Uncovering the 4 P’s of Technology Modernization at FWD19

A look back at how the four-minute mile barrier, building houses, and an orchestra helped to uncover the path to successful modernization efforts.

What does a four-minute foot race, the act of building a home, and an orchestra have in common? And how are they going to help pave the way to modernization mecca? Before connecting these seemingly unrelated things, let’s first understand the people who helped us craft this story. 

On October 16 of this year, Solstice held the fourth annual FWD19 digital innovation summit at Morgan Manufacturing, hosting more than 500 IT, technology, product, and marketing professionals. Mike Koleno, CTO of Cloud at Solstice | Kin + Carta led the modernization-focused session, which also featured Ying Zhe, Director of Account Acquisitions at Discover Financial Services, and Paul Lundin, Head of Kubernetes at VMware. 

Over the course of an hour, the three speakers shared breakthrough stories and plunged deeper into the realm of modernization as part of a wide-ranging panel discussion

The 4 P's of Modernization Technology

To kick off the modernization breakthrough session, Mike Koleno, CTO of Cloud at Solstice | Kin + Carta took us back in time to the first Olympiad and the competitive spirit behind the original foot race. He contrasted those early competitors to today’s runners and the seemingly impossible quest of the sub four-minute mile. Mike spoke about the long list of brilliant coaches and gifted athletes who spent years on the hunt to successfully eclipse the four-minute mile barrier. 

Mike told us about the external factors believed to be necessary (along with a talented athlete) to successfully run that distance in less than four minutes: a perfect day with no wind, a dry track, and a crowd of people to watch and cheer. More than 20 years after the feat was deemed theoretically impossible, runners continuously tried and failed to break through the barrier. 

Then, one rainy day in 1954, Roger Bannister successfully ran the mile in under four minutes― on a damp track in front of a less than optimal crowd. The impossible was suddenly made possible. Bannister was in a class of his own...for just 46 days. Less than 6 weeks after Bannister’s breakthrough, Australian rival John Landy also broke the 4 minute mark. A year later, three runners did so in the same race, and over a thousand runners worldwide have joined the club since. 

So, what happened? One could make the argument that seeing the success of one removed the mental barriers and opened the realm of possibilities for others. Mike’s presentation set the stage for attendees to learn how the same concept could be applied to current day technology modernization efforts.  

Through these conversations and talks, we uncovered 4 things that help break down modernization barriers for enterprises. 

  • Purpose
  • People 
  • Platform 
  • Proof 

Purpose and Point of View

We’ve all heard it from the likes of Daniel Pink, and other thought leaders: if your people don’t feel invested in or aren’t able to see the bigger picture, you’re not going to see the results you’re striving towards. 

Ying Zhe, Technology Director at of Discover Financial Services, described the Purpose and Point of View her teams follow in their modernization efforts. While creating solutions quickly and efficiently remains important, application development also must be value-focused, which requires an agile, adaptive engineering approach ― one that strikes an optimum balance between speed, quality, and responsiveness to customer needs. 

Earlier in her career, Ying was a structural engineer and spent a substantial amount of time designing and building houses and apartments. She explained how the process of upgrading technology platforms is similar to the effort construction teams undertake when designing and building modern structures to replace older, outdated buildings of the past. However, as she moved into technology engineering, Ying realized that simply building a “modern house” shouldn’t be the goal. Rather, she told us how teams should be building platforms with the Point of View that they will constantly need to evolve and adapt based on changes in market conditions and strategic goals. Discover Financial continues to embrace the idea that the most foundational technology must be ready to change and should be built for agility.  

A development approach that combines a clear purpose with a strong point of view will help you reach your goals faster and better, Ying said. To continually push modernization barriers and remain a trailblazer in technology modernization, Ying’s teams start small and build incrementally from the legacy platform to the new modern platform. Through this approach, her teams are able to see the outcomes they were driving for within the context of the broader business while remaining customer-focused throughout their journey. Changes in Point of View are continuous and are to be expected and embraced. 

People over a Process

While clarity in Purpose and Point of View are vital for modernization success, assembling a project team that feels empowered and valued is equally critical. In his talk, Mike Koleno explained how executives often see the evolution in the delivery of software as a final destination rather than the next stop on a journey that, if done correctly, will never end. 

One component in this journey that should be never-ending — particularly when it comes to something as intricate as software development — is the need to continually enhance and improve your engineering talent. Managing projects is difficult under the best conditions, but technology modernization projects can be especially challenging. Neither business needs nor technology stop evolving while a project is underway, which means projects are managed in a highly fluid environment. These efforts require highly valued, self-empowered teams. 

The conclusion? A focus on engineering enablement and the right mix of engineering practices and methodologies can lead to smooth sailing and buy-in from your development teams. Mike’s suggestion being the practice of FleXP, a balanced and blended approach to delivery with a focus on developing and choosing the right components of XP and Scrum to foster an efficient engineering culture with the ability to drive outcomes. As technology evolves, your development teams need to be incrementally equipped with the changes in architectural patterns and development methodologies so that when your organization is ready for its next big upgrade, your engineering team is well-prepared and positioned for the task.  

Platform

Choose the right platforms to support your modernization efforts and everyone will be singing the same tune. That was the message delivered by Paul Lundin, Director of Kubernetes at VMware. He discussed the need for a modern platform to support your modernization desires and highlighted the unique orchestration capabilities of Kubernetes and how the increasingly popular open-source container system helps to speed development and reduce complexity in a variety of design environments.  

Paul took attendees deeper into the world of Kubernetes using the analogy of music composition and the value that is achieved when you can get everyone to sing from the same song sheet. He likened Kubernetes to the composer of the orchestra, ensuring that everyone is aligned and further the sheet music used across the orchestra is the same.

Proof

Paul also provided key insights into the value and importance of proof and results from modernization efforts. While there are multiple ways to measure your success, Paul recommends keeping it focused on the business value your teams deliver and the results of the initiatives they are working on. He outlined three ways to measure results, including speed and lead time to a change, the quality of the deliverable, and responsiveness to risk mitigation. You can measure quality through the number of issues that are experienced after products or features are released in production. Similarly, you can measure DevOps maturity through your quickness to mitigate issues. Bottom line: Show quantitative results; don’t just talk about your qualitative data points.

Although there’s no simple measure of performance effectiveness for groups, and no team is identical, the 4 P’s of modernization derived from our speakers appear to be essential ingredients in successful teamwork and project success.  


Check out Paul, Ying, and Mike’s deep dive discussion as they explore the world of technology modernization in more detail here