Friday, April 24, 2009

Navigating: What do you mean, captain?

OK, I can't speak for all industries but I can understand that you'd like to hear a few more concrete things you can do navigate these times. Let me share a few things from my software engineering perspective.

One of the options you could look at would be virtualization of parts of your development environment. An area that often proves to benefit is everything that has to do with testing. For instance if you have physical machines to test your application it might be very time consuming to set it up from scratch. You can speed this up by using an image that you can play back on the test machine. With virtualization you can become even more flexible or faster.

Some solutions allow you to create templates of virtual machines. Examples include a server with a specific database server product or a client machine with a particular browser version. If all it takes to select one each and instantiate it you can significantly speed up testing by reducing the setup time. And on top of that some virtualization products have features that allow automating a large variety of setting up virtual machines. And if you don't need them anymore just throw the VMs away. Just like that!

Another area that is worthwhile exploring for becoming leaner is everything that has to do with documents in particular internal documents. Look at all graphs for instance that require manual updating. Is there a graph that can be replaced by a simpler version or by a graph that is automatically generated and updated? Also, in some cases you may be able to simply some documents by replacing some text by tables.

Tools is yet another one. Are there tools that you can upgrade or add that will help your team to off-load more tasks to the tools? Do you use an out-date version control system? How about your automated testing tool? Automation and simplification are key regardless of whether you look at processes, tools, technology, or others. Can you simplify the design or implementation of your product? Can identify a technology that you use in your product that has outlived its usefulness?

There are plenty of options. Keep your mind and eyes open. Observe. Challenge. Put practices under scrutiny. Do they still make sense? Experiment. In small doses. Try out. Maybe you fail. But chances are that what you try will help you to focus even more on what is important in these difficult times.

And at at the same time you will become even more flexible in terms of how to respond to changes in these uncertain times. It's not the changes that hurt. It is how we respond to them.

I'm sure you got my point and are able to translate this into your industry and your specific situation. In particular in difficult times it pays off to have plenty of options for how to navigate through them!

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