I'm often asked by customers for case studies of successful agile adoptions or agile projects in general. This is definitely a valid request, and yes, such case studies exist. But I'm often concerned that the people making these requests don't appreciate the implications of what they're asking for. My concerns with case studies are:
- The juicy information is rarely included. The information that you really want to find out, such as what went wrong and why it went wrong, is rarely discussed. If problems, oops I mean "challenges", are discussed at all they're typically glossed over in favor of focusing in on the positives. Although many people want to write up the juicy bits this information is invariably edited out through the company's vetting process. In short, my advice is to take case studies with a grain of salt.
- Some case studies are more fiction than fact. Although this isn't a problem with IBM case studies due to the governance efforts of my good friends in IBM's legal department (we love you folks, really) it can be an issue with some case studies.
- The case study may no longer be true today. Stuff happens. Perhaps the case study was mostly true at the time it was written, but now that time has passed problems have appeared that weren't apparent earlier, thus the effort wasn't as nearly as successful as it was written up. For example, a few years ago I ran into the manager of a team that I had read about in one case study, only to find out that once the study was published the key team members left the company to become consultants in that subject area. Having lost these people, who were all very highly skilled, his system proved to be unmaintainable by the rest of his staff who weren't so highly skilled and had to be rewritten. Over time the success story turned into an abject failure.
- Waiting for case studies puts you in the position of follower. For every case study that gets written, dozens, if not hundreds of similar efforts didn't get written up. Writing case studies is hard, takes time, and the writer seldom gets much benefit from doing so. The lag time between the project completing and the case study being published can be many, many months and sometimes years. The implication is that by the time you wait for several case studies that are similar to your situation you've pretty much lost all opportunity for competitive advantage and are now merely trying to catch up to the organizations who are clearly ahead of you (the writers of the case studies).
- What has the requester given back to the community? I often hear people lament that there isn't enough case studies, or isn't something close enough to their situation. Yet, when I ask them how many case studies they've written and the answer is usually none. If you want to get you also need to give. ;-)
So, next time you think you need a case study before making a decision, recognize that you may be paying a fairly high opportunity cost for information that is questionable at best.Further reading:
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.
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.
The Scrum community has adopted a different set of terms than the other agile methodologies. This is done on purpose to help people realize that Agile approaches are different than traditional approaches, which can help in their adoption, but it can also hinder people's understanding because some of the terminology is not only non-standard it really doesn't make much sense. Because of this I'm often asked by people that I'm coaching to convert back and forth between terms, and recently wrote a detailed article on the subject. The following summarizes the mapping:
- Daily Scrum Meeting ==> Daily Stand-up Meeting
- Product Backlog ==> Work Item List
- Scrum Master ==> Team Lead or Team Coach
- Sprint ==> Iteration or Time Box
For more details read my article Translating Scrum Terminology
which includes explanations of a wider range of Scrum terms and discussions of why some of them really are questionable. Further reading:
Test-driven development (TDD) is a common agile programming technique which has both specification and validation aspects. With TDD, you specify your software in detail on a just-in-time (JIT) basis via executable tests that are run in a regression manner to confirm that the system works to your current understanding of what your stakeholders require.
TDD is the combination of test-first development (TFD) and refactoring. With TFD, you write a single test (at either the requirements level with customer/acceptance tests or the design level with developer tests) and then you write just enough software to fulfill that test. Refactoring is a technique where you make a small change to your existing code to improve its design without changing its semantics.
TDD offers several benefits:1. It enables you to take small, safe steps during development, increasing programmer productivity.2. It increases quality. Agile developers are doing more testing, and doing it more often, than ever before. We're also fixing the problems that we find right on the spot.3. It helps to push validation activities early in the lifecycle, decreasing the average cost to fix defects (which rises exponentially the longer it takes you to detect them).4. Through single sourcing information, by treating tests as both specifications and as tests, we reduce the work required, increasing productivity.5. We leave behind valuable, up-to-date, detailed specifications for the people who come after us. Have you ever met a maintenance programmer who wouldn't want a full regression test suite for the code that they're working with?
