Mark de Graaff joined the NS (Dutch Railways) in 2009 and has pursued a traineeship there. His assignment at NedTrain, one of the business units of the NS, was to support the Application Management department in implementing Application Services Library, ASL®. In doing so, he used the ASL Self Assessment, part of the ASL Starter Kit.
24-hour services demand that people be replaceable
NedTrain provides maintenance and service, cleaning and overhauling for all kinds of trains. This takes place 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in more than thirty locations across the Dutch railway network. In October 2010, Mark was assigned to ensure that employees from the Application Management department could more easily replace one another. When applications have to be available 24 hours per day, organizing so-called standby duties is certainly no luxury. In addition, it had to be easier to share knowledge and experience with one another. Mark: "Exchanging knowledge was hard because people used different terms. For example, importing a job is regarded by some application managers as part of change management, but not by others. By introducing terms uniformly, you can mention possible exceptions and then everyone knows what is going on. And if you are not clear what is going on in your own department, you cannot present it uniformly to the outside world. The Application Management department was therefore sometimes not involved in change phases, although it should have been, or the reverse: asked for work while it should not have been.
Positive side effects of the ASL Self Assessment
"The department consists of about ten managers and we started by running the Self Assessment. Together with the head of the department, I was looking for a trainer who would help us further but, in the mean time, we wanted to know where we stood, which processes we had down and which we did not, so that was why we used the Self Assessment. One positive side effect is that employees were forced to work with the ASL mindset. Everyone did have the ASL book, but actually getting immersed and applying it in practice is another matter. By scoring yourself, it becomes much more tangible and more practical than the book. It also became less non-committal."
The change phase
Once the trainer had been found, made-to-measure training was set up, consisting of two practical days and a theory day. The result of the practical days is a list of more than one hundred and fifty areas for improvement. These are then clustered using the ASL processes. "For example, under the documentation heading we noticed that there was no uniform application description for each application. And the point, 'which application documentation do you have to maintain?' also belongs there". After this inventory, we looked at the strengths of the application managers themselves and on that basis everybody was assigned an improvement cluster. The idea behind this is that you have to appeal to people through something they are good at. Mark:" they are happy to do that! In addition, the quality of the work benefits because it is closer to the work that they are already doing. And they enjoy it. I have one colleague who used to be an information officer. He is very careful and accurate, so he is linked to this cluster. We also have someone who communicates clearly and concisely and so she was also assigned the communications cluster. Everyone then develops his own cluster based on the areas for improvement and distributes it to colleagues, for example by shifting it onto them or organizing a plenary workshop."
When we ask Mark what he did not like about the change phase, he does not have to think for very long: "The speed of implementation. Maybe five percent of the change phase that we drafted after the course has been achieved up to now, the summer of 2011. I assume that the majority will be finished by the end of 2011 but I think that a total lead time of one year is long." The course and especially the two practical days were the greatest success factor for Mark: "It was clear that the department sometimes does work that really belongs in business information management or infrastructure management. Those borders are now clearer. ASL is now more engrained in everyone. Everyone is talking and thinking along the same lines, which means that it is possible to exchange knowledge and to replace one another. It is also much clearer to other departments what they can expect from us."
Jeroen Simons developed acceptance criteria to have the software control process at Wincor Nixdorf operate better. This resulted in the ASL® best practice Acceptance Criteria for Software.
Ideas to Interconnect is a management and consultancy company that helps to realize ICT change objectives. Jeroen Simons has been working there since two years. Before that he worked with the former Pink Elephant and more recently with Interpolis. For i-to-i he performs different roles and for the customer Wincor Nixdorf he performed the role of service manager. Wincor Nixdorf is a worldwide provider of innovative ICT solutions for retail and retail banking, such as cash register systems and automated teller machines, for example. He came to work here at the time when the division managing the software had initiated a course of action for improvement. One of the objectives of this course of action was to standardize the acceptance process so that it is carried out in an identical manner for all projects.
A message list with products to be delivered
"When I came to work here, software had just been delivered for automated teller machines and the interface between the banking back-office systems and the automated teller machines. Due to my earlier experience, I knew that we needed to work with acceptance criteria. I witnessed that a management division indicated that the delivery needed to satisfy requirements. As soon as the project asked what the requirements were, there was complete silence. Clearly, this was a tough task. I set to work on the basis of good-to-haves of the management division and best practices. I made an inventory of what was necessary to have good management, such as installation sets, a SLA, contracts with third-parties, a test environment and an overview of all configuration items. Then, I spoke with the developers and projectmanagement and checked whether they understood the criteria and could supply the deliverables." The result of the testing was a kind of message list with nineteen subjects. Jeroen categorized these into three columns: project management, development and management. He gives a number of examples of what is present in these columns: documentation as well as functional design, technical design and the SLA, and products as well as an installation set. The party responsible for the product needs to ensure that the product appears in the column in which it is listed.
Profit through structure
"The list is generic to such an extent that at the start of a project, the management organization, the project and the principal together need to determine the things that are necessary in it. Only so can all parties know in advance what they are up against and what they can expect. A lot of maintenance of the software, which appears to be necessary and which has not been estimated by anyone during its delivery, is prevented in this manner. Project management has one additional assignment: to monitor that the three parties perform the activities and to ensure that the products are realized in the correct manner and satisfy the quality requirements agreed upon. With this arrangement, no surprises are encountered at the time of delivery, and everyone knows where he stands."
In order to be able to forecast better and not to overlook anything, project manager Wieger Dam uses the ASL® best practice Impact analysis template as often as possible.
Water and insurance
Wieger Dam had primarily been posted in insurance companies, utility companies and district water boards in previous years. He began using the best practice Impact analysis template to gain better insight into the quantity of work to be executed and thus to be able to give a more accurate financial picture. The template helps him and his project team not to overlook anything and to evaluate all aspects having an influence on costs in a structured manner. Wieger: "It is important to have a clearer view of the development process and to know precisely which activities ought to be carried out per step. Only then is it possible to make a good financial forecast."
Not only for the build
Wieger uses the template for the impact analysis not only to estimate the consequences for the build phase, but uses them in all phases of the system development process. "Even for the design and test phase it is necessary to evaluate what all needs to be gone into. And the same goes for infrastructure as well. Of course, the impact of a new system is greater than that of an existing one in terms of infrastructure, but in all cases I do reserve time before the roll out; sometimes hardware also needs to be replaced, for example. The good part of the template is that I have at least ascertained whether there are any consequences."
Learning from the past
"I executed an order for a waterworks utility in which we needed to modify the connection to the Basic Municipal Administration at seven points in an existing system. The customer wanted a cost statement for each point. Subsequently, we conducted a separate impact analysis for each point. Eventually, I got the contract to execute all seven points. It appeared afterwards that we had exceeded the estimate for some points. Overall, however, the costs incurred remained within budget. Subsequently, we were able to indicate correctly why the forecast could not be maintained overall and we once again learned from it. As far as I am concerned, this is also the objective of a best practice and ASL: constantly learning from experience so that we improve further the next time round. Due to this, we continually make better forecasts and we thus get continually better insight into costs and turnaround times."