When it comes to testing on agile projects it is common practice for agile teams to adopt a "whole team testing
" approach where the team itself does its own testing. To accomplish this agile teams will often embed testers in the development team. Programmers will work closely with the testers, often via non-solo development
strategies such as pair programming, to pick up their valuable testing skills. The testers will in turn pick up new skills from the programmers, and in effect both groups will move away from being just specialists (testers or programmers) to being what's called generalizing specialists
. Whole team testing can be very different from traditional approaches where programmers may do some testing, often unit testing of their own code, and then throw it over the wall to testers and quality assurance (QA) professionals for verification and validation.
The types of testing that the parallel independent test team performs may include:
Pre-production system integration testing. Does the solution work within your overall organizational ecosystem? Importantly, if this is one of several teams currently developing new solutions, does this team's solution work with what will be in production (including the work in progress of other teams) when they go to release? In mid-to-large organizations the only economical way to do this sort of testing is via an independent, centralized team.
. Although it's possible to do usability testing on the development team, the reality is that usability testing is a specialized skill that few people have (although could pick up via non-solo development). Furthermore, particularly for solutions with many potential users, you may want to invest in a usability testing
lab. This is a centralized resource, or an outsourced resource these days, which is shared across many teams.
. Security testing is also a specialized skill, albeit one well supported with sophisticated security testing tools such as the Rational Appscan
suite which can be included in your continuous integration (CI) strategy. Many organizations will centralize their security testing efforts.
Exploratory testing. The fundamental goal of exploratory testing is to discover where the solution breaks, as opposed to confirmatory testing which focuses on showing that the solution conforms to the requirements (this is the type of testing the development team typically focuses on). Exploratory testing is also a skill, a good one which everyone should strive to pick up, but exploratory testers are often few in number in many organizations. So, to leverage their skills effectively you may want to have some of them on the independent test team while they mentor others while doing so.
Non-functional testing. Non-functional requirements have a tendency to fall through the cracks on some development teams. Knowing this the independent test team will often "test to the risk" and focus on non-functional issues.
And much more. The above points are just exemplars, not an exact list. Please follow some of the links above for greater detail.
I'd like to leave you with several important thoughts:
The developers still do the majority of the testing. Just because there's an independent test team it doesn't imply that they are the ones doing all the testing. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. They should be doing the minority of the testing effort, albeit the more difficult forms of it.
An independent test team will support multiple dev teams. For example, a test team of 5-6 people could support several development teams totalling 70 to 80 people. I typically look for a 15:1 or 20:1 ratio of developers to independent testers, hopefully even higher than that.
- You need to consider better tooling. Although the development team will still be using common agile testing tools such as the xUnit and FIT frameworks the independent test team (ITT) will need more sophisticated tooling. First, the ITT will need to be able to report defects back to the team easily. When the development team is using a Jazz-based tool such as Rational Team Concert (RTC) then this can easily be done using either RTC (the web interface may be sufficient) or another Jazz-enabled product such as Rational Quality Manager (RQM). Second, the ITT will likely need more sophisticated testing tools, such as Rational Appscan for static and dynamic security testing and Rational Performance Tester (RPT) for performance testing (just two of several software quality management tools you should consider).
Independent testing is economical. Although I listed several tools in my previous point (hey, I do work for a vendor after all) an "unfortunate" implication of my advice (unfortunate for IBM at least) is that you can reduce the number of licenses that you require and still get this critical testing done by centralizing their use.
It may be a bit more complicated in regulatory environments. In a strict regulatory environment the independent test team may need to repeat, or at least validate, the testing efforts of the development team. In regulatory environments my fundamental advice is always this -- Have practical people, including yourself, read and interpret the regulations. If you leave it to the bureaucrats you'll get a bureaucratic solution.
This is an important scaling technique. Parallel independent testing, when done in an agile manner, is an important technique which you should consider when scaling agile strategies to meet the uniques needs of the situation that you find yourself in.
My new white paper, Disciplined Agile Delivery: An Introduction
, is now available free of charge from IBM.com. The paper overviews the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework, a hybrid comprised of strategies from Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, and other agile methods which is people first, learning oriented, and enterprise aware. DAD is the basis from which you can scale agile.
- Context counts - The Agile Scaling Model
- People first - People, and the way they interact with each other, are the primary determinant of success for a solution delivery project.
- Learning-oriented - The DAD process framework promotes the ideas that team members should collaborate closely and learn from each other, that the team should invest effort to learn from their experiences and evolve their approach, and that individuals should do so as well.
- Hybrid - DAD adopts and tailors strategies from Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, UP, Kanban, and many others. It addresses many of the issues Mark Kennaley discusses in SDLC 3.0.
- IT solution focused - DAD teams produce potentially consumable solutions every construction iteration. This extends Scrum's "potentially shippable" strategy to explicitly address usability/consumability plus the fact that we're really delivering full solutions not just software.
- Goal-driven delivery life cycle - The DAD lifecycle is focused on delivery, not just construction. Furthermore it is goals-driven, the DAD process framework suggests various strategies to fulfill those goals but does not prescribe specific practices.
- Risk and value driven - The DAD lifecycle is risk and value driven. It extends Scrum's value-driven lifecycle which produces potentially shippable software each sprint/iteration so that it explicitly includes light-weight milesstones such as ensuring stakeholder consensus as to the scope of the project early in the lifecycle, proving the architecture with working code early in the lifecycle, ensuring sufficient functionality exists before transition, and ensuring production readiness before actual release of the solution.
- Enterprise aware - The DAD process framework promotes the ideas that DAD teams should work closely with their enterprise architecture groups to ensure they leverage and evolve the existing infrastructure, adopt and follow corporate guidelines, and work to the overall organizational vision. DAD teams are self organizing with appropriate governance.
Modified by ScottAmbler
One of the scaling factors called out in the Software Development Context Framework is “geographic distribution". As with the other scaling factors the level of geographic distribution is a range, with co-located teams at one extreme and far-located at the other. When your team is co-located the developers and the primary stakeholders are all situated in the same work room. If you have some team members in cubicles or in separate offices then you're slightly distributed, if you're working on different floors in the same building you're a bit more distributed, if you're working in different buildings within the same geographic area (perhaps your team is spread across different office buildings in the same city or some people work from home some days) then your team is more distributed, if people are working in different cities in the same country you're more distributed, and finally if people are working in different cities around the globe you're even more distributed (I call this far located).
As your team becomes more distributed your project risk increases for several reasons:
Communication challenges. The most effective means of communication between two people is face-to-face around a shared sketching space such as a whiteboard, and that requires you to be in the same room together. As you become more distributed you begin to rely on less effective communication strategies.
Temporal challenges. When people are in different time zones it becomes harder to find common working times, increasing the communication challenges. One potential benefit, however, is the opportunity to do "follow-the-sun" development where a team does some work during their workday, hands off the work to another team in a significantly different time zone, who picks up the work and continues with it. This strategy of course requires a high degree of sophistication and discipline on the part of everyone involved, but offers the potential to reduce overall calendar time.
Cultural challenges. As the team becomes more distributed the cultural challenges between sites typically increases. Different cultures have different work ethics, treat intellectual property differently, have different ideas about commitment, have different holidays, different approaches to things, and so on.
As you would imagine, because the project risk increases the more distributed your team is, the lower the average success rates of agile projects decrease as they become more distributed. The 2008 IT Project Success Survey found that co-located agile teams has an average success rate of 79%, that near located teams (members were in same geographic area) had a success rate of 73%, and that far-located agile teams had a success rate of 55%. The success rate decreases similarly for project teams following other paradigms.
The practices that you adopt, and the way that you tailor the agile practices which you follow, will vary based on the level of geographic distribution of your team. For example, a co-located team will likely do initial architecture envisioning on a whiteboard and keep it at a fairly high-level. A far-located team will hopefully choose to fly in key team members at the beginning of the project, at least the architecture owners on the various sub-teams, to do the architecture envisioning together. They will likely go into greater detail because they will want to identify, to the best of their ability, the interfaces of the various subsystems or components which they'll be building.
