Agility@Scale: Strategies for Scaling Agile Software Development
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  agility-at-scale rrc rtc agiletales regulatory-compliance 9,063 Visits
On Nov 16 2011, Kim Werner, Agile Coach from ATSC and Liz Parnell, Solution Design Manager from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), gave a webcast sharing their experiences regarding how BCBSNC adopted a few Agile techniques, with the help of some good coaching, and adopted some IBM Rational Jazz tools (Rational Team Concert and Rational Requirements Composer) to reduce time to market and lower development costs. BCBCNC works in the highly-regulated healthcare industry, so faced a few interesting constraints when adopting agile.
Agile requirements activities are evolutionary (iterative and incremental) and highly collaborative in nature. Initially requirements are explored at a high level via requirements envisioning at the beginning of the project and the details are explored on a just-in-time (JIT) basis via iteration modeling and model storming activities. The way that you perform these agile practices, and the extent to which you do so, depends on the situation in which a project team finds itself. The Agile Scaling Model (ASM) is a contextual framework for effective adoption and tailoring of agile practices to meet the unique challenges faced by a system delivery team of any size. To see how this works, let's apply the concepts of the ASM to see how we would scale our agile approach to requirements.
First, let's consider how a small, co-located team would work. The first two categories of the ASM are core agile development and disciplined agile delivery, the focus of both are small co-located teams in a fairly straightforward situation. In these situations simple techniques such as user stories written on index cards and sketches on whiteboards work very well, so the best advice that I can give is to stick with them. Some teams will take a test-driven development (TDD) approach where they capture their requirements and design in the form of executable specifications, although this sort of strategy isn't as common as it should be (yet!), likely because of the greater skill and discipline that it requires. Traditionalists often balk at this approach, believing that they need to document the requirements in some manner. But, for a small co-located team working in a collaborative manner, requirements documentation proves to be little more than busy work, often doing nothing more than justifying the existence of a business analyst who hasn't made the jump to agile yet. Don't get me wrong, there are good reasons to write some requirements documentation, and we'll see this in a minute, but you should always question any request for written specifications and try to find more effective ways to address the actual goal(s) motivating the request. Never forget that written documentation is the least effective communication option available to you.
Although inclusive tools such as whiteboards and paper work well for requirements, for development activities you will need electronic tools. You will either put together an environment from point-specific tools or adopt something more sophisticated such as IBM Rational Team Concert (RTC) which is already fully integrated and instrumented. RTC is a commercial tool, but luckily you can download a 10-license environment free of charge, which is just perfect for a small team. Larger teams, of course, will need to purchase licenses. One of the things that a disciplined agile delivery approach adds to core agile development is it addresses the full delivery life cycle, which is important because it explicitly includes pre-construction activities such as requirements envisioning. The first step in scaling agile techniques is to adopt a full delivery life cycle which covers the full range of activities required to initiate a project, produce the solution, and then release to solution to your end users.
More interesting is the third category of the ASM, Agility@Scale, and how its eight agile scaling factors affect the way that you tailor your process and tooling strategy. Let's explore how each one could potentially affect your agile requirements strategy:
During the second week of August the Agile 2011 conference was held in Salt Lake City (SLC). As you likely know the Agile Manifesto was formulated 10 years ago in SLC so it was apropos to hold it there. There was some excitement around the 10 year anniversary of the manifesto, with a panel session with the 17 authors of it. Sadly there seemed to be little excitement around the efforts of the 10th anniversay agile workshop in February which proposed a potential path forward for the agile community. I found the conference to be an evolutionary improvement over the conferences of the past few years, which is a very good thing because the focus since 2008 has moved beyond the "cool" new programming techniques to include the issues that enterprises face.
Starting at the Agile 2008 conference I've seen an uptick in interest in what I would consider some of the more mature topics in agile development, although I'm unfortunately still seeing significant confusion out there too, in part due to over-exuberence of people new to agile. For example, there's people still asking about basic issues about agile architecture and agile database techniques, although I was really happy to see more coherent discussions around scaling agile. My own presentation about the Agile Scaling Model was well attended and I suspect I opened a few people's eyes regarding the realities that we face (yes, there's a lot more to it than holding a "scrum of scrums", yeesh). We have a long way to go until people really start to understand scaling issues, but we're clearly on the path to getting there.
The conference show floor was interesting, with a wide range of vendors offering services and products focused on agile and lean. One thing that I noticed was many vendors had large monitors showing off their ability to support lean task boards, which for the most part they all looked the same. At the IBM booth we were showing off some of the Jazz tools, in particular Rational Team Concert (RTC). For a long time now we've been giving away fully functional, with no time limit, licenses of RTC for teams of up to 10 people. Something worth checking out.
The Agile 201x conferences hosted by the Agile Alliance are always a good investment of your time and money, and Agile 2011 was no exception. See you at Agile 2012 in the great state of Texas!
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  disciplined-agile-deliver... spi agileadopt criteria governance 5 Comments 8,662 Visits
Although it might not be obvious, and important success factor in adopting agile techniques is to be able to determine whether a team is agile or not. The challenge that many organizations face is that many teams will claim to be agile, yet management, who often has little or no experience with agile approaches, cannot tell which claims are true and which are over zealous (I'm being polite). The following are the criteria that I suggest you look for in a disciplined agile team:1. Produce working software on a regular basis. This is one of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto, and in my experience is a critical differentiator between the teams that are agile and those that are merely claiming it. Ideally the team should produce potentially shippable software each iteration. That doesn't mean that they'll deploy the system into production, or the marketplace, each iteration but they could if required to do so. Typically the team will deploy into a pre-production testing environment or a demo enviroment at the end of each iteration (or more often for that matter).2. Do continuous regression testing, and better yet take a Test-Driven Development (TDD) approach. Agile developers test their work to the best of their ability, minimally doing developer regression testing via a continuous integration (CI) strategy and better yet do developer-level TDD. This approach enables development teams to find defects early, thereby reducing the average cost of addressing the defects, it also helps them to deliver higher quality code and to move forward safely when adding or changing functionality.3. Work closely with their stakeholders, ideally on a daily basis. A common practice of agile teams is to have an on-site customer or product owner who prioritizes requirements and provides information on a timely manner to the team. Disciplined agile teams take it one step further and follow the practice active stakeholder participation where the stakeholders get actively involved with modeling and sometimes even development.4. Are self-organizing within a governance framework. Agile teams are self-organizing, which means that the people doing the work determines how the work will be done, they're not told by a manager who may not even be directly involved with the work how it will be done. In other words the team does its own planning, including scheduling and estimation. Disciplined agile teams are self governing within an effective governance framework.5. Regularly reflect on how they work together and then act to improve on their findings. Most agile teams hold a short meeting at the end of each iteration to reflect upon how well things are working and how they could potentially improve the way that they are working together. Sometimes this is done in a more formalized manner in the form of a retrospective, but often it's done informally. The team then acts on one or more of their suggested improvements the next iteration. Disciplined agile teams take this one step further and measure their software process improvement (SPI) progress over time: the act of taking these measures, perhaps via a product such as Rational Self Check, helps to keep the team on track in their SPI efforts.
I have yet to discover an ad-hoc development team which met all five criteria, and most of them rarely meet two or three.
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  agileexec disciplined-agile-deliver... agile agility-at-scale risk rup phases governance 6 Comments 8,628 Visits
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]
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  metrics enterprise-agile governance disciplined-agile-deliver... 8,603 Visits
Recently I have been asked by several customer organizations to help them to understand how to account for the expense of agile software development. In particular, incremental delivery of solutions into production or the marketplace seem to be causing confusion with the financial people within these organizations. The details of accounting rules vary between countries, but the fundamentals are common. In order to get properly account for the costs incurred by software development teams you need to keep track of the amount of work performed and the type of work performed to develop a given solution. Time tracking doesn't have to be complex: at one customer developers spend less than five minutes a week capturing such information.
Why is Time Tracking Potentially Valuable?
There are several financial issues to be aware of:
The point is that the way that a software developer's work is accounted for can have a non-trivial impact upon your organization's financial position.
What Do Agilists Think of Time Tracking?
So, I thought I'd run a simple test. Last week on LinkedIn's Agile and Lean Software Development group I ran a poll to see what people thought about time tracking. The poll provided five options (a limitation of LinkedIn Polls) to choose from:
The poll results reveal that we have a long way to go. Of the people inputting their time more of them believed it was a waste of time than understood it to be a valuable activity. When you stop and think about it, the investment of five minutes a week to track your time could potentially save or even earn your organization many hundreds of dollars. Looking at it from a dollar per minute point of view, it could be the highest value activity that a developer performs in a given week.
The discussion that ensued regarding the poll was truly interesting. Although there were several positive postings, and several neutral ones, many more were negative when it came to time tracking. Some comments that stood out for me included:
I think that there are several interesting implications from this discussion:
Disciplined agilists are enterprise aware. This is important for two reasons: First, you want to optimize your organizational whole instead of sub-optimize on project-related efforts; second, you can completely miss opportunities to add real value for your organization. In the anecdote I provided it was clear that many agile developers believe that an activity such as time tracking is a waste when that clearly doesn't have to be the case. Worse yet, although someone brought up the issues around capitalizing software development expenses early in the conversation a group of very smart and very experienced people still missed this easy opportunity to see how they could add value to their organization.
Granted, time tracking on an agile project team is nowhere near as sexy as topics such as continuous integration (CI), TDD, the definition of done, continous architecture, or many more. But you know what? Although it's a mind-numbingly mundane issue it is still an important one. 'Nuff said (I hope).
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:
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.
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  scaling-agile sdcf teams distributed governance amdd gdd agility-at-scale 8,540 Visits
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:Modified by ScottAmbler
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]
A recurring discussion that I have with experienced agile developers is what it means to take a disciplined agile approach. The conversation usually starts off by some saying "but it already requires discipline to do agile", something that I fully agree with, followed by "therefore 'disciplined agile' is merely a marketing term", something which I don't agree with. The challenge with the "standard" agile discipline is that it is often focused on construction activities within a single project team, clearly important but also clearly not the full picture. There's more to an agile project than construction, and there's more to most IT departments than a single development project. In short, there are many opportunities for IT professionals to up their discipline, and thereby up their effectiveness, opportunities which we make explicit in the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework.
Let's explore the many aspects to taking a disciplined agile approach:
Material for this blog posting was adapted from Chapter 21 of Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner's Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise, published by IBM Press in June 2012.
My current agile newsletter for Dr. Dobb's Journal, How Agile Are We? discusses some of the results from my recent How Are Are You? survey. The survey investigated how well "agile teams" met the following five agile criteria:
Some interesting results include:
I believe that there are several important implications: