NEWS AT SEI
This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:Process Improvement
This article was originally published in News at SEI on: June 1, 1999
Most companies today are involved in various forms of partnerships,
alliances, and collaborations. "Technology collaborations" are formed
specifically to improve the software development organization, in
whatever capacity, whether it involves technical methods, processes,
or practices. In all cases, these collaborations are difficult to manage,
control, and track to productive closure. After more than 15 years of working with
executive management teams, I've identified a pattern of factors that are
essential to managing and guiding the technology collaboration, and particularly
the formation of software strategy to improve the software engineering
In this column, the first of two columns on this subject, I will consider why
technology collaborations are essential to sustaining competitive advantages in
software engineering development, and why technology transition and
collaboration planning require the support of good strategy formulation and
planning. In my column in the next issue of SEI Interactive, I will explore in detail
the eight key factors that I consider essential to managing and guiding the
technology collaboration activity.
Software drives value
Who would dispute the astonishing value of software to the competitive strategy of the
firm? Whether your firm produces aircraft, phones, Web-based systems, satellites, or
semiconductors, software is what drives a major portion of your "value proposition" in
the market. Software impacts all corners of the business operation, from manufacturing
and design to distribution and customer service. Software is what makes you unique.
Software has the power to differentiate you in the market, to create a powerful and
compelling identity among alternative products or services. The performance of software
creates superior functions, drives feature performance, and achieves value. In many
cases, software creates the product and interface value that your customers want, need,
and will return to in the future. Whether your customers are looking for software that is
fast, accurate, reliable, safe, or effective, your software capability has everything to do
with delivering the lasting value proposition to your customers.
Software is so important that every company should have an evolving and continuous
software strategy, a "master plan" that replaces management's old Ouija board and
voodoo dolls for making decisions about software engineering. Yet, in my 15-plus years
of experience working with corporate management teams, I have found that most
organizations do not have a software strategy. In fact, few software groups have created a
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 2
basic plan of action that outlines vital issues, such as team roles and responsibilities,
training activities, improvement planning, management issues, or key performance goals.
Without a software strategy that encompasses the key functional areas of software
performance, we cannot conduct meaningful evaluations or decision analyses regarding
software technology collaborations. The software strategies are the "blueprints" that
guide our technology collaborations, and keep our decisions on track to achieve business
value from our software performance.
I'd like to offer an approach that focuses on strategy development as a basis for
improving how we collaborate to achieve software innovations. The value of software
innovation is not bankable until that innovation succeeds in application. To be of value, it
has to work in the real world, not just in the lab. Also, such innovation must be enhanced
and accelerated, typically by technology collaborations with partner organizations with
credible expertise and the supporting resources that are necessary for investigating and
evaluating new software engineering technologies. Further, successful technology
collaborations for software do not happen by luck and fortune alone; those successes are
the result of careful development of software strategy and planning. Lastly, I am
presenting eight key factors that are essential to developing an effective strategy in
support of software technology collaborations.
The importance of technology collaborations
My primary goal at the SEI is to identify and develop corporate partners for technology
collaborations that advance the formation, introduction, and adoption of new technologies
for software engineering. This requires careful team development of our internal
technologists from various SEI functions, in concert with the executives, managers, and
software practitioners of candidate partner companies. Each collaboration must have
consensus and alignment of management, business impact, financial resources, staff
capacity, and an appropriate technical domain. The transition of new technologies into
technical practice is not a trivial matter, and requires the acceptance and support of
numerous vital players from each collaboration partner. Companies do not conduct
technical collaborations, or joint ventures, without careful analysis of the key issues,
· review of the business plan, financials, schedule, operational impact, and resources
· technical domain, project selection, staff credentials, and project control/tracking
· acceptance and sponsorship by management, and sustained executive endorsement
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 3
· expected business value and impact upon final system performance for the user or
· legal/contractual issues, performance criteria, intellectual property, and liability
· new technology insertion and organizational, cultural, and change management
Clearly, forming collaborations between organizations is a substantial business venture
that merits qualified business and technology management and planning. These
collaborations-with potentially enormous payoffs-do not happen based on a few phone
calls and some technical exchange meetings. The value of each collaboration is based on
key stages: analyzing critical success factors, developing the software strategy, and
forming the detailed plans for each collaboration.
I have often invested 6 to 10 months working with our internal technical teams and our
client organizations to formulate tailored work agreements by which to conduct each
technology collaboration. Getting agreement on introducing new technology into
software operations is a long, detailed, conflicting, and arduous task. Companies don't
like to do anything to their software unless and until everyone in each department
understands what will be done, to whom, and why. Otherwise, it simply makes a lot of
people very nervous, and failure is inevitable. Like good civil engineering, successful
construction execution is always a function of the quality and detail of the planning. In
short, great blueprints are necessary to produce great architecture. That's the role of
From lab to market
Great technology alone rarely makes the leap from lab to market unless strong business
and operational management and planning guides the process. Innovation may happen by
itself in a contained lab, but the value of that innovation is zero until the transition to
practice is made complete by successful application. Good ideas need commercial
partners to help demonstrate the level of value and viability, and to further enhance,
evolve, and increase the target efficacy of the proposed new technology. It is the
technology collaboration that creates a defined and structured process between
organizations that seek to transition new technology from concept to practice. In every
instance where a technical practice or process has been improved with a collaboration
partner, there has been a well-managed and directed collaboration strategy and plan to
support the difficult transition period.
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 4
For the SEI's purposes of improving the practice of software engineering, the core
function of each collaboration is the transition of new technology from one collaborator
to the other. The purposes may include proof-of-concept analyses for embryonic-level
technical practices, or even basic R&D with a specific technical or industry domain.