Interestingly, the Agility at Scale 2009 survey found that it was quite common for agile teams to be geographically distributed in some manner:
45% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were co-located
60% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members spread out through the same building
30% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were working from home
21% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had people working in different offices in the same city
47% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members that were far located
The bottom line is that some organizations, including IBM, have been very successful applying agile techniques on geographically distributed teams. In fact, agile GDD is far more common than mainstream agile discussion seem to let on.
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.
In November 2011 Paul Gorans, the Accelerated Solution Delivery (ASD) practice lead in IBM GBS, and I ran an agile adoption survey
. The survey explored a range of issue, including the factors that appear to be associated with the success and failure of agile project teams. Paul wrote up his thoughts in his Agile State of the Art Survey
article on ibm.com and I did the same for Dr Dobb's Journal in Agile Success Factors
. This blog posting summarizes the results of the survey.
Factors which appear to accelerate agile adoption include:
- People are assigned to a single team
- Development teams have easy access to business expertise
- Development teams are organized for agile delivery (not traditional)
- Your organization has an agile support group/community of excellence
- Your organization is explicitly addressing barriers to agility
- There is executive sponsorship for agile
- Agile teams are measured on value creation
- Your organization's IT governance strategy includes an agile path
Factors which appear to decelerate agile adoption include:
- Agile teams are measured using traditional metrics
I recently did the voice over for our Rational.Everyware Agility@Scale whiteboard video
, which is a bit less than 4 minutes in length. As I narrate a whiteboard sketch evolves, sometimes using sticky-notes and index cards, to help explain what I'm talking about.
In the video, I describe:
- The history of agile
- Some of the challenges surrounding traditional development
- Some of the basics of agile, such as increased collaboration with stakeholders and on delivery of consumable solutions
- The benefits of agile, including increased quality, time to value, stakeholder satisfaction, and ROI
- Domains where agile is being applied successfully
- What IBM agility@scale is all about
- How some of the scaling factors change the way that you'll work and approach tooling
- Rational Team Concert (RTC), what it is and why you'd be interested in it
- Benefits that customers are seeing with RTC
- How you can download a fully-functional version of RTC for a team of up to 10, with no time limit, free of charge
So, it's basically a cool marketing video for a bunch of free stuff.
I have a young daughter and she's at the age where she wants to dress herself. The problem is that if we pick a single outfit and try to get her to wear it she refuses (I've lost count of the times I've heard "I don't want that"). At the other extreme if we let her pick her own outfit from the closet she'll be there for hours trying everything on. As experienced parents advise what we need to do is present her with two or three choices and ask her to pick what she wants.
So how does this relate to software development? Once again, let's look at extremes. First, consider Scrum's approach of prescribing a single way of doing things. For example, Scrum prescribes that you hold a daily meeting, called a Scrum, where everyone stands up and answers the same 3 questions. Scrum also prescribes a single change management strategy where you have a stack of requirements prioritized by business value. Scrum prescribes three roles - ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Team Member - as well as other things. Don't get me wrong, these strategies are all great in certain circumstances but not for all. Prescribing one way of doing things is an extreme, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when people refuse to do it that way or struggle to make it work given the situation that they face.
At the other extreme consider RUP's approach where it presents repository of techniques from which to select the ones appropriate for you. The problem is that now we have an overwhelming way of doing things from which to choose, all of them good options in certain situations. So why are we surprised when teams struggle to identify a coherent tailoring of RUP?
Now let's consider the middle ground. The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process decision framework takes a goals-driven approach. So, instead of saying "hold a daily stand up meeting and answer these three questions" it says to regularly coordinate within the team and there are several ways of doing so (hold a Scrum meeting, hold a Kanban-style meeting, and so on). Yes, DAD does provide a large number of techniques to choose from (as does the agile community in general) but it also provides a straightforward way to choose between them. DAD does this by describing the advantages and disadvantages of each technique and suggests when, and when not, to use each approach. When people are presented with viable options, and the trade-offs associated with each, it's much more likely that they'll choose an approach that is better suited for their situation.
