The Systems Development Lifecycle – a fundamental, natural human process

One thing you need to understand about the System Development Lifecycle (SDLC) is that each model is simply one author’s way of describing (or “modeling”) a fundamental, natural process that we humans use instinctively to make anything from tonight’s family dinner, to a global Business Information System (BIS), to landing a person on Mars.

While there are, admittedly, quite a few more tasks to be completed in landing a human on Mars than in getting tonight’s dinner (unless I’m cooking…but that’s another story!), both activities take an idea and bring it to fruition. The base process is the same every time. It’s the same whether there is one person or one hundred thousand people involved in making the idea come true.
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Written by TomFawls Posted November 11, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Wikipedia is Not Satanic!

I am currently an active (albeit part time) member of the faculty of two universities and one college. All three of these institutions of higher learning (and all universities and colleges, I assume) have a policies against students using Wikipedia as an approved research source for assignments or scholarly papers of any kind. As an employee of these institutions of higher learning, I understand the policies and fully comply with them, even though I do not agree with them. And here’s why I don’t.

As a training, business management and IT (Information Technology) professional outside the university setting, however, I have found Wikipedia to be at least as well, and sometimes better, verified and supported than “mainstream” sources in the area(s) of these professions.

While I absolutely agree that one needs to be careful to verify the information found in Wikipedia, the exact same thing is true about EVERY source, even such mainstream paragons of research virtue as this course’s text book, the Encyclopedia Britannica and virtually ANY mainstream media outlet.  At least Wikipedia makes it clear when material in an article is NOT confirmed, verified or fully / properly supported. They flag those articles with a notice to that effect and ask for help from readers verifying and/or correcting the material.

To my knowledge, none of the mainstream outlets does this.

If you look at the number of cases in recent years where such paragons of mainstream research virtue have published fiction as fact (“faction”); where other people’s work is published  as their own; where unverified statements and works of “faction” from one media outlet is propagated around the world by other media outlets who don’t bother to check even their most basic facts. Virtually every mainstream media outlet has had more than one of these type incidents in recent years, including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, NBC, and  FoxNews.

Do a Google search on “plagiarism scandals in _________” (fill in virtually any profession, publication or broadcast channel) and you may be surprised at exactly how poorly vetted these “trusted” sources really are.

Visit to see a few of the current scandals.

Read the article on “Plagiarism in medical / scientific literature” found at

Additionally, the fact that virtually anyone can offer articles for publication (not every article submitted is automatically published) means that it is easier for new ideas to be published and offered for professional peer review than in the “established” professional journals where financial gain and internal politics often play a larger part in what gets published than “truth” and “fact”. In most articles on professional topics, the fact that there are so many practitioners reading the article and the fact that practitioners in the field have an opportunity to comment on and challenge the article, actually works to make Wikipedia a better-vetted source than any other I’m aware of.

Having said all this, of course, and in compliance with University / College policy, I, of course inform all my students in all my courses that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source to use for their assignments…but I can’t stop them from using it in the real world.

There. I met my “toe-the-party-line” professional obligations.


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Written by TomFawls Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Cats and dogs and kids and peace and quiet

We currently have (along with assorted kids, fish and “wild” animals roaming the property) 4 cats and a dog. Three of the cats are older (10 to 14 years old) who have not gotten along with each other in all the years we’ve had them (since kittenhood for all of them). The 4th cat is the latest stray…about 3 – 4 months old and quickly learning not to bother the other cats.

The dog was a “drop-off” we took in as a puppy back in March. She’s part of the family and has come to an uneasy truce with at least one of the cats. She is constantly trying to “play” with the kitten, but her size, noise and exuberance seem to scare the kitten (who’s a bit skittish, as strays often are) away.

Since my wife and I are also all too often “all-too-pragmatic” people, we set certain rules that limit interaction between the species within our family’s pet population – carefully watching the interactions to ensure no one ends up dead, mangled or too emotionally scarred for life.

On the other hand, since we have heard stories of cats and dogs living together in harmony and, since we are also eternal optimists in this area, from time to time we attempt to “forcibly integrate” the family pets – putting them into (heavily controlled) situations where they are forced to interact with each other. It is rarely successful from an integration standpoint, but it is (almost) always entertaining.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably beginning to wonder what all this has to do with answering Wildside’s initial question.

The simple truth is – I don’t know.

I was actually hoping that the act of documenting these experiences would bring some earth-shattering, universal truth to light for me…and that by relating these truths in this message, I would become the “hero of the thread” (a position which actually exists when I’m “in my happy place”).