But TDD isn't perfect. Although TDD is great at specifying code at a fine-grain level, tests simply don't scale to address higher level business process and architectural issues. Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) enables you to scale TDD through initial envisioning of the requirements and architecture as well as just-in-time (JIT) modeling at the beginning and during construction iterations. To scale requirements-level TDD, you must recognize that customer tests are very good at specifying the details, but not so good at providing overall context. High-level business process models, conceptual domain models, and use cases are good at doing so, and these work products are often created as part of your initial requirements envisioning and iteration modeling activities. Similarly, to scale design-level TDD you must recognize that developer tests are very finely grained but once again do not provide overall context. High-level architecture sketches created during envisioning activities help set your initial technical direction. During each construction iteration, you'll do more detailed design modeling to think through critical issues before you implement them via TDD.
You also need to scale the validation aspects of TDD. TDD is in effect an approach to confirmatory testing where you validate the system to the level of your understanding of the requirements. The fundamental challenge with confirmatory testing, and hence TDD, is that it assumes that stakeholders actually know and can describe their requirements. Therefore you need to add investigative testing practices which explore issues that your stakeholders may not have thought of, such as usability issues, system integration issues, production performance issues, security issues, and a multitude of others.
For further reading, I suggest:1. My article "Introduction to TFD/TDD" at http://www.agiledata.org/essays/tdd.html which overviews TDD.2. My February 2008 column in Dr. Dobb's Journal entitled "Scaling TDD" at http://www.ddj.com/architect/205207998 which explores this issue in detail. 3. Andrew Glover's article "In pursuit of code quality: Adventures in behavior-driven development" at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/java/library/j-cq09187/ which describes a new-and-improved take on TDD called BDD.[Read More
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
The popular Agile literature can often seam naive when it comes to how Agilists work with project stakeholders:- Extreme Programming (XP) has a practice called On-Site Customer where one or more people work closely with your team to provide information and to make decisions in a timely manner.- Scrum has the role of Product Owner who is the one single person that the development team goes to for decisions about requirements. - Agile Modeling (AM) has the practice of Active Stakeholder Participation which extends On-Site Customer to get the stakeholder(s) actively involved with the modeling effort through the use of inclusive tools and techniques.
These are great strategies for small, co-located teams doing straightforward development, but they quickly fall apart at scale. This occurs for several reasons:1. Stakeholders are a diverse group. Your stakeholders include end users, business management, project funders, enterprise architects, operations staff, support staff, other system development teams, and many others. Different people have different, and often contradictory, requirements and they certainly have different priorities. It's questionable whether a single person, or a handful of persons, can adequately represent this diverse group.2. One person becomes a bottleneck. Even with a small co-located team this is a problem, let alone one that is geographically distributed or one that is very large. There's no way that a single person can be available 24/7 in a responsive manner to support distributed teams.3. It's a difficult role. The Product Owner/Customer (POC) is responsible for representing the business to the development team. They're making important decisions on a regular basis, decisions which they'll be held accountable for.4. One person becomes a serious project risk. Not only is it questionable whether a single person can fairly represent all stakeholders, even if they could what happens if you lose that person? They effectively become a single point of failure for your team.
To scale this role, consider the following strategies:1. Recognize the true scope of the POC role. Not only are they stakeholder proxies they also are a development team representative to the stakeholder community as a whole. As stakeholder proxies they'll make decisions and prioritize the work, they'll run requirements elicitation sessions, they'll negotiate priorities, and they'll put the development team in contact with stakeholders who have expertise in specific aspects of the domain. As team representatives they'll often demo the current version of the system to other stakeholders, communicate the status of the project to people, and respond to various requests for information from the stakeholders.2. Have multiple people in it. A single POC works well for small, co-located teams developing simple software. At scale you'll soon discover that you need multiple people in this role so that they don't become a bottleneck. For distributed teams it's common to see each subteam have one or more POCs who are managed by a primary/chief POC. The primary POC typically works on the coordinating team with the chief architect (I'll talk about this role in a future blog posting) and the program manager (also a topic for a future blog posting).3. Train them in business analysis skills. The person(s) in the POC role need good business analysis skills. If fact, it's common for people who were formerly BAs for traditional teams to step into the POC role, particularly with BAs who originally come from the business side of your organization. This strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. As a BA they've likely got solid business knowledge but their instincts may motivate them to take a documentation-driven approach to providing information to the development team instead of a collaboration-based approach. Be careful.4. Consider the full system development lifecycle. There's far more to the POC role than supporting the development team during Construction iterations. During "Iteration 0", the Inception phase for an Agile RUP project or the warm-up phase for an Eclipse Way project, the POC(s) will often lead the initial requirements envisioning efforts. The product backlog, or better yet your work item list, needs to come from somewhere after all. During the release iteration(s), the Transition phase for RUP or the End-Game phase for Eclipse Way, the POC(s) will focus on communicating the upcoming release to the stakeholder community, will be actively involved with any final user acceptance testing (UAT), and may even be involved with training end users.
In my January 2008 column in Dr Dobb's Journal, posted at http://www.ddj.com/architect/204801134 , I provide detailed advice about how to scale the way that you work with stakeholders on Agile projects by applying the practices of Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD). There's no magic solution, you just need to choose to organize yourself effectively. The good news is that you can easily work with stakeholders at scale.[Read More
When adopting agile software development
techniques across a large number of teams within your organization it is important to provide a definition for what agile software development is, in addition to criteria
for what it means to be agile. Many people will point to the four values of the Agile Manifesto
and claim that's a good definition. Well... it might be a good definition for the visionaries and early adopters among us, but for people on the right-hand side of the technology adoption chasm (the early majority, late majority and the laggards) this isn't enough. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in the agile values but I like to cast them as philosophies instead of as a definition.
At IBM Software Group, the definition of disciplined agile software delivery which we have been sharing with our customers is:Disciplined agile software delivery is an evolutionary (iterative and incremental) approach to delivery which regularly produces high quality software in a cost effective and timely manner. It is performed in a highly collaborative and self-organizing manner, with active stakeholder participation to ensure that the team understand and addresses the changing needs of its stakeholders. Disciplined agile delivery teams provide repeatable results by adopting just the right amount of ceremony for the situation which they face.
I think that this is a pretty good definition, although I have no doubt that we'll evolve it over time.
I also suspect that the agile community will never settle on a common definition for what agile is and more than likely are smart enough not to even try. ;-)Further reading:
When you are first adopting agile techniques in your organization a common strategy is to run one or more pilot projects. When organizing these projects you typically do as much as you can to make them successful, such as finding:
- Projects where the stakeholders are willing to actively work with you.
- IT people who are flexible, willing to try new things, and willing to collaborate with one another.
- IT people who are generalizing specialists, or at least willing to become so.
- Finding a project which is of medium complexity (therefore it's "real" in the sense that it's significant to your organization) but not one where it can make or break your organization (therefore it's safe to experiment with).
In North America we refer to this as "cherry picking" because you're picking the cherry/best situation that you can find.
- Being agile may not have been the primary determinant of success. You set up an environment where you have a good relationship with your stakeholders, where you have good people who want to work together, and the project is challenging but not impossible. Oh, and by the way you adopted a few agile techniques as well. Sounds to me that situation you could have adopted a few not-so-agile techniques instead and still succeed. Although my various project success surveys, see my IT surveys page for details, have shown time and again that agile project teams are more successful than traditional project teams I haven't been able to tease out (yet) whether this success is attributable to agile or just attributable to improved project initiation efforts.
- When adopting agile/lean widely across your organization, you can't cherry pick any more. For the past few years I've been working with IT organizations that are in the process of adopting agile/lean strategies across their entire organization, not just across a few pilot projects. What these organizations are finding is that they need to find ways to adopt agile where the business isn't as willing to work with IT, where some of the people aren't so flexible or collaborative, where some of the people are narrowly specialized and not as willing to expand their skills, or where the project exhibits scaling factors which motivates you to tailor your agile approach. It's harder to succeed with agile in these situations because they're not as "cherry" as what you've experienced previously. Luckily, if you've been successful previously then you now have some agile experienced people, you have successes to reference, and you've likely overcome some problems even in the cherry situations which you have learned from. So, your cherry successes will hopefully improve your ability to succeed even in "non cherry" situations.
- You need to work smarter, not harder. If the source of your success was actually from improved project initiation practices and not from agile, then recognize that and act accordingly. Realistically part of your success was from that and part was from agile, and the organizations that adopt a measured improvement approach potentially have the data to determine which practices lead to success and which didn't. Without the metrics you're effectively flying blind when it comes to deciding how to improve. There is clearly a mandate for smarter work practices within IT, within your organization as a whole for that matter.
If you want to gain more insight into some of the issues that you'll face when adopting agile across your organization, I suspect that you'll find my recent paper Scaling Agile: An Executive Guide
to be interesting. I've got a more detailed paper in the works, so stay tuned to this blog.
- 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. ;-)