Again and again I've seen IT organizations suffering from what I call the "Bureaucracy is Discipline" antipattern. For example, filling out forms and reviewing documents are both bureaucratic activities, neither of which require significant skill nor discipline to accomplish. However, agile practices such as developing potentially shippable software every iteration is easy to say but requires great discipline to accomplish. Respecting the decisions of your stakeholders, particularly those pertaining to requirements prioritization, is easy to talk about but proves to require great discipline in practice (particularly when you don't agree with a decision). It's easy to talk about taking a test-driven approach to development
, but in practice it requires significant skill and discipline to actually do.
A "process smell" which indicates that your organization is suffering from this antipattern is a focus on following repeatable processes instead of focusing on repeatable results. An example of repeatable processes is following the same route to work every day regardless of driving conditions. An example of repeatable results is getting to work on time every day, but being willing to change your route as required, bicycling into work instead of driving, taking public transit, and so on. Nobody really cares how you get to work each day (the process), what they really care about is that you got to work on time (the result). Sadly, we've been told for decades now that repeatable processes are critical to our success in IT, yet when you step back and think about that's really a reflection of a bureaucratic approach. On the other hand, a focus on repeatable results is a reflection of a more disciplined approach. Interestingly, the DDJ 2008 Process Framework survey
found that given the choice that people would much rather have repeatable results over repeatable processes
when it comes to IT.
Mistaking bureaucracy for discipline, or rigour if you prefer that term, is a reflection of the cultural damage that has occurred over the years in IT organizations as the result of traditional philosophies and techniques. Unfortunately, this mistaken belief is a significant inhibitor to software process improvement (SPI) efforts, in particular agile adoption efforts
, which must be addressed if you're to be successful. Overcoming this challenge will require a significant cultural shift in some organizations, and many people (particularly the bureaucrats) will find this uncomfortable.Further reading:
I'd like to leave you with this parting thought: Bureaucracy is bureaucracy and discipline is discipline, please don't confuse the two
An inhibitor that I run into again and again within organizations that are still in the process of adopting agile development techniques is something that I call the "We're Special" anti-pattern. The people involved believe that their situation is special, that some unique factor in their environment makes it all but impossible to adopt agile techniques, and therefore they need to continue to work in the manner that they've always worked, regardless of the obvious inefficiencies of doing so.
An organization suffers from this agile adoption anti-pattern when they start giving domain-based or technology-based excuses for why they can't become more agile. For example, I've heard bank employees claim that "Agile works fine for building web sites, but we're building financial systems therefore agile won't work for us", telecom employees claim "Agile works fine for building financial systems, but we're building embedded systems therefore agile won't work for us", and government employees claim "Agile works fine for embedded systems, but we're building web sites therefore agile won't work for us." Needless to say I often struggle to not roll my eyes.
The reality is that the business domain that you're working in doesn't dictate your ability to adopt agile strategies. I've seen very successful agile projects in banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, retail companies, pharmacueticals (yes, life critical applications), telecoms, and government agencies. I've also met people working in those domains claim that they're special because of the inherent challenges of the domain.
Similarly, technology isn't an issue. I've seen project teams that were successful at applying agile approaches using Java, VB, COBOL, C, Linux, Windows, System Z, on PCs, and so on. Granted, some technology platforms suffer from a plethora of "agile tooling", PL/1 comes to mind and I'm sure that there's a few more niche platforms where this is the case, but with a little online searching it's often possible to find good open source tools out there (or what's stopping you from starting such a project?).
The primary issues around agile adoption are cultural in nature. Can you become more flexible in your thinking? Can you become more disciplined (agile requires greater levels of discipline than traditional approaches)? Can you build a collaborative environment with your business stakeholders? Can you move away from bureaucratic processes to ones which focus on adding real value? Can you invest in your IT staff to give them modern development skills required for test-driven development (TDD), continuous integration, and agile database techniques (to name a few)? Addressing the "people issues", the cultural issues, is the hard part of moving towards agile.
If you're looking for valid excuses for why your organization can't move to agile, here's some valid adoption inhibitors that I see in organizations all the time:
- Our project management office (PMO) has been trained and certified in traditional strategies and struggles to come to grips with agile project management techniques
- We don't have the funding to train, educate, and mentor people in agile techniques
- Middle management is threatened by agile strategies because their role clearly needs to change
- Senior technical staff, in particular our architects, don't accept the need to roll up their sleeves and be actively involved on project teams
- Our IT governance effort is not itself being governed effectively and is all but out of control, focusing on bureaucracy instead of enabling development teams to succeed
- Our data management group insists on working in a serial and documentation heavy manner
- Our QA/testing group insists on detailed requirement specifications
- Our staff is overly specialized, resulting in numerous hand-offs between analysts, developers, architects, testers, and so on
The above list is just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that the real problems that you face are cultural in nature, not domain-based nor technology-based. It is possible to overcome these inhibitors to success, but you need to understand that you're suffering from them, what the implications are, and how to overcome them. This is one of the facets of the Health Assessment portion of our new Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF) service, the goal of which is to help organizations improve their internal IT processes. Although MCIF isn't specifically about becoming more agile, the reality is that there are a lot of great agile practices out there, and some of them are good options for your organization. Assuming of course you get over your misconception that you're special for some reason and instead accept the need that you've got some hard slogging ahead of you to improve your IT game.Further reading:
A common goal of IT governance is to determine the productivity of various techniques, tools, and people as part of the overall effort to improve said productivity. If you can easily measure productivity you can easily identify what is working for you in given situations, or what is not working for you, and adjust accordingly. A common question that customers ask me is how do you measure productivity on agile teams. Although you could use traditional strategies such as function point (FP) counting, or another similar strategy, this can require a lot of effort in practice. Remember that we don't only want to measure productivity, we want to do so easily. Ideally it would be nice to do so using information already being generated by the team and therefore we won't add any additional bureaucratic overhead.
A common metric captured by agile teams is their velocity. Velocity is an agile measure of how much work a team can do during a given iteration. At the beginning of an iteration a team will estimate the work that they're about to do in terms of points. At the beginning of a project the team will formulate a point system, which typically takes a few iterations to stabilize, so that they can consistently estimate the work each iteration. Although the point system is arbitrary, my team might estimate that a given work item is two points worth of effort whereas your team might think that it's seven points of effort, the important thing is that it's consistent. So if there is another work item requiring similar effort, my team should estimate that it's two points and your team seven points. With a consistent point system in place, each team can accurately estimate the amount of work that they can do in the current iteration by assuming that they can achieve the same amount of work as last iteration (an XP concept called "yesterday's weather"). So, if my team delivered 27 points of functionality last iteration we would reasonably assume that we can do the same this iteration.
So, is it possible to use velocity as a measure of productivity? The answer is not directly. For example, we have two teams, A and B, each of 5 people and each working on a web site and each having two-week long iterations. Team A reports a velocity of 17 points for their current iteration and team B a velocity of 51 points. They're both comprised of 5 people, therefore team B must be three times (51/17) as productive as team A. No! You can't compare the velocity of the two teams because they're measuring in different units. Team A is reporting in their points and B in their points, so you can't compare them directly, The traditional strategy would be to ask the teams to use the same unit of points, which might be a viable strategy with two teams although likely not if you have twenty agile teams and particularly not if you have two hundred teams. Regardless of the number of teams that you have it would minimally require some coordination to normalize the units and perhaps even some training and development and support of velocity calculation guidelines. Sounds like unnecessary bureaucracy that I would prefer to avoid. Worse yet, so-called "consistent" measurements such as FPs are anything but because there's always some sort of fudge factor involved in the process which will vary by individual estimator.
An easier solution exists. Instead of comparing velocities you instead calculate the acceleration of each team. For example, consider the reported velocities of each team below. Team A's velocity is increasing over time whereas team B's velocity is trending downwards. All things being equal, you can assume that team A's productivity is increasing whereas B's is decreasing. Of course it's not wise to manage simply by the numbers, so instead of assuming what is going on I would rather go and talk with the people on the two teams. Doing so I might find out that team A has adopted quality-oriented practices such as continuous integration and static code analysis which team B has not, indicating that I might want to help team B adopt these practices and hopefully increase their productivity.
