Modified on by ScottAmbler
For several years now I've written various articles and newsletters on the topics of estimating and funding strategies for software development projects, and in particular for agile software development projects. Whenever I talk to people about agile software development, or coach them in how to succeed at it, some of the very first questions that I'll be asked, particularly by anyone in a management role, is how to fund agile software development projects. Apparently a lot of people think that you can only apply agile strategies on small, straightforward projects where it makes sense to do a time and materials (T&M) approach. In fact you can apply agile strategies in a much greater range of situations, as the various surveys
that myself and others are showing time and again. My goal with this blog posting is to summarize the various strategies for, and issues surrounding, the funding of agile software development projects.
There are three basic strategies for funding projects, although several variations
clearly exist. These strategies are:
- "Fixed price". At the beginning of the project develop, and then commit to, an initial estimate based on your up-front requirements and architecture modeling efforts. Hopefully this estimate is given as a range, studies have shown that up-front estimating techniques such as COCOMO II or function points are accurate within +/- 30% most of the time although my July 2009 State of the IT Union survey found that on average organizations are shooting for +/- 11% (their actuals come in at +/- 19% on average, but only after doing things such as dropping scope, changing the estimate, or changing the schedule). Fixed-price funding strategies are very risky in practice because they promote poor behavior on the part of development teams to overcome the risks foisted upon them as the result of this poor business decision. It is possible to do agile on a fixed budget but I really wouldn't recommend it (nor would I recommend it for traditional projects). If you're forced to take a fixed-price approach, and many teams are because the business hopes to reduce their financial risk via this approach not realizing that it actually increases their risk, then adopt strategies that reduce the risk.
- Stage gate. Estimate and then fund the project for given periods of time. For example, fund the project for a 3-month period then evaluate it's viability, providing funding for another period of time only to the extent that it makes sense. Note that stages don't have to be based on specific time periods, they could instead be based on goals such as to intiate the project, prove the architecture with working code, or to build a portion of the system. Disciplined agile methods such as Open Unified Process have built in stage-gate decision points which enable this sort of strategy. When the estimation technique is pragmatic, the best approaches are to have either the team itself provide an estimate for the next stage or to have an expert provide a good gut feel estimate (or better yet have the expert work with the team to develop the estimate). Complex approaches such as COCOMO II or SLIM are often little more than a process facade covering up the fact that software estimating is more of an art or a science, and prove to be costly and time consuming in practice.
- Time and materials (T&M). With this approach you pay as you go, requiring your management team to actually govern the project effectively. Many organizations believe a T&M strategy to be very risky, which it is when your IT governance strategy isn't very effective. An interesting variation, particularly in a situation where a service provider is doing the development, is an approach where a low rate is paid for their time which covers their basic costs, the cost of materials is paid out directly, and delivery bonuses are paid for working software. This spreads the risk between the customer/stakeholder and the service provider. The service provider has their costs covered but won't make a profit unless they consistently deliver quality software.
The point is that there are several strategies for funding agile software development projects, just like there are several strategies for funding traditional software development projects. My experience is that fixed-price funding strategies are incredibly poor practice which increases the risk of your software development projects dramatically. I recognize how hard it can be to change this desire on the part of our business stakeholders, but have also had success changing their minds. If you choose to perservere, which is a difficult decision to make, you can help your organization's decision makers to adopt more effective strategies. Like you they want to improve the effectiveness of your IT efforts.Further reading: (In recommended order)
- Something's Gotta Give: Argues for a flexibly approach to funding, schedule, and/or scope.
- Agile on a Fixed Budget: Describes in detail how to take a fixed-price approach on agile projects.
- The Dire Consequences of Fixed-Price IT Projects: Describes in detail the questionable behavior exhibited by IT teams when forced to take a fixed-price approach.
- Is Fixed-Price Software Development Unethical?: Questions the entire concept of fixed-price IT projects, overviewing some of the overwhelming evidence against this really poor practice.
- Reducing the Risk of Fixed-Price Projects: Describes viable strategies for addressing some of the problems resulting from the decision of fixed-price projects.
- Strategies for Funding Software Development Projects: Describes several variations on the strategies described above.
- Lies, Great Lies, and Software Development Project Plans: Summarizes some results from the July 2009 State of the IT Union survey which explored issues related to project funding (among many).
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.
- Does the team regularly produce value for their stakeholders?
- Does the team validate its own work to the best of its ability?
- Are stakeholders actively involved?
- Is the team self organizing?
- Does the team strive to improve their process?
Some interesting results include:
94% of teams which are claiming to be agile are providing value to stakeholders on a regular basis.
87% of teams which are claiming to be agile are validating their own work.
95% of teams which are claiming to be agile are working closely with stakeholders.
56% of teams which are claiming to be agile are self organizing.
88% of teams which are claiming to be agile are improving the process that they follow throughout the lifecycle.
Teams which are claiming to be agile often aren't. 53% of "agile teams" meet the five criteria, although 72% meet all but the self-organization criteria.
Teams which are moving towards agile but aren't there yet are reasonably close. 39% of those teams meet all five criteria and 63% meet all but self-organization.
I believe that there are several important implications:
- Whenever someone claims to be on an agile team you may want to explore that claim a bit deeper.
The low level of self organization may be an indicator of cultural challenges with organizations in that their project managers aren't giving up sufficient control. The Agility at Scale survey
in November 2009 found that 59% of respondents who indicated that their organization hadn't adopted agile techniques yet that a rigid culture was hampering their efforts. The IT Governance and Project Management
survey in July 2009 discovered that "questionable behaviors", many of which were ethically questionable (I'm being polite), were far too common within IT project management.
Although "agile teams" may not be as agile as they claim, they're still doing better than traditional V-model teams, as revealed (again) by the 2010 IT Project Success
If there was some sort of consensus within the agile community as to the criteria for determining whether a team is agile, I highly suspect that the agileness ratings would increase over time. What gets measured often improves.