Another purpose may be to conduct a trial run or to pilot early-stage technology with
multiple collaborators to gather data and generate a trend analysis. Yet another purpose of
technology transition may be to introduce a viable commercial technology into a new
industry to further demonstrate the technology's robustness across new product and
application domains. The vital challenge of each collaboration is to successfully guide
and manage all aspects of the business and technical relationship of both parties.
Collaborations between or among organizations to improve the software engineering
function require a strategy. Collaborating without a clearly developed software strategy is
like building a house without a set of blueprints: it is a deception of activity without
meaningful results. Strategy is the blueprint to keep you on course to ensure that each
collaboration will yield the desired results of maximum technical and business value. To
simply say you're in collaboration is insufficient for achieving technology transfer
between organizations. Many organizations have tried this approach, and many have
failed. In considering the development, introduction, and adoption of new software
technologies, we expect a long-term effort (greater than one year), the participation of
numerous subject experts, a review by senior management, and a minimum investment of
These collaborations are, after all, intended to explore the vague uncertainties of new
emerging technical competencies that are-at this early stage-unproven and unknown,
and that lack reliable economic analysis. The prize of first entry to market, however, is
potentially enormous for technical innovations in software engineering. Clearly,
collaborations at this level and scope of effort require a well-defined strategy to protect
and guide the core goals and principles of the effort over the long run. In my experience,
the best results stem from those organizations that develop an internal software strategy,
which begins by answering the following questions:
1 In my experience, the collaboration of 2 or more organizations with intent to form, introduce, and
adopt new technologies for software engineering requires a 3-month negotiation/agreement phase and
a minimum 6- to 12-month implementation phase, often followed by a 1-month post-mortem phase.
Level of effort requires participation by key executives, senior and middle managers, project leaders,
contract staff, legal, accounting, and software engineering subject experts and technical staff. Case
evidence varies widely, and we do not publish proprietary contract information, but collaborations of
this scope and level of effort routinely require, at a minimum, a $50,000 budget allocation to ensure
reasonable implementation and success of initial goals.
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 5
· Why are you conducting this collaboration?
· What aspect of your software do you expect to impact or improve?
· What resources and sponsorship have been negotiated to support this effort?
· What is the expected "business value" to be realized from this investment in new
· What is the expected impact of not conducting this collaboration?
Creating a software strategy is a challenge for software organizations. In working with
numerous corporate firms, I have rarely found such items as business plans, improvement
programs, training routines, and technical effort analyses combined into a software
strategy. Yet, it is a very useful and productive endeavor for any software organization,
and it is a requirement for guiding and sustaining a technical collaboration. Strategy
formulation is also the task of the software group, not consultants or corporate
management. Those who own the implementation role should develop strategy.
Strategy provides the guiding principles necessary to calculate your core business and
critical resources for achieving business goals among competitors in complex markets.
Strategy is vital to performing your operations in a sustained environment of change and
uncertainty; to ensuring continuous improvement while operating at peak production; to
balancing those attributes that are essential to your ability to achieve your core business
goals. Strategy may include many considerations, including finance, technology,
management roles, design, manufacturing, customers, distribution, pricing-those
attributes that impact your ability to achieve your core business goals. Above all, strategy
requires all interested parties to come to the negotiating table and achieve consensus and
We may never agree on which considerations are exactly necessary to develop a software
strategy. The fact is that companies and their markets have many variant business drivers
and operating conditions, and a "universal strategy" cannot be expected to address
software engineering issues across all conditions. But which attributes, or key factors, are
vital to managing the technology collaboration process? How can we better understand
which factors are the vital core to building an effective software strategy? While every
company's software strategy should address those factors unique to its own business,
software, and technical requirements, I've identified a pattern of factors that have
repeatedly proven absolutely essential to software strategies that drive successful
technology collaborations. These factors, and their goals, are listed below.
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 6
Technical issues Define and understand the primary
software technical issues of your
Primary business drivers Understand the key factors that drive your
business and industry.
Improvement history Understand which improvement programs
have succeeded in the past, which have
failed, and why.
Performance goals Understand how your organization defines
and manages performance goals for
Executive owner Understand the role of senior executive
management in new software technology
Management team Understand how management is structured
in relation to your firm's software
Software engineering Understand your firm's software
engineering capabilities, technical
processes and methods, and overall
engineering conditions, resources,
platforms, and operations.
Customers Understand how the software organization
delivers value to the customer.
By using these key factors as a baseline analysis, organizations can formulate effective
strategy in support of complex technology collaborations. In the next issue of SEI
Interactive, I will examine each of these key factors in detail.
SEI Interactive, 06/99 page 7
About the author
Mike Mattison is a senior member of the Technical Staff at the Software Engineering
Institute (SEI). Mike is currently managing a portfolio of technology collaborations with
Fortune 500 client partners. The goal of his work is to accelerate the technical
development and commercial transition of new software capabilities and methods into
applied practice. He has directed a technology partnering strategy for the SEI that has
produced successful software collaborations with Fortune 500 corporations in the
aerospace, automotive, banking, telecommunications, defense, and software industries.
Mike is presently researching critical software performance in extreme high-reliability
domains. His area of interest is the impact of software management performance on
sustainable competitive advantage in commercial industries. You can reach Mike at
The views expressed in this article are the author's only and do not represent directly or
imply any official position or view of the Software Engineering Institute or Carnegie
Mellon University. This article is intended to stimulate further discussion about this topic.
The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) is a federally funded research and development center sponsored
by the U.S. Department of Defense and operated by Carnegie Mellon University.
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