Team A: 17 18 17 18 19 20 21 22 22 ...Team B: 51 49 50 47 48 45 44 44 41 ...
There are several advantages to using acceleration as an indicator of productivity over traditional techniques such as FP counting:1. It's easy to calculate
. For example, the acceleration of team A from iteration 1 to iteration 6 is (20-17)/17 = 0.176 whereas for team B it is (45-51)/51 = -.118. Of course, you don't need to calculate the acceleration over such a long period of time, you could do it iteration by iteration, although I find that doing it over several iterations gives a more accurate value. You'll need to experiment to determine what works for you.2. It is inexpensive
. Acceleration is based on information already being collected by the team, their velocity, so there is no extra work to be done by the team. 3. It is unlikely to be gamed
. Teams aren't motivated to fake their velocity because it provides them with important information required to manage themselves effectively. 4. It is easy to automate
. For example, Rational Team Concert (RTC)
calculates velocity automatically from its work item list (an extension of Scrum's product backlog) and does trend reporting via it's web-based project reporting functionality, providing a visual representation of the team's acceleration (or deceleration as the case may be).5. It offers the opportunity for more effective governance
. This approach reflects three of the practices of Lean Development Governance
: Simple and Relevant Metrics, Continuous Project Monitoring, and Integrated Lifecycle Environment.6. You can easily adjust for changing team size
. If the size of a team varies over time, and it will, this metric falls apart the way that I've described it. To address this issue you need to normalize it by dividing by the number of people on the team to get the average acceleration per team member.7. You can easily monetize this metric
. By knowing the acceleration of the project team and knowing how much they're spending each iteration, you can estimate the amount of money you're saving through process improvement. For example, if you're spending $100,000 per iteration and your acceleration is 2%, your cost savings is $2,000 per iteration.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and there are a few potential disadvantages:1. It is an indirect measure of productivity
. Truth be told velocity really is a productivity measure, it's just that because it's measured in different units it's difficult to compare between teams. Acceleration is merely an indicator of the change in productivity.2. You actually need to measure what you're interested in
. When you step back and think about it, you're not really interested in measuring your productivity, regardless of what the metrics wonks have been telling you the past few decades. In this case what you really want to know is your change in productivity because your real goal is to improve your productivity over time, which is what acceleration actually measures.3. Management must be flexible
. For this to be acceptable senior management must be willing to think outside the "traditional metrics box". Using a non-standard, simple metric to calculate productivity? Preposterous! Directly measuring what you're truly interested in instead of calculating trends over long periods of time? Doubly preposterous!4. Your existing measurement program may be questioned
. Once management learns how easy it can be to obtain metrics which enables them to truly govern software development projects they may begin to question the investment that they've made in the past in overly complex and expensive metrics schemes. This can be dangerous for the metrics professionals in your organization, particularly if your metrics group doesn't have valid measurements around the value of their own work. Ummmmm....5. The terminology sounds scientific
. Terms such as velocity and acceleration can motivate some of us to start believing that we understand the "laws of IT physics", something which I doubt very highly that as an industry we understand. All it would take is for someone to start throwing around terms like "standard theory" and "unified model" and we'd really be in trouble. Wait a minute..... ;-)
In summary, measuring the acceleration of development teams is an easy to collect, straightforward measure of team productivity. I hope that I've given you some food for thought, and would be eager to hear about your experiences applying this metric in practice.
I'm often asked by customers for case studies of successful agile adoptions or agile projects in general. This is definitely a valid request, and yes, such case studies exist. But I'm often concerned that the people making these requests don't appreciate the implications of what they're asking for. My concerns with case studies are:
- The juicy information is rarely included. The information that you really want to find out, such as what went wrong and why it went wrong, is rarely discussed. If problems, oops I mean "challenges", are discussed at all they're typically glossed over in favor of focusing in on the positives. Although many people want to write up the juicy bits this information is invariably edited out through the company's vetting process. In short, my advice is to take case studies with a grain of salt.
