Californication

My Sunday breakfast was upset this morning thanks to an “OC Watchdog” column in the Orange County Register.  The story outlined how a project to build a computer system (SDI Online) for the California Employment Development Department has gone from an original estimate of $35 million to a cost of $158 million.  Oh, and it is 3 years late. The poorly performing system was built by Deloitte Consulting and, quite frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves.  There are so many things wrong with this situation:

  1. The state of California has been in a severe budget crisis for some time now.  Allowing a project to cost over four times its original budget is a crime.  No private or publicly traded company would allow this.  The project would have been cancelled or reigned in before it got to this point and, most likely, someone would have been fired.  But the state apparently feels that this sort of behavior and performance is acceptable.  Where are the controls to better manage a project, and vendor, like this one?
  2. How can any software system cost $158 million to produce?  I’m in the software business and my history is in leading large software development teams to build high quality software products that drive revenue for the company.  The products my teams have built are extremely complex and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, but I’ve never had a budget near that large.  Not even close!  It is impossible for me to even consider wasting spending that much money on a software system.  How does the state of California justify this amount of wasteful spending and how does Deloitte Consulting justify fleecing the state like this?
  3. On that subject, how does Deloitte Consulting continue to get business with the state of California when their performance has been so spotty?  The OC Register article today referenced this article in the Los Angeles Times from last December that outlined a number of similar projects.  Projects that took a lot longer and cost a lot more than promised, some of which were not even completed.  So how does Deloitte Consulting keep getting business with the state?  The LA Times article references their lobbying effort, but how can the state be so blind to this and continue to allow this to happen?
  4. And finally, on a more personal note, this sort of debacle gives consulting companies like mine a black eye.  My practice is focused on helping software development organizations and software companies improve their ability to deliver high quality software that meets their customers’ expectations, and do it on time.  I help them develop and implement their business and product strategies and show them how to communicate them internally and to customers.  I help them align and change their product/software organizations and, when necessary, help them bring in new people to create a higher performing organization.  I help them institute better software development and project management processes, and help them build a quality focus in everything they do.  And I help them implement the right metrics to help them monitor their performance.  But I don’t charge $158 million to do all of that.  And I don’t fail.  Maybe I should go solicit the state for some business.  Or, better yet, maybe I should go knock on Deloitte Consulting’s door and offer to help them.  I hear they have about $158 million burning a hole in their pocket, and they can sure use the help.

I welcome your feedback.

Kelly Stephen Consulting

Software Strategy, Execution, Quality, Delivery

(Go to my website)

My Daughter and the O’Malley’s

Pitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks. Specifically, for the San Diego Padres the date is February 12.  And why is that important to me, a big Dodger fan?  Two reasons: one is that the Padres went through an ownership change this offseason.  The winning group is led by the famed O’Malley family, who owned the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for more than four decades.  But, more importantly, this is interesting because my oldest daughter, #1, works for the Padres.

Amanda is 25 and she’s doing great.  She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing.  Her focus was in sports and entertainment, and since I’m such a big sports fan that was awesome.  A few weeks after graduating she got a (paid!) internship with the Los Angeles Angels, working in their marketing department and handling a lot of guest services duties.  She worked with the Angels for a year, and really enjoyed her time there.  She got great experience and learned a lot about how major league baseball teams operate.

As her year-long internship was coming to an end in December 2011 she started looking for fulltime opportunities with other teams.  She found a position for a Guest Services Coordinator for the San Diego Padres and interviewed with several different people all day on a Thursday in late November 2011.  They interviewed a dozen other candidates that day, and at the end of the day they told her they would make a decision in a couple of weeks.

They called the next day and offered her the job.

I cannot describe for you how proud I was of her getting the offer.  She worked hard in school and excelled in her year as an intern.  She found a job she wanted and got the job among stiff competition.  So now here we are a year later and her team is owned by a group headed by the O’Malley family, the same family who used to own the Dodgers and made them into a national icon.

The big question for me is what will this ownership change mean to Amanda?  The O’Malley name is a hallowed name in my house.  Walter brought the Dodgers here from Brooklyn, widening the landscape of major league baseball and making it a true national pastime.  The O’Malley’s had a unique type of ownership.  They built a farm system.  They promoted from within.  The organization was focused on stability.  Sadly, that does not describe the Padres of decades past (or the Dodgers since the O’Malley’s sold the team).  But lately the Padres have been moving in the right direction and have been focused on building a sound farm system and building a team based on pitching and defense.  That used to be called “the Dodger way”.  Based on the new ownership’s pedigree, the new regime will no doubt follow the same path.

I’m excited for my daughter and extremely proud of her. My hope is that the Padres begin to succeed on a regular basis.  I hope that year in and year out, the Padres produce a solid team that is in the playoffs each year.  A consistent winner the way the Dodgers used to be.  And I hope that Amanda continues to excel in her job and grow into new and more rewarding opportunities. She has a wonderful career ahead of her.

In the old days (i.e., the ‘60’s through the late ‘80’s) every time the Dodgers won a game the entire Dodger staff would get free ice cream the next day. Even though I’m a huge Dodger fan, I’m hoping that my daughter Amanda eats a lot of ice cream this year.

Kelly Stephen Consulting

Software Strategy, Execution, Quality, Delivery

(Go back to my website)

The Grand Hyatt DFW Taking Care of My Daughter

My 2nd daughter, Ashley, graduated in June with a Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona.  Her emphasis was in restaurant management, and her goal is to be a chef someday.  On a Friday in mid-May she had a Skype interview with a woman from the Hyatt Corporation, and she did so well that she got a job offer the following Monday, as a management trainee at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport.

