When adopting agile software development
techniques across a large number of teams within your organization it is important to provide a definition for what agile software development is, in addition to criteria
for what it means to be agile. Many people will point to the four values of the Agile Manifesto
and claim that's a good definition. Well... it might be a good definition for the visionaries and early adopters among us, but for people on the right-hand side of the technology adoption chasm (the early majority, late majority and the laggards) this isn't enough. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in the agile values but I like to cast them as philosophies instead of as a definition.
At IBM Software Group, the definition of disciplined agile software delivery which we have been sharing with our customers is:Disciplined agile software delivery is an evolutionary (iterative and incremental) approach to delivery which regularly produces high quality software in a cost effective and timely manner. It is performed in a highly collaborative and self-organizing manner, with active stakeholder participation to ensure that the team understand and addresses the changing needs of its stakeholders. Disciplined agile delivery teams provide repeatable results by adopting just the right amount of ceremony for the situation which they face.
I think that this is a pretty good definition, although I have no doubt that we'll evolve it over time.
I also suspect that the agile community will never settle on a common definition for what agile is and more than likely are smart enough not to even try. ;-)Further reading:
I'm often asked by customers for case studies of successful agile adoptions or agile projects in general. This is definitely a valid request, and yes, such case studies exist. But I'm often concerned that the people making these requests don't appreciate the implications of what they're asking for. My concerns with case studies are:
- The juicy information is rarely included. The information that you really want to find out, such as what went wrong and why it went wrong, is rarely discussed. If problems, oops I mean "challenges", are discussed at all they're typically glossed over in favor of focusing in on the positives. Although many people want to write up the juicy bits this information is invariably edited out through the company's vetting process. In short, my advice is to take case studies with a grain of salt.
- Some case studies are more fiction than fact. Although this isn't a problem with IBM case studies due to the governance efforts of my good friends in IBM's legal department (we love you folks, really) it can be an issue with some case studies.
- The case study may no longer be true today. Stuff happens. Perhaps the case study was mostly true at the time it was written, but now that time has passed problems have appeared that weren't apparent earlier, thus the effort wasn't as nearly as successful as it was written up. For example, a few years ago I ran into the manager of a team that I had read about in one case study, only to find out that once the study was published the key team members left the company to become consultants in that subject area. Having lost these people, who were all very highly skilled, his system proved to be unmaintainable by the rest of his staff who weren't so highly skilled and had to be rewritten. Over time the success story turned into an abject failure.
- Waiting for case studies puts you in the position of follower. For every case study that gets written, dozens, if not hundreds of similar efforts didn't get written up. Writing case studies is hard, takes time, and the writer seldom gets much benefit from doing so. The lag time between the project completing and the case study being published can be many, many months and sometimes years. The implication is that by the time you wait for several case studies that are similar to your situation you've pretty much lost all opportunity for competitive advantage and are now merely trying to catch up to the organizations who are clearly ahead of you (the writers of the case studies).
- What has the requester given back to the community? I often hear people lament that there isn't enough case studies, or isn't something close enough to their situation. Yet, when I ask them how many case studies they've written and the answer is usually none. If you want to get you also need to give. ;-)
So, next time you think you need a case study before making a decision, recognize that you may be paying a fairly high opportunity cost for information that is questionable at best.Further reading:
A common misunderstanding about agile software development approaches are that they're only applicable to small, co-located teams. Yes, it's much easier to be successful with small teams, and with co-located teams, and as a result agilists being smart people prefer to work this way. After all, why take on extra risk when you don't need to do so? But, sometimes reality gets in the way and you find yourself in a situation where you need a large team, or you need to distribute your team (see previous blog postings for strategies for distributed agile development), and you would still like to be as agile as possible. The good news is that it's still possible to be agile with a large team, although you will need to go beyond some of the popular "agile in the small" strategies to succeed.
Here are some disciplined agile strategies to succeed at large-team agile:
- Question the need for a large team. Many times an organization will believe that they need a large team because their process is overly complex, because they're still organized for waterfall development, or simply because that's what they're used to. I've seen teams of 80 people doing the work of 20 as the result of over-specialization of job roles and all the bureaucracy required to organize and validate their work.
- Do some initial envisioning. In order to succeed the team must work together towards the same goals. This is true for small teams but doubly true for larger ones -- without a common vision chaos will quickly ensue. You must gain this common vision on two fronts: you need a common business vision and a common technical vision. To gain the common business vision you must do some initial, high-level requirements envisioning and to gain the common technical vision some common architecture envisioning. This isn't to say that you need to take on the risk of detailed, up-front specifications but you must at least have a high-level understanding of the scope and technical solution in order to move forward effectively. So, expect to spend the first few weeks of your project doing this initial modeling.
- Divide and conquer. You never have a team of 200 people, instead you have a collection of subteams that add up to 200 people. This is called having a team of teams.
- Align team structure with architecture. The most effective way to organize the subteams is to have each one implement one or more components, and thereby to build your overall system as a "system of systems". This reduces the coordination required because the majority of the communication will be within the subteams themselves. You'll still need to coordinate the subteams, that will never go away, but you can reduce the overhead (and the risk) by being smart about the way that you organize the people. A common mistake is to organize around job function (e.g. having architects in Toronto, developers in Raleigh, testers in Bangalore, and so on). This increases communication overhead and risk because these people need to work together closely to get something built.
- Project management coordination. Each subteam will have a team lead/coach, and these people will need to coordinate their work. There is often an overall project manager who leads this group. To coordinate the work within their subteam the team lead/coach will often have a daily meeting, in the Scrum method this is called a scrum meeting, where people share their current status and identify any problems they may be running into. To scale this effectively the team lead/coach attends a daily team coordination meeting, a scrum of scrums, where the same sort of information is shared at the overall team level.
- Product owner coordination. Similarly, each subteam has a product ownder, also referred to as an "on-site customer", who is responsible for making decisions about the requirements and for providing information to the team in a timely manner. Sometimes a single product owner will work with several subteams. The product owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some requirements envisioning to identify the initial scope and to start portioning the requirements between the subteams. Because the requirements between the subsystems are interrelated and should be reasonably consistent, the product owners will need to meet on a regular basis to share information, to negotiate priorities, and to resolve requirements-related disputes.
- Architecture coordination. Each subteam will have an architecture owner, often a senior technical person and sometimes also in the role of the team lead/coach. These architecture owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some initial architecture envisioning, based on the requirements envisioning efforts of the product owners. They will identify the major subsystems, and their interfaces, enabling the effective organization of the team into smaller subteams corresponding to the architecture. They will also get together regularly to evolve the architecture and to resolve any major technical issues.
- System integration team. For complex systems, which is often what large teams work on, an effective system integration effort is critical to your success. Although this may be easy at first, as the overall system evolves the need for a subteam focused solely on this quickly becomes apparent. This not only supports the development efforts of the subteams, it also supports independent investigative testing.
- Independent testing team. An independent testing team is common on mid-to-large size agile projects to enhance the testing efforts of the development subteams. This testing team will work in parallel to the developers, they get a new build on a regular basis (minimally each iteration, although more often is desirable), which they test in more advanced ways than what is typical with Test-Driven Development (TDD). For example, they often validate non-functional, quality of service (QoS) type requirements as well as technical constraints, things that often aren't captured well via user stories. They'll also do investigative testing to try to break the system by using it in ways not thought of by the product owners.
- Some specialties reappear. On larger teams it can make sense to have some people be a bit more specialized than what we normally see on small agile teams. For example, it's common to see people in the role of agile DBA, tech writer, build master, or user experience (UE) professional. More complex systems often require people in these roles, although it still behooves these poeple to not be pure specialists but instead to be generalizing specialists with a wider range of skills. Also, recognize that the reintroduction of specialists can be a slippery slope back to the bureaucracy of traditional software development.
Test-driven development (TDD) is a common agile programming technique which has both specification and validation aspects. With TDD, you specify your software in detail on a just-in-time (JIT) basis via executable tests that are run in a regression manner to confirm that the system works to your current understanding of what your stakeholders require.
TDD is the combination of test-first development (TFD) and refactoring. With TFD, you write a single test (at either the requirements level with customer/acceptance tests or the design level with developer tests) and then you write just enough software to fulfill that test. Refactoring is a technique where you make a small change to your existing code to improve its design without changing its semantics.
TDD offers several benefits:1. It enables you to take small, safe steps during development, increasing programmer productivity.2. It increases quality. Agile developers are doing more testing, and doing it more often, than ever before. We're also fixing the problems that we find right on the spot.3. It helps to push validation activities early in the lifecycle, decreasing the average cost to fix defects (which rises exponentially the longer it takes you to detect them).4. Through single sourcing information, by treating tests as both specifications and as tests, we reduce the work required, increasing productivity.5. We leave behind valuable, up-to-date, detailed specifications for the people who come after us. Have you ever met a maintenance programmer who wouldn't want a full regression test suite for the code that they're working with?
But TDD isn't perfect. Although TDD is great at specifying code at a fine-grain level, tests simply don't scale to address higher level business process and architectural issues. Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) enables you to scale TDD through initial envisioning of the requirements and architecture as well as just-in-time (JIT) modeling at the beginning and during construction iterations. To scale requirements-level TDD, you must recognize that customer tests are very good at specifying the details, but not so good at providing overall context. High-level business process models, conceptual domain models, and use cases are good at doing so, and these work products are often created as part of your initial requirements envisioning and iteration modeling activities. Similarly, to scale design-level TDD you must recognize that developer tests are very finely grained but once again do not provide overall context. High-level architecture sketches created during envisioning activities help set your initial technical direction. During each construction iteration, you'll do more detailed design modeling to think through critical issues before you implement them via TDD.
You also need to scale the validation aspects of TDD. TDD is in effect an approach to confirmatory testing where you validate the system to the level of your understanding of the requirements. The fundamental challenge with confirmatory testing, and hence TDD, is that it assumes that stakeholders actually know and can describe their requirements. Therefore you need to add investigative testing practices which explore issues that your stakeholders may not have thought of, such as usability issues, system integration issues, production performance issues, security issues, and a multitude of others.
For further reading, I suggest:1. My article "Introduction to TFD/TDD" at http://www.agiledata.org/essays/tdd.html which overviews TDD.2. My February 2008 column in Dr. Dobb's Journal entitled "Scaling TDD" at http://www.ddj.com/architect/205207998 which explores this issue in detail. 3. Andrew Glover's article "In pursuit of code quality: Adventures in behavior-driven development" at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/java/library/j-cq09187/ which describes a new-and-improved take on TDD called BDD.[Read More
The popular Agile literature can often seam naive when it comes to how Agilists work with project stakeholders:- Extreme Programming (XP) has a practice called On-Site Customer where one or more people work closely with your team to provide information and to make decisions in a timely manner.- Scrum has the role of Product Owner who is the one single person that the development team goes to for decisions about requirements. - Agile Modeling (AM) has the practice of Active Stakeholder Participation which extends On-Site Customer to get the stakeholder(s) actively involved with the modeling effort through the use of inclusive tools and techniques.
These are great strategies for small, co-located teams doing straightforward development, but they quickly fall apart at scale. This occurs for several reasons:1. Stakeholders are a diverse group. Your stakeholders include end users, business management, project funders, enterprise architects, operations staff, support staff, other system development teams, and many others. Different people have different, and often contradictory, requirements and they certainly have different priorities. It's questionable whether a single person, or a handful of persons, can adequately represent this diverse group.2. One person becomes a bottleneck. Even with a small co-located team this is a problem, let alone one that is geographically distributed or one that is very large. There's no way that a single person can be available 24/7 in a responsive manner to support distributed teams.3. It's a difficult role. The Product Owner/Customer (POC) is responsible for representing the business to the development team. They're making important decisions on a regular basis, decisions which they'll be held accountable for.4. One person becomes a serious project risk. Not only is it questionable whether a single person can fairly represent all stakeholders, even if they could what happens if you lose that person? They effectively become a single point of failure for your team.
To scale this role, consider the following strategies:1. Recognize the true scope of the POC role. Not only are they stakeholder proxies they also are a development team representative to the stakeholder community as a whole. As stakeholder proxies they'll make decisions and prioritize the work, they'll run requirements elicitation sessions, they'll negotiate priorities, and they'll put the development team in contact with stakeholders who have expertise in specific aspects of the domain. As team representatives they'll often demo the current version of the system to other stakeholders, communicate the status of the project to people, and respond to various requests for information from the stakeholders.2. Have multiple people in it. A single POC works well for small, co-located teams developing simple software. At scale you'll soon discover that you need multiple people in this role so that they don't become a bottleneck. For distributed teams it's common to see each subteam have one or more POCs who are managed by a primary/chief POC. The primary POC typically works on the coordinating team with the chief architect (I'll talk about this role in a future blog posting) and the program manager (also a topic for a future blog posting).3. Train them in business analysis skills. The person(s) in the POC role need good business analysis skills. If fact, it's common for people who were formerly BAs for traditional teams to step into the POC role, particularly with BAs who originally come from the business side of your organization. This strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. As a BA they've likely got solid business knowledge but their instincts may motivate them to take a documentation-driven approach to providing information to the development team instead of a collaboration-based approach. Be careful.4. Consider the full system development lifecycle. There's far more to the POC role than supporting the development team during Construction iterations. During "Iteration 0", the Inception phase for an Agile RUP project or the warm-up phase for an Eclipse Way project, the POC(s) will often lead the initial requirements envisioning efforts. The product backlog, or better yet your work item list, needs to come from somewhere after all. During the release iteration(s), the Transition phase for RUP or the End-Game phase for Eclipse Way, the POC(s) will focus on communicating the upcoming release to the stakeholder community, will be actively involved with any final user acceptance testing (UAT), and may even be involved with training end users.
In my January 2008 column in Dr Dobb's Journal, posted at http://www.ddj.com/architect/204801134 , I provide detailed advice about how to scale the way that you work with stakeholders on Agile projects by applying the practices of Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD). There's no magic solution, you just need to choose to organize yourself effectively. The good news is that you can easily work with stakeholders at scale.[Read More
It's customary to start a blog by describing the vision for it. Although this vision will undoubtedly evolve over time, it's always good to put a stake in the ground to get things started. Agile software development is clearly taking off and in my opinion is becoming the dominant development paradigm. Furthermore it appears that Agile approaches enjoy a higher success rate, providing better value for your IT investment, than do traditional approaches. Although organizations are succeeding at simpler projects with agile, many are struggling when applying Agile in more complex situations. They're finding that the "Agile rhetoric" doesn't always live up to its promises once you move into these complex situations. My goal with this blog is to share strategies for applying Agile techniques at scale.
When applying Agile strategies at scale you are likely to run into one or more of the following complexity factors:1. Geographical distribution. Is your team, including stakeholders, in different locations? Even being in different cubicles within the same building can erect barriers to communication, let alone being in different cities or even on different continents.2. Regulatory compliance. Regulations, including the Sarbanes-Oxley act, BASEL-II, and FDA statutes, to name a few, can increase the documentation and process burden on your projects. Complying to these regulations while still remaining as agile as possible can be a challenge.3. Entrenched policies, people, and processes. Most agile teams need to work within the scope of a larger organization, and that larger organization isn't always perfectly agile. Hopefully that will change in time, but we still need to get the job done right now. Your existing culture and organization can really hinder your ability to scale agile approaches, then a few "simple" changes can really help your efforts.4. Legacy systems. Although the politically correct term would be "proven assets" the reality is that it can be very difficult to leverage existing code and data sources due to quality problems. The code may not be well written, documented, or even have tests in place, yet that doesn't mean that your agile team should rewrite everything from scratch. Some legacy data sources are questionable at best, or the owners of those data sources difficult to work with, yet that doesn't given an agile team license to create yet another database.5. Organizational distribution. When your teams are made up of people working for different divisions, or if you have people from different companies (such as contractors, partners, or consultants), then your management complexity rises.6. Degree of governance. If you have one or more IT projects then you have an IT governance process in place. How formal it is, how explicit it is, and how effective it is will be up to you. IBM has been doing a lot of work in this topic over the past few years, and just recently Per Kroll and I have done some work around Lean Governance strategies. 7. Team size. Large teams will be organized differently than small teams, and they'll work differently too.8. System complexity. The more complex the system the greater the need for a viable architectural strategy. An interesting feature of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) is that it's Elaboration phase's primary goal is to prove the architecture via the creation of an end-to-end, working skeleton of the system. This risk-reduction technique is clearly a concept which Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum teams can clearly benefit from.
It is definitely possible to scale Agile software development to meet the real-world complexities faced by modern organizations. Based on my experiences, I believe that over the next few years we'll discover that Agile scales better than traditional approaches. Many people have already discovered this, but as an industry I believe that there isn't yet sufficient evidence to state this as more than opinion. My goal with this blog is to provide advice for scaling Agile so as to increase your chances of success.
So, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. My strategy will be to address common questions which I get when working with customers and with internal IBM development teams. I have the privilege to work with a variety of software development teams worldwide, helping them to become more agile. They're all struggling with the same basic issues although don't recognize it because they're too focused on their own situation. So hopefully I'll be able to spread the word about what's actually working in practice.
I hope that you stay tuned.
- Scott[Read More
For some reason, it seems as if everyone's grandfather at one point in time recommended to use the right tools for the job. That's practical wisdom from my point of view, one that is certainly an issue for agile development.
One of the primary messages, I hope, of the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is that context counts. Although the focus of the ASM is on describing a contextual framework for tailoring your process to meet the needs of the situation that you find yourself in, it's also applicable to your tooling selection. For example, the tool choices of a co-located team will be much different than that of a geographically distributed team. A co-located team will likely use a whiteboard
or paper for their agile modeling
efforts, whereas distributed team members may need to capture their diagrams using a more sophisticated tool such as Rational Requirements Composer (RRC)
so that their work can be shared electronically. Having said that, RRC would be overkill for a co-located team (unless they had regulatory compliance issues). Different teams, different situations, therefore different tooling choices.
One of the concerns that I run into from customers is that some of our legacy products don't support agile very well. Once again, it's a matter of context because many of our legacy products reflect the realities faced by more traditional teams. The challenge occurs when you try to take a legacy product which is well suited for traditional development, such as Rational ClearCase
, and try to apply it on agile projects. Although ClearCase makes sense in certain scaling situations, particularly very large teams that are geographically distributed, you'd be better advised to use something like Rational Team Concert (RTC)
for configuration management on most agile teams (note that RTC does far more than just SCM).
So, if you're taking an agile approach you should consider Rational tools such as RTC, RRC, Rational BuildForge
, Rational AppScan
, and others which support agile
development. Granted, some you would only use at scale -- for example Buildforge is a good option in really complex environments, but if you don't face that complexity then you'll likely find that RTC's build engine is sufficient. Similarly, if you're taking a traditional approach to development then you'll likely consider products such as ClearCase, Appscan, RTC, and Rational Software Architect (RSA)
instead. Different situations, different tooling choices.
What's even more confusing is that some products support a range of process paradigms. For example, RTC supports agile, lean, iterative, and traditional approaches to development. The same can be said of Appscan and several other products. Notice how I listed RTC and Appscan for both agile and traditional development above.
So, if anyone tells you that Rational tools don't support agile development don't believe them. Ask them which tools that they're talking about, and ask them if they're aware of the Rational products that do support agile development. Context counts.
When you are first adopting agile techniques in your organization a common strategy is to run one or more pilot projects. When organizing these projects you typically do as much as you can to make them successful, such as finding:
- Projects where the stakeholders are willing to actively work with you.
- IT people who are flexible, willing to try new things, and willing to collaborate with one another.
- IT people who are generalizing specialists, or at least willing to become so.
- Finding a project which is of medium complexity (therefore it's "real" in the sense that it's significant to your organization) but not one where it can make or break your organization (therefore it's safe to experiment with).
In North America we refer to this as "cherry picking" because you're picking the cherry/best situation that you can find.
- Being agile may not have been the primary determinant of success. You set up an environment where you have a good relationship with your stakeholders, where you have good people who want to work together, and the project is challenging but not impossible. Oh, and by the way you adopted a few agile techniques as well. Sounds to me that situation you could have adopted a few not-so-agile techniques instead and still succeed. Although my various project success surveys, see my IT surveys page for details, have shown time and again that agile project teams are more successful than traditional project teams I haven't been able to tease out (yet) whether this success is attributable to agile or just attributable to improved project initiation efforts.
- When adopting agile/lean widely across your organization, you can't cherry pick any more. For the past few years I've been working with IT organizations that are in the process of adopting agile/lean strategies across their entire organization, not just across a few pilot projects. What these organizations are finding is that they need to find ways to adopt agile where the business isn't as willing to work with IT, where some of the people aren't so flexible or collaborative, where some of the people are narrowly specialized and not as willing to expand their skills, or where the project exhibits scaling factors which motivates you to tailor your agile approach. It's harder to succeed with agile in these situations because they're not as "cherry" as what you've experienced previously. Luckily, if you've been successful previously then you now have some agile experienced people, you have successes to reference, and you've likely overcome some problems even in the cherry situations which you have learned from. So, your cherry successes will hopefully improve your ability to succeed even in "non cherry" situations.
- You need to work smarter, not harder. If the source of your success was actually from improved project initiation practices and not from agile, then recognize that and act accordingly. Realistically part of your success was from that and part was from agile, and the organizations that adopt a measured improvement approach potentially have the data to determine which practices lead to success and which didn't. Without the metrics you're effectively flying blind when it comes to deciding how to improve. There is clearly a mandate for smarter work practices within IT, within your organization as a whole for that matter.
If you want to gain more insight into some of the issues that you'll face when adopting agile across your organization, I suspect that you'll find my recent paper Scaling Agile: An Executive Guide
to be interesting. I've got a more detailed paper in the works, so stay tuned to this blog.
Recently I spent some time in the UK with Julian Holmes of Unified Process Mentors
. In one of our conversations we deplored what we were seeing in the agile community around certification, in particular what the Scrum community was doing, and he coined the term “integrity debt” to describe the impact it was having on us as IT professionals. Integrity debt is similar to technical debt
which refers to the concept that poor quality (either in your code, your user interface, or your data) is a debt that must eventually be paid off through rework. Integrity debt refers to the concept that questionable or unprofessional behavior builds up a debt which must eventually be paid off through the rebuilding of trust with the people that we interact with.
The agile community has been actively increasing their integrity debt through the continuing popularity of Scrum Certification, in particular the program around becoming a Certified Scrum Master (CSM). To become a CSM you currently need to attend, and hopefully pay attention during, a two-day Scrum Master Certification workshop taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). That’s it. Granted, some CSTs will hold one or more quizzes which you need to pass, an optional practice which isn’t done consistently, to ensure that you pay attention in the workshop.
Scrum Masters, as you know, take the leadership position on a Scrum team. The idea that someone can master team leadership skills after two entire days of training is absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm supporter of people increasing their skillset and have no doubt that many of the CSTs deliver really valuable training. However, there is no possible way that you can master a topic, unless it
is truly trivial, in only two days of training. From what I can tell the only thing that is being certified here is that your check didn’t bounce.
The CSM scheme increases the integrity debt of the IT industry by undermining the value of certification. When someone claims that they’re certified there’s an assumption that they had to do something meaningful to earn that certification. Attending a two-day course, and perhaps taking a few quizzes where you parrot back what you’ve heard, clearly isn’t very meaningful. The problem with the term Certified Scrum Master is two-fold: not only does the term Certified imply that the holder of the certification did something to earn it, the term Master implies that they have significant knowledge and expertise gained over years of work.
It is very clear that people are falling for the Scrum certification scheme.
A quick search of the web will find job ads requiring that candidates be CSMs, undoubtedly because they don’t realize that there’s no substance behind the certification. Whenever I run into an organization that requires people to be CSMs I walk them through the onerous process of earning the designation and suggest that they
investigate the situation themselves. Invariably, once they recognize the level of deception, the customer drops the requirement that people be CSMs.
Another quick search of the web will find people bragging about being a CSM, presumably being motivated by the employment opportunities within the organizations gullible enough to accept Scrum certification at face value. My experience is that the people claiming to be CSMs are for the most part decent, intelligent people who 99.99% of the time have far more impressive credentials to brag about than taking a two-day course. Yet, for some reason they choose to park their integrity at the door when it comes to Scrum certification. I suspect that this happens in part because they see so many other people doing it, in part because they’re a bit desperate to obtain or retain employment in these tough economic times, and in part because the IT industry doesn’t have a widely accepted code of ethical conduct. These people not only embarrass themselves when they indicate on their business cards or in their email signatures that they’re Certified Scrum Masters they also increase the integrity debt of the agile community as a whole.
Yet another search of the web will find people bragging about being Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs), the people whom have been blessed by the Scrum Alliance to deliver Scrum master certification courses. Once again, my experience is that these are intelligent, skilled people, albeit ones who have also parked their integrity at the door in the pursuit of a quick buck. Surely these people could make a decent living via more ethical means? I know that many of them have done so in the past, so I would presume that they could do so in the future. The actions of the CSTs increase our integrity debt even further.
The group of people who have most embarrassed themselves, in my opinion, are those whom we consider thought leaders within the agile community. Leaving aside the handful who are directly involved with the Scrum certification industry, the real problem lies with those who have turned a blind eye to all of this. The Scrum certification scheme was allowed to fester within our community because few of our thought leaders had the courage to stand up and publicly state what they were talking about in private. This of course is all the more galling when you consider how much rhetoric there is around the importance of courage on software development projects. As Edmund Burke once observed, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
There are several things that we can do today to start paying off some of our integrity debt:
- Be discerning, not deceptive. If you’re going to list credentials on your email signature or business card then only choose to list the ones that actually mean something.
- Educate human resources people. Make them aware of what “Certified Scrum Master” really means and let them think for themselves. I highly suspect that if HR people realized what was going on the demand for CSMs would plummet, and in turn people wouldn’t be tempted by Scrum certification.
- Act professional, don’t just claim to be certified. Instead of signing up for every easy certification that comes your way why not simply do a good job and let the people you work with be your claim to fame? The good news is that for the past few years the agile community has tried to pay down some of the IT industry’s integrity debt that we have with our stakeholders by providing better return on investment (ROI), delivering systems which are more effective at addressing the needs of your stakeholders, by working in a more timely manner, and by producing greater quality work. All of these claims are borne out by the 2008 Software Development Project Success Rate Survey by the way.
- Recognize that adding a test doesn’t address the underlying problems. For the past year there’s been a move afoot to have people pass a test as part of earning their CSM (apparently it’s been a challenge to create a non-trivial test to validate your understanding of a topic that you can master by taking a two-day training course). This is something that should have been done from the very beginning, along with some sort of peer review, not years later when the damage has been done. Adding a test at this late date isn’t going to remove the stink that’s built up over the years, but sadly it will fool a few people into believing that they’ve covered it up.
- Recognize that there is a demand for certification. The agile community needs to put together a decent certification program, something that the Scrum Alliance has clearly failed at doing. My article Coming Soon: Agile Certification provides some thoughts as to what we need to do. The good news is that people such as Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson, and others, are putting together a developer certification program. The really good news is that these are the right people to do this. The really bad news is that they’re doing it under the aegis of the Scrum Alliance, so whatever they accomplish will unfortunately be tainted by the fallout of the CSM debacle.
If we're going to scale agile software development strategies to meet the range of challenges faced by modern organizations, we need to be trustworthy. Is claiming to be a certified master after taking a two-day course an act which engenders trust? I don't think so. As individuals we can choose to do better. As a community we need to.Suggested Reading
- Agile Certification -- A humorous look at certification.