Scrum's single prescribed strategy works well only when that strategy is appropriate for the situation at hand. Similarly, telling my daughter exactly what to wear works well only when she's in the mood to wear that outfit. RUP's cafeteria approach to software process works well when you have the expertise, and time, to choose what's best for you. Similarly, asking my daughter to pick out her outfit from all the choices in her closet only works well when I've got a lot of time to wait for her. In both situations a better strategy is to present options, describe the trade offs, and then let people pick what's right for them given the context of the situation that they face. This is exactly what the DAD framework promotes.
I believe the goals-based approach of Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) represents an important step forward in the software process realm. It's time to recognize the extremes for what they are and move to a more viable middle ground.
Modified by ScottAmbler
A fair question to ask is why should your organization consider adopting the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework. I believe that there are several clear benefits to doing so:
DAD shows how agile techniques fit together. DAD is a hybrid that adopts strategies from a variety of sources, including Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Agile Modeling, Kanban, Outside In Development (OID) and many more. More importantly DAD's process-goal driven approach shows how this all fits together, providing advice for when (and when not) to use each technique and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. In doing so DAD enables you to streamline your efforts to tailor agile to reflect the context of the situation you find yourself in. Furthermore, it provides this advice in the context of a full agile delivery lifecycle, explicitly showing how to initiate a project, construct a solution, and then deploy into production. Instead of starting with a small agile method such as Scrum and doing all the work to figure out how to tailor ideas from other methods to actually make it work, why not start with a framework that's already done all that work for you?
DAD isn't prescriptive. DAD is far less prescriptive than other agile methods. For example, where Scrum prescribes a single strategy for managing changing requirements, a strategy called a Product Backlog, DAD suggests several strategies and provides advice for choosing the right one. Where other agile methods define a single lifecycle, DAD instead describes several lifecycles (an agile Scrum-based one, a lean lifecycle, and a continuous delivery lifecycle to name just three) and once again describes how to choose the right one for your situation. Your agile team is in a unique situation, and as a result needs a flexible process framework that provides coherent, easy-to-follow tailoring advice. Isn't it better to adopt strategies that reflect the context that you actually face?
DAD explicitly addresses architecture. Even after a decade of agile software development it still seems that the topic of how agile teams address architecture is a mystery for many people. As a result DAD builds agile architecture strategies right in, starting with initial architecture envisioning, to proving the architecture with working code, to evolutionary design strategies during construction.
DAD explicitly addresses DevOps. DevOps is the art of combining development and operations approaches in such a way as to streamline your overall efforts. DAD "bakes in" DevOps through explicit support for common DevOps practices as well as its robust stakeholder definition which explicitly includes operations and support people.
DAD explicitly addresses governance. Although governance is often considered a dirty word within some agile circles, the reality is that software development teams can and should be governed. Sadly, many agile teams have traditional governance strategies inflicted upon them, strategies which invariably increase schedule, cost and risk on the project. But is doesn't have to be this way. It is possible, and very desirable to adopt agile goverance strategies, strategies which are built right into the DAD framework.
DAD explicitly addresses many other important development activities. Architecture, DevOps, and governance are just the tip of the iceberg. DAD also shows how critical activities such as analysis, design, testing, quality, technical writing, and many more are addressed in an agile and streamlined manner throughout the delivery lifecycle. As described earlier, this is done in a non-prescriptive and tailorable manner, thereby removing a lot of the mystery regarding how this agile stuff all fits together into a coherent whole.
DAD is solution focused, not software focused. Although the rhetoric around "potentially shippable software" resonates well with developers it observably and empirically misses the mark. DAD promotes the more robust idea of "potentially consumable solutions". Yes, shipping is nice but shipping something that people actually want to use/buy, something that is consumable, is much nicer. Yes, software is part of the equation but that software runs on hardware, we often also need to develop supporting documentation, we often evolve the business process, and even evolve the organization structure around the usage of the system. In other words, we're really producing solutions, not just software. Isn't it better to adopt rhetoric that actually reflects what we're doing in practice?
DAD promotes enterprise awareness over team awareness. One of the great benefits of an agile approach to software development is its focus on the team. This can also be a bit of a problem, because a team-focused strategy can result in suboptimal decisions for your overall organization. DAD promotes the idea that disciplined agilists should be enterprise aware, working towards common business and technical goals while leveraging and enhancing the existing infrastructure whenever possible.
DAD provides a foundation from which to scale. The starting point for scaling agile is to understand how agile strategies fit together from project initiation to delivery into production. If you don't know how to succeed with agile in a straightforward situation then it will prove very difficult to do so in an agility @ scale situation. DAD not only provides this tailorable foundation from which to scale agile it also takes a robust view of what it means to scale agile (hint: large or distributed teams are only a start).
DAD provides a basis for enterprise agile. As organizations move towards a true "enterprise agile" approach they often find that they need to adopt either DAD as a foundation or invest a fair bit of effort inventing something similar. They are also starting to adopt strategies from the SAFe framework, or reinventing such, as well as ideas from sources such as Enterprise Unified Process (EUP) (sadly, poorly named in hindsight), ITIL, and even CoBIT. More on this in a future blog posting.
In short, DAD provides a lot of proven advice culled from years of experience applying agile software techniques in enterprise-class environments. Instead of figuring all of this stuff out on your own, why not jump ahead and leverage the hard-won lessons learned from other organizations that have already dealt with the challenges that you're struggling with today?
The primary shortcoming of the DAD framework is it makes it very clear that software development, oops I mean solution delivery, is quite complex in practice. As IT practitioners we inherently know this, but it seems that we need to be reminded of this fact every so often. DAD doesn't provide a simplistic, feel-good strategy that you can learn in a few hours of training. Instead it defines a coherent, tailorable strategy that reflects the realities of enterprise IT.
There is a wealth of information at DAD posted at the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) web site and great discussions occuring on the DAD LinkedIn discussion forum. For those of you interested in agile certification, the Disciplined Agile Consortium site will prove valuable too, in particular the list of upcoming DAD workshops provided by several IBM partners. And of course the book Disciplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner's Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise (IBM Press, 2012) written by Mark Lines and myself is a very good read.
Modified by ScottAmbler
An imporant step in scaling your agile strategy is to adopt a Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
approach instead of one which is just focused on agile construction. One aspect of adopting a DAD approach it to mature your focus from just producing software to instead providing a solution which meets the needs of its stakeholders within the appropriate economic, cultural, and technical constraints. The fundamental observation is that as IT professionals we do far more than just develop software. Yes, this is clearly important, but in addressing the needs of our stakeholders we will often:
Provide new or upgraded hardware
Change the business/operational processes which stakeholders follow
Change the organizational structure in which our stakeholders work
Update supporting documentation
And yes, develop high-quality software
Although delivery of high-quality, working software is important it is even more important that we deliver high-quality working solutions to our stakeholders. Minimally IT professionals should have the skills and desire to produce good software, but what they really need are the skills and desire to provide good solutions. We need strong technical skills, but we also need strong "soft skills" such as user interface design and process design to name just two.
The shift to a solution-oriented focus from a software-oriented focus requires your agile teams to address some of the software-oriented prejudices which crept into the Agile Manifesto
. The people who wrote the manifesto (which I fully endorse) were for the most part software developers, consultants, and in many cases both. It is little wonder that this group would allow a bias towards software development creep into the language of their manifesto.
Modified by ScottAmbler
For several years now I've written various articles and newsletters on the topics of estimating and funding strategies for software development projects, and in particular for agile software development projects. Whenever I talk to people about agile software development, or coach them in how to succeed at it, some of the very first questions that I'll be asked, particularly by anyone in a management role, is how to fund agile software development projects. Apparently a lot of people think that you can only apply agile strategies on small, straightforward projects where it makes sense to do a time and materials (T&M) approach. In fact you can apply agile strategies in a much greater range of situations, as the various surveys
that myself and others are showing time and again. My goal with this blog posting is to summarize the various strategies for, and issues surrounding, the funding of agile software development projects.
There are three basic strategies for funding projects, although several variations
clearly exist. These strategies are:
- "Fixed price". At the beginning of the project develop, and then commit to, an initial estimate based on your up-front requirements and architecture modeling efforts. Hopefully this estimate is given as a range, studies have shown that up-front estimating techniques such as COCOMO II or function points are accurate within +/- 30% most of the time although my July 2009 State of the IT Union survey found that on average organizations are shooting for +/- 11% (their actuals come in at +/- 19% on average, but only after doing things such as dropping scope, changing the estimate, or changing the schedule). Fixed-price funding strategies are very risky in practice because they promote poor behavior on the part of development teams to overcome the risks foisted upon them as the result of this poor business decision. It is possible to do agile on a fixed budget but I really wouldn't recommend it (nor would I recommend it for traditional projects). If you're forced to take a fixed-price approach, and many teams are because the business hopes to reduce their financial risk via this approach not realizing that it actually increases their risk, then adopt strategies that reduce the risk.
- Stage gate. Estimate and then fund the project for given periods of time. For example, fund the project for a 3-month period then evaluate it's viability, providing funding for another period of time only to the extent that it makes sense. Note that stages don't have to be based on specific time periods, they could instead be based on goals such as to intiate the project, prove the architecture with working code, or to build a portion of the system. Disciplined agile methods such as Open Unified Process have built in stage-gate decision points which enable this sort of strategy. When the estimation technique is pragmatic, the best approaches are to have either the team itself provide an estimate for the next stage or to have an expert provide a good gut feel estimate (or better yet have the expert work with the team to develop the estimate). Complex approaches such as COCOMO II or SLIM are often little more than a process facade covering up the fact that software estimating is more of an art or a science, and prove to be costly and time consuming in practice.
- Time and materials (T&M). With this approach you pay as you go, requiring your management team to actually govern the project effectively. Many organizations believe a T&M strategy to be very risky, which it is when your IT governance strategy isn't very effective. An interesting variation, particularly in a situation where a service provider is doing the development, is an approach where a low rate is paid for their time which covers their basic costs, the cost of materials is paid out directly, and delivery bonuses are paid for working software. This spreads the risk between the customer/stakeholder and the service provider. The service provider has their costs covered but won't make a profit unless they consistently deliver quality software.
The point is that there are several strategies for funding agile software development projects, just like there are several strategies for funding traditional software development projects. My experience is that fixed-price funding strategies are incredibly poor practice which increases the risk of your software development projects dramatically. I recognize how hard it can be to change this desire on the part of our business stakeholders, but have also had success changing their minds. If you choose to perservere, which is a difficult decision to make, you can help your organization's decision makers to adopt more effective strategies. Like you they want to improve the effectiveness of your IT efforts.Further reading: (In recommended order)
- Something's Gotta Give: Argues for a flexibly approach to funding, schedule, and/or scope.
- Agile on a Fixed Budget: Describes in detail how to take a fixed-price approach on agile projects.
- The Dire Consequences of Fixed-Price IT Projects: Describes in detail the questionable behavior exhibited by IT teams when forced to take a fixed-price approach.
- Is Fixed-Price Software Development Unethical?: Questions the entire concept of fixed-price IT projects, overviewing some of the overwhelming evidence against this really poor practice.
- Reducing the Risk of Fixed-Price Projects: Describes viable strategies for addressing some of the problems resulting from the decision of fixed-price projects.
- Strategies for Funding Software Development Projects: Describes several variations on the strategies described above.
- Lies, Great Lies, and Software Development Project Plans: Summarizes some results from the July 2009 State of the IT Union survey which explored issues related to project funding (among many).