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Q&A with Ayman Sokkarie

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Ayman Sokkarie, Technical Director

How could you describe your career path in few words?

I started my journey as a software developer working for a startup in Delray Beach Florida. The company name was Electronic Imagery and it specialized in writing Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Software for multiple clients. NASA was our main customer, and I wrote the first image processing and enhancement software in C++ for NASA to run on board of the Space Shuttle Mission Discovery in 1994/95. After that I worked for multiple clients as a software engineer and ended up working for Express Scripts – A Pharmacy Benefits Manager and Accredo – the Specialty Pharmacy arm of Express Scripts at that time.

The next natural position for me was Enterprise Architecture and Solution Architecture. I felt that I was a natural born Architect. I helped many of my clients establish and run effective Enterprise Architecture Programs that enabled the company to rationalize expenditure and reduce cost of software production and maintenance. Today, as I write these lines, I am the Technical Director at SS&C Health – a large Healthcare organization that embarked on building the next generation Cloud-Based Claim Adjudication system using modern technologies.

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?

Agile practice is not a new idea. The Agile Manifesto was born in 2001. Many organizations jumped on the Agile wagon and most organizations adopted varying degrees of the Agile Software Development methodology. Many of these organizations admit that they are not “Fully” agile and that they picked some aspects of Agile development but kept other aspects from the traditional “Waterfall” methodology. Then came SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) that took the Agile principles and injected some very needed methodologies to “Scale” agile development in large organizations. I got certified in SAFe three times (Agilist, Architect, and SPC SAFe Program Consultant). SAFe was the first framework that organizations can take as a blueprint and start applying right away. SAFe claims that it is “An Operating System for Organizations” which is an interesting analogy. Just like a software operating system that makes the computer hardware usable, similarly, SAFe made all the resources in the organization (Human resources, material assets and Capital assets) able to be used effectively. I have seen SAFe transform organizations in front of my eyes.

However, not all my experiences were positive and ended in success. In one situation, the SAFe implementation plan ended up failing at the end and the reason was some leaders at the top or the org chart did not buy the idea completely. This example is not uncommon. Many organizations don’t realize how invasive the Agile Transformation is to their “Status Quo” processes and end up failing because they were willing to pay the price of transformation. One thing worth noting here is that Transformation is not the same as Optimization. The latter can put a band-aid on an existing process and enhance its performance slightly. Transformation is much deeper, and the impact is much wider. For the successful stories, the reward was amazing. Better software quality delivered faster and with less cost.

What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?

At one of the largest healthcare organizations in the country and in the world, the organization’s leadership fully adopted the idea and hired a whole company (Deloitte) to guide them through the transformation. They brought an army of agile coaches who sat side by side with the Product Owners and the Scrum Masters to take their hand through the PI planning and all the other rituals involved in Agile development. Of course, that did not happen overnight. The journey took 1.5 years and involved either moving people around to fill the needed positions (Business Product Owners, Technical Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Dev Manager, Business Analysts, etc…) or hiring from outside the organization.

I remember the first PI planning we had. A large conference room was filled with more than 500 people representing development teams from all over the company. The experience was so successful that the leaders of that transformation gave speeches at many conferences showing other companies how Agile Transformation should be done.

Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices?

The short answer IMHO is yes. We are just getting started. I am willing to predict this. Companies that don’t fully adopt some shape of Agile Practices will cease to exist in the next 10 years or so. The old idea of Project Management is ancient (in the software engineering domain). In the traditional “Waterfall” era, the project was the center of everything. The Project gets created to implement an idea or maintain an existing system. Then, capital is added to the project, then people are added to the project. The project has a start and a projected end date. When the project is over, all human resource associated with that project go back on the “bench” waiting for the next project to be created. The move from “Project-Centric” to “Product-Centric” model is transformative. Product teams own their products from the servers and routers to the databases and the code and everything in between. This “Product” team is dedicated to the product. They accumulate all the knowledge necessary to smoothly run and develop and maintain their product. One team may support multiple products if need be. The transformative idea here is that you work to people. You don’t bring people to the work. This idea is extremely transformative.

The main challenge to moving to a Product Model is inertia. People who have worked in the past century and are indoctrinated in the Waterfall Project Model will feel threatened by the new model, and they can cause the failure of the transformation efforts. You often hear “We have always done this way, why should we change now?” if often heard in the corridors of companies.

The other challenge is that SAFe is designed to help large organizations scale the Agile methodology. Well, not all organizations are large enough to accommodate all the rituals and aspects of SAFe. For medium and even some large organizations, this model does not always work. However, some aspects of Agile Development can still be adopted to enhance the product quality and the productivity of the teams.

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