Collaborating to deliver projects

On 8 October 2019 Business Transformation Manager, Neil Runciman and Head of Programmes, Claire Trinder went to a joint conference from the Association of Project Managers (APM) and Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) with the theme of “Collaborating to deliver projects.” They both share experiences and reflections from the day:

Claire Ward and Jeremy Campbell from the Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) set the scene for the day with their “Delivering more through collaboration” presentation highlighting how embedding collaborative working in to organisations assists in building long term, sustainable relationships which help to deliver projects. They mentioned the House of Commons and UK Home Office had particularly been enthusiastic in their adoption of collaborative working while also discussing reasons that collaboration can fail. Often this is due to perception of collaborative working, some see it as a selling technique or don’t understand the requirements leading to individuals acting in silos and not demonstrating the appropriate skills or behaviours.

Image credit: APM Events

The next session was led by Ben Cross who shared lessons learned from delivering the £1.5billion A4 road programme – collaboration was key to this, not only between three main contractors but also between a myriad of subcontractors to ensure project success. Actions taken throughout the project to encourage a culture of collaboration included:

  • Common procurement, reducing stoppages and securing better pricing for materials and machinery
  • Open book reporting for all contractors
  • Board members for collaboration, procurement and stakeholder management
  • A commitment to recruit or develop excellent project leaders throughout

A common vision connecting teams to a purpose and ensuring sufficient resources and training were embedded throughout the actions above, ultimately helping the team to deliver the project to cost, with minimum traffic disruption and a low accident rate.

Next up was something a little more practical, led by John Doyle to demonstrate working towards shared objectives with shared benefits. The exercise saw us work in teams of six to design and build part-sections of paper bridges to transport a table tennis ball over three metres but using only A4 paper, sellotape and scissors! Our team enjoyed this and were successful in putting our project management expertise to the test by quickly identifying and filling the necessary roles, working well as a team and overcoming last minute obstacles while still achieving a win-win situation with both client and supplier benefitting.

Neil Runciman taking part in the practical bridge building session. Image credit: APM Events

Jonathan Canioni from Warwick Business School offered an academic perspective to the conference discussions, quoting several successful examples of collaboration including ‘Food for the Soul’ – a programme between an established chef, the Catholic church, local markets and supermarkets in Naples to provide food to those living in poverty. Discussions continued to examples where collaboration had failed – a private banking app that misunderstood the relationship between bank and customer – when even best intentions and aligned incentives can be administered ineffectively. Key learning points from Jonathan’s talk were that collaboration and coordination are bound together in a number of ways, therefore, although coordination is not quite as valuable as collaboration, it is a necessary step on the way and worth striving for if collaboration is unattainable.

“Hartree Centre places tremendous value on and recognises the benefit of collaborative work and we embed this in many ways. From multi-partner grant funded consortia, to individual collaborative research projects with SMEs or larger national organisations, to our most recent 5 year collaborative Innovation Return on Research programme which partners with IBM Research and UK plc. The workshop was a great opportunity to step away from the day to day and reflect on how we achieve our collaborations and opportunities for us to improve on these in the future. The presentations throughout the day gave great insight, especially on how to define collaboration behaviours up front and as Neil highlights, the criticality of great leadership in supporting this. I really enjoyed the practical exercise as well, although I think our session was slightly more chaotic than Neil’s! However the same is often true in real life, and it is how chaos and uncertainty is managed that is also key to success.”

Claire Trinder, Head of Programmes

“For me, this was an interesting day full of sharing experiences and offering new perspectives. I found Ben Cross’ presentation particularly worthwhile as it offered learning points that are directly applicable to complex projects with multiple suppliers while also highlighting the wide benefits of great leadership. I would have appreciated hearing a contractor’s view of collaboration to ensure a balanced view of the reality of collaborating to deliver projects.”

Neil Runciman, Business Transformation Manager

Better Software, Bigger Impact

Since the term was first coined in 2012 , Research Software Engineering has experienced a rapid growth, first in the UK and then overseas.  Today there are at least 20 RSE groups at Universities and Research Institutes across the UK alone, alongside thousands of self-identifying RSEs, numerous national RSE associations, and since earlier this year, a registered Society of Research Software Engineering* to promote the role of RSEs in supporting research. 

The core proposition of RSEs is “Better Software, Better Research” – by improving the quality of software developed by researchers, we enable higher quality research.  Software quality is a broad topic, but the most common benefits of academic RSEs are:

  • improved reliability – fewer software errors leading to incorrect results
  • better performance – enabling more accurate and/or bigger science
  • reproducibility – increasing confidence in scientific results.