Unfortunately, all this has done for me is to highlight the fact that I have no answer to any of this and that the only thing I know to do is to keep slogging through each day – trying to contain the violence in each situation and celebrating the small victories (like the fact that at least one of our cats can now sit in the same room as the dog without constantly trying to scratch her nose).

Ouch, my head hurts now!


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Written by TomFawls Posted May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

We are Americans…let’s start acting like it..

In case you haven’t heard, Osama Bin Laden, public enemy number one, has been killed by a US Navy Seal Team who raided his hiding place in Pakistan.

Understandably, there has been much rejoicing over and numerous celebrations of his death.

Unfortunately, too many of these celebrations and too much of this rejoicing is more evidence of blood lust than justifiable gratitude and thankfulness that an enemy has been vanquished.

I think this is a very good time to stop and reflect on what this momentous event, and our reactions to it, say about us . While some relief and thankfulness is right and proper, the wild public celebration of death and destruction needs to stop.

We are Americans. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are better than that.

We see value in every human life. We don’t rejoice in death and killing. We do not revel in slaughter and gore. We are not barbarians clothing ourselves in the bodies and washing ourselves in the blood of our enemies.

We don’t gloat over the vanquished. We quietly extend our hand to help a vanquished enemy become a friend and mourn the loss of life on both sides that every war inevitably brings. We heal the wounds, we rebuild the cities and we help repair the damage once the fight is over.

We are Americans. We forgive.

We are publicly grateful for our forefathers who gave their lives to gain and keep the freedoms we have. And we are quietly proud and thankful that our nation still produces men and women with the fortitude and will to keep and protect these freedoms for us and the courage to extend them to others. And we are sorrowful that we still live in a world where it is sometimes necessary for those good men and women to sacrifice their lives in that pursuit.

We are Americans. Let’s start acting like it.

Pray for America.


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Written by TomFawls Posted May 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm

e-Books and electronic readings

I recently read an on-line discussion of the new “electronic Books” (e.g. Amazon Kindle, iBooks; Sony Reader, etc.) and it got me thinking (again!) about the advances in electronics, display technology and software made over the last decade.

I’ve really only seen one Kindle and that only for a short time. I WAS impressed, though, that they seem to have solved that “can’t see the screen in direct, bright sunshine” issue.

I was on a beach in the mid-day Florida sunshine and saw a woman reading one about 50 feet away. Even from an oblique angle at that distance and with my poor (corrected) vision, I could distinctly make out separate lines of text (I couldn’t read the words, but that was an eyes / distance thing!).

I also liked that they’ve done a LOT to bring as much of the “look and feel” of a paper book to the electronic screen.  The pages turn, the “paper page” has a textured look to it and the fonts looked like they’d been type-set, not generated by a computer.

Having said all that, though, I’m still not sure I’ll ever give up my paper books.

With all your experience with on-line sources and electronic readings, what do YOU think?


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Written by TomFawls Posted April 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Business Information System Terminology

Business planning systems typically fall into one of three categories: MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning); or SCM (Supply Chain Management) systems. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably in some organizations, and despite the fact that as systems have matured the demarcation lines between MRP, ERP and SCM have become blurred; these terms and the systems they refer to generally indicate three different levels of system scope and complexity. As you might also have imagined, each step up the “evolutionary ladder” of business planning systems also typically represents a “step up” in purchase price and system maintenance costs. We’ll address this issue later in the article.

  • Automated Data Processing Systems the precursor to the modern business planning systems, these systems were focused on automating the bookkeeping functions within the organization. Companies such as IBM, ADP, Oracle and other big names cut their teeth automating business bookkeeping and accounting tasks. The lessons learned, the principles developed, and the benefits customers gained from these early business process automation efforts laid the foundation of the industry of business information systems we know today.
  • MRP (Manufacturing Resource Planning) Systems represent the first and, at least theoretically, the least complex stage of business planning system development. Initially titled “Material Requirements Planning” systems, MRP is now generally accepted to mean “Manufacturing Resource Planning” systems. As you might have guessed, current MRP systems typically encompass the manufacturing and manufacturing-related operations within a single organization or location. Some consider the early MRP systems to be the computer industry’s first attempt at building true management information systems outside the “pure accounting” functions of a company.

Typically built around the Bill of Material (BOM), early MRP systems were little more than computerized parts/material tracking and ordering systems, generating data and basic information for use by off-line planners. These systems were a huge improvement over older manual manufacturing planning methods. MRP systems also represented a watershed moment is computer systems development, proving to customers that the computer had many more possible applications than simplifying accounting & payroll functions.