However, how agile you are isn't anywhere near as important as getting better at what you're doing. So perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree on this issue. ;-)
One of the scaling factors
called out in the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is “regulatory compliance”. This name is a bit of a misnomer because this scaling factor really addresses two issues: complying to regulations imposed upon you from external sources and choosing to adhere to internal regulations willingly adopted by your organization. It is relatively common for agile teams to find themselves in such situations. For example, in the 2009 Agile Practices Survey
one third of respondents said that they were applying agile on projects where one or more industry regulations applied.
First let’s consider external regulatory compliance. In these situations you may face the need to undergo an audit by an external regulatory body with consequences for non-compliance ranging from anywhere to a warning to a fine or even to legal action. Sometimes even a warning may be a grave thing. A few years ago I was working with a pharmaceutical company which had discovered that a warning from the FDA for non-compliance with their CFR 21 Part 11 regulation, when reported in major newspapers, resulted on average in a half-billion dollar loss to their market capitalization as the result of a dip in their stock price. There are financial regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II, informational regulations such as HIPAA which focuses on health information privacy, technical regulations such as ISO 27002 for security practices, and even life-critical regulations such as some of the FDA regulations.
External regulations are typically managed by a government organization or industry watchdog will range in complexity and can have a myriad of effects on project teams. For example, you may need to be able to prove that you had a documented process and that you followed it appropriately; you may need to produce extra artifacts, or more detailed artifacts, than you normally would; you may need to add extra features to your solution, such as tracking financial information, that you wouldn’t have normally implemented; you may need to produce specific reports to be submitted to the regulatory body; or you may even need to submit your team to audits, sometimes scheduled and sometimes not, to ensure regulatory compliance. Interestingly, even though many of those requirements go against the agile grain, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that organizations were successfully applying agile techniques while still conforming to external regulations. So yes, it is possible to scale your agile strategy to address regulatory compliance.
Second, let’s consider compliance to internally adopted, or sometimes even developed, “regulations” which you will be potentially evaluated/appraised against. Perfect examples of these are process improvement frameworks such as CMMI and ISO 900x. Similar to external regulations, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that some agile teams are succeeding in situations where they have chosen to adopt such frameworks. It’s important to note that frameworks such as CMMI aren’t primarily about ensuring the compliance of development teams to a standard process, regardless of what CMMI detractors may claim, but instead about process improvement. Process improvement at the IT department (or beyond) is an enterprise discipline issue from the point of view of ASM, implying that frameworks such as CMMI affect more than one scaling factor.
When you find yourself in a regulatory situation, whether those regulations are imposed or willingly adopted, the best advice that I can give is to read the regulations and develop a strategy to conform to them in the most agile manner possible. If you let bureaucrats interpret the regulations you’ll likely end up with a bureaucratic strategy, but if you instead choose to take a pragmatic approach you will very likely end up with a very practical strategy. Part of that strategy is to treat the regulatory representative(s) within your organization as important stakeholders whom you interact with regularly throughout the project.
Recently I visited a customer who had adopted Scrum. They were a few sprints, what Scrum calls iterations, into the project and were running into some difficulties. Although I was primarily brought in to educate senior management on disciplined agile software development, I was also asked to sit in on the team’s daily stand-up meeting so that I could hopefully provide some suggestions as to how to address the problems they were running into.
Their work area was fairly typical. They had some whiteboards which they were using for project planning and tracking, with sticky notes to indicate what work had been taken on by each team member. The current status of the task (not yet started, in progress, and completed) was indicated by putting each sticky note in a corresponding column for the status and corresponding column for the team member. This allowed everyone on the team to easily share their status and to see the status of everyone else. On the sides were sketches of the architecture as well as some business oriented models. In addition to Scrum the team had adopted several practices from Agile Modeling, in this case they had done some initial requirements envisioning
and architecture envisioning
, as well as practices from Extreme Programming (XP) for construction. In short, they had followed a fairly common strategy of combining practices from various agile methods.
This would have worked perfectly fine if they had tailored the practices to reflect the situation that they were in, but instead they adopted them "straight out of the book". First, the team was distributed, with most of the team in the location that I was visiting but some people located in two other distant cities. Therein was the source of most of their problems. The people at the other two locations weren’t getting much value out of the daily stand-up meetings, even though they would dial in, because they couldn’t see the project status information. Although people at this location were trying their best to represent these distant people in the daily stand-ups it wasn’t working well – their status information wasn’t being kept up to date and for some people it was a bit of mystery as to what they were actually working on at all.
This team also had 30 people in it, which isn’t a big deal although it can stretch the limits of the simple modeling and planning tools (in this case paper and whiteboards) that they were using. Because the team was larger they were investing a fair bit of time creating burn down charts at both the iteration/sprint and project levels. One of the unfortunate implications of using manual tools for project management is that any associated metric/status reporting in turn becomes manual as well. Considering how the agile community is so concerned with working efficiently, I find it comical that we have a tendency to overlook our own potentially unnecessary bureaucracy such as this.
The problem was that the team was applying strategies, in this case using sticky notes and whiteboards to capture the detailed iteration plan, applying similar strategies to capture key models, and were verbally relaying of status information between sub-teams. There are perfectly fine strategies for smaller co-located teams, but not so good for large or distributed teams. The solution was to recognize that they were in an Agility@Scale situation and needed to tailor their approach to reflect this fact. In this case they needed to forgo some of the manual tools and instead use electronic tooling such as Rational Team Concert (RTC) to share information across disparate locations, in particular the work assignment and corresponding status information. RTC also creates common agile reports such as burn-down charts based on the activities of the developers, providing accurate (nearly) real-time information while removing the burden of status reporting. The RTC project dashboard does more than just this, to see an actual example of one visit www.jazz.net
to see the dashboard for the RTC development team itself. You can also see their actual work item list too, a more advanced version of Scrum’s product and sprint backlogs.[Read More
I've been getting a lot of questions lately about applying the acceleration metric
in practice. So, here's some answers to frequently asked questions:
1. How do I monetize acceleration?
This is fairly straightforward to do. For example, assume your acceleration is 0.007 (0.7%), there are five people on the team, your annual burdened cost per person is $150,000, and you have two week iterations. All these numbers are made up, but you know how to calculate acceleration now and IT management had darn well better know the average burdened cost (salary plus overhead) of their staff. So, per iteration the average burdened cost per person must be $150,000/26 = $5,770. Productivity improvement per iteration for this team must be $5,770 * 5 * .007 = $202. If the acceleration stayed constant at 0.7% the overall productivity improvement for the year would be (1.007)^26 (assuming the team works all 52 weeks of the year) which would be 1.198 or 19.8%. This would be a savings of $148,500 (pretty much the equivalent of one new person). Of course a 20% productivity increase over an entire year is a really aggressive improvement, regardless of some of the claims made by the agile snake oil salesman out there, although at 10-15% increase is a reasonable expectation. What I'd really want to do is calculate the acceleration for the year by comparing the velocity from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (in Western cultures I'd want to avoid comparing iterations near to the holidays). So, if the team velocity the first week of February 2008 was 20 points, now the same team's velocity the first week of February 2009 was 23 points, that's an acceleration of (23-20)/20 = 15% over a one year period, for a savings of $112,500.
2. Is acceleration really unitless?
For the sake of comparison it is. The "units" are % change in points per iteration, or % change in points per time period depending on the way that you want to look at it. Because it's a percentage I can easily monetize it, as you see above, and use it as a basis of comparison.
3. How do I convince teams to share their data?
This can be difficult. Because acceleration is easy to calculate for agile teams, and because it's easy to use to compare teams (my team has .7% acceleration whereas other teams down the hall from mine have accelerations of .3% and -.2% of teams), people are concerned that this metric will be used against them. OK, to be fair, my team might be OK with this. ;-) Seriously though, this is a valid fear that will only be addressed by an effective governance program
based on enablement, collaboration, and trust instead of the traditional command-and-control approach. Management's track record regarding how they've used measurements in the past, and how they've governed in general, have a great effect on people's willingness to trust them with new metrics such as acceleration. The implication is that you need to build up trust, something that could take years if it's possible at all.
4. Why does this work for agile teams?
Agile teams are self organizing, and an implication of that is that they will be held accountable for their estimates. Because of this accountability, and because velocity is a vital input into their planning and estimation efforts, agile teams are motivated to calculate their velocity accurately and to track it over time. Because they're eager to get their velocity right, and because acceleration is based on velocity, there's an exceptionally good chance that it's accurate.
5. What about function points or similar productivity measures?
Function points can be calculated for projects being developed via an agile approach, or other approaches for that matter, but it's a very expensive endeavor compared to calculating acceleration (which is essentially free) and likely will be seen as a bureaucratic overhead by the development team. My rule of thumb is that if you're not being explicitly paid to count function points (for example the US DoD will often pay contracting companies to create estimates based on function point counts) then I wouldn't bother with them.
6. What about calculating acceleration for iterative project teams?
Iterative project teams, perhaps following Rational Unified Process (RUP)
, can choose to calculate and track their velocity and thereby their acceleration. The key is to allow the team to be self organizing and accountable for their estimates, which in turn motivates them to get their velocity right just like agile teams (RUP can be as agile as you want to make it, don't let anyone tell you differently).
7. What about calculating acceleration for traditional project teams?
In theory this should work, in practice it is incredibly unlikely. Traditional teams don't work in iterations where working software is produced on a regular basis, they're typically not self organizing, and therefore there really isn't any motivate to calculate velocity (even if they do, there is little motivation to get it right). Without knowing the velocity you can't calculate acceleration. If you can't trust the velocity estimate, and I certainly wouldn't trust a traditional team's velocity estimate, then you can't trust your acceleration calculation. So, my fall back position to calculate productivity improvement would be to do something like function point counting (which is expensive and difficult to compare between teams due to different fudge factors used by different FP counters) and then looking at change in FPs delivered over time.
8. How can I apply this across a department?
It is fairly straightforward to roll up the acceleration of project teams into an overall acceleration measure for a portfolio of teams simply by taking a weighted average based on team size. However, this is only applicable to teams that are in a position to report an accurate acceleration (the agile and iterative teams) and of course are willing to do so.
9. What does a negative acceleration tell me?
If the acceleration is negative then productivity on the team is going down, likely an indicator of quality and/or team work problems. However, you don't want to manage by the numbers so you should talk to the team to see what's actually going on.
10. What does a zero acceleration tell me?
This is an indication that the team's productivity is not increasing, and that perhaps they should consider doing retrospectives at the end of each iteration and then acting on the results from those retrospectives. Better yet they can "dial up" their process improvement efforts by adopting something along the lines of IBM Rational Self Check
Modified on by ScottAmbler
A fair question to ask is why should your organization consider adopting the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework. I believe that there are several clear benefits to doing so:
DAD shows how agile techniques fit together. DAD is a hybrid that adopts strategies from a variety of sources, including Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Agile Modeling, Kanban, Outside In Development (OID) and many more. More importantly DAD's process-goal driven approach shows how this all fits together, providing advice for when (and when not) to use each technique and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. In doing so DAD enables you to streamline your efforts to tailor agile to reflect the context of the situation you find yourself in. Furthermore, it provides this advice in the context of a full agile delivery lifecycle, explicitly showing how to initiate a project, construct a solution, and then deploy into production. Instead of starting with a small agile method such as Scrum and doing all the work to figure out how to tailor ideas from other methods to actually make it work, why not start with a framework that's already done all that work for you?