- IT Surveys -- A great resource for statistics about what IT people are actually doing in practice.
I was recently in Bangalore speaking at the Rational Software Conference, which was really well done this year, and visiting customers. In addition to discussing how to scale agile software development approaches, particularly when the team is distributed geographically and organizationally, I was also asked about what I thought about a software factory approach to development. My instinctual reaction was negative, software factories can result in lower overall productivity as the result of over specialization of staff (I prefer generalizing specialists
), too many hand-offs between these specialists (I find close collaboration to be far more effective), and too much bureaucratic overhead to coordinate these activities. I initially chalked it up to these people still believing that software development was mostly a science, or perhaps an engineering domain, whereas my experiences had made me come to believe that software development is really more art than it is a science. Yet, the consistent belief in this strategy by very smart and experienced people started me thinking about my position.
Just let me begin by saying that this blog posting isn't meant to be yet another round in the age old, and relatively inane, "art vs. science" debate within the software development community. That debate is a symptom of versusitis
, a dread disease which particularly plagues the IT industry and which can any of us at any time. There is no known cure, although the combination of experience, open-mindedness, and critical thought are the best inoculation against versusitis that we have so far. In that vein, let me explore the issues as I see them and I will let you think for yourself.
On the one hand software development has aspects of being an art for several reasons. First, the problem definition is never precise, nor accurate, and even when we have detailed specifications the requirements invariably evolve
anyway. The lack of defined, firm requirements requires us to be flexible and to adjust to the situation that we find ourselves in. Second, teams typically find themselves in unique situations, necessitating a unique process and tool environment to reflect this (assuming that you want to be effective, otherwise there's nothing stopping you from having a "repeatable process" and consistent tool environment). Third, software is built by people for people, requiring that the development team have the ability to build a system with a user interface which meets the unique needs of their end users. One has only to look at the myriad UI designs out there to see that surely there is a bit of art going on. Fourth, if software development wasn't at least partially art then why hasn't anyone succeeded at building tools which take requirements as inputs and produce a viable solution that we can easily deploy? It's been over four decades now, so there's been sufficient time and resources available to build such tooling. Fifth, regardless of how much of a scientific/business facade we put over it, our success rate at producing up front detailed cost estimates and schedules speak for itself (see Funding Agile Projects
for links to articles).
On the other hand software development has aspects of being a science for several reasons. First, some aspects of software development have in fact been automated to a significant extent. Second, there is some mathematical basis to certain aspects of software development (although in the case of data-oriented activities the importance of relational theory
often gets blown way out of proportion and I have yet to see a situation where formal methods proved to be of practical value).
What does this have to do with Agility@Scale. As you know, one of the agile scaling factors
is Organizational Complexity, and cultural issues are the hardest to overcome. Whether your organization believes that software development is mostly an art or mostly a science is a cultural issue which will be a major driver in you choice of methods and practices. Organizations which believe that software development is more of a science will prefer strategies such as software factories, model-driven architecture (MDA),
and master data management (MDM)
. And there is ample evidence to support the claims that some organizations are succeeding at these strategies. Although you may not agree with these strategies, you need to respect the fact that many organizations are making them work in their environments. Similarly, organizations which believe that software development is more of an art will find that agile and lean strategies are a better fit, and once again there is ample evidence that organizations are succeeding with these approaches (there's also evidence that agile projects are more successful
than traditional projects, on average). Once again, you may not agree with these strategies but you need to respect the fact that other people are making them work in practice.
Trying to apply agile approaches within an organization that believes software development is mostly a science will find it difficult at best, and will likely need to embark on a multi-year program to shift their culture (likely an expensive endeavor which won't be worth the investment). Similarly, trying to apply a software factory strategy in an organization that believes that software development is mostly an art will also run aground. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all, that one strategy is
not right for all situations and that you need to understand the trade-offs of various strategies, methodologies, techniques, and practices and apply them appropriately given the situation that you face. In other words, it depends! If you are embarking on a software process initiative, and you don't have the broad experience required to effective choose between strategies (very few organizations do, although many believe otherwise), then you should consider Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF)
to help increase your chance of success.