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I'm happy to announce that A Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum by Elizabeth Woodward, Steffan Surdek, and Matthew Ganis is now in print. I've been talking this book up in presentations and with customers the past few months and promised that I would let everyone know once it was available. I was one of several people who wrote forewords for the book, Ken Schwaber, Roman Pichler, and Matthew Wang also did so, and I've modified my foreword below to help you to understand a bit better what the book is about.
If you’re thinking about buying this book, you’re probably trying to answer one or more of the following questions: “What will I learn?”, “Should I spend my hard earned money on this book?”, “Will it be worth my valuable time to read it?”, and “Is this a book that I’ll refer to again and again?” To help you answer these questions, I thought I’d list a few user stories which I believe this book clearly fulfills:
As a reader I want:
a book that is well-written and understandable real-world examples that I can relate to
quotes from actual people doing this in the field
to understand the challenges that I’ll face with distributed agile development
As someone new to agile I want to:
learn the fundamentals of Scrum
understand the fundamentals of agile delivery
learn about what actually works in practice
discover how extend Scrum into an agile delivery process
As an experienced agile practitioner I want to learn:
how to scale agile approaches for distributed teams
how to overcome the challenges faced by distributed teams
how to tailor existing agile practices to reflect the realities of distribution
bout “new” agile practices which we might need to adopt
techniques so that distributed team members can communicate effectively
how to extend Scrum with proven techniques from Extreme Programming, Agile Modeling, and other agile methods
how to address architectural issues on a distributed agile team
how agile teams address documentation
how agile teams can interact effectively with non-agile teams
As a Scrum Master I want to learn how to:
lead a distributed agile team
facilitate a distributed “Scrum of Scrums”
facilitate the successful initiation of a distributed agile project
facilitate communication and collaboration between distributed team members
As a Product Owner I want to learn:
how to manage a product backlog on a distributed team
about different categories of stakeholders whom I will need to represent
about techniques to understand and capture the goals of those stakeholders
how to manage requirements with other product owners on other sub-teams
what to do during an end-of-sprint review
how I can streamline things for the delivery team that I’m working with
As an agile skeptic I want to:
see examples of how agile works in practice
hear about the challenges faced by agile teams
hear about where agile strategies don’t work well and what to do about it
I work with organizations around the world helping them to scale agile strategies to meet their real-world needs. Although this book is focused on providing strategies for dealing with geographical distribution, it also covers many of the issues that you’ll run into with large teams, complex problem domains and complex technical domains. An important aspect of scaling agile techniques is to first recognize that’s there’s more to scalability than dealing with large teams, something which this book clearly demonstrates.
At the risk of sounding a bit corny, I’ve eagerly awaited the publication of this book for some time. I’ve known two of the authors, Elizabeth and Matt, for several years and have had the pleasure of working with them and learning from them as a result. Along with hundreds of other IBMers I watched this book get written and provided input where I could. The reason why I’m so excited about it is that I’ve wanted something that I could refer the customers to that I work with and honestly say, “yes, we know that this works because this is what we do in practice”.
IBM is doing some very interesting work when it comes to scaling agile. We haven’t published enough externally, in my opinion, due to a preference for actively sharing our experiences internally. This book collects many of our experiences into a coherent whole and more importantly shares them outside the IBM process ecosystem. Bottom line is that I think that you’ll get a lot out of this book.
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
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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.
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:
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One of the scaling factors called out in the Software Development Context Framework is “geographic distribution". As with the other scaling factors the level of geographic distribution is a range, with co-located teams at one extreme and far-located at the other. When your team is co-located the developers and the primary stakeholders are all situated in the same work room. If you have some team members in cubicles or in separate offices then you're slightly distributed, if you're working on different floors in the same building you're a bit more distributed, if you're working in different buildings within the same geographic area (perhaps your team is spread across different office buildings in the same city or some people work from home some days) then your team is more distributed, if people are working in different cities in the same country you're more distributed, and finally if people are working in different cities around the globe you're even more distributed (I call this far located).
