TMT Magazine: A Commitment to Integrity

Fall 2016

In this article in TMT Magazine, Mike Harris  reflects on his achievements in establishing DCG as a trusted and well-respected firm in the industry.

TMT Magazine: A Commitment to Integrity

Fall 2016

DCG Software Value has been helping its clients identify, measure and improve the value delivered by their software development organization since 1994. Its mission is to make software value visible for its clients, which the firm fulfils on an international level, operating from offices in the U.S. and the U.K. Michael Harris, the company CEO, reflects on his achievements in establishing DCG as a trusted and well-respected firm in the industry.

Michael stresses with pride that he did not take the traditional career path; rather than ascribe to the old concept of a career as a series of planned progressions, his resume boasts a plethora of different, challenging and interesting experiences throughout his career thus far. 

“My first degree was in electronic engineering from the University of Southampton in the U.K. and I was fortunate indeed to have Plessey, who made radio systems for the U.K. military and export, as my sponsor,” he begins. “As a part of my training during my gap year and university holidays, I worked in a number of departments at Plessey and learned to get on with many different types of people.

“When I graduated, my first job at Plessey was running an automated production line with about a dozen operators, involving management and new technology, which was quite a challenge.  My subsequent jobs included working in mobile radio R&D and spectrum management for the U.K. government – during which time I became a Chartered Engineer chip card research at Barclaycard, and deputy head of the Engineering School at Nene College.”

It was during his time at Nene that Michael took his Master’s degree in computer-aided engineering. It was also at Nene that he was invited by a German chip card company to leverage his experience in chip card research at Barclaycard in a consulting contract for MasterCard in New York. Michael reflects on the staggering fortune: a short consulting contract had led to an offer of more permanent work in New York. Michael moved his family to Philadelphia, and eventually became the SVP of Global Chip Card for MasterCard. As he describes, it wasn’t long before he set his sights even higher still.

“Since the MasterCard role was global, and I was spending a lot of time away from home, I looked for a job nearer to home. I took on the role to reorganize and lead the software development group for a banking software product provider, Sanchez Computer Associates.”

“When I began working for Sanchez, we had about 40 active clients, but only a couple would give us references because our delivered quality was poor. I needed not just to fix the quality issue, but fix it demonstrably, so I decided to seek CMMi Level 3, a recognized software process quality standard.  The owners of DCG at that time won the RFP to help my team at Sanchez with that project and we succeeded after 15 months.”

Some years later, in 2006, after helping Sanchez transition through an acquisition by FIS, Michael found that he was in the right place at the right time to buy DCG. 

“I was a client before I bought the company,” he regales, “so I knew the founders pretty well. In fact, they invited me to join their Advisory Board, but the only meeting I attended was about how to sell the company so they could retire.  As one of their clients, I had first-hand knowledge of the value their services offered so I knew it would be a good business venture for me to step into.  That drove my decision to buy the company and we’ve been helping our clients maximize the value from their software development initiatives ever since.”

“Today, I am the CEO of a relatively small company, so my duties range from ensuring that our strategy is appropriate for survival and growth through to checking that everyone is doing the best job we can for our clients to being the last one out of whichever of our offices I am in that particular day.”

Citing his source of inspiration, Michael uncovers a love of problem solving. “The biggest challenges have come when a problem does not have a win-win solution,” he explains. “Fortunately, these scenarios are rare, but they do happen and they usually involve people. For example, I hate having to tell people that the financial circumstances of the company mean that we have to let them go. This experience has taught me to be constantly mindful that a company is about more than just making money for me, but it’s about keeping as many people as possible in jobs. It has helped me to be focused and ruthless about managing the finances.

My overriding principle is to ‘do as you would be done by’.  I have managed people since I left university, and the first lesson I learned was that most experienced people know more about their job than I could ever know. The key is to create an environment in which they want to do their job as well as they can and tell you when they are running into problems.  It’s a constant challenge and I don’t always get it right.”

One particular ongoing challenge that Michael readily acknowledges is the persistent evolution of technology in his line of work, and the need to keep on top of its ever-progressing curve. “It has been essential for me throughout my career to keep up to date with technological advances; it was a key part of my early post-university training at Plessey and in the Home Office.

“To supplement my understanding of technology and its application in my line of work, I have been a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) from the age of 18, and I still read their journals every month. I am also a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and read their publications frequently, as well as some more specific articles on the Internet and in other journals, to keep my general knowledge up.”

Armed with this knowledge, Michael is able and willing to disseminate information to the wider industry: “I do webinars, I speak at conferences, and I write articles and books – I am currently working on a new book called The Business Value of Software, due to be published in 2017.

“One of my most prominent means of contributing is through a monthly publication from DCG that I help to edit. The series is called DCG Trusted Advisor, and while it is free to read for all, a small group of ‘subscribers’ help us by adding industry questions to our website and then voting on one particular question to be researched each month.  One member of the DCG team writes a first draft which is then edited by the rest of the team before publication at the end of the month.  We have been doing this for over three years now and it seems to have a good following.

I would also say that it’s easier to keep up with market trends than it is to be familiar with everything new in the market.  For example, I am continuously aware of the development and increasing capabilities of smartphones without being intimately familiar with all the latest versions of all the various brands.”

As an early adopter of Agile software development, Michael has become a great believer in the Lean Start-up approach to innovation. “I believe in creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), testing it on the market and learning from the results to improve the MVP or kill it.The business model, the amount to be invested to get an MVP and the ease with which the MVP can be tested, are all essential components to the process of investing in new ideas.”

In recent years, Michael has shifted the focus of the firm from generally helping its clients to improve their software development, towards a much stronger imperative based around improving the delivery of value from software development. “This is in part a recognition of what has made us successful over the years and partly a personal mission to get software developers to prioritize the flow of business value through software development.”

As a final remark, Michael adds, “I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge readers to identify how much business value they delivered this year through their software development. They should be able to measure it and have strategies and tactics in place to maximize it. It will help them be viewed as a value centre, rather than a cost centre, by the business units they support and by the executive management of their organization. That’s an important factor during budget cycles.”

Stressing the importance of thoughtfulness and a willingness to indulge in controlled experiments on the business, Michael’s first ten years at the head of DCG Software Value have provided a solid platform from which to continue building the firm, and strive for a vision in which the value of every software initiative is visible to his clients’ businesses.

CONTACT DETAILS

Company: DCG Software Value
Name: Michael Harris
Email: M.harris@softwarevalue.com
Web Address:  www.softwarevalue.com
Address:  270 W Lancaster Ave, Suite B-2, Malvern, PA 19301 USA / 17 Winslow Court, Cullercoats, Tyne & Wear, NE30 4AE, England

Read the article: A Commitment to Integrity



"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG President

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