Challenges in global product development

Introduction

This paper is based on the experience of the presenter in the management of the Industry Intelligence Solutions (xIS) program for SAS Institute Inc. (SAS).

It highlights the strategies adopted to meet some challenges related to the knowledge areas of Project Scope Management, Project Human Resource Management and Project Risk Management. While the experience is related to software products, it is possible to extend many of the ideas to non-software products.

This introductory section of the paper does the following:

  • Provides an overview of the product suite
  • Outlines the project life cycle
  • Explains the project team structure and roles

The next section explains the challenges faced during the execution of the program. The last section discusses the strategies and specific measures taken in the xIS Program to meet challenges.

Product Overview

SAS has been developing xIS for the Telecom, Banking, Insurance and Retail industries since June 2001. The xIS builds on the customers’ operational environments and helps transform organisations into Intelligent Enterprises by surfacing knowledge based on real-world data. xIS brings together what has been learnt from many projects that SAS has been involved in across the world in the business intelligence space.

The results are proven Business Intelligence (BI) solutions with a standard architecture, a rich set of industry-specific data models, pre-built warehouse processes, analytical solutions, OLAP reporting and performance management scorecards. During deployment, these solutions are customised and extended to meet the needs of the customer.

The xIS solutions are founded on the Enterprise Intelligence Platform provided by SAS technology. The key components of the xIS data architecture are Enterprise Data Warehouse, Dimensional Models, OLAP models and Analytical Data Models.

The solutions are developed for the global market and are therefore, not based on the experience of a particular country or project.

Project Life Cycle and Project Team

The Project Life Cycle is the typical Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and consists of product release scoping, requirements analysis, design, construction and release.

Primarily, the SAS team in India, referred to as the “Anchor Team” in subsequent portions of this paper, develops the product. This team is assisted by additional resources from other SAS offices, as required. The high-level scope of the solutions is defined during the conceptualisation and scoping stage of the product. The prioritisation of the solutions and the scope is done based on the market demand. The scope is elaborated in the form of a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document. The pictorial description of the Project Life Cycle of a typical xIS Release is shown. (Exhibit 1)

Project Life Cycle of an xIS Product

Exhibit 1 – Project Life Cycle of an xIS Product

Subject matter experts from the global offices of SAS contribute to ensure that the required depth is built into the SRS. This is followed by the solution design and construction stages that are primarily carried out by the anchor team. The consulting teams of the concerned country office take up the solution deployment responsibility. After the deployment, feedback on the Product Release is obtained and used for refinement of future releases.

Challenges

The unique challenges encountered while managing the xIS program are enumerated below:

  • Ensuring global contribution to the Product content
  • Multiple influencers of the Product Content with different priorities
  • Timely availability of “Right” experts
  • Integration of “Product Components” contributed by distributed teams
  • Management of a remote team
  • Knowledge roll-out to 100+ offices worldwide

Each of these is described in detail in the following paragraphs.

Ensuring “Global” Contribution and Applicability

The xIS solutions need to be designed to be applicable to the global market and not to a specific country. To ensure that the solutions are not specific to a country or locale, it is essential to include Intellectual Property from all the geographies.

This also implies that subject matter experts from different geographies are made available to contribute to the solutions development. It is a challenge to find and connect with the relevant key people in the Americas, EMEA (comprising Europe, Middle East, Africa) and APAC (comprising Asia Pacific), and motivate them and their managers to contribute to the development of xIS solutions.

Multiple Influencers of the Product Content with Different Priorities

Different geographies can have different priorities for the required solution areas to be built as part of xIS. To achieve a consensus in the prioritisation requires careful evaluation and effective decision-making. The geographies that need to be represented are Americas, EMEA and APAC. Depending on the state of a particular market for an industry, the priority attached to a business solution can be quite different. For example, for Insurance Intelligence Solutions (IIS), the American insurance industry is more mature compared to insurance companies in APAC countries. Therefore, while building a global insurance suite of solutions these two geographies had differing views on the priority of some solutions like Rate Making.

Timely Availability of “Right” Experts

The right subject matter experts for xIS are those with significant practical warehouse design and implementation experience. Unless the right experts contribute to the analytical solutions in the product, the offering will not have the required depth, which is a critical success factor for xIS solution acceptability in the market place. The best consultants are also in demand for consulting assignments in their own countries. Therefore, it is challenging to have them available for xIS work in the time allocated for the solution development.

