The Buzz Words – Scrutinizing the Trends

They have inundated us in the past. Cloud computing. Social networking. Web 2.0. Dot com. Utility Computing. The list goes on and spans every industry that exists. New technologies, new product offerings and even new processes (Agile, Extreme Programming) often foster an almost rabid response from the general populace. One can see this behavior manifest itself in even the most absurd ideas or product offerings. (Beanie Babies anyone?) The notion of buzz words is often cited almost jokingly in the marketing space the most, where terms are re-hashed, made-up and re-used to the point of tedium, giving way to facetious responses such as the ‘buzzword bingo’ graphic adjacent this paragraph.

While some of these concepts can often be innocuous, other times, they can actually be outright damaging, especially when it comes to a new technology or ‘new paradigm’. In many situations, higher-ups in a company will latch onto whatever new flash-in-the-pan technology has a large amount of chatter at it and often dive head-long into the fray without taking the time to determine if it matches the company’s core strategy. Additionally, situations arise where the emphasis on this ‘new thing’ becomes so prevalent, that the company strategy and goals are totally re-aligned on a whim, just to match up to the new trend.

But if one is actually trying to be diligent when evaluating any new trend or technology offering, what steps should one take when scrutinizing these ‘new paradigms’? How can one make a more informed decision whenever some new concept or technology is being touted and make a lucid determination as to how viable it is and how well it aligns with the company’s core focus?

1) Assess the Trend

It is important from both the project manager perspective and an architectural perspective to really take a step back and assess the ‘new trend’. New technologies and new processes will sometimes have longevity. But in many cases, they will fall to the wayside once initial enthusiasm has faded. From the standpoint of an assessment, scrutinize the new trend and determine its core viability. Consult with experts in your realm and garner their feedback. The more information you acquire, the easier it is for making an informed decision. Also, find out what the sentiment is in the blogosphere and various publications. Who is adopting this new trend or technology? Do you see the big players diving into it head-first? Or are they being more lax about this idea? All of these are important considerations when assessing the trend.

2) Perform an Alignment Analysis

They say self-introspection is one of the hardest things to perform. This goes double when it comes to determining if a new trend or technology aligns effectively with your organizations core vision. If you evaluate the trend and immediately see the benefits when compared your company’s victory goals, that is a positive sign. If you are discovering that you have to jump through hoops like a Cirque de Soleil acrobat to get the new trend or technology to align in even a rudimentary fashion with your organization, that is probably a bad sign. It’s always important to try and stay as impartial as possible when doing an alignment analysis. The fear in any organization is being ‘left behind’ when it comes to staying abreast of current technology or process dynamics. But the flip side is that you may end up in a situation where you went gang-busters towards this new trend only to discover your organization is now off track and losing market share as a result.

3) Perform a Feasibility Study

Probably one of the most important steps in assessing any new trend is to determine if it CAN be done. We all have high ideals and aspirations and this is never more evidenced than seeing a group of senior vice presidents have a discussion. But in the end, does the company have the resources and the necessary infrastructure and talent to be able to successfully leverage this new trend? That is an important consideration since projects can take off in a heart beat at the whim of a VP’s desires yet eventually come skidding to a halt when feasibility issues arise. As such, performing an in-depth analysis up front to determine what can be done is absolutely imperative. (Note: for further information on how to perform a feasibility study, please consult the post: The Feasibility Study – Key Factors)

4) Try to Start Small

It’s always tempting to dive into something head-first. When something has really caught the idea of a senior leader, they can literally hit the brakes on virtually all their projects in favor of allocating any and all resources towards this new endeavor. But as alluded to earlier, even if some level of due diligence has been performed in the assessments and feasibility study, it’s important to not try to place all your eggs in one basket, regardless of how tempting it may seem. How much or how little one performs towards a new endeavor is difficult to determine. Much of that would depend on the veracity of this new trend. Clearly things like entirely new technologies that radicalize the landscape carry more weight. But hind-sight is often 20/20 and no one has a crystal ball. Something may seem like a good idea and huge resources are pooled into it, only to have it eventually fizzle and die. (Betamax anyone?) So if possible, don’t dive into anything with full gusto. Have a few tiger teams formed and work on prototypes. See how they progress and get a gauge of user sentiment towards them. That will give you a better foundation to work from.

5) Have a fall-back position

New technologies and processes come and go. Some companies will immerse themselves without question into them while others take a more tepid approach. From the overall perspective, having a trial run is usually the best method to begin implementation of any new technology or process. As indicated previously, once a prototype is created or derived, see how well it actually performs. Does it match expectations and if not, is the problem in the implementation or actually in the fundamentals? Are new problems surfacing that were not perviously expected and if so, how can they be addressed? The point here is, don’t simply halt existing technological work being performed and don’t halt existing process methodologies and switch over immediately. You may determine that the ‘new idea’ is not quite as innovative or viable as originally thought. And if that is the case, you can revert back to previous mechanisms with little interruption to your current timelines or deliverables.

*Conclusion*

Whenever assessing new ‘buzz words’, whether they be from marketing, engineering, sales, or just something some recent Harvard MBA from a consulting firm has come up with, make sure you don’t simply take the situation at face value. Just because someone with impressive accolades or a fancy pedigree is telling you something, does not mean that they are right. It’s up to you and your team to make that assessment and do so in the most impartial fashion possible. It’s sometimes not easy to fight a currently hot trend, especially with management breathing down your neck. But not voicing your opinion and not performing the necessary due diligence is doing your management and organization a greater dis-service.

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About tomtsongas
Versatile Program/Development Manager with 20 years of diverse background and experience in managing, defining, designing, developing and evangelizing advanced software applications that exceed customer expectations Current responsibilities include: - Coordinating and monitoring the scheduling and technical performance of company programs - Preparation of proposals, plans, specifications, and finalized requirements of various projects - Researching new opportunities and technologies - Ensuring adherence to master plans and schedules - Developing solutions to program problems - Directing work of incumbents assigned to program from various departments while also ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget - Acting as adviser to program teams regarding projects, tasks, and operations.

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