Practical Solutions for your Software Development Challenges

Vol. 4, No. 1 February 1997

Selling your ideas


Likely you have noticed that, when trying to make the slightest movement in process improvement, you end up having to sell your colleagues on a concept, persuade them to give time or money, or somehow get them to say "yes". Many software developers and process people cringe at the thought of being a salesperson. After all, it requires polyester pants, wide flares, and the nerve to say "What will it take for you to drive this car home tonight for your sweetheart?" But maybe you do have to sell, and it could be possible that there's a better way. And what's more, I'll bet you already know how to sell.

Think back to an example of when you were in a store and had an exceptional experience with the salesperson. The treatment you received was the best you ever had. Write down some of the characteristics of the salesperson that made the experience so effective.

Your list might include the following items:

  • Helpful
  • Cared about what I needed
  • Understood me and my priorities
  • Knowledgeable in the product
  • Allowed the product to sell itself
  • Didn't sell me a more expensive item than I needed
  • Didn't pressure me
  • Listened to my questions and gave me direct answers
  • Steered me in a direction to fit my needs
  • Pampered me
  • Gave me a fair price
  • Provided a good return policy
  • Offered a trial to evaluate the product
  • Provided excellent post-sale support

Wherever we travel in the world and ask this question, we get exactly the same answers. This list, or one you might come up with, contains many of the principles of good selling. The principles on your list work because your list is the one you said works for you. The principles focus on the agenda of the customer, not of the salesperson. The salesperson's agenda should be to understand the customer's agenda!

Now think back to those salespersons who made you cringe before. Then vow in front of your mirror tonight never to do any of those things again!

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Process improvement is a contact sport


The Game

One way to think of process improvement is to view it as a team sport. The goal of the sport is to improve how you do your business. The SEPG members are the team coaches and the software developers are the team. It's always good to have a game plan to set the direction for the team.

The Coaches

Coaches are a very important part of sports. They help "gel" the team and hold it together. In sports we depend upon the coaches and the team manager to keep the team running well. They provide good ideas to the team for preparation, execution, and review after a game. You will notice, however, that the coaches never get onto the field and try to score. They always encourage the team and give them advice on how to win.

As SEPG members, we provide the knowledge to help the team improve. We study and learn good techniques that we can share with our "athletes." We do this by reading, attending conferences, taking training, and talking to others who are doing what our team needs to do. It is our job to be on the lookout for new ideas and bring them home to the team to try out. We then work with the team members to determine if the ideas work for our team.

It also is important to work closely with individuals to understand their specific needs. Take, for example, a young person who would like to be an Olympic runner. We could throw some world-class ideas at him or her and suggest following Michael Jordan's regime. This would be an ill-conceived idea without first understanding the current level of the athlete. We could seriously injure our young runner if we don't begin at the right level and work up to a world-class capability.

Good coaching is tailored to the individuals' needs and goals. We wouldn't consider taking a three-year-old child and preparing him/her for an Olympic race, unless the child wanted to do the work. The goal of the athlete must match the goals of the coach or the struggle will be tremendous. (If the coach has loftier goals, he or she needs to do some serious selling or, better yet, spend some time with the team to better understand its goals and then help meet them.) The coach should serve the team, not the other way around. The coach may inspire the team to higher goals!

Good coaching can never be done in a vacuum. In the end, the athlete or team member(s) must do the work and get the credit for a job well done. (Coaches should be praised for providing the tools and environment, while players are praised for the scores.)

The Team

As mentioned above, team members will be needing help at the individual level and at the team level to understand their needs. The coach can then tailor an approach to fit the circumstances. A player with a broken leg may need to start with a doctor.

One other attribute of a sports team is persistence and practice. They don't become world-class overnight. They practice intensely between games. They have definite score-oriented goals, measurements, evaluations and rewards.

Who is responsible?

In team sports the players must be responsible for their accomplishments, but the coaches and managers share much of the responsibility. They need to make sure that the team has everything it needs to perform the sport well. Did you ever notice who gets fired when the team starts doing poorly?

In Summary

Process improvement champions can learn a lot by observing sports. Process improvement is a contact sport and the coach plays an important role, while ultimately the team itself must score the winning points or the improvement effort is wasted!

Thanks to Alan Willett at Xerox for the catchy title.

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Communicating Process Deployment


One common problem that process improvement people encounter is requests from management to work faster and get more ideas adopted in the organization. As a counter, it is useful to keep track of which projects you have worked with, so that management can see the level of progress and what is left to do. Keeping this information in a matrix makes it easy to communicate.

Project Name/













CM tool 

Test tool 

SQA established  


Here, "done" means that the project has successfully adopted this solution. The project is now self-sufficient and needs only minimal support for that topic.

The matrix shows what has been worked and what has not. With an increase in head count in the Software Engineering Process Group (SEPG), more projects could be visited and helped with more topics. Similarly, the use of part-time process champions or training could speed the rate of deployment. The matrix makes it clear what extra staff could do, and what is left to do.

Column one could list all the process assessment findings, or major criteria for the process model or standard being deployed.

When using a matrix like this, it is important to clarify that the intent is not to use it as an audit mechanism. We recommend that the SEPG have the philosophy of keeping project-specific problems in confidence at all times, unless the project does not mind sharing this information. If you use actual project names and you see the matrix being used to attack the projects that are not doing an activity, first, remind management that this matrix is for you to convey your status and the volume of work left. Occasionally, in spite of this explanation, management may use the matrix to punish rather than help the process improvement team. In such cases, replace the project names with generic names, such as "Project A," "Project B," etc.

Having this matrix clearly shows how much work needs to be done, and will start to gently remind managers that their organization is not doing certain practices and that SEI Level 5 is not imminent.

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The Secrets of Consulting

Weinberg, Gerald, M., "The Secrets of Consulting; A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully," Dorset House, New York, NY, 1985.

In this book Gerald Weinberg uses entertaining prose littered with humorous paradoxes, dilemmas and contradictions to share his ideas on how to deal with people and organizations to help them change. This book is full of ideas on how to work with people to get them to adopt new ideas.

One of my favorite concepts is the role of a "jiggler." A jiggler gets an organization unstuck by providing a small change in how the client sees the world. Weinberg gives many ideas on how to perform this role. Jiggling can be done verbally and is best done by asking simple questions that change how people think.

Some of his ideas in the book are: 1) it is more satisfying to help people solve their problems in such a way that they will be more likely to solve the next problem without help, 2) you can be satisfied with your accomplishments, even if clients don't give you credit, and 3) your ideal form of influence is first to help people see their world more clearly, and then to let them decide what to do next.

He gives the example of problem ownership with easy-bake box cakes where you add your own egg because the manufacturers want the result to be "your" cake.

I leave the rest of the gems for you to discover on your own.

--- Mary Sakry

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