Agility@Scale: Strategies for Scaling Agile Software Development
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.
Recently Gina Poole blogged about IBM saved $300 million by going agile. That's not too bad when you think about it.
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):
The agile 3C rhythm is similar conceptually to Deming’s Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle:
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  agility-at-scale disciplined-agile-deliver... agile e-book sdcf 14,243 Views
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:
Material for this blog posting was adapted from Chapter 21 of Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner's Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise, published by IBM Press in June 2012.
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  agile project-management continuous-delivery devops metrics measures 11,898 Views
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:
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.
Agile requirements activities are evolutionary (iterative and incremental) and highly collaborative in nature. Initially requirements are explored at a high level via requirements envisioning at the beginning of the project and the details are explored on a just-in-time (JIT) basis via iteration modeling and model storming activities. The way that you perform these agile practices, and the extent to which you do so, depends on the situation in which a project team finds itself. The Agile Scaling Model (ASM) is a contextual framework for effective adoption and tailoring of agile practices to meet the unique challenges faced by a system delivery team of any size. To see how this works, let's apply the concepts of the ASM to see how we would scale our agile approach to requirements.
First, let's consider how a small, co-located team would work. The first two categories of the ASM are core agile development and disciplined agile delivery, the focus of both are small co-located teams in a fairly straightforward situation. In these situations simple techniques such as user stories written on index cards and sketches on whiteboards work very well, so the best advice that I can give is to stick with them. Some teams will take a test-driven development (TDD) approach where they capture their requirements and design in the form of executable specifications, although this sort of strategy isn't as common as it should be (yet!), likely because of the greater skill and discipline that it requires. Traditionalists often balk at this approach, believing that they need to document the requirements in some manner. But, for a small co-located team working in a collaborative manner, requirements documentation proves to be little more than busy work, often doing nothing more than justifying the existence of a business analyst who hasn't made the jump to agile yet. Don't get me wrong, there are good reasons to write some requirements documentation, and we'll see this in a minute, but you should always question any request for written specifications and try to find more effective ways to address the actual goal(s) motivating the request. Never forget that written documentation is the least effective communication option available to you.
Although inclusive tools such as whiteboards and paper work well for requirements, for development activities you will need electronic tools. You will either put together an environment from point-specific tools or adopt something more sophisticated such as IBM Rational Team Concert (RTC) which is already fully integrated and instrumented. RTC is a commercial tool, but luckily you can download a 10-license environment free of charge, which is just perfect for a small team. Larger teams, of course, will need to purchase licenses. One of the things that a disciplined agile delivery approach adds to core agile development is it addresses the full delivery life cycle, which is important because it explicitly includes pre-construction activities such as requirements envisioning. The first step in scaling agile techniques is to adopt a full delivery life cycle which covers the full range of activities required to initiate a project, produce the solution, and then release to solution to your end users.
More interesting is the third category of the ASM, Agility@Scale, and how its eight agile scaling factors affect the way that you tailor your process and tooling strategy. Let's explore how each one could potentially affect your agile requirements strategy:
During the second week of August the Agile 2011 conference was held in Salt Lake City (SLC). As you likely know the Agile Manifesto was formulated 10 years ago in SLC so it was apropos to hold it there. There was some excitement around the 10 year anniversary of the manifesto, with a panel session with the 17 authors of it. Sadly there seemed to be little excitement around the efforts of the 10th anniversay agile workshop in February which proposed a potential path forward for the agile community. I found the conference to be an evolutionary improvement over the conferences of the past few years, which is a very good thing because the focus since 2008 has moved beyond the "cool" new programming techniques to include the issues that enterprises face.
Starting at the Agile 2008 conference I've seen an uptick in interest in what I would consider some of the more mature topics in agile development, although I'm unfortunately still seeing significant confusion out there too, in part due to over-exuberence of people new to agile. For example, there's people still asking about basic issues about agile architecture and agile database techniques, although I was really happy to see more coherent discussions around scaling agile. My own presentation about the Agile Scaling Model was well attended and I suspect I opened a few people's eyes regarding the realities that we face (yes, there's a lot more to it than holding a "scrum of scrums", yeesh). We have a long way to go until people really start to understand scaling issues, but we're clearly on the path to getting there.
The conference show floor was interesting, with a wide range of vendors offering services and products focused on agile and lean. One thing that I noticed was many vendors had large monitors showing off their ability to support lean task boards, which for the most part they all looked the same. At the IBM booth we were showing off some of the Jazz tools, in particular Rational Team Concert (RTC). For a long time now we've been giving away fully functional, with no time limit, licenses of RTC for teams of up to 10 people. Something worth checking out.
The Agile 201x conferences hosted by the Agile Alliance are always a good investment of your time and money, and Agile 2011 was no exception. See you at Agile 2012 in the great state of Texas!
Rolf Nelson recently recorded a short (5 min) podcast about IBM Rational Team Concert (RTC). RTC is a complete agile collaborative development environment providing agile planning, source code management, work item management, build management, and project health, along with integrated reporting and process support. I've worked with RTC for a couple of years now and have been truly impressed with it. What should be of interest to many people is the Express-C version which is a free, fully-featured, 10-license version of RTC which can be easily downloaded from www.jazz.net.
ScottAmbler 120000HESD Tags:  agileexec disciplined-agile-deliver... agile agility-at-scale risk rup phases governance 6 Comments 11,440 Views
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]