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.
The ASM distinguishes between three scaling
- Core agile development. Core agile methods, such as Scrum and Agile Modeling, are self governing, have a value-driven system development lifecycle (SDLC), and address a portion of the development lifecycle. These methods, and their practices, such as daily stand up meetings and requirements envisioning, are optimized for small, co-located teams developing fairly straightforward systems.
- Disciplined agile delivery. Disciplined agile delivery processes, which include Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) and Open Unified Process (OpenUP), go further by covering the full software development lifecycle from project inception to transitioning the system into your production environment (or into the marketplace as the case may be). Disciplined agile delivery processes are self organizing within an appropriate governance framework and take both a risk and value driven approach to the lifecycle. Like the core agile development category, this category is also focused on small, co-located teams delivering fairly straightforward systems. To address the full delivery lifecycle you need to combine practices from several core methods, or adopt a method which has already done so.
- Agility at Scale. This category focuses on disciplined agile delivery where one or more scaling factors are applicable. The eight scaling factors are team size, geographical distribution, regulatory compliance, organizational complexity, technical complexity, organizational distribution, domain complexity, and enterprise discipline. All of these scaling factors are ranges, and not all of them will likely be applicable to any given project, so you need to be flexible when scaling agile approaches to meet the needs of your unique situation. To address these scaling factors you will need to tailor your disciplined agile delivery practices and in some situations adopt a handful of new practices to address the additional risks that you face at scale.
The first step in scaling agile approaches is to move from partial methods to a full-fledged, disciplined agile delivery process. Mainstream agile development processes and practices, of which there are many, have certainly garnered a lot of attention in recent years. They’ve motivated the IT community to pause and consider new ways of working, and many organizations have adopted and been successful with them. However, these mainstream strategies (such as Extreme Programming (XP) or Scrum, which the ASM refers to as core agile development strategies) are never sufficient on their own; as a result organizations must combine and tailor them to address the full delivery life cycle. When doing so the smarter organizations also bring a bit more discipline to the table, even more so than what is required by core agile processes themselves, to address governance and risk.
The second step to scaling agile is to recognize your degree of complexity. A lot of the mainstream agile advice is oriented towards small, co-located teams developing relatively straightforward systems. But once your team grows, or becomes distributed, or you find yourself working on a system that isn’t so straightforward, you find that the mainstream agile advice doesn’t work quite so well – at least not without sometimes significant modification. Each of the scaling factors introduces their own risks, and when addressed effectively can actually reduce project risk, and for your project team to succeed you will want to identify the scaling factors applicable to the situation that you face and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said (OK, in this case blogged about) than done.
IBM Rational advocates disciplined agile delivery as the minimum that your organization should consider if it wants to succeed with agile techniques. You may not be there yet, still in the learning stages. But our experience is that you will quickly discover how one or more of the scaling factors is applicable, and as a result need to change the way you work.
Modified by ScottAmbler
When I talk to people about scaling agile techniques, or about agile software development in general, I often put describe strategies in terms of various risks. I find that this is an effective way for people to understand the trade-offs that they're making when they choose one strategy over another. The challenge with this approach is that you need to understand these risks that you're taking on, and the risks that you're mitigating, with the techniques that you adopt. Therein lies the rub, because the purveyors of the various process religions ( oops I mean methodologies) rarely seem to coherently the discuss the risks which people take on (and there's always risk) when following their dogma (oops, I mean sage advice).
For example, consider the risks associated with the various strategies for initially specifying requirements or design. At the one extreme we have the traditional strategy of writing initial detailed speculations, more on this term in a minute, and at the other extreme we have the strategy of just banging out code. In between are Agile Modeling (AM) strategies such as requirements envisioning and architecture envisioning (to name a few AM strategies). Traditionalists will often lean towards the former approach, particularly when several agile scaling factors apply, whereas disciplined agile developers will lean towards initial envisioning. There are risks with both approaches.
Let's consider the risks involved with writing detailed speculations (there's that term again):
You're speculating, not specifying. There is clearly some value with doing some up-front requirements or architecture modeling, although the data regarding the value of modeling is fairly slim (there is a lot of dogma about it though), but that value quickly drops off in practice. However, the more you write the greater the chance that you're speculating what people want (when it comes to requirements) or how you're going to build it (when it comes to architecture/design). Traditionalists will often underestimate the risks that they're taking on when they write big requirements up front (BRUF) , or create big models up front (BMUF) in general, but in the case of BRUF the average is that a large percentage of the functionality produced is never used in practice -- this is because the detailed requirements "specifications" contained many speculations as to what people wanted, many of which proved to be poor guesses in practice.
You're effectively committing to decisions earlier than you should. A side effect of writing detailed speculations is that by putting in the work to document, validate, and then update the detailed speculations the decisions contained in the speculations become firmer and firmer. You're more likely to be willing to change the content of a two-page, high-level overview of your system requirements than you are to change the content of a 200-page requirements speculation that has been laboriously reviewed and accepted by your stakeholders. In effect the decision of what should be built gets "carved in stone" early in the process. One of the principles of lean software development is to defer decisions as late as possible, only making them when you need to, thereby maximizing your flexibility. In this case by making requirements decisions early in the process through writing detailed speculations, you reduce your ability to deliver functionality which meets the actual needs of your stakeholders, thereby increasing project risk.
You're increasing communication risk. We've known for decades that of all the means of communication that we have available to us, that sharing documentation with other people is the riskiest and least effective strategy available to us for communicating information (face-to-face communication around a shared sketching environment is the most effective). At scale, particularly when the team is large or the team geographically distributed, you will need to invest a little more time producing specifications then when the team is co-located, to reduce the inherent risks associated with those scaling factors, but that doesn't give you license to write huge tomes. Agile documentation strategies still apply at scale. Also, if you use more sophisticated tooling you'll find it easier to promote collaboration on agile teams at scale.
You're traveling heavy. Extreme Programming (XP) popularized the concept of traveling light. The basic idea is that any artifact that you create must be maintained throughout the rest of the project (why create a document if you have no intention of keeping it up to date). The implication is that the more artifacts you create the slower you work due to the increased maintenance burden.
There are also risks involved with initial envisioning:
You still need to get the details. Just because you're not documenting the details up front doesn't imply that you don't need to understand them at some point. Agile Modeling includes several strategies for exploring details throughout the agile system development life cycle (SDLC), including iteration modeling performed at the beginning of each iteration as part of your overall iteration planning activities, just in time (JIT) model storming throughout the iteration, and test-driven development (TDD) for detailed JIT executable specification.
You need access to stakeholders. One of the fundamental assumptions of agile approaches is that you'll have active stakeholder participation throughout a project. You need to be able to get information from your stakeholders in a timely manner for the previously listed AM techniques to work effectively. My experience is that this is fairly straightforward to achieve if you educate the business as to the importance of doing so and you stand up and fight for it when you need to. Unfortunately many people don't insist on access to stakeholders and put their projects at risk as a result.
You may still need some documented speculations. As noted previously you may in fact need to invest in some specifications, particularly at scale, although it's important to recognize the associated risks in doing so. For example, in regulatory compliance situations you will find that you need to invest more in documented speculations simply to ensure that you fulfill your regulatory obligations (my advice, as always, is to read the regulations and then address them in a practical manner).
The ways that you approach exploring requirements, and formulating architecture/design, are important success criteria regardless of your process religion/methodology. No strategy is risk free, and every strategy makes sense within given criteria. As an IT professional you need to understand the risks involved with the various techniques so that you can make the trade-offs best suited for your situation. One process size does not fit all.
My final advice is to take a look at the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework as it provides a robust strategy for addressing the realities of agile software development in enterprise settings.
People who are new to agile are often confused about how agile teams address architecture, but luckily we're seeing more discussion around agile architecture
now in the community so this problem is slowly being addressed from what I can tell. But, what I'm not seeing enough discussion about, at least not yet, is how is enterprise architecture addressed in the overall agile ecosystem. So I thought I'd share some thoughts on the subject, based on both my experiences over the years (see the recommended resources at the bottom of this posting) as well as on an enterprise architecture survey
which I ran in January/February 2010.
My belief is that effective enterprise architecture, particularly in an agile environment, is:
- Business driven. Minimally your EA effort should be driven by your business, not by your IT department. Better yet it should be business owned, although this can be a challenge in many organizations because business executives usually aren't well versed in EA and view it as an IT function. Yes, IT is clearly an important part of EA but it's not the entirety of EA nor is it the most critical part. In many organizations the IT department initiates EA programs, typically because the business doesn't know to do so, but they should quickly find a way to educate the business in the need to own your organization's EA efforts.
- Evolutionary. Your enterprise architecture should evolve over time, being developed iteratively and introduced incrementally over time. An evolutionary approach enables you act on the concrete feedback that you receive when you try to actually implement it, thereby enabling you to steer its development successfully.
- Collaborative. The EA survey clearly pointed to "people issues" being critical determinants of success, and of failure, of EA programs. My experience is that the best enterprise architects, just like the best application architects, work closely with the intended audience of their work, both on the business side of things as well as on the IT side. They will "roll up their sleeves" and become active members of development teams, often in the role of Architecture Owner on agile teams or Architect on more traditional teams. Their mission is to ensure that the development teams that they work with leverage the EA, to mentor developers in architecture skills, and to identify what works and what doesn't in practice so that they can evolve the EA accordingly. Enterprise architects, architects in general, who don't participate actively on development teams (holding architecture reviews isn't active participation) run the risk of being thought of as "ivory tower" and thus easy to ignore.
- Focused on producing valuable artifacts. The most valuable artifacts are useful to the intended audience, are light weight, and ideally are executable. Many EA programs run aground when the enterprise architects focus on artifacts that they've always wanted but that development teams really aren't very excited about -- yes, it might be interesting to have a comprehensive comparison of cloud technologies versus mainframe technologies, but a collection of reusable services would be fare more interesting to them. A detailed enterprise data model indicating suggested data attributes would be intellectually interesting to develop, but a list of legacy data sources with a high-level description of their contents would be immediately valuable to many development teams. A detailed model depicting desired web services would be useful, but an actual collection of working services that I can reuse now would be even better.
- An explicit part of development. In Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) architectural activities are an explicit part of the overall delivery process. Part of the architectural advice is that delivery teams should work closely with their organization's enterprise architects so that they can leverage the common infrastructure, and sometimes to help build it out, effectively. Disciplined agile teams realize that they can benefit greatly by doing so.
The Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
calls out addressing enterprise disciplines, such as enterprise architecture, as one of eight scaling factors which may apply to a given project. The interesting thing about this scaling factor is that it's the only one where things get potentially easier for development teams when we move from the simple approach, having a project focus, to the more complex approach, where we have an enterprise focus. By having a common infrastructure to build to, common guidelines to follow, and valuable artifacts to reuse project teams can benefit greatly. So, I guess my advice is to seriously consider adding enterprise disciplines to your agile strategy.Recommended Resources:
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.
Modified by ScottAmbler
One of the scaling factors called out in the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF) is domain complexity. The general idea is that agile teams will find themselves in different situations where some teams are developing fairly straightforward solutions, such as an informational website, whereas others are addressing very complex domains, such as building an air-traffic control system (ATCS). Clearly the team building an ATCS will work in a more sophisticated manner than the one building an informational website. I don't know whether agile techniques have been applied in the development of an ATCS, although I have to think that agile's greater focus on quality and working collaboratively with stakeholders would be very attractive to ATCS delivery teams, I do know that agile is being applied in other complex environments: The 2009 Agility at Scale Survey found that 18% of respondents indicated that their organizations had success at what they perceived to be very complex problem domains,.
Increased domain complexity may affect your strategy in the following ways:
Reaching initial stakeholder consensus becomes difficult. One of the risk reduction techniques called out in Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is to come to (sufficient) stakeholder consensus at the beginning of the project during the Inception phase (called Sprint 0 in Scrum or Iteration 0 in other agile methods). Stakeholder consensus, or perhaps "near concensus" or "reasonable agreement" are better terms, can be difficult to come to the more complex the problem domain is because the stakeholders may not fully understand the implications of what they're making decisions about and because there is likely a greater range of stakeholders with differing goals and opinions. The implication is that your project initiation efforts may stretch out, increasing the chance that you'll fall back on the old habits of big requirements up front (BRUF) and incur the costs and risks associated with doing so.
Increased prototyping during inception. It is very common for disciplined agile teams to do some light-weight requirements envisioning during inception to identify the scope of what they're doing and to help come to stakeholder consensus. The greater the complexity of the domain, and particularly the less your team understands about the domain, the more likely it is that you'll benefit from doing some user interface (UI) prototyping to explore the requirements. UI prototyping is an important requirements exploration technique regardless of paradigm, and it is something that you should consider doing during both initial requirements envisioning as well as throughout the lifecycle to explore detailed issues on a just in time (JIT) manner.
Holding "all-hands reviews". One strategy for getting feedback from a wide range of people is to hold an "all hands review" where you invite a large group of people who aren't working on a regular basis with your team to review your work to date. This should be done occasionally throughout the project to validate that the input that you're getting from your stakeholder represenatives/product owners truly reflects the needs of the stakeholders which they represent. The 2010 How Agile Are You? Survey found that 42% of "agile teams" reported running such reviews.
Increased requirements exploration. Simple modeling techniques work for simple domains. Complex domains call for more complex strategies for exploring requirements. The implication is that you may want to move to usage scenarios or use cases from the simpler format of user stories to capture critical nuances more effectively. A common misunderstanding about agile is that you have to take a "user story driven approach" to development. This is an effective strategy in many situations, but it isn't a requirement for being agile.
The use of simulation. You may want to take your prototyping efforts one step further and simulate the solution. This can be done via concrete, functional prototypes, via simulation software, via play acting, or other strategies.
Addition of agile business analysts to the team. Analysis is so important to agile teams we do it every day. In situations where the domain is complex, or at least portions of the domain is complex, it can make sense to have someone who specializes in exploring the domain so as to increase the chance that your team gets it right. This is what an agile business analyst can do. There are a few caveats. First, even though the domain is complex you should still keep your agile analysis efforts as light, collaborative, and evolutionary as possible. Second, this isn't a reason to organize your team as a collection of specialists and thereby increase overall risk to your project. The agile analyst may be brought on because their specialized skills are required, but the majority of the people on the team should still strive to be generalizing specialists. This is also true of the agile analyst because their may not be eight hours a day of valuable business analysis work on the team, and you don't want the BA filling in their time with needless busy work.
The important thing is to recognize that the strategies which work well when you're dealing with a simple domain will not work well for a complex domain. Conversely, techniques oriented towards exploring complex domains will often be overkill for simple domains. Process and tooling flexiblity is key to your success.
A few days later someone asked a series of questions that I thought would make an interesting blog posting, so here goes:How much of IBM's projects (in percentage) are agile at the moment?
I don’t have exact numbers, but I believe that 90%+ of our teams in SWG are applying agile techniques in practical ways that make sense for their projects. The primary goal is to be effective – in frequent releases, higher quality, and happy customers – not just agile. By the way, there is roughly 30,000 developers in SWG.Can all of IBM's projects work with an agile methodology?
It’s certainly possible, but it may not always make sense. Products that are in maintenance mode with few bugs or feature requirements may not benefit as much from agile practices -- those teams will likely continue to do whatever it is that they have been doing. Having said that, it's still highly desirable to apply agile techniques on maintenance projects.
Also, agile methods can be harder to use on some projects than others, for example, around hardware development. As a general rule, I believe that the majority of software projects can benefit from agile techniques. The primary determinant of whether a team can adopt agile techniques is culture and skill – not team size, the domain, or the degree of geographic distribution. That notion surprises many people who think that large agile teams
or geographically distributed agile teams
can’t succeed in adopting agile practices.Are agile projects sub-parts of large waterfall projects?
In some cases, that may happen. I’m sure it’s also true in reverse. We see many customers who are migrating from waterfall projects to a more agile way of doing things, and they often start this migration with smaller sub-projects. At IBM, we have tens of thousands of developers worldwide on hundreds of teams, so we have examples of pretty much any combination of agile, iterative, and traditional practices that you can imagine. There’s definitely not one size that fits all, which is a key aspect of the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
process framework.What do you think the impact of these numbers will be on the PM community?
The IBM PM community is embracing agile. And the reality is that a majority of development organizations around the world are moving to agile now as well (as much as 80% in some of the recent studies I’ve seen). I look forward to the increased adoption of agile methods by the PM community in general. The fact that PMI now offers an Agile Certified Practitioner training program certainly underscores the fact that agile practices are being adopted widely in the mainstream which is a great thing to see.
There is a distinct rhythm, or cadence, at different levels of the agile process. We call this the agile 3C rhythm, for coordinate, collaborate, and conclude (which is sometimes called stabilize). The agile 3C rhythm occurs at three levels in Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD):
- Day. A typical day begins with a short coordination meeting, called a Scrum meeting in the Scrum method. After the daily coordination meeting the team collaborates throughout most of the day to perform their work. The day concludes with a working build, hopefully you had several working builds throughout the day, which depending on your situation may require a bit of stabilization work to achieve.
- Iteration. DAD construction iterations begin with an iteration planning session (coordinate) where the team identifies a detailed task list of what needs to be done that iteration. Note that iteration modeling is often part of this effort. Throughout the iteration they collaborate to perform the implementation work. They conclude the iteration by producing a potentially consumable solution, a demo of that solution to key stakeholders, and a retrospective to identify potential improvements in the way that they work.
- Release. The DAD lifecycle calls out three explicit phases - Inception, Construction, and Transition – which map directly to coordinate, collaborate, and conclude respectfully.
The agile 3C rhythm is similar conceptually to Deming’s Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle:
- Coordinate maps to plan
- Collaborate maps to do
- Conclude maps to check and act
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.
Modified by ScottAmbler
IBM Rational recently published an update to my Agility@Scale e-book, which can be downloaded free of charge. The e-book is a 21 page, 2.3 meg PDF (sorry about the size, guess the graphics did it) . It overviews the Agile Scaling Model (ASM) (which has since been replaced by the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF) ), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), the scaling factors of agility at scale, and ends with some advice for becoming as agile as you can be. In short it's a light-weight coverage of some of the things I've been writing about in this blog the past couple of years. Could be a good thing to share with the decision makers in your organization if they're considering adoption agile strategies.
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:
You adopt "standard" agile discipline
. Aspects of agile which require discipline
include adopting practices such as test-driven development (TDD), active stakeholder participation, working collaboratively, shortening the feedback cycle
, and many more. These strategies are a great start to becoming disciplined IT professionals.
You take a goal-driven approach
. When we first started working on the DAD framework I didn't want to create yet another prescriptive framework, particularly given Rational's track record with the Rational Unified Process (RUP) framework. Rational has been pilloried for years for the prescriptive nature of RUP, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of great ideas in RUP that agile teams can benefit from, some of which we adopted in DAD and many of which are being actively reinvented with the agile community even as you read this. Furthermore, there are many prescriptive elements of the Scrum method that can get teams in trouble. For example, Scrum prescribes that you hold a daily stand up meeting, often called a Scrum meeting, where everyone should answer three questions. That's a great approach for teams new to agile, but it proves problematic in many situations due to it's prescriptive nature. Do you really need to do this once a day? I've been on teams where we held coordination meetings twice a day and others only once a week. Do you really need to stand up? I've been on geographically distrubited agile teams where many of us were sitting down during coordination calls. Do you really need to answer three questions, two of which are clearly focused on status regardless of claims otherwise? I've been on lean teams where we met around our Kanban board and focused on potential blockers. The answers to these questions depends on the context of the situation you find yourself in. The challenge, at least from the point of view of a process framework, is how do you avoid falling into the trap of being overly prescriptive. The strategy we adopted in DAD is to take a goal-driven approach. The observation is that regardless of the situation you find yourself in there are common goals your team will need to fulfill. For example, at the beginning of a project common goals include developing an initial plan, initially exploring the scope, initially identifying a technical strategy, and securing initial funding (amongst others). Throughout construction you should coordinate your activities, improve the quality of your ecosystem, and produce a potentially consumable solution on a regular basis (more on this below). So, instead of prescribing a daily stand up meeting the DAD framework instead indicates you should coordinate your activities, and gives several options for doing so (one of which is a Scrum meeting). More importantly DAD describes the advantages and disadvantages of your options so that you can make the choice that's best suited for the situation your team finds itself in (see this blog posting
for a detailed example of the types of tables included in the DAD book to help you through such process tailoring decisions). In short, our experience is that it requires discipline to take a goal driven approach
to agile delivery over the prescriptive strategies in other agile processes.
You take a context-driven approach
. There are many tailoring factors, which I describe in the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF)
, which you need to consider when making process, tooling, and team structure decisions. For example, a large team will adopt a different collection of practices and tools than a small team. A geographically distributed team will adopt a different strategy than a team that is co-located. You get the idea. Other tailoring factors include compliance, team culture, organization culture, technical complexity, domain complexity, and project type. It requires discipline to recognize the context of the situation you find yourself in and then act accordingly.
You deliver potentially consumable solutions
. One of the observations that we made early in the development of the DAD framework was that disciplined agile teams produce potentially consumable solutions, not just potentially shippable software. Although delivery of high-quality, working software is important it is even more important that we deliver high-quality working solutions to our stakeholders. For example, not only are we writing software but we may also be updating the hardware on which it runs, writing supporting documentation, evolving the business processes around the usage of the system, and even evolving the organizational structure of the people working with the system. In other words, disciplined agilists focus on solutions over software
. Furthermore, "potentially shippable" isn't sufficient: not only should it be shippable but it should also be usable and should be something people want to use. In other words it should be consumable (a concept DAD adopted from IBM's Outside In Development
). Minimally IT professionals should have the skills and desire to produce good software, but what they really need are the skills and desire to provide good solutions. We need strong technical skills, but we also need strong "
such as user interface design and process design to name just two.
The incremental delivery of potentially consumable solutions on an incremental basis requires discipline
to do successfully. DAD teams focus on repeatable results not repeatable processes
You are enterprise aware
. Whether you like it or not, as you adopt agile you will constrained by the organizational ecosystem, and you will need to act accordingly. It takes discipline to work with enterprise professionals such as enterprise architects, data admistrators, portfolio managers, or IT governance people who may not be completely agile yet, and have the patience to help them. It takes discipline to work with your operations and support staff in a DevOps
manner throughout the lifecycle, particularly when they may not be motivated to do so. It requires discipline to accept and potentially enhance existing corporate development conventions (programming guidelines, data guidelines, UI guidelines, ...). It requires discipline to accept that your organization has an existing technology roadmap that you should be leveraging, building out, and in some cases improving as you go. In short, enterprise awareness requires a level of discipline
not typically seen on many agile teams.
You adopt a full delivery lifecycle
. Empirically it is very easy to observe that at the beginning of an agile project there are some activities that you need to perform to initiate the project. Similarly at the end of the project there are activities that you need to perform to release the solution into production or the marketplace. The DAD process framework addresses the effort required for the full delivery effort, including project initiation, construction, and deployment. Our experience is that it requires discipline on the part of IT professionals to include explicit phases
for Inception/Initation, Construction, and Transition/Deployment and more importantly to focus the appropriate amount of effort on each. One danger of explicit phases is that you run the risk of taking what's known as a Water-Scrum-Fall
approach, a term coined by Dave West the person who wrote the forward for the DAD book, where you take an overly heavy/traditional approach to inception and transition in combination with a lighter agile approach to construction. Water-Scrum-Fall occurs because many organizations haven't made a full transition to agile, often because they think it's only applicable to construction. Our experience is that you can be very agile in your approach to inception and transition, experience we've built into the DAD framework. Having said that it clearly requires discipline to keep inception activities short
and similarly it requires discipline to reduce the "transition phase" to an activity
You adopt a wider range of roles
. An interesting side effect of adopting a full delivery lifecycle is that you also need to adopt a more robust set of roles. For example, the Scrum method suggests three roles - Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Team Member - a reflection of the Scrum lifecycle's construction focus. DAD suggests three primary roles - Team Lead, Product Owner, Team Member, Architecture Owner
, and Stakeholder - as well as five secondary roles which may appear at scale.
You embrace agile governance
. Governance establishes chains of responsibility, authority and communication in support of the overall enterprise’s goals and strategy. It also establishes measurements, policies, standards and control mechanisms to enable people to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively. You do this by balancing risk versus return on investment (ROI), setting in place effective processes and practices, defining the direction and goals for the department, and defining the roles that people play with and within the department. It requires discipline to adopt an agile approach to governance
, and that's something built right into the DAD framework.
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:
- Geographical distribution. The majority of agile teams are distributed in some manner -- some people are working in cubicles or private offices, on different floors, in different buildings, or even in different countries -- and when this happens your communication and coordination risks goes up. To counter this risk you will need to perform a bit more requirements envisioning up front to help ensure that everyone is working to the same vision, although this doesn't imply that you need to write detailed requirements speculations which would dramatically increase the risk to your project. Remember, agilists do just barely enough modeling and are prepared to iteratively elicit the details when they need to do so. The more distributed the team is the more likely they will need to adopt software-based requirements modeling tools such as IBM Rational Requirements Composer (RRC) which supports streamlined, agile requirements elicitation throughout the delivery life cycle. Index cards and whiteboards are great, but they're difficult to see if you're outside the room where they're posted. I've written a fair bit about distributed agile development in this blog.
- Team size. Some organizations, including IBM, are successfully applying agile techniques with teams of hundreds of people. A team of one hundred people will naturally work much differently than a team of ten people, or of one thousand people. Large teams are organized into collections of smaller teams, and the requirements for the overall project must be divvied up somehow between those teams. The implications are that as the team size grows you will need to invest a bit more time in initial requirements envisioning, and in initial architecture envisioning for that matter; you will need to use more sophisticated tools; and may need to use more sophisticated modeling techniques such as use cases and functional user interface prototypes. See large agile teams for more advice.
- Compliance requirement. When regulatory issues – such as Sarbanes Oxley, ISO 9000, or FDA CFR 21 – are applicable you are likely going to be required to capture requirements specifications in some manner and to enact traceability between those requirements. However, I highly recommend that you read the actual regulations yourself and don't let bureaucrats interpret them for you (doesn't it always seem that their interpretation always results in an onerous, documentation heavy solution?) because I have yet to run into a regulation which required you to work in an ineffective manner. Managing your requirements as work items in RTC can often more than meet your regulatory requirements for documentation and traceability, although you may want to consider a tool such as IBM Rational RequisitePro for complex regulatory situations.
- Domain complexity. The manner in which you elicit requirements for a data entry application or an informational web site will likely be much simpler than for a bio-chemical process monitoring or air traffic control system. More complex domains will require greater emphasis on exploration and experimentation, including but not limited to prototyping, modeling, and simulation. Although user stories may be effective as a primary requirements artifact in simple domains, in more complex domains you are likely to find that you need to drive your requirements effort with more sophisticated modeling techniques.
- Organization distribution. Sometimes a project team includes members from different divisions, different partner companies, or from external services firms. In these cases, particularly where the work is strictly organized between the various organizations (perhaps for security concerns), you may need a more sophisticated approach to managing the requirements. RTC enables you to organize the requirements between teams, and then to automatically track progress in real time via the RTC project dashboard.
- Technical complexity. The technical complexity of a solution can vary widely, from a single platform silo application to a multi-platform application working with legacy systems and data to a full-blown systems engineering effort. Complex technical domains, just like complex business domains, require more complex strategies for requirements elicitation and management. The requirements for your legacy systems are likely to have been captured using tools and techniques appropriate for that platform, for example the requirements for your COBOL application may have been captured using data flow diagrams and data models, whereas the requirements for your Java legacy application where captured using UML diagrams. The subteam working on the COBOL system might be using IBM Rational Application Developer (RAD) and RTC for Z whereas the Java subteam may use Eclipse with RTC. Because systems engineering projects can stretch on for years, particularly when the hardware is being developed in parallel to the software, sophisticated tooling such as IBM Rational DOORS is often used in these situations. For more information about systems engineering, see the IBM Rational Harmony process.
- Organizational complexity. Your approach to requirements elicitation and management will be affected by a host of organizational complexities, including your corporate culture. When the culture is flexible and collaborative you can be very agile in your approach to requirements, but as it becomes more rigid you become more constrained in what is considered acceptable and thus take on greater project risk. For example, many organizations still struggle with their approach to funding projects, often demanding that the project team provides an "accurate" estimate up front to which they will be held to. This in turn motivates risky behavior on the part of the development, including a "big requirements up front (BRUF)" approach where a detailed requirements speculation is developed early in the project. This is just one example of how questionable corporate culture can impact the way in which an agile team works.
- Enterprise discipline. Some organizations have enterprise-level disciplines, such as enterprise architecture, enterprise business modeling, strategic reuse, and portfolio management in place. These disciplines can easily be agile and from what I can tell the more successful efforts appear to lean more towards the agile end of the spectrum rather than the traditional end. Having an enterprise business modeling effort underway will affect your project-level requirements strategy -- you'll be able to leverage existing models, have access to people who understand the domain at an enterprise level, and will likely need to map your project efforts back to your enterprise models. The enterprise modelers will likely be using tools such as IBM Rational System Architect or IBM Websphere Business Modeler.
It is important to note that the way that you tailor the agile practices that you follow, and the tools that you use, will reflect the situation that you find yourself in. In other words, you need to right size your process and the Agile Scaling Model (ASM) provides the context to help you do so. As you saw above, in simpler situations you will use the simpler tools and techniques which are commonly promoted within the core agile development community. But, when things become a bit more complex and one or more of the scaling factors applies you need to modify your approach -- just don't forget that you should strive to be as agile as you can be given the situation that you find yourself in.
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!
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
- 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. ;-)
Modified by ScottAmbler
I was recently involved in an online discussion about how to calculate the benefits realized by software development teams. As with most online discussions it quickly devolved into camps and the conversation didn’t progress much after that. In this case there was what I would characterize as a traditional project camp and a much smaller agile/lean product camp. Although each camp had interesting points, the important thing for me in the conversation was the wide cultural and experience gap between the people involved in the conversation.
The following diagram summarizes the main viewpoints and the differences between them. The traditional project camp promoted a strategy where the potential return on investment (ROI) for a project would be calculated, a decision would be made to finance the project based (partly) on that ROI, the project would run, the solution delivered into production, and then at some point in the future the actual ROI would be calculated. Everyone was a bit vague on how the actual ROI would be calculated, but they agreed that it could be done although would be driven by the context of the situation. Of course several people pointed out that it rarely works that way. Even if the potential ROI was initially calculated it would likely be based on wishful thinking and it would be incredibly unlikely that the actual ROI would be calculated once the solution was in production. This is because few organizations are actually interested in investing the time to do so and some would even be afraid to do so. Hence the planned and actual versions of the traditional strategy in the diagram.
The agile/lean camp had a very different vision. Instead of investing in upfront ROI calculation, which would have required a fair bit of upfront requirements modelling and architectural modelling to get the information, the idea was that we should instead focus on a single feature or small change. If this change made sense to the stakeholders then it would be implemented, typically on the order of days or weeks instead of months, and put quickly into production. If your application is properly instrumented, which is becoming more and more common given the growing adoption of DevOps strategies, you can easily determine whether the addition of the new feature/change adds real value.
Cultural differences get in your way
The traditional project camp certainly believed in their process. In theory it sounded good, and I’m sure you could make it work, but in practice it was very fragile. The long feedback cycle, potentially months if not years, pretty much doomed the traditional approach to measuring benefits of software development to failure. The initial ROI guesstimate was often a work of fiction and rarely would it be compared to actuals. The cultural belief in bureaucracy motivated the traditional project camp to ignore the obvious challenges with their chosen approach.
The agile/lean camp also believed in their strategy. In theory it works very well, and more and more organizations are clearly pulling this off in practice, but it does require great discipline and investment in your environment. In particular, you need investment in modern development practices such as continuous integration (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and instrumented solutions (all important aspects of a disciplined agile DevOps strategy). These are very good things to do anyway, it just so happens that they have an interesting side effect of making it easy (and inexpensive) to measure the actual benefits of changes to your software-based solutions. The cultural belief in short feedback cycles, in taking a series of smaller steps instead of one large one, and in their ability to automate some potentially complex processes motivated the agile/lean camp to see the traditional camp as hopeless and part of the problem.
Several people in the traditional project camp struggled to understand the agile/lean approach, which is certainly understandable given how different that vision is compared with traditional software development environments. Sadly a few of the traditionalists chose to malign the agile/lean strategy instead of respectfully considering it. They missed an excellent opportunity to learn and potentially improve their game. Similarly the agilists started to tune out, dropping out of the conversation and forgoing the opportunity to help others see their point of view. In short, each camp suffered from cultural challenges that prevented them from coherently discussing how to measure the benefits of software development efforts.
How Should You Measure the Effectiveness of Software Development?
Your measurement strategy should meet the following criteria:
Measurements should be actioned. Both the traditional and agile/lean strategies described above meet this criteria in theory. However, because few organizations appear willing to calculate ROI after deployment as the traditional approach recommends, in practice the traditional strategy rarely meets this criteria. It is important to note that I used the word actioned, not actionable. Key difference.
There must be positive value. The total cost of taking a measure must be less than the total value of the improvement in decision making you gain. I think that the traditional strategy falls down dramatically here, which is likely why most organizations don’t actually follow it in practice. The agile/lean strategy can also fall down WRT this criterion but is much less likely to because the feedback cycle between creating the feature and measuring it is so short (and thus it is easier to identify the change in results to the actual change itself).
The measures must reflect the situation you face. There are many things you can measure that can give you insight into the ROI of your software development efforts. Changes in sales levels, how often given screen or function is invoked, savings incurred from a new way of working, improved timeliness of information (and thereby potentially better decision making), customer retention, customer return rate, and many others. What questions are important to you right now? What measures can help provide insight into those questions? It depends on the situation that you face, there are no hard and fast rules. For a better understanding of complexity factors faced by teams, see The Software Development Context Framework.
The measures should be difficult to game. Once again, traditional falls down here. ROI estimates are notoriously flakey because they require people to make guesses about costs, revenues, time frames, and other issues. The measurements coming out of your instrumented applications are very difficult to game because they’re being generated as the result of doing your day-to-day business.
The strategy must be compatible with your organization. Once again, this is a “it depends” type of situation. Can you imagine trying to convince an agile team to adopt the traditional strategy, or vice versa? Yes, you can choose to improve over time.
Not surprisingly, I put a lot more faith in the agile/lean approach to measuring value. Having said that, I do respect the traditional strategy as there are some situations where it may in fact work. Just not as many as traditional protagonists may believe.