As your team becomes more distributed your project risk increases for several reasons:
Communication challenges. The most effective means of communication between two people is face-to-face around a shared sketching space such as a whiteboard, and that requires you to be in the same room together. As you become more distributed you begin to rely on less effective communication strategies.
Temporal challenges. When people are in different time zones it becomes harder to find common working times, increasing the communication challenges. One potential benefit, however, is the opportunity to do "follow-the-sun" development where a team does some work during their workday, hands off the work to another team in a significantly different time zone, who picks up the work and continues with it. This strategy of course requires a high degree of sophistication and discipline on the part of everyone involved, but offers the potential to reduce overall calendar time.
Cultural challenges. As the team becomes more distributed the cultural challenges between sites typically increases. Different cultures have different work ethics, treat intellectual property differently, have different ideas about commitment, have different holidays, different approaches to things, and so on.
As you would imagine, because the project risk increases the more distributed your team is, the lower the average success rates of agile projects decrease as they become more distributed. The 2008 IT Project Success Survey found that co-located agile teams has an average success rate of 79%, that near located teams (members were in same geographic area) had a success rate of 73%, and that far-located agile teams had a success rate of 55%. The success rate decreases similarly for project teams following other paradigms.
The practices that you adopt, and the way that you tailor the agile practices which you follow, will vary based on the level of geographic distribution of your team. For example, a co-located team will likely do initial architecture envisioning on a whiteboard and keep it at a fairly high-level. A far-located team will hopefully choose to fly in key team members at the beginning of the project, at least the architecture owners on the various sub-teams, to do the architecture envisioning together. They will likely go into greater detail because they will want to identify, to the best of their ability, the interfaces of the various subsystems or components which they'll be building.
Interestingly, the Agility at Scale 2009 survey found that it was quite common for agile teams to be geographically distributed in some manner:
45% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were co-located
60% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members spread out through the same building
30% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were working from home
21% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had people working in different offices in the same city
47% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members that were far located
The bottom line is that some organizations, including IBM, have been very successful applying agile techniques on geographically distributed teams. In fact, agile GDD is far more common than mainstream agile discussion seem to let on.
When it comes to testing on agile projects it is common practice for agile teams to adopt a "whole team testing
" approach where the team itself does its own testing. To accomplish this agile teams will often embed testers in the development team. Programmers will work closely with the testers, often via non-solo development
strategies such as pair programming, to pick up their valuable testing skills. The testers will in turn pick up new skills from the programmers, and in effect both groups will move away from being just specialists (testers or programmers) to being what's called generalizing specialists
. Whole team testing can be very different from traditional approaches where programmers may do some testing, often unit testing of their own code, and then throw it over the wall to testers and quality assurance (QA) professionals for verification and validation.
The types of testing that the parallel independent test team performs may include:
Pre-production system integration testing. Does the solution work within your overall organizational ecosystem? Importantly, if this is one of several teams currently developing new solutions, does this team's solution work with what will be in production (including the work in progress of other teams) when they go to release? In mid-to-large organizations the only economical way to do this sort of testing is via an independent, centralized team.
. Although it's possible to do usability testing on the development team, the reality is that usability testing is a specialized skill that few people have (although could pick up via non-solo development). Furthermore, particularly for solutions with many potential users, you may want to invest in a usability testing
lab. This is a centralized resource, or an outsourced resource these days, which is shared across many teams.
. Security testing is also a specialized skill, albeit one well supported with sophisticated security testing tools such as the Rational Appscan
suite which can be included in your continuous integration (CI) strategy. Many organizations will centralize their security testing efforts.
Exploratory testing. The fundamental goal of exploratory testing is to discover where the solution breaks, as opposed to confirmatory testing which focuses on showing that the solution conforms to the requirements (this is the type of testing the development team typically focuses on). Exploratory testing is also a skill, a good one which everyone should strive to pick up, but exploratory testers are often few in number in many organizations. So, to leverage their skills effectively you may want to have some of them on the independent test team while they mentor others while doing so.
Non-functional testing. Non-functional requirements have a tendency to fall through the cracks on some development teams. Knowing this the independent test team will often "test to the risk" and focus on non-functional issues.
And much more. The above points are just exemplars, not an exact list. Please follow some of the links above for greater detail.
I'd like to leave you with several important thoughts:
The developers still do the majority of the testing. Just because there's an independent test team it doesn't imply that they are the ones doing all the testing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. They should be doing the minority of the testing effort, albeit the more difficult forms of it.
An independent test team will support multiple dev teams. For example, a test team of 5-6 people could support several development teams totalling 70 to 80 people. I typically look for a 15:1 or 20:1 ratio of developers to independent testers, hopefully even higher than that.
- You need to consider better tooling. Although the development team will still be using common agile testing tools such as the xUnit and FIT frameworks the independent test team (ITT) will need more sophisticated tooling. First, the ITT will need to be able to report defects back to the team easily. When the development team is using a Jazz-based tool such as Rational Team Concert (RTC) then this can easily be done using either RTC (the web interface may be sufficient) or another Jazz-enabled product such as Rational Quality Manager (RQM). Second, the ITT will likely need more sophisticated testing tools, such as Rational Appscan for static and dynamic security testing and Rational Performance Tester (RPT) for performance testing (just two of several software quality management tools you should consider).
Independent testing is economical. Although I listed several tools in my previous point (hey, I do work for a vendor after all) an "unfortunate" implication of my advice (unfortunate for IBM at least) is that you can reduce the number of licenses that you require and still get this critical testing done by centralizing their use.
It may be a bit more complicated in regulatory environments. In a strict regulatory environment the independent test team may need to repeat, or at least validate, the testing efforts of the development team. In regulatory environments my fundamental advice is always this -- Have practical people, including yourself, read and interpret the regulations. If you leave it to the bureaucrats you'll get a bureaucratic solution.
This is an important scaling technique. Parallel independent testing, when done in an agile manner, is an important technique which you should consider when scaling agile strategies to meet the uniques needs of the situation that you find yourself in.
One of the scaling factors
called out in the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is “regulatory compliance”. This name is a bit of a misnomer because this scaling factor really addresses two issues: complying to regulations imposed upon you from external sources and choosing to adhere to internal regulations willingly adopted by your organization. It is relatively common for agile teams to find themselves in such situations. For example, in the 2009 Agile Practices Survey
one third of respondents said that they were applying agile on projects where one or more industry regulations applied.
First let’s consider external regulatory compliance. In these situations you may face the need to undergo an audit by an external regulatory body with consequences for non-compliance ranging from anywhere to a warning to a fine or even to legal action. Sometimes even a warning may be a grave thing. A few years ago I was working with a pharmaceutical company which had discovered that a warning from the FDA for non-compliance with their CFR 21 Part 11 regulation, when reported in major newspapers, resulted on average in a half-billion dollar loss to their market capitalization as the result of a dip in their stock price. There are financial regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II, informational regulations such as HIPAA which focuses on health information privacy, technical regulations such as ISO 27002 for security practices, and even life-critical regulations such as some of the FDA regulations.
External regulations are typically managed by a government organization or industry watchdog will range in complexity and can have a myriad of effects on project teams. For example, you may need to be able to prove that you had a documented process and that you followed it appropriately; you may need to produce extra artifacts, or more detailed artifacts, than you normally would; you may need to add extra features to your solution, such as tracking financial information, that you wouldn’t have normally implemented; you may need to produce specific reports to be submitted to the regulatory body; or you may even need to submit your team to audits, sometimes scheduled and sometimes not, to ensure regulatory compliance. Interestingly, even though many of those requirements go against the agile grain, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that organizations were successfully applying agile techniques while still conforming to external regulations. So yes, it is possible to scale your agile strategy to address regulatory compliance.
Second, let’s consider compliance to internally adopted, or sometimes even developed, “regulations” which you will be potentially evaluated/appraised against. Perfect examples of these are process improvement frameworks such as CMMI and ISO 900x. Similar to external regulations, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that some agile teams are succeeding in situations where they have chosen to adopt such frameworks. It’s important to note that frameworks such as CMMI aren’t primarily about ensuring the compliance of development teams to a standard process, regardless of what CMMI detractors may claim, but instead about process improvement. Process improvement at the IT department (or beyond) is an enterprise discipline issue from the point of view of ASM, implying that frameworks such as CMMI affect more than one scaling factor.
When you find yourself in a regulatory situation, whether those regulations are imposed or willingly adopted, the best advice that I can give is to read the regulations and develop a strategy to conform to them in the most agile manner possible. If you let bureaucrats interpret the regulations you’ll likely end up with a bureaucratic strategy, but if you instead choose to take a pragmatic approach you will very likely end up with a very practical strategy. Part of that strategy is to treat the regulatory representative(s) within your organization as important stakeholders whom you interact with regularly throughout the project.
One of the scaling factors
of the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is technical complexity.
The fundamental observation is that the underlying technology of solutions varies and as a result your approach to developing a solution will also need to vary.
It’s fairly straightforward to achieve high-levels of quality if you’re building a new system from scratch on a known technology platform, but not so easy when there are several technologies, the technologies are not well known, or legacy assets are involved.
There are several potential technical complexities which a Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) team may face:
- New technology platforms. Your team may choose to work with a technology platform which is either new to the team or sometimes even new to the industry. In the past few years new technology platforms include the Android operating system, Apple’s iPad platform, and various cloud computing (http://www.ibm.com/ibm/cloud/) platforms. Working with these platforms may require you to adopt new development tools and techniques, not to mention the need to train and mentor your staff in their usage. Furthermore, your team may need to allocate time for architectural spikes to explore how to use the new technology and to prove the overall architecture with working code early in the project lifecycle (this is a DAD milestone).
- Multiple technology platforms. IT solutions often run on multiple platforms. For example, a system’s user interface (UI) could run in a browser, access business logic implemented using J2EE on Websphere which in turn invokes web services implemented in COBOL running on a Z-series mainframe, and stores data in an Oracle database, a DB2 database, and in several XML files. Implementing new business functionality, or updating existing functionality, could require changes made on several of these platforms in parallel. The implication is that you’ll need to adopt tools and strategies which enable your team to develop, test, and deploy functionality on all of these platforms. Testing and debugging in particular will become more difficult as the number of technology platforms increases, potentially requiring you to adopt the practice of parallel independent testing. The Agility at Scale survey found that 34% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with multiple technology platforms.
- Legacy data. IT solutions should leverage existing, legacy data wherever possible to reduce the number of data sources and thereby increase data quality within your organization. Also, using existing data sources can potentially speed up development, assuming your team has a good relationship with the owners of the legacy data sources (sadly, this often isn’t the case as the Data Management Survey found). Working with legacy data sources may require improved database regression testing, practices, database refactoring practices, and agile approaches to data administration. The Agility at Scale survey found that 42% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with legacy data sources (personally, I’m shocked that this figure is so low, and fear that many agile teams are contributing to data quality problems within their organization as a result).
- Legacy systems. There are several potential challenges with legacy systems. First, the code quality may not be the best either because it was never really that good to begin with or because it’s degraded over the years as multiple people worked with it. You know you’ve got a quality problem if you’re either afraid to update the code or if when you do so you have to spend a lot of time debugging and then fixing problems revealed when doing the update. If the legacy system is a true asset for your organization you will want to pay off some of this technical debt by refactoring the code to make it of higher quality. Second, you may not have a full regression test suite in place, making it difficult to find problems when you do update the code let alone when you refactor it. Third, your development tools for your legacy code may be a bit behind the times. For example, I often run across mainframe COBOL developers still working with basic code editors instead of modern IDEs such as Rational Developer for System Z. Some of the strategies to deal effectively with legacy systems are to adopt a modern development toolset if you haven’t already done so (better yet, if possible adopt a common IDE across platforms and thereby reduce overall licensing and support costs) and to adopt agile practices such as static code analysis, dynamic software analysis, and continuous integration (CI). The Agile Project Initiation Survey found that 57% of respondents were integrating their new code with legacy systems and 51% were evolving legacy systems.
- Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. COTS solutions, also called package applications, can add in a few complexities for agile teams. The packages rarely come with regression test suites, they often have rules about what you can modify and what you shouldn’t (rules that are ignored at your peril), and they’re often architected with the assumption that they’re the center of the architectural universe (which is a valid assumption if they’re the only major system within your organization). As I describe in my article Agile Package Implementations it is possible to take an agile approach to COTS implementations, although it may require a significant paradigm shift for the people involved. The Agility at Scale survey found that 15% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with COTS solutions.
- System/embedded solutions. For the sake of simplicity, if your team is developing a solution with both hardware and software aspects to it then you’re a systems project. Embedded systems are a specialization where the system has a few dedicated functions often with real-time constraints. Bottom line is that systems/embedded projects are typically more challenging than software-only projects – it gets really interesting when laws of physics starts to kick in, such as when you’re building satellites or space probes. I highly suggest Bruce Douglass’s book Real-Time Agility if you are interested in taking an agile approach to systems/embedded solution delivery.
The technical complexity faced by a project team is contextual – Working with four technology platforms is straightforward for someone used to dealing with seven, but difficult for someone used to dealing with just one. Recommended Reading:
Yesterday I was involved with a workshop around agile development at scale. At one point in the conversation we started talking about the relationship between cost and quality. Some of the people in the workshop were relatively new to agile and still believed the traditional theory that to build in high quality it costs more, sometimes substantially more. This does appear to be true on traditional waterfall projects, but some people were making the mistake that this was an "natural law of IT" which also must apply to agile project teams. I naturally jumped on that idea and described how agile developers have found that writing high quality code leads to lower development costs and shorter time to value, in direct contradiction to traditional theory. A few people struggled with the idea for a bit, and one was pretty adamant that in some cases the need for very high quality does in fact lead to greater cost and time. He talked about his experiences on large-scale Rational Unified Process(RUP)
projects and in particular how some URPS (usability, reliability, performance, and supportability) requirements can increase your cost. At this point Per Kroll, co-author of Agility and Discipline Made Easy: Practices from OpenUP and RUP
, jumped into the conversation and pointed out although higher quality does lead to lower cost in most cases, using Toyota's lean approach to manufacturing as an example, that the agile community didn't completely have the relationship between quality and cost completely correct. My spidey sense told me that a learning opportunity was coming my way.
Per and I had an offline discussion about this to explore what he'd been observing in practice. In most situation it appears to be the case that higher quality does in fact lead to lower costs and shorter time for delivery, something that Per and I had observed numerous times. This happens because high quality code is much easier to understand and evolve than low quality code -- the agile community has found that it is very inexpensive to write high quality code by following practices such as continuous integration
, developer regression testing [or better yet test-driven development(TDD)
], static code analysis
, following common development conventions, and agile modeling strategies
. When you "bake in" quality from the start through applying these techniques, instead of apply traditional techniques such as reviews
and end-of-lifecycle testing (which is still valid for agile projects, but should not be your primary approach to testing) which have long feedback cycles
and therefore prove costly in practice. But, as we've learned time and again, when you find yourself in more complex situations of Agility@Scale sometimes the mainstream agile strategies fall down. For example, in situations where the regulatory compliance scaling factor is applicable, particularly regulations around protecting human life (i.e. the FDA's CFR 21 Part 11), you find that some of the URPS requirements require a greater investment in quality which can increase overall development cost and time. This is particularly true when you need to start meeting 4-nines requirements (i.e. the system needs to be available 99.99% of the time) let alone 5-nines requirements or more. The cost of thorough testing and inspection can rise substantially in these sorts of situations.
In conclusion, it does seem to be true in the majority of situations, which is what the level 1 rhetoric focuses on, that higher quality leads to lower development costs. But at scale this doesn't always seem to hold true.
PS -- Sorry for the corny title, but a couple of days ago at the Rational Software Conference I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage from the Discovery Channel's Mythbuster's show as part of the conference keynote. They're great guys, BTW, who have had a really positive impact on motivating children to be interested in science (apparently kids like to see stuff get blown up, go figure).[Read More
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.