- Some case studies are more fiction than fact. Although this isn't a problem with IBM case studies due to the governance efforts of my good friends in IBM's legal department (we love you folks, really) it can be an issue with some case studies.
- The case study may no longer be true today. Stuff happens. Perhaps the case study was mostly true at the time it was written, but now that time has passed problems have appeared that weren't apparent earlier, thus the effort wasn't as nearly as successful as it was written up. For example, a few years ago I ran into the manager of a team that I had read about in one case study, only to find out that once the study was published the key team members left the company to become consultants in that subject area. Having lost these people, who were all very highly skilled, his system proved to be unmaintainable by the rest of his staff who weren't so highly skilled and had to be rewritten. Over time the success story turned into an abject failure.
- Waiting for case studies puts you in the position of follower. For every case study that gets written, dozens, if not hundreds of similar efforts didn't get written up. Writing case studies is hard, takes time, and the writer seldom gets much benefit from doing so. The lag time between the project completing and the case study being published can be many, many months and sometimes years. The implication is that by the time you wait for several case studies that are similar to your situation you've pretty much lost all opportunity for competitive advantage and are now merely trying to catch up to the organizations who are clearly ahead of you (the writers of the case studies).
- What has the requester given back to the community? I often hear people lament that there isn't enough case studies, or isn't something close enough to their situation. Yet, when I ask them how many case studies they've written and the answer is usually none. If you want to get you also need to give. ;-)
So, next time you think you need a case study before making a decision, recognize that you may be paying a fairly high opportunity cost for information that is questionable at best.Further reading:
I'm happy to announce Rational's Agility at Scale poster which is currently available free of charge from the Rational poster order page
Although I'm obviously biased as I was involved with its creation, the poster includes some really good information about how to scale agile software development practices effectively. It summarizes the scaling factors, such as large teams, distribution, regulatory compliance, application complexity, and so on that you should be concerned with. It also presents a full agile software development lifecycle that goes beyond the construction focused lifecycles of common "agile in the small" processes. It also summarizes the practices of lean development governance, giving you some insight into how to govern your IT environment more effectively.
I think it's a pretty good poster that's worth checking out. It's free, so it's hard to argue with the price. Most importantly, it would look pretty good hanging on your office wall.
A common misunderstanding about agile software development approaches are that they're only applicable to small, co-located teams. Yes, it's much easier to be successful with small teams, and with co-located teams, and as a result agilists being smart people prefer to work this way. After all, why take on extra risk when you don't need to do so? But, sometimes reality gets in the way and you find yourself in a situation where you need a large team, or you need to distribute your team (see previous blog postings for strategies for distributed agile development), and you would still like to be as agile as possible. The good news is that it's still possible to be agile with a large team, although you will need to go beyond some of the popular "agile in the small" strategies to succeed.
Here are some disciplined agile strategies to succeed at large-team agile:
- Question the need for a large team. Many times an organization will believe that they need a large team because their process is overly complex, because they're still organized for waterfall development, or simply because that's what they're used to. I've seen teams of 80 people doing the work of 20 as the result of over-specialization of job roles and all the bureaucracy required to organize and validate their work.
- Do some initial envisioning. In order to succeed the team must work together towards the same goals. This is true for small teams but doubly true for larger ones -- without a common vision chaos will quickly ensue. You must gain this common vision on two fronts: you need a common business vision and a common technical vision. To gain the common business vision you must do some initial, high-level requirements envisioning and to gain the common technical vision some common architecture envisioning. This isn't to say that you need to take on the risk of detailed, up-front specifications but you must at least have a high-level understanding of the scope and technical solution in order to move forward effectively. So, expect to spend the first few weeks of your project doing this initial modeling.
- Divide and conquer. You never have a team of 200 people, instead you have a collection of subteams that add up to 200 people. This is called having a team of teams.
- Align team structure with architecture. The most effective way to organize the subteams is to have each one implement one or more components, and thereby to build your overall system as a "system of systems". This reduces the coordination required because the majority of the communication will be within the subteams themselves. You'll still need to coordinate the subteams, that will never go away, but you can reduce the overhead (and the risk) by being smart about the way that you organize the people. A common mistake is to organize around job function (e.g. having architects in Toronto, developers in Raleigh, testers in Bangalore, and so on). This increases communication overhead and risk because these people need to work together closely to get something built.
- Project management coordination. Each subteam will have a team lead/coach, and these people will need to coordinate their work. There is often an overall project manager who leads this group. To coordinate the work within their subteam the team lead/coach will often have a daily meeting, in the Scrum method this is called a scrum meeting, where people share their current status and identify any problems they may be running into. To scale this effectively the team lead/coach attends a daily team coordination meeting, a scrum of scrums, where the same sort of information is shared at the overall team level.
- Product owner coordination. Similarly, each subteam has a product ownder, also referred to as an "on-site customer", who is responsible for making decisions about the requirements and for providing information to the team in a timely manner. Sometimes a single product owner will work with several subteams. The product owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some requirements envisioning to identify the initial scope and to start portioning the requirements between the subteams. Because the requirements between the subsystems are interrelated and should be reasonably consistent, the product owners will need to meet on a regular basis to share information, to negotiate priorities, and to resolve requirements-related disputes.
- Architecture coordination. Each subteam will have an architecture owner, often a senior technical person and sometimes also in the role of the team lead/coach. These architecture owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some initial architecture envisioning, based on the requirements envisioning efforts of the product owners. They will identify the major subsystems, and their interfaces, enabling the effective organization of the team into smaller subteams corresponding to the architecture. They will also get together regularly to evolve the architecture and to resolve any major technical issues.
- System integration team. For complex systems, which is often what large teams work on, an effective system integration effort is critical to your success. Although this may be easy at first, as the overall system evolves the need for a subteam focused solely on this quickly becomes apparent. This not only supports the development efforts of the subteams, it also supports independent investigative testing.
- Independent testing team. An independent testing team is common on mid-to-large size agile projects to enhance the testing efforts of the development subteams. This testing team will work in parallel to the developers, they get a new build on a regular basis (minimally each iteration, although more often is desirable), which they test in more advanced ways than what is typical with Test-Driven Development (TDD). For example, they often validate non-functional, quality of service (QoS) type requirements as well as technical constraints, things that often aren't captured well via user stories. They'll also do investigative testing to try to break the system by using it in ways not thought of by the product owners.
- Some specialties reappear. On larger teams it can make sense to have some people be a bit more specialized than what we normally see on small agile teams. For example, it's common to see people in the role of agile DBA, tech writer, build master, or user experience (UE) professional. More complex systems often require people in these roles, although it still behooves these poeple to not be pure specialists but instead to be generalizing specialists with a wider range of skills. Also, recognize that the reintroduction of specialists can be a slippery slope back to the bureaucracy of traditional software development.
Modified by ScottAmbler
I just wanted to round out my discussion about agile approaches to geographically distributed development (GDD) with a few important words of advice:1. Get some experience. Worry less about enterprise adoption and instead get started with a small project, or better yet a series of increasingly more complex projects. There will be learning experiences as you build a relationship with the offshore service provider. This advice is applicable whether you’re working with your own offshore division or with an independent service provider.2. Have a long-term staffing strategy. It may be great in the short term to have work done in a lower cost country, but how are you going to transfer the necessary skills to the maintenance and support team. Outsourcing that work is also an option, but it can be a risky one as you would need to build up expertise in “your” systems if you ever decide to insource that work again.3. Be concerned about intellectual property (IP). The rules are different around the world, and you may inadvertently be financing the creation of a new international competitor if you don’t have a clear division of ownership. And yes, this may mean that some components of your systems are still built internally by your own organization.4. Show off locally before you go global. GDD makes things harder to manage, so if you’re struggling to manage local teams you’re really going to struggle managing teams at a distance. Make sure you have local success first and are good at agile development in general. Furthermore, if your agile GDD projects run into trouble, don’t end your local agile adoption just because of difficulties with distributed projects.5. Let your offshore partners lead. The offshore partner likely has more experience than you at successful distributed development, and this is particularly true when you’re dealing with an established service provider.6. Do some reading. There’s a great IBM Redbook entitled “Global Development and Delivery in Practice: Experiences of the IBM Rational India Lab” which can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/abstracts/sg247424.html7. Do some viewing. We recorded a Rational Chat a few months ago entitled "Being Agile in a Global Development Environment" which is posted at https://www14.software.ibm.com/webapp/iwm/web/reg/acceptSignup.do?lang=en_US&source=dw-c-wcsdpr&S_PKG=120607&S_TACT=105AGX23&S_CMP=TALKS&cp=UTF-8 . I also gave a keynote on Agile approaches to GDD at Software Development Practices 2007 held in Boston in the Autumn of 2007. The video can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.life20.net/video/scottambler.mov .[Read More
Modified by ScottAmbler
In my previous blog posting, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=strategies_for_distributed_agile_teams , I overviewed several strategies for improving your effectiveness at geographically distributed development (GDD). Those strategies were fairly generic and directly applicable to both traditional and agile development teams. In this posting I focus on strategies which are more agile in nature, although they could also be applied to more traditional approaches as well. These strategies are:
1. Get the whole team together at the beginning of the project. Your goals are to build rapport amongst the team, to get to know the people that you’re working with to facilitate communication later on, and to better understand the situation on the ground. The implication is that you will need to fly some people around, increasing your initial expenses, an investment that many organizations balk at. The reality is that you will eventually end up paying for travel anyway, either because you actually flew people around or because your communication costs are higher throughout the project. In short, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Organize your team around the system architecture. The most effective way to organize a distributed team is around the architecture of the system that you are building, not around the job functions of the people involved. In other words, if your team is in Toronto, Rome, and Bangalore then each subteam should be responsible for one or more subsystems. It would be a mistake to organize the teams around job function, for example to have the architects and analysts in Toronto, the developers in Rome, and the testers in Bangalore because this structure would require significantly more documentation and other forms of communication to coordinate the teams, increasing both cost and risk. As I mentioned in my previous blog posting you will need to invest in some initial architecture envisioning at the beginning of a project to identify the subsystems and their public interfaces, and that to do that you’ll also need to do some initial requirements envisioning to drive this architecture effort. I suggest that you take an Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) approach to this to enable you to gain the value from modeling without the costs and risks associated with up-front comprehensive modeling and documentation that get many traditional project teams in trouble.
3. Have “daily stand-up meetings”. A common practice on co-located agile teams is to have daily stand-up meetings where people share the status of what they did yesterday, what they intend to do today, and whether they’re running into any problems. These short meetings enable team coordination. Distributed teams can do this as well, the people in a given geographical location can hold local stand-up meetings and then representatives from each location can hold a shared meeting to coordinate the subteams. Whereas local stand-up meetings are held first thing in the morning, distributed daily stand-up meetings may need to be held at unusual times so as to include people at distant locations.
4. Have Ambassadors. Ambassadors are people who travel between sites, often technically senior people or senior business experts, to share information between the subteams. Getting the team together at the beginning of the project sets the foundation for communication, but without continual investment in maintaining effective collaboration between teams you run the risk of your subteams deviating from the overall strategy. These are typically short engagements, a week or two in length, because of the pressures it puts on the people doing the actual traveling. The implication is that you’ll have several people flying between sites at any given time on a reasonable rotation schedule. Because you’ll have some people flying around, your local team rooms should accommodate visitors by having one or more desks available for them to use when they’re visiting.
5. Have Boundary Spanners. A boundary spanner is someone who is located on site who focuses on enabling communication between subteams as well as within their subteam. On large distributed teams you’ll find that you have three flavors of boundary spanners – team leaders who take on project management responsibilities on the subteam, product owners who are responsible for representing the business within the subteam, and architecture owners responsible for technical direction on the team. These boundary spanners will work closely with their peers, having regular coordination meetings across all subteams as well as impromptu one-on-one meetings to deal with specific issues between individual subteams.
6. Ensure that the global team gets the credit it deserves. In both offshoring and nearshoring environments it’s common to see small teams in North America or Europe driving the efforts of significantly larger teams in another country. Yet, at the end of the project it always seems as if the smaller team, often because they work for the direct customer, gets the lion’s share of the credit – unless of course the project failed, then the subcontracting team often seems to get virtually all of the “credit”. This clearly isn’t fair, and it clearly doesn’t promote effective teamwork between the subteams in the future.
7. Take a lean approach to development governance. As I’ve written in the past, effective governance is based on enablement and collaboration instead of the traditional approaches of management and control. Good governance measures progress through regular delivery of working software, not through status reports or delivery of detailed specifications. Good governance is based on the idea of having a living process which changes to reflect lessons learned as your project progresses. In a previous blog posting at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=lean_development_governance I’ve discussed lean development governance in greater detail.
The strategies that I’ve described are clearly nothing more than common sense, something that can be said of all agile strategies. Sadly, as Mark Twain lamented, common sense isn’t very common in practice.[Read More
Modified by ScottAmbler
A common misunderstanding about agile software development is that it’s only for co-located teams. Things are definitely easier for co-located teams, and as I found with both the Dr. Dobb’s 2007 and 2008 Agile Adoption surveys (www.ambysoft.com/surveys/) co-located agile teams appear to have a higher success rate than distributed teams, Having said that, many organizations are in fact succeeding at distributed agile development.
I’d like to share some strategies that I’m seeing work in practice, and in this blog posting summarizes generic strategies for distributed teams whether or not they’re agile. These strategies are:1. Do some up front planning. Distributed development is higher risk than co-located development, and one way to address that risk is to think things through. That doesn’t mean that you need to create a monolithic, 1000+ task Gantt chart, but it does mean that you should identify your major dependencies and milestone dates. Effective teams do this planning with the distributed developers actively involved (they are part of the team after all), they strive to consider all associated costs, and in particular they don’t overlook the low probability/high impact risks which often prove to be project killers.
2. Organize the team effectively. Once of the practices of Lean Development Governance (https://www14.software.ibm.com/webapp/iwm/web/preLogin.do?lang=en_US&source=swg-ldg) is to organize your team structure around either your architecture or the lines of business (LOB) supported by the programme that you’re working on. Ideally each sub-team should be responsible for one or more subsystems or modules, something that can be difficult if some of your team works alone from home, to reduce the amount of information sharing and collaboration required between disparate teams. In other words, maximize the responsibilities of the “offshore” team(s) as much as possible. A very common mistake is to organize the subteams around job specialties – for example the architects are in Toronto, the developers in Mumbai, and the testers in Singapore – because to support this team structure you have to create a phenomenal amount of documentation to support communication between the teams.
3. Do some up front modeling. The implication of organizing your team around the architecture (or LOB) is that you also need to do a bit of architecture envisioning up front. Your architecture efforts should provide guidance regarding the shared infrastructure as well as critical development conventions such as coding guidelines and data naming conventions. Architecture envisioning is also a good idea for co-located agile teams too. See http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/initialArchitectureModeling.htm for strategies to get the benefits of architecture modeling without the costs of needless documentation.
4. Recognize that communication is critical. GDD puts many barriers to communication in place, increasing overall project risk. To overcome these risks you will first need to be aware of them and act accordingly, and second, you’ll need to write more documentation than you would likely prefer. The risks associated with long-distance communication include cultural differences, time-zone differences, and the challenges with written documentation (which is the least effective way to communicate information). I make it a habit of asking open-ended questions so that I can determine whether or not the other people understand the topic under conversation. Particularly I will never ask a yes/no style of question because the simple answer of yes can mean a range of things depending on the culture. It may mean “Yes, I heard you”, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying”, or “Yes, I understand and agree with you”. When you’re dealing with people at other locations it’s good practice to ask them to summarize the conversation in writing, in particular to identify key action items and ownership of them, to ensure that everyone agrees with what was discussed. A good approach is to have the team lead on other end to do the summary so that they own it going forward.
5. Put a good technical infrastructure in place. Automate, automate, automate. In a GDD environment you need to work with collaborative multi-site tools such as ClearCase, ClearQuest, and Jazz Rational Team Concert (www.jazz.net) which enable you to share and evolve your work products (i.e. test scripts, code, documents) effectively.
In my next posting I'll describe a collection of agile-specific strategies for distributed software development teams.[Read More
The explicit phases of the Unified Process -- Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition -- and their milestones are important strategies for scaling agile software development to meet the real-world needs of modern organizations. Yes, I realize that this is heresy for hard-core agilists who can expound upon the evils of serial development, yet these very same people also take a phased approach to development although are loathe to admit it. The issue is that the UP phases are like seasons of a project: although you'll do the same types of activities all throughout a project, the extent to which you do them and the way in which you do them change depending on your goals. For example, at the beginning of a development project if you want to be effective you need to do basic things like identify the scope of the project, identify a viable architecture strategy, start putting together your team, and obtain support for the project. Towards the end of a project your focus is on the activities surrounding the deployment of your system into production, including end-of-lifecycle testing efforts, training, cleaning up of documentation, piloting the system with a subset of users, and so on. In between you focus on building the system, including analysis, design, testing, and coding of it. Your project clearly progresses through different phases, or call them seasons if the term phase doesn't suit you, whether your team is agile or not.
The UP defines four phases, each of which address a different kind of risk:1. Inception. This phase focuses on addressing business risk by having you drive to scope concurrence amongst your stakeholders. Most projects have a wide range of stakeholdres, and if they don't agree to the scope of the project and recognize that others have conflicting or higher priority needs you project risks getting mired in political infighting. In the Eclipse Way this is called the "Warm Up" iteration and in other agile processes "Iteration 0".2. Elaboration. The goal of this phase is to address technical risk by proving the architecture through code. You do this by building and end-to-end skeleton of your system which implements the highest-risk requirements. Some people will say that this approach isn't agile, that your stakeholders should by the only ones to prioritize requirements. Yes, I agree with that, but I also recognize that there are a wide range of stakeholders, including operations people and enterprise architects who are interested in the technical viability of your approach. I've also noticed that the high-risk requirements are often the high-business-value ones anyway, so you usually need to do very little reorganization of your requirements stack.3. Construction. This phase focuses on implementation risk, addressing it through the creation of working software each iteration. This phase is where you put the flesh onto the skeleton.4. Transition. The goal of this phase is to address deployment risk. There is usually a lot more to deploying software than simply copying a few files onto a server, as I indicated above. Deployment is often a complex and difficult task, one which you often need good guidance to succeed at.
Each phase ends with a milestone review, which could be as simple as a short meeting, where you meet with prime stakeholders who will make a "go/no-go" decision regarding your project. They should consider whether the project still makes sense, perhaps the situation has changed, and that you're addressing the project risks appropriately. This is important for "agile in the small" but also for "agile in the large" because at scale your risks are often much greater. Your prime stakeholders should also verify that you have in fact met the criteria for exiting the phase. For example, if you don't have an end-to-end working skeleton of your system then you're not ready to enter the Construction phase. Holding these sorts of milestone reviews improves your IT governance efforts by giving senior management valuable visibility at the level that they actually need: when you have dozens or hundreds of projects underway, you can't attend all of the daily stand up meetings of each team, nor do you even want to read summary status reports.
These milestone reviews enable you to lower project risk. Last Autumn I ran a survey via Dr. Dobb's Journal (www.ddj.com) which explore how people actually define success for IT projects and how successful we really were. We found that when people define success in their own terms that Agile has a 71% success rate compared with 63% for traditional approaches. Although it's nice to that Agile appears to be lower risk than traditional approaches, a 71% success rate still implies a 29% failure rate. The point is that it behooves us to actively monitor development projects to determine if they're on track, and if not either help them to get back on track or cancel them as soon as we possibly can. Hence the importance of occasional milestone reviews where you make go/no-go decisions. If you're interested in the details behind the project, they can be found at http://www.ambysoft.com/surveys/success2007.html .
Done right, phases are critical to your project success, particularly at scale. Yes, the traditional community seems to have gone overboard with phase-based approaches, but that doesn't mean that we need to make the same mistakes. Let's keep the benefit without the cost of needless bureaucracy.[Read More