Since early 2018 the Hartree Centre has been building up an RSE capability of its own, but for slightly different reasons.  Rather than being measured on research output, Hartree Centre’s mission is to create economic impact through the application of HPC, data analytics and AI.  Most often this means taking existing research software, and applying it to solve industrial challenges.  One of the key challenges we have is crossing the “valley of death” from a proof-of-concept, where we demonstrate that a given tool, algorithm or method can in principle be used to solve a problem, to actual industry adoption of this approach.  While reliability and performance are still important here, often the key issues for a company adopting new software are usability, portability and security.

In practice, while our RSE team shares many skills in common with academic RSEs – such as employing best practices for use of version control, code review and automated testing – we specialise in areas like building simple User Interfaces for complex software, automating workflows involving HPC and deploying web applications securely to the cloud ready for industry use. 

Introducing some members of the Hartree Centre RSE team.

Our team has grown to 14 staff, comprising a range of roles from Degree Apprentices, RSEs with specialisms in HPC, AI and data analytics, to Full Stack Developers and a Software Architect. 

Just like academic RSEs, we’re at our best when working in collaboration, whether that’s with the other technology teams across the Hartree Centre, commercial clients, or our technology partners like IBM Research. 

Some of the projects we’ve been working on recently include:

We’re still recruiting – if you want be part of the Hartree RSE journey please apply here, we’d love to hear from you!

*Full disclosure: I’m a founding trustee of the society.

Meeting the Women of Silicon Roundabout – present and future!

Aiman Shaikh, one of our Research Software Engineers recently attended Women of Silicon Roundabout 2019 – one of the largest gatherings of female technologists in Europe – held at ExCeL London. In this blog post, Aiman tells us more about her motivations for attending the two day event aiming to make an impact on the gender gap and boost careers of attendees.

My main motivation for attending the conference was the opportunity to be among 6,000 attendees who were all like me: eager to connect, learn and take action on gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Women of Silicon Roundabout 2019 brought together a programme of inspirational keynotes, panel discussions, networking opportunities, technical classes, and career development workshops – it was the first and only conference I have attended where female technical speakers took centre stage.

For me, the chance to hear from inspirational leaders – many of whom were women – about emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, blockchain and cloud computing. This coupled with the strong messages throughout the conference about the importance of diversity and inclusion was truly incredible.

Over 6,000 delegates attended the two day event at ExCeL London.
Image credit: Women of Silicon Roundabout.

One of the many worthwhile sessions I attended was from Denise Jones, Senior Product Manager, LetGo. Denise discussed whether AI has given rise to new and distinctive ethical issues and she challenged the group with statements like “algorithms can predict user preference based on previous activity and based on other users who are like them” raising important questions about how we as technologists can be mindful of bias in our work with AI. It made me really consider the balance of collecting data to provide a better user experience and product personalisation as good thing but collecting too much data and over-targeting audiences can go wrong and be frustrating for users if it’s not relevant.

I also attended the “Confident Speaking for Women” workshop led by Sarah Palmer, Director of European Business Development at PowerSpeaking. This was an incredibly useful 60 minutes packed full of exercises specifically designed to improve presentation skills. It gave loads of helpful tips for ‘presentation newbies’ like myself such as the importance of trying things out in advance and how to project confidence and credibility, especially through using effective nonverbal language. I’m looking forward to implementing several of these strategies in my own conference talks!

Another real highlight of the conference was the Women of Colour networking lunch on the second day of the event. Organised by Google, it was a chance to ‘inspire and be inspired.’ I was fortunate enough to meet with so many role models in tech and find out from them how they progressed in their career, how they managed their work/life balance and grow my own professional networks. I was also lucky to be able to meet with groups of fantastic early career women who were keen to find out more about my job and the Hartree Centre. I really enjoyed telling them more about my role and day to day life as part of the Research Software Engineering team – I hope to see some of them apply for some of our job vacancies as they would be great assets to any team!

Aiman Shaikh | Research Software Engineer | Hartree Centre
Image credit: STFC

I loved this conference – it provided a much-needed, necessary platform to women in technology, inspiring attendees to talk and network with women working across different industries and using a variety of emerging technologies in their day to day jobs. I’ll certainly be taking many of the lessons learned back to the Hartree Centre – it has inspired me to think about AI and data analytics in some of my upcoming projects and how I can make sure I continue to incorporate diversity and inclusion in to my work and professional networks.

Creating value for business and the UK economy – evaluating our impact

Karen Lee, Head of Impact, discusses the importance of understanding and measuring impact following the publication of the Hartree Centre’s first evaluation study.

The Hartree Centre is transforming UK industry through high performance computing, big data and cognitive technologies.

That’s our mission. But how do we know whether the research and innovation support we provide to businesses actually creates any value to them or the UK economy? Do we really need to know?

The quick answers to these questions are ‘through impact evaluation’ and ‘yes, we do’. But I would urge you to humour me a little and read on… Continue reading “Creating value for business and the UK economy – evaluating our impact”

Research Software Engineering conference 2018 #RSE18

On 3rd September the peaceful campus of Birmingham University came alive with bubbling groups of research software engineers, talking in excited tones about their latest optimisation tool and favourite python library, as the third annual conference of Research Software Engineers was started!

