Monthly Archives: December 2014

Time To Be Agile – Craig Wilkinson

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I last updated you on my first year in IBM; I blinked and 2014 has passed me by. But why would it not pass by? It’s been an exciting, challenging and, overall, fun year with many new experiences which meant that you hardly had time to watch the time go by (and if you did watch time go by, then you need a new challenge!).

Anyway enough reflecting, I am back with a couple of updates for you in my life as an IBMer. As much as I’d like it (or not), there is never a dull moment as an apprentice. If you cast your mind back (or your internet browser), I mentioned in my previous blog post that I had joined a new role in team testing on a Data Archiving project which is still ongoing. However, this project is now proceeding without me being a tester on it.

After coming back from a weeks’ vacation, I was called into a meeting to learn that unfortunately I was being moved onto another project. I was informed that there had been amazing feedback for my work on the project and that I always had a place on the client account, which was reassuring, and they told me that my new role would challenge and develop me further.

They were certainly not wrong when they said the new role would be challenging. After initiating conversation with the Test Manager on my new project, he informed me that I would be working within the Compliance and Risk teams of the Client. He also informed me that the new project would be run in an ‘agile’ way, which does not follow the typical waterfall development cycles, as the current project was due to go live in a short space of time which was not possible by the usual development timelines. He also explained in detail that I would be working within a ‘Scrum’ team of a small number of highly experienced self-governing team members which included a Scrum Master, Product Owner (the Client), a Business Analyst, a Developer and a Tester (which would be me). This Agile method was new to the Client and, as a result, our team will be closely scrutinised to see if it could be used across other projects.

I was also directed to this useful website which contained a standardised reference card all about the ‘Agile’ approach: http://scrumreferencecard.com/scrum-reference-card/

While I was apprehensive joining the project as it was totally new territory, I was also excited by the prospect of working in a small team of people with a lot of experience so that I could learn a thing or two. As is usual when joining a new role, I was sent to a completely different place and introduced to a whole set of new people- my team members consisting of contractors and the Client, with me being the only IBMer (no pressure). Straight away, I was set, and agreed to, a task of learning about the projects systems and processes, which comprised of three months of knowledge, which I had to condense and learn within a week (which I did). And after that, the real work began!

Every morning, my team members and I meet around a board which contains a comprehensive list of tasks which, upon completion, will mean that our solution would be in a position to go live. It’s the responsibility of each member of the team to assign themselves tasks which can be completed by the end of each day which will lead us to complete a release every two weeks called a Sprint. Being the only tester of the team, this meant I have a responsibility to myself (I have no one to report to and no one to report to me) as well as the team to make sure testing is completed daily as well as in time for the next release. This included writing test scripts testing the requirements and functionality of two complicated spreadsheets loaded with millions of records and all sorts of macros and validation rules which all had to work in harmony in a matter of required seconds!

While I would like to write more about this new project, I am only one week in (at the time of writing this) so I do not have much to report on but I will likely cover more in future posts. That just about wraps up the updates from me this time around!

At the time of writing this, there are ten sleeps until Christmas, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of new adventures (which hopefully includes joining the IBM Apprenticeship scheme).

See you in the New Year!

  • Craig Wilkinson

But why be a BA? – Josh White

I started out my career in IBM with not much of an idea of what I wanted to do, so it was ideal for me to get the opportunity to experience a few different roles.

As you know, as mentioned in my first blog post back in July, my first role in IBM was as a Change Manager. This meant I was able to help deploy the output of a project – which ranged from a piece of code to help fix a problem with an application to helping deploy an upgrade or a new application to the client. This role did not give me too much exposure to how projects ran and the different roles and people that were involved in the particular projects.

My role now is, as you may have guessed, a Business Analyst. This role has opened my eyes to a number of projects, roles and technologies (Cloud, Analytics, and Mobile).

I had a fairly soft landing into the Business Analyst role as my role before this was supporting the Lead BA on the account helping manage the team of BAs and taking ownership of the training, commercials and support with resourcing. Through this work I got to see what the BAs were working on and also pick up on a lot of skills that a good BA needed to have. This gave me a good starting point for when I moved into my new role as a BA.

As a Business Analyst on a project I get to work with everyone involved in the project to some degree. This has allowed me to see what other roles involve without doing those roles myself which has helped me with understanding a little more on what I want to focus on in my career.