DAD isn't prescriptive. DAD is far less prescriptive than other agile methods. For example, where Scrum prescribes a single strategy for managing changing requirements, a strategy called a Product Backlog, DAD suggests several strategies and provides advice for choosing the right one. Where other agile methods define a single lifecycle, DAD instead describes several lifecycles (an agile Scrum-based one, a lean lifecycle, and a continuous delivery lifecycle to name just three) and once again describes how to choose the right one for your situation. Your agile team is in a unique situation, and as a result needs a flexible process framework that provides coherent, easy-to-follow tailoring advice. Isn't it better to adopt strategies that reflect the context that you actually face?
DAD explicitly addresses architecture. Even after a decade of agile software development it still seems that the topic of how agile teams address architecture is a mystery for many people. As a result DAD builds agile architecture strategies right in, starting with initial architecture envisioning, to proving the architecture with working code, to evolutionary design strategies during construction.
DAD explicitly addresses DevOps. DevOps is the art of combining development and operations approaches in such a way as to streamline your overall efforts. DAD "bakes in" DevOps through explicit support for common DevOps practices as well as its robust stakeholder definition which explicitly includes operations and support people.
DAD explicitly addresses governance. Although governance is often considered a dirty word within some agile circles, the reality is that software development teams can and should be governed. Sadly, many agile teams have traditional governance strategies inflicted upon them, strategies which invariably increase schedule, cost and risk on the project. But is doesn't have to be this way. It is possible, and very desirable to adopt agile goverance strategies, strategies which are built right into the DAD framework.
DAD explicitly addresses many other important development activities. Architecture, DevOps, and governance are just the tip of the iceberg. DAD also shows how critical activities such as analysis, design, testing, quality, technical writing, and many more are addressed in an agile and streamlined manner throughout the delivery lifecycle. As described earlier, this is done in a non-prescriptive and tailorable manner, thereby removing a lot of the mystery regarding how this agile stuff all fits together into a coherent whole.
DAD is solution focused, not software focused. Although the rhetoric around "potentially shippable software" resonates well with developers it observably and empirically misses the mark. DAD promotes the more robust idea of "potentially consumable solutions". Yes, shipping is nice but shipping something that people actually want to use/buy, something that is consumable, is much nicer. Yes, software is part of the equation but that software runs on hardware, we often also need to develop supporting documentation, we often evolve the business process, and even evolve the organization structure around the usage of the system. In other words, we're really producing solutions, not just software. Isn't it better to adopt rhetoric that actually reflects what we're doing in practice?
DAD promotes enterprise awareness over team awareness. One of the great benefits of an agile approach to software development is its focus on the team. This can also be a bit of a problem, because a team-focused strategy can result in suboptimal decisions for your overall organization. DAD promotes the idea that disciplined agilists should be enterprise aware, working towards common business and technical goals while leveraging and enhancing the existing infrastructure whenever possible.
DAD provides a foundation from which to scale. The starting point for scaling agile is to understand how agile strategies fit together from project initiation to delivery into production. If you don't know how to succeed with agile in a straightforward situation then it will prove very difficult to do so in an agility @ scale situation. DAD not only provides this tailorable foundation from which to scale agile it also takes a robust view of what it means to scale agile (hint: large or distributed teams are only a start).
DAD provides a basis for enterprise agile. As organizations move towards a true "enterprise agile" approach they often find that they need to adopt either DAD as a foundation or invest a fair bit of effort inventing something similar. They are also starting to adopt strategies from the SAFe framework, or reinventing such, as well as ideas from sources such as Enterprise Unified Process (EUP) (sadly, poorly named in hindsight), ITIL, and even CoBIT. More on this in a future blog posting.
In short, DAD provides a lot of proven advice culled from years of experience applying agile software techniques in enterprise-class environments. Instead of figuring all of this stuff out on your own, why not jump ahead and leverage the hard-won lessons learned from other organizations that have already dealt with the challenges that you're struggling with today?
The primary shortcoming of the DAD framework is it makes it very clear that software development, oops I mean solution delivery, is quite complex in practice. As IT practitioners we inherently know this, but it seems that we need to be reminded of this fact every so often. DAD doesn't provide a simplistic, feel-good strategy that you can learn in a few hours of training. Instead it defines a coherent, tailorable strategy that reflects the realities of enterprise IT.
There is a wealth of information at DAD posted at the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) web site and great discussions occuring on the DAD LinkedIn discussion forum. For those of you interested in agile certification, the Disciplined Agile Consortium site will prove valuable too, in particular the list of upcoming DAD workshops provided by several IBM partners. And of course the book Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner's Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise (IBM Press, 2012) written by Mark Lines and myself is a very good read.
Modified on by ScottAmbler
In 2009 I wrote a white paper entitled The Agile Scaling Model (ASM): Adapting Agile Methods for Complex Environments for IBM Rational. Apparently it's been taken down, which I think is unfortunate as it contains some interesting ideas that your organization may be able to benefit from.
The original white paper addresses several key issues:
It provides and explains a definition for disciplined agile delivery. A more up to date discussion of DAD can be found on the Disciplined Agile Delivery site.
It describes criteria to determine is a team is agile. I've explored this issue via several surveys over the years since then. See the January 2013 How Agile Are You? results.
It describes the ASM, which distinguishes between core agile development techniques, disciplined agile delivery strategies, and agility at scale. The ASM was superceded in early 2013 by the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF). Perhaps this is why the ASM paper was taken down??
It overviews the eight scaling factors which a delivery team may face, scaling factors which motivate changes in the process that you will follow and the tools that you will adopt. The SDCF provides my recent thoughts regarding scaling factors. I have also run various IT Surveys over the years exploring how well organizations fare at scaling agile.
It describes the implications of the ASM. My blog posting Scaling Agile: Start with a Disciplined Foundation covers this very well.
It argues that you should strive to be as agile as you need to be, and that will be driven by the situation that you face.
The popular Agile literature can often seam naive when it comes to how Agilists work with project stakeholders:- Extreme Programming (XP) has a practice called On-Site Customer where one or more people work closely with your team to provide information and to make decisions in a timely manner.- Scrum has the role of Product Owner who is the one single person that the development team goes to for decisions about requirements. - Agile Modeling (AM) has the practice of Active Stakeholder Participation which extends On-Site Customer to get the stakeholder(s) actively involved with the modeling effort through the use of inclusive tools and techniques.
These are great strategies for small, co-located teams doing straightforward development, but they quickly fall apart at scale. This occurs for several reasons:1. Stakeholders are a diverse group. Your stakeholders include end users, business management, project funders, enterprise architects, operations staff, support staff, other system development teams, and many others. Different people have different, and often contradictory, requirements and they certainly have different priorities. It's questionable whether a single person, or a handful of persons, can adequately represent this diverse group.2. One person becomes a bottleneck. Even with a small co-located team this is a problem, let alone one that is geographically distributed or one that is very large. There's no way that a single person can be available 24/7 in a responsive manner to support distributed teams.3. It's a difficult role. The Product Owner/Customer (POC) is responsible for representing the business to the development team. They're making important decisions on a regular basis, decisions which they'll be held accountable for.4. One person becomes a serious project risk. Not only is it questionable whether a single person can fairly represent all stakeholders, even if they could what happens if you lose that person? They effectively become a single point of failure for your team.
To scale this role, consider the following strategies:1. Recognize the true scope of the POC role. Not only are they stakeholder proxies they also are a development team representative to the stakeholder community as a whole. As stakeholder proxies they'll make decisions and prioritize the work, they'll run requirements elicitation sessions, they'll negotiate priorities, and they'll put the development team in contact with stakeholders who have expertise in specific aspects of the domain. As team representatives they'll often demo the current version of the system to other stakeholders, communicate the status of the project to people, and respond to various requests for information from the stakeholders.2. Have multiple people in it. A single POC works well for small, co-located teams developing simple software. At scale you'll soon discover that you need multiple people in this role so that they don't become a bottleneck. For distributed teams it's common to see each subteam have one or more POCs who are managed by a primary/chief POC. The primary POC typically works on the coordinating team with the chief architect (I'll talk about this role in a future blog posting) and the program manager (also a topic for a future blog posting).3. Train them in business analysis skills. The person(s) in the POC role need good business analysis skills. If fact, it's common for people who were formerly BAs for traditional teams to step into the POC role, particularly with BAs who originally come from the business side of your organization. This strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. As a BA they've likely got solid business knowledge but their instincts may motivate them to take a documentation-driven approach to providing information to the development team instead of a collaboration-based approach. Be careful.4. Consider the full system development lifecycle. There's far more to the POC role than supporting the development team during Construction iterations. During "Iteration 0", the Inception phase for an Agile RUP project or the warm-up phase for an Eclipse Way project, the POC(s) will often lead the initial requirements envisioning efforts. The product backlog, or better yet your work item list, needs to come from somewhere after all. During the release iteration(s), the Transition phase for RUP or the End-Game phase for Eclipse Way, the POC(s) will focus on communicating the upcoming release to the stakeholder community, will be actively involved with any final user acceptance testing (UAT), and may even be involved with training end users.
In my January 2008 column in Dr Dobb's Journal, posted at http://www.ddj.com/architect/204801134 , I provide detailed advice about how to scale the way that you work with stakeholders on Agile projects by applying the practices of Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD). There's no magic solution, you just need to choose to organize yourself effectively. The good news is that you can easily work with stakeholders at scale.[Read More
It's customary to start a blog by describing the vision for it. Although this vision will undoubtedly evolve over time, it's always good to put a stake in the ground to get things started. Agile software development is clearly taking off and in my opinion is becoming the dominant development paradigm. Furthermore it appears that Agile approaches enjoy a higher success rate, providing better value for your IT investment, than do traditional approaches. Although organizations are succeeding at simpler projects with agile, many are struggling when applying Agile in more complex situations. They're finding that the "Agile rhetoric" doesn't always live up to its promises once you move into these complex situations. My goal with this blog is to share strategies for applying Agile techniques at scale.
When applying Agile strategies at scale you are likely to run into one or more of the following complexity factors:1. Geographical distribution. Is your team, including stakeholders, in different locations? Even being in different cubicles within the same building can erect barriers to communication, let alone being in different cities or even on different continents.2. Regulatory compliance. Regulations, including the Sarbanes-Oxley act, BASEL-II, and FDA statutes, to name a few, can increase the documentation and process burden on your projects. Complying to these regulations while still remaining as agile as possible can be a challenge.3. Entrenched policies, people, and processes. Most agile teams need to work within the scope of a larger organization, and that larger organization isn't always perfectly agile. Hopefully that will change in time, but we still need to get the job done right now. Your existing culture and organization can really hinder your ability to scale agile approaches, then a few "simple" changes can really help your efforts.4. Legacy systems. Although the politically correct term would be "proven assets" the reality is that it can be very difficult to leverage existing code and data sources due to quality problems. The code may not be well written, documented, or even have tests in place, yet that doesn't mean that your agile team should rewrite everything from scratch. Some legacy data sources are questionable at best, or the owners of those data sources difficult to work with, yet that doesn't given an agile team license to create yet another database.5. Organizational distribution. When your teams are made up of people working for different divisions, or if you have people from different companies (such as contractors, partners, or consultants), then your management complexity rises.6. Degree of governance. If you have one or more IT projects then you have an IT governance process in place. How formal it is, how explicit it is, and how effective it is will be up to you. IBM has been doing a lot of work in this topic over the past few years, and just recently Per Kroll and I have done some work around Lean Governance strategies. 7. Team size. Large teams will be organized differently than small teams, and they'll work differently too.8. System complexity. The more complex the system the greater the need for a viable architectural strategy. An interesting feature of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) is that it's Elaboration phase's primary goal is to prove the architecture via the creation of an end-to-end, working skeleton of the system. This risk-reduction technique is clearly a concept which Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum teams can clearly benefit from.
It is definitely possible to scale Agile software development to meet the real-world complexities faced by modern organizations. Based on my experiences, I believe that over the next few years we'll discover that Agile scales better than traditional approaches. Many people have already discovered this, but as an industry I believe that there isn't yet sufficient evidence to state this as more than opinion. My goal with this blog is to provide advice for scaling Agile so as to increase your chances of success.
So, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. My strategy will be to address common questions which I get when working with customers and with internal IBM development teams. I have the privilege to work with a variety of software development teams worldwide, helping them to become more agile. They're all struggling with the same basic issues although don't recognize it because they're too focused on their own situation. So hopefully I'll be able to spread the word about what's actually working in practice.
I hope that you stay tuned.
- Scott[Read More
For some reason, it seems as if everyone's grandfather at one point in time recommended to use the right tools for the job. That's practical wisdom from my point of view, one that is certainly an issue for agile development.
One of the primary messages, I hope, of the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is that context counts. Although the focus of the ASM is on describing a contextual framework for tailoring your process to meet the needs of the situation that you find yourself in, it's also applicable to your tooling selection. For example, the tool choices of a co-located team will be much different than that of a geographically distributed team. A co-located team will likely use a whiteboard
or paper for their agile modeling
efforts, whereas distributed team members may need to capture their diagrams using a more sophisticated tool such as Rational Requirements Composer (RRC)
so that their work can be shared electronically. Having said that, RRC would be overkill for a co-located team (unless they had regulatory compliance issues). Different teams, different situations, therefore different tooling choices.
One of the concerns that I run into from customers is that some of our legacy products don't support agile very well. Once again, it's a matter of context because many of our legacy products reflect the realities faced by more traditional teams. The challenge occurs when you try to take a legacy product which is well suited for traditional development, such as Rational ClearCase
, and try to apply it on agile projects. Although ClearCase makes sense in certain scaling situations, particularly very large teams that are geographically distributed, you'd be better advised to use something like Rational Team Concert (RTC)
for configuration management on most agile teams (note that RTC does far more than just SCM).
So, if you're taking an agile approach you should consider Rational tools such as RTC, RRC, Rational BuildForge
, Rational AppScan
, and others which support agile
development. Granted, some you would only use at scale -- for example Buildforge is a good option in really complex environments, but if you don't face that complexity then you'll likely find that RTC's build engine is sufficient. Similarly, if you're taking a traditional approach to development then you'll likely consider products such as ClearCase, Appscan, RTC, and Rational Software Architect (RSA)
instead. Different situations, different tooling choices.
What's even more confusing is that some products support a range of process paradigms. For example, RTC supports agile, lean, iterative, and traditional approaches to development. The same can be said of Appscan and several other products. Notice how I listed RTC and Appscan for both agile and traditional development above.
So, if anyone tells you that Rational tools don't support agile development don't believe them. Ask them which tools that they're talking about, and ask them if they're aware of the Rational products that do support agile development. Context counts.
When you are first adopting agile techniques in your organization a common strategy is to run one or more pilot projects. When organizing these projects you typically do as much as you can to make them successful, such as finding:
- Projects where the stakeholders are willing to actively work with you.
- IT people who are flexible, willing to try new things, and willing to collaborate with one another.
- IT people who are generalizing specialists, or at least willing to become so.
- Finding a project which is of medium complexity (therefore it's "real" in the sense that it's significant to your organization) but not one where it can make or break your organization (therefore it's safe to experiment with).
In North America we refer to this as "cherry picking" because you're picking the cherry/best situation that you can find.
- Being agile may not have been the primary determinant of success. You set up an environment where you have a good relationship with your stakeholders, where you have good people who want to work together, and the project is challenging but not impossible. Oh, and by the way you adopted a few agile techniques as well. Sounds to me that situation you could have adopted a few not-so-agile techniques instead and still succeed. Although my various project success surveys, see my IT surveys page for details, have shown time and again that agile project teams are more successful than traditional project teams I haven't been able to tease out (yet) whether this success is attributable to agile or just attributable to improved project initiation efforts.
- When adopting agile/lean widely across your organization, you can't cherry pick any more. For the past few years I've been working with IT organizations that are in the process of adopting agile/lean strategies across their entire organization, not just across a few pilot projects. What these organizations are finding is that they need to find ways to adopt agile where the business isn't as willing to work with IT, where some of the people aren't so flexible or collaborative, where some of the people are narrowly specialized and not as willing to expand their skills, or where the project exhibits scaling factors which motivates you to tailor your agile approach. It's harder to succeed with agile in these situations because they're not as "cherry" as what you've experienced previously. Luckily, if you've been successful previously then you now have some agile experienced people, you have successes to reference, and you've likely overcome some problems even in the cherry situations which you have learned from. So, your cherry successes will hopefully improve your ability to succeed even in "non cherry" situations.
- You need to work smarter, not harder. If the source of your success was actually from improved project initiation practices and not from agile, then recognize that and act accordingly. Realistically part of your success was from that and part was from agile, and the organizations that adopt a measured improvement approach potentially have the data to determine which practices lead to success and which didn't. Without the metrics you're effectively flying blind when it comes to deciding how to improve. There is clearly a mandate for smarter work practices within IT, within your organization as a whole for that matter.
If you want to gain more insight into some of the issues that you'll face when adopting agile across your organization, I suspect that you'll find my recent paper Scaling Agile: An Executive Guide
to be interesting. I've got a more detailed paper in the works, so stay tuned to this blog.
Recently I spent some time in the UK with Julian Holmes of Unified Process Mentors
. In one of our conversations we deplored what we were seeing in the agile community around certification, in particular what the Scrum community was doing, and he coined the term “integrity debt” to describe the impact it was having on us as IT professionals. Integrity debt is similar to technical debt
which refers to the concept that poor quality (either in your code, your user interface, or your data) is a debt that must eventually be paid off through rework. Integrity debt refers to the concept that questionable or unprofessional behavior builds up a debt which must eventually be paid off through the rebuilding of trust with the people that we interact with.
The agile community has been actively increasing their integrity debt through the continuing popularity of Scrum Certification, in particular the program around becoming a Certified Scrum Master (CSM). To become a CSM you currently need to attend, and hopefully pay attention during, a two-day Scrum Master Certification workshop taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). That’s it. Granted, some CSTs will hold one or more quizzes which you need to pass, an optional practice which isn’t done consistently, to ensure that you pay attention in the workshop.
Scrum Masters, as you know, take the leadership position on a Scrum team. The idea that someone can master team leadership skills after two entire days of training is absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm supporter of people increasing their skillset and have no doubt that many of the CSTs deliver really valuable training. However, there is no possible way that you can master a topic, unless it
is truly trivial, in only two days of training. From what I can tell the only thing that is being certified here is that your check didn’t bounce.
The CSM scheme increases the integrity debt of the IT industry by undermining the value of certification. When someone claims that they’re certified there’s an assumption that they had to do something meaningful to earn that certification. Attending a two-day course, and perhaps taking a few quizzes where you parrot back what you’ve heard, clearly isn’t very meaningful. The problem with the term Certified Scrum Master is two-fold: not only does the term Certified imply that the holder of the certification did something to earn it, the term Master implies that they have significant knowledge and expertise gained over years of work.
It is very clear that people are falling for the Scrum certification scheme.
A quick search of the web will find job ads requiring that candidates be CSMs, undoubtedly because they don’t realize that there’s no substance behind the certification. Whenever I run into an organization that requires people to be CSMs I walk them through the onerous process of earning the designation and suggest that they
investigate the situation themselves. Invariably, once they recognize the level of deception, the customer drops the requirement that people be CSMs.
Another quick search of the web will find people bragging about being a CSM, presumably being motivated by the employment opportunities within the organizations gullible enough to accept Scrum certification at face value. My experience is that the people claiming to be CSMs are for the most part decent, intelligent people who 99.99% of the time have far more impressive credentials to brag about than taking a two-day course. Yet, for some reason they choose to park their integrity at the door when it comes to Scrum certification. I suspect that this happens in part because they see so many other people doing it, in part because they’re a bit desperate to obtain or retain employment in these tough economic times, and in part because the IT industry doesn’t have a widely accepted code of ethical conduct. These people not only embarrass themselves when they indicate on their business cards or in their email signatures that they’re Certified Scrum Masters they also increase the integrity debt of the agile community as a whole.
Yet another search of the web will find people bragging about being Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs), the people whom have been blessed by the Scrum Alliance to deliver Scrum master certification courses. Once again, my experience is that these are intelligent, skilled people, albeit ones who have also parked their integrity at the door in the pursuit of a quick buck. Surely these people could make a decent living via more ethical means? I know that many of them have done so in the past, so I would presume that they could do so in the future. The actions of the CSTs increase our integrity debt even further.
The group of people who have most embarrassed themselves, in my opinion, are those whom we consider thought leaders within the agile community. Leaving aside the handful who are directly involved with the Scrum certification industry, the real problem lies with those who have turned a blind eye to all of this. The Scrum certification scheme was allowed to fester within our community because few of our thought leaders had the courage to stand up and publicly state what they were talking about in private. This of course is all the more galling when you consider how much rhetoric there is around the importance of courage on software development projects. As Edmund Burke once observed, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
There are several things that we can do today to start paying off some of our integrity debt:
- Be discerning, not deceptive. If you’re going to list credentials on your email signature or business card then only choose to list the ones that actually mean something.
- Educate human resources people. Make them aware of what “Certified Scrum Master” really means and let them think for themselves. I highly suspect that if HR people realized what was going on the demand for CSMs would plummet, and in turn people wouldn’t be tempted by Scrum certification.
- Act professional, don’t just claim to be certified. Instead of signing up for every easy certification that comes your way why not simply do a good job and let the people you work with be your claim to fame? The good news is that for the past few years the agile community has tried to pay down some of the IT industry’s integrity debt that we have with our stakeholders by providing better return on investment (ROI), delivering systems which are more effective at addressing the needs of your stakeholders, by working in a more timely manner, and by producing greater quality work. All of these claims are borne out by the 2008 Software Development Project Success Rate Survey by the way.
- Recognize that adding a test doesn’t address the underlying problems. For the past year there’s been a move afoot to have people pass a test as part of earning their CSM (apparently it’s been a challenge to create a non-trivial test to validate your understanding of a topic that you can master by taking a two-day training course). This is something that should have been done from the very beginning, along with some sort of peer review, not years later when the damage has been done. Adding a test at this late date isn’t going to remove the stink that’s built up over the years, but sadly it will fool a few people into believing that they’ve covered it up.
- Recognize that there is a demand for certification. The agile community needs to put together a decent certification program, something that the Scrum Alliance has clearly failed at doing. My article Coming Soon: Agile Certification provides some thoughts as to what we need to do. The good news is that people such as Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson, and others, are putting together a developer certification program. The really good news is that these are the right people to do this. The really bad news is that they’re doing it under the aegis of the Scrum Alliance, so whatever they accomplish will unfortunately be tainted by the fallout of the CSM debacle.
If we're going to scale agile software development strategies to meet the range of challenges faced by modern organizations, we need to be trustworthy. Is claiming to be a certified master after taking a two-day course an act which engenders trust? I don't think so. As individuals we can choose to do better. As a community we need to.Suggested Reading
- Agile Certification -- A humorous look at certification.
- IT Surveys -- A great resource for statistics about what IT people are actually doing in practice.
I was recently in Bangalore speaking at the Rational Software Conference, which was really well done this year, and visiting customers. In addition to discussing how to scale agile software development approaches, particularly when the team is distributed geographically and organizationally, I was also asked about what I thought about a software factory approach to development. My instinctual reaction was negative, software factories can result in lower overall productivity as the result of over specialization of staff (I prefer generalizing specialists
), too many hand-offs between these specialists (I find close collaboration to be far more effective), and too much bureaucratic overhead to coordinate these activities. I initially chalked it up to these people still believing that software development was mostly a science, or perhaps an engineering domain, whereas my experiences had made me come to believe that software development is really more art than it is a science. Yet, the consistent belief in this strategy by very smart and experienced people started me thinking about my position.
Just let me begin by saying that this blog posting isn't meant to be yet another round in the age old, and relatively inane, "art vs. science" debate within the software development community. That debate is a symptom of versusitis
, a dread disease which particularly plagues the IT industry and which can any of us at any time. There is no known cure, although the combination of experience, open-mindedness, and critical thought are the best inoculation against versusitis that we have so far. In that vein, let me explore the issues as I see them and I will let you think for yourself.
On the one hand software development has aspects of being an art for several reasons. First, the problem definition is never precise, nor accurate, and even when we have detailed specifications the requirements invariably evolve
anyway. The lack of defined, firm requirements requires us to be flexible and to adjust to the situation that we find ourselves in. Second, teams typically find themselves in unique situations, necessitating a unique process and tool environment to reflect this (assuming that you want to be effective, otherwise there's nothing stopping you from having a "repeatable process" and consistent tool environment). Third, software is built by people for people, requiring that the development team have the ability to build a system with a user interface which meets the unique needs of their end users. One has only to look at the myriad UI designs out there to see that surely there is a bit of art going on. Fourth, if software development wasn't at least partially art then why hasn't anyone succeeded at building tools which take requirements as inputs and produce a viable solution that we can easily deploy? It's been over four decades now, so there's been sufficient time and resources available to build such tooling. Fifth, regardless of how much of a scientific/business facade we put over it, our success rate at producing up front detailed cost estimates and schedules speak for itself (see Funding Agile Projects
for links to articles).
On the other hand software development has aspects of being a science for several reasons. First, some aspects of software development have in fact been automated to a significant extent. Second, there is some mathematical basis to certain aspects of software development (although in the case of data-oriented activities the importance of relational theory
often gets blown way out of proportion and I have yet to see a situation where formal methods proved to be of practical value).
What does this have to do with Agility@Scale. As you know, one of the agile scaling factors
is Organizational Complexity, and cultural issues are the hardest to overcome. Whether your organization believes that software development is mostly an art or mostly a science is a cultural issue which will be a major driver in you choice of methods and practices. Organizations which believe that software development is more of a science will prefer strategies such as software factories, model-driven architecture (MDA),
and master data management (MDM)
. And there is ample evidence to support the claims that some organizations are succeeding at these strategies. Although you may not agree with these strategies, you need to respect the fact that many organizations are making them work in their environments. Similarly, organizations which believe that software development is more of an art will find that agile and lean strategies are a better fit, and once again there is ample evidence that organizations are succeeding with these approaches (there's also evidence that agile projects are more successful
than traditional projects, on average). Once again, you may not agree with these strategies but you need to respect the fact that other people are making them work in practice.
Trying to apply agile approaches within an organization that believes software development is mostly a science will find it difficult at best, and will likely need to embark on a multi-year program to shift their culture (likely an expensive endeavor which won't be worth the investment). Similarly, trying to apply a software factory strategy in an organization that believes that software development is mostly an art will also run aground. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all, that one strategy is
not right for all situations and that you need to understand the trade-offs of various strategies, methodologies, techniques, and practices and apply them appropriately given the situation that you face. In other words, it depends! If you are embarking on a software process initiative, and you don't have the broad experience required to effective choose between strategies (very few organizations do, although many believe otherwise), then you should consider Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF)
to help increase your chance of success.
In the early days of agile, the applications where agile development was applied were smaller in scope and relatively straightforward. Today, the picture has changed significantly and organizations want to apply agile development to a broader set of projects. Agile hence needs to adapt to deal with the many business, organization, and technical complexities today’s software development organizations are facing. This is what Agility@Scale is all about – explicitly addressing the complexities which disciplined agile delivery teams face in the real world.These agile scaling factors which we've found to be important are:
- Team size. Mainstream agile processes work very well for smaller teams of ten to fifteen people, but what if the team is much larger? What if it’s fifty people? One hundred people? One thousand people? Paper-based, face-to-face strategies start to fall apart as the team size grows.
- Geographical distribution. What happens when the team is distributed, perhaps on floors within the same building, different locations within the same city, or even in different countries? Suddenly effective collaboration becomes more challenging and disconnects are more likely to occur.
- Compliance requirement. What if regulatory issues – such as Sarbanes Oxley, ISO 9000, or FDA CFR 21 – are applicable? These issues bring requirements of their own that may be imposed from outside your organization in addition to the customer-driven product requirements.
- Enterprise discipline. Most organizations want to leverage common infrastructure platforms to lower cost, reduce time to market, and to improve consistency. To accomplish this they need effective enterprise architecture, enterprise business modeling, strategic reuse, and portfolio management disciplines. These disciplines must work in concert with, and better yet enhance, your disciplined agile delivery processes.
- Organizational complexity. Your existing organization structure and culture may reflect traditional values, increasing the complexity of adopting and scaling agile strategies within your organization. To make matters worse different subgroups within your organization may have different visions as to how they should work. Individually the strategies can be quite effective, but as a whole they simply don’t work together effectively.
- Organization distribution. Sometimes a project team includes members from different divisions, different partner companies, or from external services firms. This lack of organizational cohesion can greatly increase the risk to your project.
- Technical complexity. Some applications are more complex than others. It’s fairly straightforward to achieve high-levels of quality if you’re building a new system from scratch, but not so easy if you’re working with existing legacy systems and legacy data sources which are less than perfect. It’s straightforward to build a system using a single platform, not so easy if you’re building a system running on several platforms or built using several disparate technologies. Sometimes the nature of the problem that your team is trying to address is very complex in its own right.
Each factor has a range of complexities, and each team will have a different combination and therefore will need a process, team structure, and tooling environment tailored to meet their unique situation. Further reading: