- What are the challenges typically faced by Disciplined Agile Development teams as they begin to transition their working solutions into production?
- How best could this gap between Development and Operations be closed so that they worked collaboratively rather than in silos?
- If this DevOps gap was decreased or even closed, what would the measurable value be to Agile projects and their business stakeholders?
Agility@Scale: Strategies for Scaling Agile Software Development
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I recently recorded an audio podcast about Collaborative Development and Operations (DevOps) and how it relates to Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). The podcast is 17 minutes long and covers a range of topics including:
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The basic idea behind DevOps is that your development strategy and operations strategy should reflect one another, that you should strive to optimize the whole IT process. This implies that development teams should work closely with your operations staff to deliver new releases smoothly into production and that your operations staff should work closely with development teams to streamline critical production issues.
DevOps has its source in agile software development, and it is an explicit aspect of the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework. As a result there is a collection of agile development strategies which enable effective DevOps throughout the agile delivery lifecycle. These strategies include:
There’s more to it though than simply adopting some good practices. Your process must also embrace several supporting philosophies. The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework not only adopts the practices listed above, and more, but it also promotes several philosophies which enable DevOps:
For more detail about this topic, I think that you will find the article I wrote for the December 2011 issue of Cutter IT Journal entitled “Disciplined Agile Delivery and Collaborative DevOps” to be of value.
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The following diagram summarizes a safe and proven strategy for scaling agile delivery strategies at the team level. There are three features of this strategy:
To scale agile successfully you must be able to tailor your approach to reflect the context that you face. To do this you must understand what your process and organizational structure options are and what tradeoffs each of those options has. Unless you’re a process expert, this can be challenging. This is where DAD’s process goal strategy comes in. Instead of prescribing a single way to do things, as we see in methods such as Scrum and SAFe, DAD instead captures your options in terms of process goals and guides you through making the decisions that best address the situation that you find yourself in. An example of a process goal diagram, in this case for the Inception phase goal Explore Initial Scope, is shown below.
The critical thing is that with a goal-driven approach it becomes much easier to understand how to scale agile. Depending on the context of the situation that a team finds itself in you will address each goal differently. The strategy for a small, co-located team facing a fairly straightforward situation in a non-regulatory environment works well for that team, the same strategy prescribed to a team in a different situation would put that team at risk of failure. Instead of prescribing a single way of working that is optimized for a specific situation we need to instead allow, and better yet enable, teams to adopt strategies that reflect the context of the situation that they face.
We’ve found that four of the twenty-two process goals seem to take about 80% of the tailoring impact. These goals are:
For a more detailed discussion of how these four process goals are the key to scaling your agile software delivery process, please refer to the whitepaper Scaling Agile Software Development: Disciplined Agile Delivery at Scale.
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I was recently involved in an online discussion about how to calculate the benefits realized by software development teams. As with most online discussions it quickly devolved into camps and the conversation didn’t progress much after that. In this case there was what I would characterize as a traditional project camp and a much smaller agile/lean product camp. Although each camp had interesting points, the important thing for me in the conversation was the wide cultural and experience gap between the people involved in the conversation.
The following diagram summarizes the main viewpoints and the differences between them. The traditional project camp promoted a strategy where the potential return on investment (ROI) for a project would be calculated, a decision would be made to finance the project based (partly) on that ROI, the project would run, the solution delivered into production, and then at some point in the future the actual ROI would be calculated. Everyone was a bit vague on how the actual ROI would be calculated, but they agreed that it could be done although would be driven by the context of the situation. Of course several people pointed out that it rarely works that way. Even if the potential ROI was initially calculated it would likely be based on wishful thinking and it would be incredibly unlikely that the actual ROI would be calculated once the solution was in production. This is because few organizations are actually interested in investing the time to do so and some would even be afraid to do so. Hence the planned and actual versions of the traditional strategy in the diagram.
The agile/lean camp had a very different vision. Instead of investing in upfront ROI calculation, which would have required a fair bit of upfront requirements modelling and architectural modelling to get the information, the idea was that we should instead focus on a single feature or small change. If this change made sense to the stakeholders then it would be implemented, typically on the order of days or weeks instead of months, and put quickly into production. If your application is properly instrumented, which is becoming more and more common given the growing adoption of DevOps strategies, you can easily determine whether the addition of the new feature/change adds real value.
Cultural differences get in your way
The traditional project camp certainly believed in their process. In theory it sounded good, and I’m sure you could make it work, but in practice it was very fragile. The long feedback cycle, potentially months if not years, pretty much doomed the traditional approach to measuring benefits of software development to failure. The initial ROI guesstimate was often a work of fiction and rarely would it be compared to actuals. The cultural belief in bureaucracy motivated the traditional project camp to ignore the obvious challenges with their chosen approach.
The agile/lean camp also believed in their strategy. In theory it works very well, and more and more organizations are clearly pulling this off in practice, but it does require great discipline and investment in your environment. In particular, you need investment in modern development practices such as continuous integration (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and instrumented solutions (all important aspects of a disciplined agile DevOps strategy). These are very good things to do anyway, it just so happens that they have an interesting side effect of making it easy (and inexpensive) to measure the actual benefits of changes to your software-based solutions. The cultural belief in short feedback cycles, in taking a series of smaller steps instead of one large one, and in their ability to automate some potentially complex processes motivated the agile/lean camp to see the traditional camp as hopeless and part of the problem.
Several people in the traditional project camp struggled to understand the agile/lean approach, which is certainly understandable given how different that vision is compared with traditional software development environments. Sadly a few of the traditionalists chose to malign the agile/lean strategy instead of respectfully considering it. They missed an excellent opportunity to learn and potentially improve their game. Similarly the agilists started to tune out, dropping out of the conversation and forgoing the opportunity to help others see their point of view. In short, each camp suffered from cultural challenges that prevented them from coherently discussing how to measure the benefits of software development efforts.
How Should You Measure the Effectiveness of Software Development?
Your measurement strategy should meet the following criteria:
Not surprisingly, I put a lot more faith in the agile/lean approach to measuring value. Having said that, I do respect the traditional strategy as there are some situations where it may in fact work. Just not as many as traditional protagonists may believe.