Integration of “Product Components” Contributed by Distributed Teams

As part of xIS, sometimes a consulting team of a specific country provides a component of the final solution. For example, SAS Poland has provided the Price Plan Optimisation application for Telecommunications Intelligence Solution (TIS). Such applications need to be integrated with all the other components developed by the Anchor Team. This is a challenge for technical integration and for project schedule control. The standards followed for design and construction of software by the country team needs to be consistent with those followed by the Anchor Team. The interfaces provided by the application to be integrated should be well defined. From a schedule control point of view, since the Project Manager of the Anchor Team does not have direct control over the activities of the remote team, ensuring timely delivery of the application is a challenge. This is also is a risk that requires Risk Response Planning, Risk Monitoring and Control by the Project Manager.

Management of a Remote Team

The executive sponsor of the Program and the Program Director are located in Germany while the Anchor Team is located in India. The Program Director needs to ensure that the overall Program is run as per the guiding principles set by Top Management but is not co-located with the team that is charged to do this. The Anchor Team is managed by the Program Manager. It is a challenge to have the right level of “control” on the Program execution without “interfering” in the same.

Knowledge Roll-Out to 100+ Offices Worldwide

Once an xIS release is planned, it is essential that the sales force and the consulting teams be provided the required level of knowledge about the products.

xIS is different from the tools and technology type of Products and the sales teams need to be educated about the paradigm shift in the positioning of xIS. The consulting teams in the Country offices also need to be trained on the deployment aspects unique to xIS.

Strategies to Meet the Challenges

The strategies adopted to meet the challenges described above are outlined in the following paragraphs. These have been applied for all the five industry verticals for the last three years and have proven to be very successful in coping with the challenges and ensuring that the Program is effectively managed.

There is no one-to-one mapping of the strategies to the challenges explained earlier.

For each strategy outlined, it has been linked to the relevant challenges it addresses. The strategies adopted are listed below:

  • Program governance by an international management team with top management support
  • Global resource management system
  • Formation of Business Steering Committee
  • Scope validation by industry analysts
  • Formation of Technical Steering Committee
  • Integration of component application as “black box” being concurrently developed
  • Remote team management as customer-supplier relationship
  • Trainings and communities of practice

International Management Team

An international management team manages the entire program. The team is composed of Senior Management executives from EMEA, Program Director from EMEA, Program Strategy director from EMEA and Program Manager (the presenter) from India. This team has the following responsibilities:

  • Provide the guiding principles for the program
  • Track the program at macro-level
  • Facilitate involvement of country offices to provide required participation

Such a high-powered team is able to influence the country teams to contribute to the xIS program development. It is also able to facilitate the process of obtaining feedback from completed customer projects from various countries. This strategy helps in meeting the challenge of ensuring global contribution to xIS products.

Global Resource Management System

To be able to identify the right resources within SAS, the program utilises a database of all global (human) resources maintained centrally. The Anchor Team in India enters a resource request detailing the resource requirement in this system. The database of the consulting resources from all countries is maintained centrally and facilities to search and identify the right resource are available. This makes the search of the required candidate resources for the required skills an easy and efficient process.

To motivate the managers to provide the identified resources, competitive rates are offered to internal consultants. This ensures that there is no loss of revenue for Country offices and it helps in better manpower utilisation percentage for the office.

To ensure that the solutions get the “global product” characteristics, contribution is made by subject matter experts from various SAS offices and sometimes acknowledged external industry experts during the Requirements Analysis phase. During the Design phase, Analytical subject matter experts from other SAS offices contribute mainly for the Analytical solutions, which form the USP of the xIS offering. Such involvement is one of the critical success factors for the products.

Business Steering Committee

To ensure that the product content is truly global and to manage the potentially conflicting priorities from different geographies, the Business Steering Committee is used.

This committee is formed with the Product Manager from the Anchor Team in India, Business Development Managers from APAC, EMEA and Americas, a few field experts for the concerned industry from different geographies, the Program executive sponsor and the Program Director.