I get to be involved in a project from start-up all the way through until Implementation and project close and see how that project develops along the way. It is a client facing role and client interaction is key in order for the project to be a success. I am relied heavily upon by the developers who are not in the UK and they look to me for guidance and answers based on my interactions with the client Project Sponsors. On one of my projects I am the only team member who is from IBM and so I have a big responsibility to make sure that I represent IBM in the best possible way and to potentially make sure that I and IBM are given future work in that area, particularly as I am in the spotlight from the client.

In my role as a Business Analyst I have worked with a number of experienced people both within IBM and also from the client as well as other partners on the account. I have worked with Solution Architects, Project Managers, Database Developers, Java Developers, Test Managers, App Support and also SMEs in various areas – basically everyone involved on the project team. I have also performed some of the Project Management and Test Management activities during my time on projects to help increase my experience in other role areas.

Working for so long on projects throughout the project lifecycle has given me a chance to learn a lot about the software/tools we are using to implement the project for the client. On one of my projects we built a KPI reporting tool on SAP Business Objects and so I learnt about the capabilities of the platform and how it worked which helped me when speaking to the client and also meant I was able to perform client demo’s (one of which I did with some Client Directors) and training comfortably.

Being a BA has really opened my eyes to what is involved and what other skills are needed in order to perform other project roles well. It also gives me the opportunity to work on projects in different areas such as Mobile and Analytics and work with a lot of different people. It will definitely stand me in good stead when moving onto my next role and it has given me a good grounding into project life.

If you would like to know more about my work as a BA and detail about projects I have worked on please feel free to contact me as it is a great role to have.

Happy reading, Josh

Belfast and beyond … – Tom Cope

Hello it’s me, Tom. C… with another blog post! Full of thrills, spills and punctuation.

*punctuation sold separately.

Anyway, now I’ve got that terrible starter sentence out of the way I can start typing. The hardest part of anything is getting started and that applies to blogs too. So time for an update!

The project I am working on has a more “Agile” structure so the client requested two weeks of “Hyper Care”. In most projects, after the “Go Live” (the point where the solution is fully delivered to the client) there is some sort of support to make sure everything works correctly and to rectify any small issues that may appear.

“Hyper Care” is this same sort of support but more intense. Usually of a longer period – in my projects case two weeks and over a longer set of operating hours. This means each team; DB2, Linux, WebSphere, Security, etc. have to be on hand or on call to help if any issues arise.

In order to help with the “Hyper Care” period project management asked if I could spend a week with the client, to help feedback any issues and act as a bridge between IBM and the client. I was very excited to get started and was surprised to find that the client was in Belfast! But how was I going to get there?

IBM has a tool where you can book your flights and hotels all in one place. So I booked a flight to Belfast, booked a hotel and went home to pack.

After touching down, checking in and walking to the clients offices I was reminded of the Foundation PSC (Professional Skills Class) which is a course that teaches you how to work with the client, what terminology to use and how to “Handle Objections” which is very useful.

Upon arriving I met with the project Architect whose job it is to design how the system is put together and how it integrates with all the different technologies. He wrote the design document which covers all the aspects of the project and how they link up which is invaluable for working out which section is producing an error and how to resolve the issue.

As mentioned, my role was to act as a bridge between the client and the project team, converting the client’s requirements into technical actions to be undertaken. I also had to handle any errors and suggest the root cause along with a remedy plan; this worked particular well as I know how the system worked and could work with the staff to debug on-site issues.

Finally I produced two tracking spreadsheets; one for the performance of the system, gathering stats from the team and correlating the data with the actions the client was taking on the application so see if any particular server was under stress. The second spreadsheet was to keep track of the different errors both on the client and project side and link them together.

Working with the client was interesting, very different to how things are back on the project and I enjoyed it.

Within the weeks leading up to “Go Live” work really starts to pick up, to the point where you have 72 different entries on your to-do list and not a lot of time to complete them. Now you generally have two options; the first – Panic! And the second: time management. Below are some of the commonly used techniques to help process that to-do list:

  • Target it = If you have one massive item that needs completing, just dedicate the day to getting it done and once the day is over you can move on to something else.
  • Lunch = This is good if you have two separate pieces of work. Set yourself the goal of completing one before lunch and one after. This way you can clear your head over lunch and prepare for the final sprint.
  • The ‘pomodoro’ technique = In a nutshell this means splitting tasks into 25 minute blocks. Quite handy when your have lots of small tasks.
  • Deadlines = Set yourself an imaginary deadline to complete a piece of work. e.g. I need to finish that report by 10:00.

So yeah, that was my blog post update and a little insight into working with the client. Thank you for reading and have a smashing day!

–That was me Tom. C.