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.
On Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009 Philippe Kruchten
, Bruce MacIsaac
, and myself participated on two virtual panels about the future of the Unified Process (we did two to support callers from around the globe) for the Global Rational User's Group (GRUG)
. During the panel sessions we discussed a bit of the history of the Unified Process, some of the misconceptions people have with it, some of the common mistakes people made implementing it (instantiating it to be documentation heavy and/or serial) due to those misconceptions, how it can be very agile if you choose to instantiate it that way, the OpenUP
, the AUP
, how UP relates to the IBM Practices
, and other topics.
The links to the recordings are:
Hope you find it interesting. As I've written in the past, the RUP can be as agile as you want to make it. Furthermore, there are a lot of really good ideas in the RUP that the agile community can and should choose to mine, although sadly I see far too many teams doing things the hard way and reinventing the process wheel on their own. I hope they're enjoying themselves, because it clearly isn't a very efficient way for them to go about process improvement.
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.
The ASM distinguishes between three scaling
- Core agile development. Core agile methods, such as Scrum and Agile Modeling, are self governing, have a value-driven system development lifecycle (SDLC), and address a portion of the development lifecycle. These methods, and their practices, such as daily stand up meetings and requirements envisioning, are optimized for small, co-located teams developing fairly straightforward systems.
- Disciplined agile delivery. Disciplined agile delivery processes, which include Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) and Open Unified Process (OpenUP), go further by covering the full software development lifecycle from project inception to transitioning the system into your production environment (or into the marketplace as the case may be). Disciplined agile delivery processes are self organizing within an appropriate governance framework and take both a risk and value driven approach to the lifecycle. Like the core agile development category, this category is also focused on small, co-located teams delivering fairly straightforward systems. To address the full delivery lifecycle you need to combine practices from several core methods, or adopt a method which has already done so.
- Agility at Scale. This category focuses on disciplined agile delivery where one or more scaling factors are applicable. The eight scaling factors are team size, geographical distribution, regulatory compliance, organizational complexity, technical complexity, organizational distribution, domain complexity, and enterprise discipline. All of these scaling factors are ranges, and not all of them will likely be applicable to any given project, so you need to be flexible when scaling agile approaches to meet the needs of your unique situation. To address these scaling factors you will need to tailor your disciplined agile delivery practices and in some situations adopt a handful of new practices to address the additional risks that you face at scale.
The first step in scaling agile approaches is to move from partial methods to a full-fledged, disciplined agile delivery process. Mainstream agile development processes and practices, of which there are many, have certainly garnered a lot of attention in recent years. They’ve motivated the IT community to pause and consider new ways of working, and many organizations have adopted and been successful with them. However, these mainstream strategies (such as Extreme Programming (XP) or Scrum, which the ASM refers to as core agile development strategies) are never sufficient on their own; as a result organizations must combine and tailor them to address the full delivery life cycle. When doing so the smarter organizations also bring a bit more discipline to the table, even more so than what is required by core agile processes themselves, to address governance and risk.
The second step to scaling agile is to recognize your degree of complexity. A lot of the mainstream agile advice is oriented towards small, co-located teams developing relatively straightforward systems. But once your team grows, or becomes distributed, or you find yourself working on a system that isn’t so straightforward, you find that the mainstream agile advice doesn’t work quite so well – at least not without sometimes significant modification. Each of the scaling factors introduces their own risks, and when addressed effectively can actually reduce project risk, and for your project team to succeed you will want to identify the scaling factors applicable to the situation that you face and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said (OK, in this case blogged about) than done.
IBM Rational advocates disciplined agile delivery as the minimum that your organization should consider if it wants to succeed with agile techniques. You may not be there yet, still in the learning stages. But our experience is that you will quickly discover how one or more of the scaling factors is applicable, and as a result need to change the way you work.
When you’re inside, safe in the warmth of your home watching snow fall on your driveway outside, all snowflakes look the same. But, when you look at a snowflake up close, particularly when you do so under a microscope, you quickly discover that all snowflakes are in fact unique.
It’s the same with IT projects.
When you look at them from afar, particularly
from a very high level, they all look the same.
However, when you look at them up close, you quickly discover that they too
The agile scaling factors
, which are really just general scaling factors applicable to all types of IT
project regardless of paradigm, help to make this very clear.
For example, when it comes to team size some teams
are small, less than ten people perhaps, some are medium sized, and some are very
large (with hundreds of people).
comes to distribution some teams are co-located in the same room, some teams
have team members in different cubicles in the same building, some have people
working in different buildings, and some even have people working in different
Many agile teams work in
regulatory environments, in fact the July 2009 DDJ State of the IT Union survey reports that one third of agile teams must
comply to industry regulations, although clearly many agile teams do not have
this as a concern. That’s only three
scaling factors. The point is that a
small, co-located team working in a non-regulatory environment will work much
differently than a fifty-person team working in three different locations,
which in turn works differently than a two hundred person team in the same
building working in a regulatory situation.
Different teams, facing different scaling issues will work in different
ways – unique snowflakes from a process point of view.
At IBM Rational we define disciplined agile delivery as:
Disciplined agile delivery is an evolutionary (iterative and incremental) approach which regularly produces high quality solutions in a cost effective and timely manner via a risk and value driven life cycle. It is performed in a highly collaborative, disciplined, and self-organizing manner within an appropriate governance framework, with active stakeholder participation to ensure that the team understands and addresses the changing needs of its stakeholders to maximize business value provided. Disciplined agile delivery teams provide repeatable results by adopting just the right amount of ceremony for the situation which they face.
Let’s explore the key points in this definition:
- Full delivery life cycle. Disciplined agile delivery processes have life cycles which are serial in the large and iterative in the small. Minimally they have a release rhythm which recognizes the need for start up/inception activities, construction activities, and deployment/transition activities. Better yet, they include explicit phases as well. It is very important to note that these are not the traditional waterfall phases – requirements, analysis, design, and so on – but instead different “seasons” of a project. The point is that we need to look beyond agile software development and consider the full complexities of solution delivery. Adopting a full delivery life cycle, not just a construction life cycle, is arguably the “zeroth” agile scaling factor.
- Evolutionary. Agile strategies are both iterative and incremental in nature. Iterative means that you are working in a non-serial manner, on any given day you may do some requirements analysis, some testing, some programming, some design, some more testing, and so on. Incremental means that you add new functionality and working code to the most recent build, until such time as the stakeholder determines there is enough value to release the product.
- Regularly produces high quality solutions. Agilists are said to be quality focused. They prefer to test often and early, and the more disciplined ones even take a test-first approach where they will write a single test and the just enough production code to fulfill that test (then they iterate). Many agile developers have adopted the practice of refactoring, which is a technique where you make simple changes to your code or schema which improves its quality without changing its semantics. Adoption of these sorts of quality techniques seems to work – it appears that agile teams are more likely to deliver high quality systems than traditional teams (according to the DDJ 2008 Project Success survey). Within IBM we take it one step further and focus on consumability, which encompasses quality and other features such as ease of deployment and system performance. Furthermore, although some agile methods promote the concept of producing “potentially shippable software” on a regular basis, disciplined agile delivery teams produce solutions: a portion of which may be software, a portion of which may be hardware, and a portion of which will be the manner in which the system is used.
- Cost effective and timely manner. Agile teams prefer to implement functionality in priority order [http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/prioritizedRequirements.htm], with the priority being defined by their stakeholders (or a representative thereof). Working in priority order enables agile teams to maximize the return on investment (ROI) because they are working on the high-value functionality as defined by their stakeholders, thereby increasing cost effectiveness. Agile teams also prefer to produce potentially shippable solutions each iteration (an iteration is a time-box, typically 2-4 weeks in length), enabling their stakeholders to determine when they wish to have a release delivered to them and thereby improving timeliness. Short iterations reduce the feedback cycle, improving the chance that agile teams will discover problems early (they “fail fast”) and thereby enable them to address the problems when they’re still reasonably inexpensive to do so. The DDJ 2008 Project Success survey found that agile teams are in fact more likely to deliver good ROI than traditional teams and more likely to deliver in a timely manner.
- Value driven life cycle. One result of building a potentially shippable solution every iteration is that agile teams produce concrete value in a consistent and visible manner throughout the life cycle.
- Risk and value driven life cycle. Core agile processes are very clear about the need to produce visible value in the form of working software on a regular basis throughout the life cycle. Disciplined agile delivery processes take it one step further and actively mitigate risk early in the life cycle – during project start up you should come to stakeholder concurrence regarding the project’s scope, thereby reducing significant business risk, and prove the architecture by building a working skeleton of your system, thereby significantly reducing technical risk. They also help with transition to agile, allowing traditional funding models to use these milestones before moving to the finer grained iteration based funding that agile allows.
- Highly collaborative. People build systems, and the primary determinant of success on a development project is the individuals and the way that they work together. Agile teams strive to work closely together and effectively as possible. This is a characteristic that applies to both engineers on the team, as well as their leadership.
- Disciplined. Agile software development requires greater discipline on the part of practitioners that what is typically required by traditional approaches.
- Self organizing. This means that the people who do the work also plan and estimate the work.
- Self-organization within an appropriate governance framework. Self-organization leads to more realistic plans and estimates which are more acceptable to the people implementing them. At the same time these self-organizing teams must work within an appropriate governance framework which reflects the needs of their overall organizational environment. An “appropriate governance framework” explicitly enables disciplined agile delivery teams to effectively leverage a common infrastructure, to follow organizational conventions, and to work towards organizational goals. The point is that project teams, regardless of the delivery paradigm they are following, need to work within the governance framework of their organization. More importantly, effective governance programs should make it desirable to do so. Our experience is that traditional, command-and-control approaches to governance where senior management explicitly tells teams what to do and how to do it don’t work very well with agile delivery teams. We’ve also found that lean development governance, an approach which is based on collaboration and enablement, is far more effective in practice. Good governance increases the chance that agile delivery teams will build systems which fit into your overall organizational environment, instead of yet another stand-alone system which increases your overall maintenance burden and data quality problems.
- Active stakeholder participation. Agile teams work closely with their stakeholders, who include end users, managers of end users, the people paying for the project, enterprise architects, support staff, operations stuff, and many more. Within IBM we distinguish between four categories of stakeholder: principles/sponsors, partners (business partners and others), end users, and insiders These stakeholders, or their representatives (product owners in Scrum, or on-site customers in Extreme Programming, or a resident stakeholder in scaling situations), are expected to provide information and make decisions in a timely manner.
- Changing needs of stakeholders. As a project progresses your stakeholders will gain a better understanding of what they want, particularly if you’re showing them working software on a regular basis, and will change their “requirements” as a result. Changes in the business environment, or changes in organization priority, will also motivate changes to the requirements. There is a clear need for agile requirements change management [http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/changeManagement.htm] on modern IT projects.
- Repeatable results. Stakeholders are rarely interested in how you delivered a solution but instead in what you delivered. In particular, they are often interested in having a solution which meets their actual needs, in spending their money wisely, in a high-quality solution, and in something which is delivered in a timely manner. In other words, they’re interested in repeatable results, not repeatable processes.
- Right amount of ceremony for the situation. Agile approaches minimize ceremony in favor of delivering concrete value in the form of working software, but that doesn’t mean they do away with ceremony completely. Agile teams will still hold reviews, when it makes sense to do so. DDJ’s 2008 Modeling and Documentation Survey found that agile teams will still produce deliverable documentation, such as operations manuals and user manuals, and furthermore are just as likely to do so as traditional teams. The DDJ September 2009 State of the IT Union survey found that the quality of the documentation delivered by agile teams was just as good as that delivered by traditional teams, although iterative teams (e.g. RUP teams) did better than both agile and traditional.
At Agile 2009 in August Sue McKinney, VP of Development Transformation with IBM Software Group, was interviewed by DZone's Nitin Bharti about IBM's experiences adopting agile techniques. There are over 25,000 developers within IBM Software Group alone. Follow the link to the interview
to view it online (there is also a text transcript posted there. There's some great insights into the realities of scaling agile in large teams, in distributed agile development, and in particular how to transform a large organization's development staff.
Modified by ScottAmbler
When I talk to people about scaling agile techniques, or about agile software development in general, I often put describe strategies in terms of various risks. I find that this is an effective way for people to understand the trade-offs that they're making when they choose one strategy over another. The challenge with this approach is that you need to understand these risks that you're taking on, and the risks that you're mitigating, with the techniques that you adopt. Therein lies the rub, because the purveyors of the various process religions ( oops I mean methodologies) rarely seem to coherently the discuss the risks which people take on (and there's always risk) when following their dogma (oops, I mean sage advice).
For example, consider the risks associated with the various strategies for initially specifying requirements or design. At the one extreme we have the traditional strategy of writing initial detailed speculations, more on this term in a minute, and at the other extreme we have the strategy of just banging out code. In between are Agile Modeling (AM) strategies such as requirements envisioning and architecture envisioning (to name a few AM strategies). Traditionalists will often lean towards the former approach, particularly when several agile scaling factors apply, whereas disciplined agile developers will lean towards initial envisioning. There are risks with both approaches.
Let's consider the risks involved with writing detailed speculations (there's that term again):
You're speculating, not specifying. There is clearly some value with doing some up-front requirements or architecture modeling, although the data regarding the value of modeling is fairly slim (there is a lot of dogma about it though), but that value quickly drops off in practice. However, the more you write the greater the chance that you're speculating what people want (when it comes to requirements) or how you're going to build it (when it comes to architecture/design). Traditionalists will often underestimate the risks that they're taking on when they write big requirements up front (BRUF) , or create big models up front (BMUF) in general, but in the case of BRUF the average is that a large percentage of the functionality produced is never used in practice -- this is because the detailed requirements "specifications" contained many speculations as to what people wanted, many of which proved to be poor guesses in practice.
You're effectively committing to decisions earlier than you should. A side effect of writing detailed speculations is that by putting in the work to document, validate, and then update the detailed speculations the decisions contained in the speculations become firmer and firmer. You're more likely to be willing to change the content of a two-page, high-level overview of your system requirements than you are to change the content of a 200-page requirements speculation that has been laboriously reviewed and accepted by your stakeholders. In effect the decision of what should be built gets "carved in stone" early in the process. One of the principles of lean software development is to defer decisions as late as possible, only making them when you need to, thereby maximizing your flexibility. In this case by making requirements decisions early in the process through writing detailed speculations, you reduce your ability to deliver functionality which meets the actual needs of your stakeholders, thereby increasing project risk.
You're increasing communication risk. We've known for decades that of all the means of communication that we have available to us, that sharing documentation with other people is the riskiest and least effective strategy available to us for communicating information (face-to-face communication around a shared sketching environment is the most effective). At scale, particularly when the team is large or the team geographically distributed, you will need to invest a little more time producing specifications then when the team is co-located, to reduce the inherent risks associated with those scaling factors, but that doesn't give you license to write huge tomes. Agile documentation strategies still apply at scale. Also, if you use more sophisticated tooling you'll find it easier to promote collaboration on agile teams at scale.
You're traveling heavy. Extreme Programming (XP) popularized the concept of traveling light. The basic idea is that any artifact that you create must be maintained throughout the rest of the project (why create a document if you have no intention of keeping it up to date). The implication is that the more artifacts you create the slower you work due to the increased maintenance burden.
There are also risks involved with initial envisioning:
You still need to get the details. Just because you're not documenting the details up front doesn't imply that you don't need to understand them at some point. Agile Modeling includes several strategies for exploring details throughout the agile system development life cycle (SDLC), including iteration modeling performed at the beginning of each iteration as part of your overall iteration planning activities, just in time (JIT) model storming throughout the iteration, and test-driven development (TDD) for detailed JIT executable specification.
You need access to stakeholders. One of the fundamental assumptions of agile approaches is that you'll have active stakeholder participation throughout a project. You need to be able to get information from your stakeholders in a timely manner for the previously listed AM techniques to work effectively. My experience is that this is fairly straightforward to achieve if you educate the business as to the importance of doing so and you stand up and fight for it when you need to. Unfortunately many people don't insist on access to stakeholders and put their projects at risk as a result.
You may still need some documented speculations. As noted previously you may in fact need to invest in some specifications, particularly at scale, although it's important to recognize the associated risks in doing so. For example, in regulatory compliance situations you will find that you need to invest more in documented speculations simply to ensure that you fulfill your regulatory obligations (my advice, as always, is to read the regulations and then address them in a practical manner).
The ways that you approach exploring requirements, and formulating architecture/design, are important success criteria regardless of your process religion/methodology. No strategy is risk free, and every strategy makes sense within given criteria. As an IT professional you need to understand the risks involved with the various techniques so that you can make the trade-offs best suited for your situation. One process size does not fit all.
My final advice is to take a look at the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework as it provides a robust strategy for addressing the realities of agile software development in enterprise settings.
As part of the Agile/Jazz event In Milwaukee on the 29th I'll be giving a talk about the realities of agile software development. The URL for the event is http://www.iconatg.com/lp/events/jazz/jazz_milwaukee.html and I hope to see you there.
- Scott[Read More
Modified by ScottAmbler
In my previous blog posting, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=strategies_for_distributed_agile_teams , I overviewed several strategies for improving your effectiveness at geographically distributed development (GDD). Those strategies were fairly generic and directly applicable to both traditional and agile development teams. In this posting I focus on strategies which are more agile in nature, although they could also be applied to more traditional approaches as well. These strategies are:
1. Get the whole team together at the beginning of the project. Your goals are to build rapport amongst the team, to get to know the people that you’re working with to facilitate communication later on, and to better understand the situation on the ground. The implication is that you will need to fly some people around, increasing your initial expenses, an investment that many organizations balk at. The reality is that you will eventually end up paying for travel anyway, either because you actually flew people around or because your communication costs are higher throughout the project. In short, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Organize your team around the system architecture. The most effective way to organize a distributed team is around the architecture of the system that you are building, not around the job functions of the people involved. In other words, if your team is in Toronto, Rome, and Bangalore then each subteam should be responsible for one or more subsystems. It would be a mistake to organize the teams around job function, for example to have the architects and analysts in Toronto, the developers in Rome, and the testers in Bangalore because this structure would require significantly more documentation and other forms of communication to coordinate the teams, increasing both cost and risk. As I mentioned in my previous blog posting you will need to invest in some initial architecture envisioning at the beginning of a project to identify the subsystems and their public interfaces, and that to do that you’ll also need to do some initial requirements envisioning to drive this architecture effort. I suggest that you take an Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) approach to this to enable you to gain the value from modeling without the costs and risks associated with up-front comprehensive modeling and documentation that get many traditional project teams in trouble.
3. Have “daily stand-up meetings”. A common practice on co-located agile teams is to have daily stand-up meetings where people share the status of what they did yesterday, what they intend to do today, and whether they’re running into any problems. These short meetings enable team coordination. Distributed teams can do this as well, the people in a given geographical location can hold local stand-up meetings and then representatives from each location can hold a shared meeting to coordinate the subteams. Whereas local stand-up meetings are held first thing in the morning, distributed daily stand-up meetings may need to be held at unusual times so as to include people at distant locations.
4. Have Ambassadors. Ambassadors are people who travel between sites, often technically senior people or senior business experts, to share information between the subteams. Getting the team together at the beginning of the project sets the foundation for communication, but without continual investment in maintaining effective collaboration between teams you run the risk of your subteams deviating from the overall strategy. These are typically short engagements, a week or two in length, because of the pressures it puts on the people doing the actual traveling. The implication is that you’ll have several people flying between sites at any given time on a reasonable rotation schedule. Because you’ll have some people flying around, your local team rooms should accommodate visitors by having one or more desks available for them to use when they’re visiting.
5. Have Boundary Spanners. A boundary spanner is someone who is located on site who focuses on enabling communication between subteams as well as within their subteam. On large distributed teams you’ll find that you have three flavors of boundary spanners – team leaders who take on project management responsibilities on the subteam, product owners who are responsible for representing the business within the subteam, and architecture owners responsible for technical direction on the team. These boundary spanners will work closely with their peers, having regular coordination meetings across all subteams as well as impromptu one-on-one meetings to deal with specific issues between individual subteams.
6. Ensure that the global team gets the credit it deserves. In both offshoring and nearshoring environments it’s common to see small teams in North America or Europe driving the efforts of significantly larger teams in another country. Yet, at the end of the project it always seems as if the smaller team, often because they work for the direct customer, gets the lion’s share of the credit – unless of course the project failed, then the subcontracting team often seems to get virtually all of the “credit”. This clearly isn’t fair, and it clearly doesn’t promote effective teamwork between the subteams in the future.
7. Take a lean approach to development governance. As I’ve written in the past, effective governance is based on enablement and collaboration instead of the traditional approaches of management and control. Good governance measures progress through regular delivery of working software, not through status reports or delivery of detailed specifications. Good governance is based on the idea of having a living process which changes to reflect lessons learned as your project progresses. In a previous blog posting at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=lean_development_governance I’ve discussed lean development governance in greater detail.
The strategies that I’ve described are clearly nothing more than common sense, something that can be said of all agile strategies. Sadly, as Mark Twain lamented, common sense isn’t very common in practice.[Read More