As MRP systems technology matured and stabilized, systems capabilities naturally expanded from simple parts tracking and ordering systems to encompass more and more of the manufacturing and manufacturing-related planning, reporting and control tasks, activities & operations within customer organizations.

Although MRP systems have been with us the longest, they are by no means obsolete systems. The fact that they’ve been around quite a while means that most MRP systems are extremely stable, (relatively) easy to use and require little system maintenance. MRP systems are still being built, sold, maintained and improved by vendors and many companies find this level of business planning and control is sufficient to meet their needs.

  • ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Systems represent the second generation business planning and control systems. They generally encompass planning and reporting for all the operations, organizations and locations within a single company (or family of companies). Enterprise Resource Planning systems came about because, as customers’ reliance on MRP systems grew, system developers/sellers added more and more functions and capabilities to satisfy their customers’ needs. Unfortunately in many cases, these functions and capabilities were added to the systems piecemeal, tacked onto the system architecture wherever they would fit. . This often meant that the systems themselves got became cumbersome to use and a nightmare to maintain. And in many companies with operations spread across wide expanses of geography, each location / operation / division used a different MRP system, making the sharing of management information within the company a virtual impossibility.

Recognizing these problems, MRP system manufacturers started working with customers to develop more streamlined systems which could meet the management and control information needs throughout the customer’s entire enterprise. While ERP systems sometimes incorporate and often replace earlier (legacy) MRP systems, because they were being built as “next generation” systems, they were able to more effectively incorporate expanded technology capabilities and build on “lessons learned” from years spent developing, improving and maintaining MRP systems.

ERP systems also represent a step forward in the capabilities arena. Many of these systems were designed to encompass the virtually every area of a company’s operations – from manufacturing to finance, to human resources, purchasing and shipping and receiving. This allowed true “enterprise wide” business planning and control and, although the initial switch-over from a MRP to an ERP system could sometimes be painful, the ability to standardize and share planning and forecasting data and information among and between all organizations, divisions and locations of the organization gave early adopters a true competitive advantage over their competitors.

  • SCM (Supply Chain Management) Systems are the latest growth stage for business planning systems. As the name implies, Supply Chain Management systems typically offer all the functions and capabilities of the MRP & ERP systems, but expand their reach outside a single enterprise, allowing companies to standardize, share, and update business reporting, planning and forecasting information with their entire supply chain: including suppliers, customers, shareholders and, in some cases, government regulatory agencies.

Although the concept of a system to track, report on and manage a company’s entire supply chain has been around pretty much since the beginning of MRP development in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, until the late 1990’s data storage and processor technology hadn’t developed sufficient robustness or speed (in other words, the cost was prohibitive) to handle the massive computing and storage requirements such a system demanded. The internet-driven demand for increased storage, processing and long-haul data transfer capabilities (which started in earnest the mid-1990’s) has increased computing capabilities and lowered prices to the point where true Supply Chain Management systems are not only feasible, they are now affordable for many companies.

True SCM systems almost always require cooperation between suppliers and customers, between developers and planners, and, often, between competing SCM systems.

As you can see, there is a definite hierarchy in business planning systems. Not every company needs or even wants a full-blown Supply Chain Management system, but most companies could benefit from at least some form of MRP, ERP or SCM system – even companies who deliver services rather than building product.

There are a myriad of MRP, ERP and SCM systems on the market. Each of these (and, dare I say, each of the selling companies) has its good points and its bad. Most have some “unique” feature – things that other companies don’t offer and that the seller hopes to make you believe are indispensable to running and managing your business. And virtually all these business planning systems come complete with “maintenance agreements” which promise to (and sometimes actually do) keep your system up-to-date and growing right along with your business…and which, of course, ensure the seller builds and maintains a steady income stream in the years after the initial system sale.


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Written by TomFawls Posted April 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

February Football Half-Time Fiasco

Well another “Big Game” (I don’t want to use the term “Super B__L” and risk getting the NFL’s Legal Team after me!) had come and gone…and a bit of a disappointment, this one was, too.

The game was “OK”, but since I really didn’t care about either team, there wasn’t any real emotional connection for me.

There were a few good new advertisements, but there certainly weren’t any ground-breakingly interesting ones.  Certainly there were none that we’ll still be talking about next month, let alone next year at this time!

And then, of course, we had the half-time show. Putting it bluntly: It sucked!

While I do try to keep an open mind and I’ll admit we don’t have a stereo TV (nor a flat-screen digital, for that matter), from a pure “quality of the production” stand-point, that was a horrible show.  I suspect the sponsor of that debacle is re-thinking their investment in next year’s 15 minute stadium spectacle.

The instruments were drowned out by crowd noise and the over-pumped vocals to the point where, for most of the time, it was an a cappella performance…and a poor one at that. Case in point, when the camera cut to the line of horn players blowing up a storm, there were no “horn” sounds at all. The musicians’ instruments seemed to have had no amplification! The performance by Slash was another example…his guitar was no where near as loud as the singer’s voice.

The artists’ voices, on the other hand, came across flat, dull and (sometimes) off key. I suspect this was due in part to the fact they couldn’t hear their accompaniment, and in part because they were singing louder than normal to try to get above the crowd noise.

As for the glowing people, while an interesting tableau, it didn’t seem to have any real connection to the (non-existent) music nor the words of the various songs being sung.

I like (some) of the Black-eyed Peas’, Usher’s and Guns & Roses’ music…but last night’s half-time show was not one of their better performances. I suspect we won’t see a thread here 5 or 6 years from now, wistfully reminiscing about how great this performance was (remember the recent discussion of U-2’s Super Bowl performance).

I listen to a lot of different music, but I won’t be listening to that performance again. :-)


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Written by TomFawls Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Management Tasks: Organizing defines “organizing” in part as:
to systematize…to give organic structure or character to...
As managers, it’s our responsibility to make sure the team, the materials and the work is given some (hopefully) logical, rational structure.
So exactly how do we do this? How do we decide what goes where, who does what and when it all happens?
help us organize the people, the work and the resources we have to do the job.
First, we’ve got to know what it is we’re trying to do. This, of course is one of the things we hope our plan will do – give us a clear idea of what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what tools we have to get it done.
Second, we’ve got to know the organization we’ve already got in place – what’s working and what’s not. For new programs / projects / companies, this is a pretty simple thing – we’ve got no organization. In this happy case, we can do whatever works best for us given our personality, our management style and our people. We’re free to arrange things pretty much any way we want; we decide who works for who, where folks sit, where the copier is located and, sometimes, we even get to pick the color scheme for the facility. It’s a great gig when we can get it.
However, most managers aren’t that lucky. We often have little in who works for us, where our offices are located, or what the floor plan looks like. And we’ll virtually never have a chance to pick a color scheme (“institutional green”, anyone?).
In most companies, critical things like facilities, equipment, tools and staff are assigned to projects based on priorities established well outside the project itself. And the lower priority our project, the less say we’ll have over any of the things that are assigned to us.
When we find ourselves in this situation and we’ve done everything short of tendering our resignation to get what we want, don’t complain. Just take a deep breath, paste a big smile on our faces and remember, “adversity builds character”.
Then we take a critical look at the people, tools, facilities and materials you’ve got to work with. Identify those pieces that already work well and leave them alone. If there are folks who’ve worked well together in the past, keep them working together on your projects whenever we can
Then find the stuff that isn’t working so well and fix it. Reassign people, rearrange furniture, re-plan work, get new tools; whatever it takes to get your team working efficiently and effectively.
Third, we’ve got to decide where things go. “A place for everything and everything in its place”. Do we team our people by specialty (Engineering, Production, Accounting, etc.) or by what part of the project their work most affects (hydraulics, wing, fuselage, etc.)? Do we assign tasks by position or by the likelihood the work will get done? Do we use the company’s central stock room for project specific parts or establish an project stock room for “our stuff”?
Finally, we’ve got to keep tabs on the work…and be ready to re-organize when the structure we put in place doesn’t work. I don’t advocate re-organizing out of hand or on a whim (rotating bald tires), but there are times when how we’ve organized things gets in the way of getting the work done. When that happens, we need to be able to recognize it quickly and change fix the problems.
Remember, though, that reorganizations cause problems of their own. They almost always add stress, interrupt work flow and reduce morale. Even moving one person from one desk to another will have it’s issues, so we need to plan carefully and make sure the benefits of the reorg far outweigh the problems it will cause.


