage", is an invention by Gilb that is really a culmination of his 50+ years experience in the industry. He has created a language, that is complete with a syntax for both words and pictures, that is used to describe his method of planning, and used in all related tools.  There is a lot of handbooks out there, standards and configurations, templates and processes - but Gilb firmly believes these are all ok, some might be downright dismal, but they all lack a fundamental attribute of quantifying quality...
I have a lot more background work to do now, but I believe there's enough value and merit in testing these ideas out. I had in real-time, during the course, googled for any expert critics on Gilb, refuting his principles and methods - and came up short.  Gilb has an unbelievable track record and tenure, he is well respected in the industry, his work has pioneered much of the quality processes in Systems/Software Engineering - if you're serious about Engineering principles, in delivering value across the board, then you're stupid not to give this guy's methods a chance...

My tweets during the course...

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