A real global affair, #RSE18 had 314 delegates from 12 countries. That represents a nearly 50% increase over last year’s attendance and also a 7% increase in women attending compared to 2017.

Big News!

UK RSE Association is turning into the Society of Research Software Engineering! A legal, independent, professional organisation!

The UK RSE Association has seen significant growth since its inception in 2013, to over 1000 members. The community’s growth has made the informal, volunteer run format unsustainable. The move will enable the society to hold funds, employ staff, and operate as an independent organisation to represent the interests of the RSE community. Visit the RSE website for more information and sign up to receive updates.

Continue reading “Research Software Engineering conference 2018 #RSE18”

Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Continual Service Improvement

The last in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre summarises the steps we have taken to implement IT Service Management. 

In previous posts, I described three key components of ITIL infrastructure which we have implemented at the Hartree Centre – Service Operations, Service Design and Service Transition.  These are all inter-dependent and equal in stature.  However, there is one further area of ITIL which is slightly different because it underpins all of the above – Continual Service Improvement (CSI).  Continuous improvement is vital, because it ensures that processes and functions do not remain static.  They develop and improve in response to operational lessons learnt, leading to overall improvements in service quality.  Continuous improvement provides a feedback mechanism and tools to incorporate that feedback.  It can also work with quality management tools.

ITIL provides two complementary tools to implement CSI – the Deming Cycle, and the Seven-step Improvement Process.

Continue reading “Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Continual Service Improvement”

Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Design

The third in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us an introduction to service design, transition, configuration management and change management. 

In my previous post, I described the key aspects of the ITIL Service Operation area that we have implemented at the Hartree Centre.  In this post, I’ll move on to Service Design and Service Transition.

What is Service Design?

The ITIL area of Service Strategy considers all the business requirements for IT services, and from them constructs a high-level view of the range of services to be offered.  Service Design turns this high-level portfolio into a set of service specifications for inclusion in the organisation’s Service Catalogue.  It takes account of the requirements for information security, availability and capacity.  Service catalogue entries also include details of standard service levels (SLA metrics) and provide, where appropriate, pricing information.  Note that non-standard service levels may be negotiated with individual customers.

Continue reading “Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Design”

EuroEXA: working together to build an exascale demonstrator

As proud members of the European HPC community, I think it’s safe to say our efforts to achieve a world-class extreme scale, power-efficient and resilient HPC platform are ambitious. We’re working towards a machine that can scale to 100 petaflops.

This three and a half year, 20 million euro Horizon2020 funded project has been designed to answer these challenges:

  • How do we build an exascale machine within a sensible energy budget?
  • How do we design something so that we’re not moving huge amounts of data around?
  • How do we achieve our ambitions cost-effectively?
  • How do we deal with all of the complexity associated with running applications on a machine of that size?

First of all, it’s important to note here that we’re not going to be starting from scratch. EuroEXA will build on previous projects that have demonstrated smaller elements of our community ambitions. This learning has directed the approach to EuroEXA and Professor John Goodacre based at The University of Manchester is leading the project and has pulled together a consortium of 40 partners industry and academic partners across Europe. Each project partner will play a fundamental role in bringing together key components of this undertaking. We’ll explain the specific role we’ll have here at the Hartree Centre later on.

Continue reading “EuroEXA: working together to build an exascale demonstrator”

Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Operation

The second in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us an introduction to Service Operation, the primary interface for service delivery with customers.

In the first post of this series, I gave a brief description of IT Service Management and the specific implementation we have adopted, known as ITIL.  In this post, I describe how we have implemented one function and three key processes from the ITIL area of Service Operation.

What is Service Operation?

Service Operation is the collection of processes and functions that describe how to deliver services to customers at agreed levels.

Why is it important?

Service Operation represents the primary interface for service delivery with customers.  As such, it can win or lose business.  It also helps the service provider, by providing clear mechanisms for prioritising customer requests for assistance, and tools to identify deep-rooted issues that require additional effort to resolve.

Continue reading “Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Operation”

Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Introduction

The first in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us a gentle introduction in to the world of IT Service Management. Look out for future posts covering service operationservice design, and continual service improvement.

What is IT Service Management?

IT Service Management (ITSM) is the proper design, governance and operation of IT-related services to meet agreed customer needs within predictable cost and efficiency bounds.  It brings together policies, processes and people with the common goal of service delivery and continuous improvement.

Why is it important?

Any IT service provider needs a clear idea of what it is they are trying to deliver and to whom.  The provider also needs to understand the costs of providing services alongside any financial returns.  ITSM provides a mechanism for businesses to be able to meet these requirements.

Continue reading “Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Introduction”