SPIN doctors

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

A local organization dedicated to improving the software development process in the Milwaukee area has gone through its second rebirth in hopes of dissolving stereotypes within the information technology (IT) industry and to break the communication barriers between IT managers and business executives.
Over the past year, the Milwaukee Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN) held monthly meetings that brought in executive-level speakers from several states, industries, company situations and backgrounds to speak on topics ranging from project management, quality assurance and business analysis to design and architecture.
The aim is to contribute to software process improvement, said Keith Korsi, principal with Hartland-based Trissential LLC and the program chair for 2006.
Milwaukee SPIN originally started in the late 1990s and is loosely affiliated with the Software Engineering Institute out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said Jim Grant, director of engineering for Milwaukee-based Direct Supply Inc., and president of Milwaukee SPIN.
The current group re-launched Milwaukee SPIN in 2003 but did not concentrate as highly on program offerings before 2006.
Part of Korsi’s personal mission was to bring in speakers and topics popular in Trissential’s Twin Cities office, where the business environment is driven by innovation and proven method, in contrast with Milwaukee’s reputation of being a slow adopter of technology.
Milwaukee SPIN also aims to attract professionals involved in the software process, including testing, writing, project management and representatives and executives who are selecting what they will fund in the area of software.
“Milwaukee SPIN is a group where professionals can learn about the entire software arena and raise the bar for the group,” Korsi said.
One focus for Korsi was to offer insight on agile and iterative methods of software development, which minimize risk by developing parts of a software application one at a time in short time periods, called iterations. At the end of every iteration, the development team re-evaluates its progress and priorities.
Agile development methods are being replaced in some markets by the waterfall method, which involves developing software in multiple intervals. However, the intervals run together (in a steady flow) to create, in some cases, a faster-to-market scenario.
Korsi created a speaker series taking up four monthly meetings in 2006 to offer insight to Milwaukeeans on the agile process.
“If a project manager sees a quality assurance speech, it takes on the idea of walking in someone else’s moccasins for awhile,” Korsi said. “We have talks with executives to see what it is like to be in the corner office. It is not always as what it seems to be.
“We are trying to give Milwaukee something different, which are conversations you don’t usually get to sit in on,” Korsi said. “When we get the right people on the panel, they disclose more than usual and people can see they are human and normal.”
In October, Korsi planned a panel presentation with business executives to boost attendance of the meeting and to offer a different type of insight on software development. Speakers included David Kerford, president and chief executive officer of AQS Inc., Hartland; Kim Pemble, chief information officer (CIO) for SynergyHealth, West Bend; Tim Payne, chief officer of fulfillment for the United States Bowling Congress, Greendale; Michael Lehman, vice president and CIO of Batteries Plus, Hartland, and John Hohensee, director of IT for Charter Manufacturing, Mequon.
“The whole year was dedicated to getting people in and giving them a set of programs month after month that impacted them in a way that they could not go back to work and not talk about it,” Korsi said. “In 2006, the goal was to put Milwaukee SPIN in another light to show it to Milwaukee and to show all of the different aspects of software development.”
Milwaukee SPIN is currently working on adding more features to its Web site, www.milwaukeespin.com, Korsi said.
Next year the board of directors will work to add a variety of ideas, speakers and topics to the group. Their goals are now focused on the monthly speakers but also on increasing the amount and diversity of attendees each month, Grant said.
“There is a series of best practices out there for good project management, coding standards, required definitions and testing techniques but it is not consistent in organizations and individuals in organizations struggle to bring resources in,” Grant said. “As a director of an engineering group, it is difficult for me as a technology leader in Milwaukee to gain easy access to other technology leaders to talk about these types of things.”
There is a core of about 10 professionals who manage Milwaukee SPIN, and average attendance at monthly meetings is around 35. Most attendees are professionals who work for an IT company or within an IT department, but some executives also attend.
“If it is a small company with a software development wing in the organization, it would be a valuable experience (for a business owner) and good to get exposed to that world,” Grant said. “However if it is a mid-sized company, then we are looking for a C-level guy from within it and their management, whether it is a CIO, CTO, director of engineering, director of development or quality assurance.”
“Growth does not mean or need to be a 300-person group,” Korsi said. “We are looking for people who want to make a difference in their organization.”

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