This committee plays a key role by identifying the solution areas that are “hot” in the market, defining a high-level scope and prioritising the solution areas. A high-level estimation is carried out for the delivery of the identified solutions and based on the market drivers, solution areas are chosen for development in a given Product Release. Typically, the meetings are held every six months and additionally, event-based teleconferences are used when required. Use of voting was found to be very effective in reaching conclusion on requirement prioritisation. The Program executive sponsor provides the guiding principles for the selection of the scope of the releases. These principles are aimed at achieving a golden balance between having sufficient scope for the release to be “sellable” and releasing the products within an acceptable period like 6 to 9 months.

Scope Validation

The scope and feature list for each release is validated with Industry Analysts and some Customers, to ensure that the features and functionality being considered are globally applicable and represent true business pains that need to be addressed. Where Industry standards / best practices are available, validation against these is also carried out. This may be at the scoping stage and at the solution design stage. Examples of standards used for comparison are ACORD for Insurance and TMF for Telecom.

Technical Steering Committee

To ensure that the technical architecture of the solutions is robust and scalable, the responsibility of defining and refining the xIS technical architecture is entrusted to the xIS Technical Steering committee. This committee is formed with field practitioners with rich data warehousing implementation experience (from different geographies), Program Management representative and Anchor Team architect. Again, meetings are held every six months and event-based phone conferences are used when required. The document deliverables are reviewed through e-mail and placeware software is effectively used for demonstrations of Proof of Concept applications.

“Black Box” Approach for Component Applications

To expedite the overall delivery timeline the xIS team looks for reuse at various levels. When an independent team in a different country office is tasked with building a component application, the following approach has been adopted successfully:

  • Each team developing the “component” of the overall solution builds it as a black box
  • The team ensures that well-defined interfaces are published for integration of component application into the overall solution
  • The remote team also adheres to the same guidelines for design and construction as the Anchor Team
  • Support and maintenance are provided by the “Creator” entity for such Black Boxes

The Project Manager of the Anchor Team ensures that the dependencies are managed and the overall schedule is met. The country offices are compensated for the effort spent in building the component applications. The PMBOK principles of Project Procurement Management are followed for such engagements.

Remote Team Management as Customer-Supplier Relationship

To have the right level of control and at the same time provide the required level of freedom to operate to the remote team, xIS has successfully used the Customer-Supplier relationship model. The Program Sponsor plays the role of the Customer and the Program Director plays the role of the Customer representative tasked with ensuring that the Customer expectations from the xIS Program are met.

The execution and delivery of the various releases in the Program are tracked on a regular basis through weekly phone conferences and agreed Project Plan baselines. In addition, quarterly face-to-face reviews are conducted with the Program Sponsor. Deliverables of each phase in the life cycle are formally delivered and signed-off by the Program Director. This provides sufficient level of monitoring and control for the “Customer”.

While guiding principles and advice is provided in matters pertaining to the people management aspect of the Program, near complete freedom is provided to the local Program Management team in India. This works out very well since the local management team in India is in constant touch with the local team, knows the pulse of the people and is better equipped to manage the cultural issues pertinent to the country.

The same strategy is also applied to the recruitment process.

Trainings and Communities of Practice

To roll out the knowledge for every xIS release to the 100+ SAS offices worldwide, the SAS strategy team together with the xIS Anchor Team organizes training programs. Separate programs are conducted with focus on Sales and Deployment.

In addition to the training programs, placeware sessions are conducted by the xIS Anchor Team for the regions (APAC, EMEA, Americas). To have a common platform to launch and disseminate knowledge on the various events related to each Industry, a community of practice website has been established and maintained by the xIS Anchor Team for each of the five Industry verticals.

Conclusion

Developing a software Product for a Global market has several challenges. Some of the key challenges are:

  • Ensuring “Global” contribution to the Product content
  • Multiple influencers of the Product Content with different priorities
  • Timely availability of “Right” experts with other commitments to customers
  • Integration of “Product Components” contributed by distributed teams
  • Management of remote team
  • Knowledge roll-out to 100+ offices worldwide

Some strategies that have been adopted for the management of the xIS program at SAS Institute Inc. have been successful in coping with these challenges. These include:

  • Program governance by an international management team with top management support
  • Global resource management system
  • Formation of a Business Steering Committee
  • Scope/functionality validation with industry analysts
  • Formation of a Technical Steering Committee
  • Integration of a component application as “black box” being concurrently developed
  • Remote team management as customer-supplier relationship
  • Trainings and Communities of practice for each industry
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2005, Vibhas Joshi
Originally published as a part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Bangkok, Thailand

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