Wednesday, 22 May 2013

System Integration is King - Release Manager, Build Meister-Gatekeeper

I spent a lot of energy in the last week trying to (and succeeded in) convincing some senior managers about processes, that in my humble opinion, are tried-and-tested, well-established norms in the management of software: the art of Software Release Management - taking control of component releases, especially w.r.t. approving or rejecting bug fixes. It has been good practice in terms of establishing myself as a consultant-expert on all things related to Set-Top-Box Software Development & Integration. I spend a lot of my time promoting best practices and trying to win & influence people over, something I have to do to maintain focus and direction of the overall programme plan...

The point I want to make is that, in a STB delivery project, the System Integration (SI) team is really the GateKeeper, with full authority and accountability for producing a stable, functional release. This means that SI have every right to manage component releases coming in, especially with reviewing & approving bug-fixes. If SI are not happy with a component release, for example, the component team may have fixed more bugs than was required, or fixed far fewer bugs than was requested, or made any other changes that wasn't specifically requested by the SI team, then SI can quite easily reject the component's release.

I have written in the past on the following topics:
All of these areas become the focus of a STB project as we get closer and closer to launch mode. Recapping the template that most STB projects follow:
  • Develop / Integrate Features >>> Functionally Complete >>> Closed User Group >>> Wider Field Trials >>> Launch Candidate 1 >>> ... >>> Launch Candidate X >>> Clean Run >>> Deployment Build >>> Launch
As the system matures to reach each of these milestones, the defects are expected to get less and less. Obviously no product gets launched with zero defects! All projects can do is ensure as best as they can that almost all high impact, high severity defects (a.k.a. Showstoppers or P0s) are dealt with to the best of their ability; and are prepared for the inevitable influx of new Showstoppers from in-field, real world usage of the product - it is the reality, unavoidable. Very rarely do products launch having met all original quality engineering requirements, after all, this is an entertainment device, not a life critical device - so we can relax a little on quality objectives! :-)

So how should you control releases leading up to launch?? It's simple really, not complicated, and really not rocket science...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

So you think writing a Set-Top-Box Middleware is easy? Think again!

So you came across this technology called Digital TV and stumbled across the various (open) standards (MPEG, DVB, MHP, etc) and thought it cool for you to write your own software stack? Or you've been writing Set Top Box Software for other customers (namely PayTV operators) and decided you have enough knowledge to venture out on your own and sell your own software stack? Or you're a
PayTV operator, sick and tired of being locked into expensive and time-consuming Middleware vendors that you decide it is time to write your own software stack, be in control of your destiny and deliver cool products to market faster, cheaper and on-time?
Or you figured there is a quick and easy way of making some money, since just about every country in the world is going to switch off analog TV and turn to digital, where you can provide a very cheap and cost-effective software stack?

If you've answered yes to at least one of these questions, then you should be asking yourself: Just how serious are you about Middleware?  Just how serious are you about the EPG User Experience?

Just how serious are you about competing in this marketplace? Is there any room for you to compete in this arena? Where  do you see your software stack in the marketplace: low-tier, middle-tier or top tier? Who are your competitors? Are you big enough, flexible-enough, savvy-enough, innovative-enough or unique-enough to displace your competitors? Or do you even wish to displace your competitors? What relationships do you have with the big technology players? What is the compelling value proposition that you're offering that your competitor's aren't? Do you stick to one large customer that can finance your operation? Do you seek out other customers to monetize on your product's offering? Do you keep a common product that can service multiple customers at relatively low cost? Do you feel the market is big enough to support many divergent offerings? Are you a small fish in a small pond, big fish in a small pond, or are you swimming with the sharks and you just don't know it yet? Do you rely on hope that everything goes well, or have mountains of cash so as not to notice you're burning fast, but don't realise it? Have you been sold vaporware, demoware, software that's far from being fit-for-purpose for real world mass production use?? Etc, Etc, Etc...

I have met developers, architects, software managers and product owners who think that writing a STB Middleware stack is easy, a piece of cake, all you need is just four really good which I smile and think in my mind, oh how naive they are! Yes, for sure, the software architecture can make sense on paper, heck you can even hack a proof-of-concept together in about three months or less that proves a simple Zapper or PVR stack. But that's just it, it's a hack, a Proof-of-Concept (POC) - nothing close to getting a real world product into the marketplace.

My rambling in this post covers the following: