Modified by ScottAmbler
For several years now I've written various articles and newsletters on the topics of estimating and funding strategies for software development projects, and in particular for agile software development projects. Whenever I talk to people about agile software development, or coach them in how to succeed at it, some of the very first questions that I'll be asked, particularly by anyone in a management role, is how to fund agile software development projects. Apparently a lot of people think that you can only apply agile strategies on small, straightforward projects where it makes sense to do a time and materials (T&M) approach. In fact you can apply agile strategies in a much greater range of situations, as the various surveys
that myself and others are showing time and again. My goal with this blog posting is to summarize the various strategies for, and issues surrounding, the funding of agile software development projects.
There are three basic strategies for funding projects, although several variations
clearly exist. These strategies are:
- "Fixed price". At the beginning of the project develop, and then commit to, an initial estimate based on your up-front requirements and architecture modeling efforts. Hopefully this estimate is given as a range, studies have shown that up-front estimating techniques such as COCOMO II or function points are accurate within +/- 30% most of the time although my July 2009 State of the IT Union survey found that on average organizations are shooting for +/- 11% (their actuals come in at +/- 19% on average, but only after doing things such as dropping scope, changing the estimate, or changing the schedule). Fixed-price funding strategies are very risky in practice because they promote poor behavior on the part of development teams to overcome the risks foisted upon them as the result of this poor business decision. It is possible to do agile on a fixed budget but I really wouldn't recommend it (nor would I recommend it for traditional projects). If you're forced to take a fixed-price approach, and many teams are because the business hopes to reduce their financial risk via this approach not realizing that it actually increases their risk, then adopt strategies that reduce the risk.
- Stage gate. Estimate and then fund the project for given periods of time. For example, fund the project for a 3-month period then evaluate it's viability, providing funding for another period of time only to the extent that it makes sense. Note that stages don't have to be based on specific time periods, they could instead be based on goals such as to intiate the project, prove the architecture with working code, or to build a portion of the system. Disciplined agile methods such as Open Unified Process have built in stage-gate decision points which enable this sort of strategy. When the estimation technique is pragmatic, the best approaches are to have either the team itself provide an estimate for the next stage or to have an expert provide a good gut feel estimate (or better yet have the expert work with the team to develop the estimate). Complex approaches such as COCOMO II or SLIM are often little more than a process facade covering up the fact that software estimating is more of an art or a science, and prove to be costly and time consuming in practice.
- Time and materials (T&M). With this approach you pay as you go, requiring your management team to actually govern the project effectively. Many organizations believe a T&M strategy to be very risky, which it is when your IT governance strategy isn't very effective. An interesting variation, particularly in a situation where a service provider is doing the development, is an approach where a low rate is paid for their time which covers their basic costs, the cost of materials is paid out directly, and delivery bonuses are paid for working software. This spreads the risk between the customer/stakeholder and the service provider. The service provider has their costs covered but won't make a profit unless they consistently deliver quality software.
The point is that there are several strategies for funding agile software development projects, just like there are several strategies for funding traditional software development projects. My experience is that fixed-price funding strategies are incredibly poor practice which increases the risk of your software development projects dramatically. I recognize how hard it can be to change this desire on the part of our business stakeholders, but have also had success changing their minds. If you choose to perservere, which is a difficult decision to make, you can help your organization's decision makers to adopt more effective strategies. Like you they want to improve the effectiveness of your IT efforts.Further reading: (In recommended order)
- Something's Gotta Give: Argues for a flexibly approach to funding, schedule, and/or scope.
- Agile on a Fixed Budget: Describes in detail how to take a fixed-price approach on agile projects.
- The Dire Consequences of Fixed-Price IT Projects: Describes in detail the questionable behavior exhibited by IT teams when forced to take a fixed-price approach.
- Is Fixed-Price Software Development Unethical?: Questions the entire concept of fixed-price IT projects, overviewing some of the overwhelming evidence against this really poor practice.
- Reducing the Risk of Fixed-Price Projects: Describes viable strategies for addressing some of the problems resulting from the decision of fixed-price projects.
- Strategies for Funding Software Development Projects: Describes several variations on the strategies described above.
- Lies, Great Lies, and Software Development Project Plans: Summarizes some results from the July 2009 State of the IT Union survey which explored issues related to project funding (among many).
I just wanted to share with you the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship
which extends the Agile Manifesto
. The Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship states:As aspiring Software Craftsmen we are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft. Through this work we have come to value:
- Not only working software, but also well-crafted software
- Not only responding to change, but also steadily adding value
- Not only individuals and interactions, but also a community of professionals
- Not only customer collaboration, but also productive partnerships
That is, in pursuit of the items on the left we have found the items on the right to be indispensable.
I view this manifesto as an important step in the maturation of software development. More on this in a future blog posting.[Read More
An inhibitor that I run into again and again within organizations that are still in the process of adopting agile development techniques is something that I call the "We're Special" anti-pattern. The people involved believe that their situation is special, that some unique factor in their environment makes it all but impossible to adopt agile techniques, and therefore they need to continue to work in the manner that they've always worked, regardless of the obvious inefficiencies of doing so.
An organization suffers from this agile adoption anti-pattern when they start giving domain-based or technology-based excuses for why they can't become more agile. For example, I've heard bank employees claim that "Agile works fine for building web sites, but we're building financial systems therefore agile won't work for us", telecom employees claim "Agile works fine for building financial systems, but we're building embedded systems therefore agile won't work for us", and government employees claim "Agile works fine for embedded systems, but we're building web sites therefore agile won't work for us." Needless to say I often struggle to not roll my eyes.
The reality is that the business domain that you're working in doesn't dictate your ability to adopt agile strategies. I've seen very successful agile projects in banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, retail companies, pharmacueticals (yes, life critical applications), telecoms, and government agencies. I've also met people working in those domains claim that they're special because of the inherent challenges of the domain.
Similarly, technology isn't an issue. I've seen project teams that were successful at applying agile approaches using Java, VB, COBOL, C, Linux, Windows, System Z, on PCs, and so on. Granted, some technology platforms suffer from a plethora of "agile tooling", PL/1 comes to mind and I'm sure that there's a few more niche platforms where this is the case, but with a little online searching it's often possible to find good open source tools out there (or what's stopping you from starting such a project?).
The primary issues around agile adoption are cultural in nature. Can you become more flexible in your thinking? Can you become more disciplined (agile requires greater levels of discipline than traditional approaches)? Can you build a collaborative environment with your business stakeholders? Can you move away from bureaucratic processes to ones which focus on adding real value? Can you invest in your IT staff to give them modern development skills required for test-driven development (TDD), continuous integration, and agile database techniques (to name a few)? Addressing the "people issues", the cultural issues, is the hard part of moving towards agile.
If you're looking for valid excuses for why your organization can't move to agile, here's some valid adoption inhibitors that I see in organizations all the time:
- Our project management office (PMO) has been trained and certified in traditional strategies and struggles to come to grips with agile project management techniques
- We don't have the funding to train, educate, and mentor people in agile techniques
- Middle management is threatened by agile strategies because their role clearly needs to change
- Senior technical staff, in particular our architects, don't accept the need to roll up their sleeves and be actively involved on project teams
- Our IT governance effort is not itself being governed effectively and is all but out of control, focusing on bureaucracy instead of enabling development teams to succeed
- Our data management group insists on working in a serial and documentation heavy manner
- Our QA/testing group insists on detailed requirement specifications
- Our staff is overly specialized, resulting in numerous hand-offs between analysts, developers, architects, testers, and so on
The above list is just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that the real problems that you face are cultural in nature, not domain-based nor technology-based. It is possible to overcome these inhibitors to success, but you need to understand that you're suffering from them, what the implications are, and how to overcome them. This is one of the facets of the Health Assessment portion of our new Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF) service, the goal of which is to help organizations improve their internal IT processes. Although MCIF isn't specifically about becoming more agile, the reality is that there are a lot of great agile practices out there, and some of them are good options for your organization. Assuming of course you get over your misconception that you're special for some reason and instead accept the need that you've got some hard slogging ahead of you to improve your IT game.Further reading:
In November 2011 Paul Gorans, the Accelerated Solution Delivery (ASD) practice lead in IBM GBS, and I ran an agile adoption survey
. The survey explored a range of issue, including the factors that appear to be associated with the success and failure of agile project teams. Paul wrote up his thoughts in his Agile State of the Art Survey
article on ibm.com and I did the same for Dr Dobb's Journal in Agile Success Factors
. This blog posting summarizes the results of the survey.
Factors which appear to accelerate agile adoption include:
- People are assigned to a single team
- Development teams have easy access to business expertise
- Development teams are organized for agile delivery (not traditional)
- Your organization has an agile support group/community of excellence
- Your organization is explicitly addressing barriers to agility
- There is executive sponsorship for agile
- Agile teams are measured on value creation
- Your organization's IT governance strategy includes an agile path
Factors which appear to decelerate agile adoption include:
- Agile teams are measured using traditional metrics
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
There is a fair bit of rhetoric surrounding agile methods, some of which we subscribe to and some of which we don’t. We’d like to briefly examine the rhetoric which we’ve found to be the most misleading for people trying to be effective at adopting agile techniques. The following list is in the format X but Y, where X is the rhetoric and Y is the strategy promoted by the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework. This includes:
- Requirements evolve throughout the lifecycle BUT the scope should still be agreed to at the beginning of the project. There has to be an initial vision for a project, a vision which your stakeholders should help define and then agree to, and to come to that vision you will need to perform some initial requirements envisioning. A list of high level features is part of this initial vision. Yes, the details are very likely to evolve over time but the fundamental goals of your project and scope of your effort needs to be defined early in your project. In a very small minority of situations you may not be able to get the right people together, either physically or virtually, to define the initial vision – this should be seen as a significant project risk.
- Simple designs are best BUT the architecture should be thought out early in the lifecycle. Too many developers interpret the advice to focus on simple designs to mean that they should build everything from scratch. Yet more often than not the simplest design is to take advantage of what is already there, and the best way to do that is to work closely with people who understand your existing technical infrastructure. Investing in a little bit of architectural envisioning early in the lifecycle enables your team to identify existing enterprise assets that you can leverage, to identify your architectural options, and to select what appears to be the best option available to you. The details will still emerge over time, and some decisions will be deferred until a later date when it’s more appropriate to make them, but the bottom line is that disciplined agilists think before they act.
- Teams should be self organizing BUT they are still constrained (and enhanced) by your organizational ecosystem. Intellectual workers, including IT professionals, are most effective when they have a say in what work they do and how they do it. IT professionals can improve their productivity by following common conventions, leveraging and building out a common “dev-ops” infrastructure, building towards a common vision, and by working to common business and technical visions. In short, disciplined agile professionals are "enterprise aware".
- Delivery teams don’t need prescriptive process definitions BUT they do need some high-level guidance to help organize their work. Individual IT professionals are typically highly-skilled and highly-educated people often with years of experience, and teams of such people clearly have a wide range of knowledge. As a result of this knowledge it is incredibly rare for such people to read detailed procedures for how to do their work. However, they often still require some high-level advice to help them to organize their work effectively. Teams can often benefit from techniques and patterns used by other teams and this knowledge sharing should be encouraged.
- IT professionals know what to do BUT they’re still not process experts. A decade ago the strategy was to provide detailed process advice to teams, but recently the pendulum has swung the other way to provide little or no defined process at all. Over the last few years there’s been a trend within the agile community to advise teams to define their own process so that it’s tailored to their own unique situation. While this clearly strokes people’s egos, it’s relatively poor advice for several reasons. First, although every team is in a unique situation there is significant commonality so having at least a high-level process framework from which to start makes sense. Second, although these teams have a wide range of knowledge it might not be complete, nor consistent, nor is it clear what the trade-offs are of combining all the really good techniques that people know about. There is significant benefit in having a flexible process framework such as DAD which shows how everything fits together.
- IT professionals should validate their own work to the best of their ability BUT they likely aren’t testing experts so therefore need help picking up the appropriate skills. The mantra in the agile community is to test often and test early, and better yet to test first. As a result agile teams have adopted a “whole team” approach where the development team does its own testing. This works when there are people on the team with sufficient testing skills and more importantly can transfer those skills to others. Minimally you will need to embed testers into your delivery teams, but you should also consider explicit training and mentoring of everyone on the team in testing and quality skills. You may find my agile testing and quality strategies article to be an interesting read.
- Disciplined agile teams work in an iterative manner BUT still follow a lifecycle which is serial over time. On any given day people on a DAD project team may be performing analysis, testing, design, programming, deployment, or a myriad of other activities and iterating back and forth between them. But, the DAD lifecycle includes three distinct phases which are performed in order. So, DAD is both iterative in the small but serial in the large.
Modified by ScottAmbler
An imporant step in scaling your agile strategy is to adopt a Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
approach instead of one which is just focused on agile construction. One aspect of adopting a DAD approach it to mature your focus from just producing software to instead providing a solution which meets the needs of its stakeholders within the appropriate economic, cultural, and technical constraints. The fundamental observation is that as IT professionals we do far more than just develop software. Yes, this is clearly important, but in addressing the needs of our stakeholders we will often:
Provide new or upgraded hardware
Change the business/operational processes which stakeholders follow
Change the organizational structure in which our stakeholders work
Update supporting documentation
And yes, develop high-quality 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. 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 "soft skills" such as user interface design and process design to name just two.
The shift to a solution-oriented focus from a software-oriented focus requires your agile teams to address some of the software-oriented prejudices which crept into the Agile Manifesto
. The people who wrote the manifesto (which I fully endorse) were for the most part software developers, consultants, and in many cases both. It is little wonder that this group would allow a bias towards software development creep into the language of their manifesto.
Just like there are 5Ps of marketing, there are also “5 Ps” of IT:
- People. People and the way they work together have a greater effect on the outcomes of a project than the processes they’re following or the products (tools and technologies) that they’re using. People issues include having visible executive sponsorship, building an environment of trust, empowering staff, focusing on leadership as well as management, recognizing that the primary gating factor when improving processes is people’s ability to absorb change, and promoting a cross-discipline strategy at both the team and individual levels.
- Principles/philosophies. We’ve found both internally within IBM as well as with many of our customers that there is a need to define a common set of principles to provide a consistent foundation to enable effective teamwork and continuous process improvement. These principles help to guide people’s decisions when their processes and practices don’t directly address the situation which they find themselves in.
- Practices/patterns. A practice is a self-contained, deployable component of a process. You might find the IBM Practices interesting.
- Products. This includes the technologies – such as databases, application servers, networks, and client platforms – and tools such as integrated development environments, testing tools, and project planning tools used to create solutions for stakeholders.
- Processes. The previous 4Ps do not exist in a vacuum, we need some sort of glue to help piece all of this together. Minimally this glue is a lifecycle although more often than not it is a full process or method.
My experience is that to be successful at software process improvement (SPI)
across your entire IT department that you must address these 5Ps. How you address each issue, and to what extent, will vary based on your situation.
My January 2010 DDJ Agile Update, Tragic Mistakes When Adopting Test Driven Development (TDD)
, is now online. In the article I summarize what I consider to be common, and tragic, mistakes that I'm seeing organizations make when they attempt to adopt TDD.
These mistakes include:
The article also goes into potential benefits of TDD as well as potential challenges that you're face when adopting it.