Needless to say, my wife and I were extremely proud of her.  But at the same time we had some apprehension about her moving so far away from our California home.  However, as we soon found out our apprehension was unfounded.

Graduation day was June 9th and we had a wonderful graduation party the following day.  I should note that one of the graduation cards she received was from her new employer, signed by her boss and her entire team.  That was pretty cool.

We spent a few days loading up her car and a U-Haul trailer with all of her belongings and she set out for Big D the following Thursday morning, with my wife along to help her get settled.  They made the trip after two long days of driving and arrived at the hotel the next night.  At check-in, after the desk clerk found out who she was it was clear that the DFW Grand Hyatt was a very unique working environment.

They got to the room and were absolutely amazed at what they saw.  There was an amazing assortment of welcome gifts, including a University of Texas baseball cap (hopefully since thrown away, given my USC Trojan pedigree), a small cowboy boot planter filled with cookies, a chef’s hat adorned with the Texas flag, a faux cowboy hat, a tray of charcuterie, wine and water bottles in the added refrigerator in the room.  My wife had a personal note, signed by the head of the food and beverage group, assuring her that our daughter was in good hands and actually thanking her for “entrusting your daughter in our good care”.

Wow.

And during the two weeks that they were guests at the hotel before my daughter started actually working, the entire organization was fantastic.  They’d go grab a quick breakfast at the market and the staff would know who they were.  They’d go to lunch or dinner and staff members and managers would go out of their way to welcome my daughter and my wife.  The entire staff at that hotel made them feel like royalty.  I had the good fortune to have to travel to Dallas for business at the end of those two weeks, and had dinner one night at one of their restaurants.  The meal was absolutely fantastic, and the service was beyond that.

My daughter is now two months into her five month training program, and things are still great.  The people are still wonderful, she’s made some good friends, and she’s been working on a great video project to promote some new concepts for the brand.  She misses home, but she is enjoying the opportunity and the challenge.

I’ve been in a number of different companies in my career, some that were truly great, but I’ve never heard of a company going so overboard to making a new employee feel so welcome.  Ever.  As a business man, I’m very impressed.  As a father, I’m overjoyed.

I’ve travelled extensively within the United States and abroad for business, staying at a wide range of hotels.  But after how they treated my daughter, the Hyatt is now my favorite hotel brand.  And even though I’ve had the pleasure of staying at such a wonderful hotel as the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai, the Grand Hyatt DFW is definitely my favorite hotel of all time.

Kelly Stephen Consulting

Software Strategy, Execution, Quality, Delivery

(Go back to my website)

Using Offshore Resources for Software Development

Two Success Stories

For well over twenty years, many US based companies have utilized offshore resources to augment their domestic teams.  The most well-known example may be in call center operations, but companies today are using offshore resources for accounting, software development, professional support, and many more.  Some companies have found success using offshore resources, while others have struggled.  I was fortunate enough to work for a company that had success in this area, and I have published a white paper that outlines what we did and how we succeeded so that others can hopefully learn from our success and have success of their own.  (Click here to go to my website and download the paper.)

The white paper goes into details on how we successfully empowered and utilized offshore teams consisting of employees and contractors to help us succeed in stabilizing and improving our software products.  And I conclude with some specific recommendations that anyone can use to successfully improve their use of offshore teams.  A few examples:

  • Rigorous communication is critical for success.  Have twice-a-week (or more frequent) conference calls on status, issues, and project considerations.  If you’re using an agile/scrum methodology, schedule the daily sprint meetings at a time when the offshore team can attend as well.  Document requirements well and clearly set expectations early.
  • Get on a plane.  Face-to-face meeting early in the project/process will eliminate a lot of issues going forward.  Shows the offshore team the same level of respect and commitment you show your onshore staff and make them feel part of the team.

I hope you enjoy the paper, and I welcome your feedback.

Kelly Stephen Consulting
Software Strategy, Execution, Quality, Delivery

(Go back to my website)

I am a Consultant

There’s an old saying that goes “those who can’t, teach.”  I believe that to be quite a disparaging and negative remark about the teaching profession, and I’ve never subscribed to it.  Nor have I ever believed it.  However, like all ‘statements’, there is some truth in there; in this case a positive one.  I believe there are people who can teach certain things, and teach them well, even though they weren’t very good at the task themselves.  I’ll use Charlie Lau as an example.  Lau was a former major league baseball catcher who hit .255 for his career.  (For you non-baseball fans, that’s not great.)  But he became a superb hitting coach who worked for a variety of teams, most notably the Kansas City Royals from 1971-1978.  One of his disciples was George Brett, who is one of the best hitters in major league history (and certainly one of the best I ever saw in person).  And, to stay on the sports theme, there are also numerous golf coaches who are extremely adept at helping professional (and non-professional) golfers improve their game dramatically, even though they may never have achieved “greatness” at the professional level.

So that brings us to consulting.  Because there is another saying that extends the previous one: “Those who can’t, teach.  Those who can’t teach become consultants.” UPS had a commercial several years ago about their logistics program, where two consultants tell a client what he needs to do and then the client says, “Great. Do it.”  They look at him somewhat bewildered and one of them responds, “Sir, we don’t actually do what we propose.” The other one says, “We just propose it.”

That’s not what my business is about.  We are focused on diving in with our customer partners and helping them identify what their root problems are, making recommendations about how they can resolve these issues, and then, more importantly, helping them implement the changes they need to make to become a more effective organization.  We have the skills.  We have, the experience.  We have the knowledge.  And we have to make this happen to help you improve your business.

And that’s what we will do.  In other words, we actually do what we propose.

Kelly Stephen Consulting
Software Strategy, Execution, Quality, Delivery

(Go back to my website)