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Written by TomFawls Posted November 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Management Tasks – Planning

Planning is a tough subject to teach. Written descriptions of the planning process tend to be dry and boring. Case studies and examples, while more interesting than a plain process description, tend to be too general and off topic. There don’t seem to be any really good movies made or novels written about teams completing their critical “Annual Planning”…and all the planning pantomimes I’ve seen have been….well…let’s just say they were “disturbing” and leave it at that.
So the rest of this posting will attempt to describe planning words……for you to read. Try not to fall asleep.
As I said, planning is one of the most critical management tasks. For many people, it’s planning that they think of when they hear the word “management”. “The Plan” is often the most obvious (dare I say “only”?) evidence that a manager has actually done any work at all.
A typical development project has three planning stages / phases that must be completed before work can start:
  • Concept development
  • Specification development
  • Work & resource scheduling
Others will have their own ways of describing these steps, and some experts might add or delete a few from my list, but this is how I have come to think of it.

Concept Development is all about possibilities. This is the time to let imaginations run wild, to look at “crazy” ideas and to have fun thinking. The beginning of this phase is also the time to ignore all the operations, financial and other constraints that will become so critical later in the planning process. During the early stages concept development, getting the team’s imaginations going is critical.
As managers, it’s our job during this phase is to make sure that all viable possibilities are explored, and to make sure options aren’t dropped from consideration prematurely. It amazes me how often an idea that is initially ignored or ridiculed by the team turns out to be the optimal solution. Customer desires / needs should be used to guide work done during this phase of the planning.
At the end of the concept development stage you should have a clearly defined conceptual framework within which the final remainder of the project will be developed. This framework should be as flexibly defined as possible, but it needs to have sufficient detail and structure to allow designers, planners and operational personnel to figure out what they will need to do to turn the concept into a reality.

Specification Development is the next step in the process. In this stage, the concept starts to become more than a good idea. This is the stage where the final deliverable items are defined, where quality standards are developed, and where risks and restrictions are used to modify and refine the concept.
It is here that those real-world operational, customer, financial, technology and other constraints that we happily ignored during most of the concept development phase start to wield their power. Here is where the final product, process, deliverable or system starts to take shape.
During this stage the first design decisions made, budgets are developed and approved and specific personnel requirements are defined. In detail. For everything that needs to be done.
At the end of this stage you should have a completed, detailed technical specification and/or Statement (or Scope) of Work (SOW) that has been reviewed and approved by all stakeholders. It is typical (and highly desirable) to have an approved budget at the end of this stage.

Work and Resource Scheduling – the final phase in planning, this is where the final “Who, what where and when” details of the project are worked out. This is what most people think of when they think of planning.
Here we decide the specific tasks (down to the one week or one day detail) that need to be done in order to successfully complete the project. We decide how many people we will need with what skill sets and experience levels. We figure out what resources, materials, equipment and facilities we will need. And, of course, we figure out when we will need all these people, places and things…and how we can get them and not break the budget.
The output of this phase should be a completed schedule showing every task to be completed, who’s going to complete it, what they need in order to complete it and when / how long it will take. Preferably this schedule will be input into some sort of information system and “automated”.
Programs like Primavera, Microsoft Project and others have become very good tools for developing and tracking project tasks, resources and personnel.
One final thought.
Before we go, though, there is one thing you need to keep in mind about planning:
the act of planning is often of greater value than the plan itself!
Remember, most plans are obsolete before they’re even published. Competitor’s actions, customer tastes, technological advances and simple personnel turnover can all force the plan to change.
But if we’ve done a thorough job of planning, if we’ve gotten to know our environment, if we’ve identified the risks and gotten a solid understanding of our options, these changes will have fewer and less severe impacts on our business. And that, after all, is the whole point of planning, isn’t it?

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Written by TomFawls Posted October 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm


On my own personal “Traits of a Good Manager” list, high personal integrity and moral courage are right at the top..

Integrity (2010), according to, is: “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”

The first step in this process, as I discussed in my May 27, 2010 blog, is for each of us to figure out what moral standards and ethical principles we are going to follow.

We must first form, and then inform, our conscience!

We must model the behavior we want from our employees. Without integrity, it’s tough, if not impossible, to lead people for very long.

Integrity brings moral courage with it. Integrity forces us to tell the truth even when it puts us (or the company) in a bad light. Integrity is the foundation of our commitment to doing the right thing even when it might cost us our job (or the company money). Integrity gives us the courage to stand up and say “this isn’t right when no one else dares.

And it is Integrity that gives us the authority to lead…and the right to call ourselves leaders.

So, my friends, I hope you’ll take some time to look at your life and your actions and change them to conform to the words you spout to your people every day.


I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment here or e-mail me at:

Initially posted Sep 27, 2010 @ 17:22

minor edits to correct grammar and structural issues made on October 30, 2012 and April 04, 2013.

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Written by TomFawls Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm
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