The basic idea behind DevOps
is that your development strategy and operations strategy should reflect one another, that you should strive to optimize the whole IT process. This implies that development teams should work closely with your operations staff to deliver new releases smoothly into production and that your operations staff should work closely with development teams to streamline critical production issues.
DevOps has its source in agile software development, and it is an explicit aspect of the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
process framework. As a result there is a collection of agile development strategies which enable effective DevOps throughout the agile delivery lifecycle. These strategies include:
- Initial requirements envisioning. Disciplined agile teams invest time at the beginning of the project to identify the high-level scope in a light-weight, collaborative manner. This includes common operations requirements such as the need to backup and restore data sources, to instrument the solution so that it can be monitored in real time by operations staff, or to architect the solution in a modular manner to enable easier deployment.
- Initial architecture envisioning. Disciplined agile teams will also identify a viable architectural strategy which reflects the requirements of their stakeholders and your organization’s overall architectural strategy (hence the need to work closely with your enterprise architects and operations staff). One goal is to ensure that the team is building (or buying) a solution which will work well with the existing operational infrastructure and to begin negotiating any infrastructural changes (such as deploying new technologies) early in the project. Another goal is to ensure that operations-oriented requirements are addressed by the architecture from the very start.
- Initial release planning. As part of release planning the disciplined agile team works closely with their operations group to identify potential release windows to aim for, any release blackout periods to avoid, and the need for operations-oriented milestone reviews later in the lifecycle (if appropriate).
- Active stakeholder participation. Disciplined agile teams work closely with their stakeholders, including both operations and support staff, all the way through the lifecycle to ensure that their evolving needs are understood.
- Continuous integration (CI). This is a common technical agile practice where the solution is built/compiled, regression tested, and maybe even run through code analysis tools. CI promotes greater quality which in turn enables easier releases into production.
- Parallel independent testing. For enterprise-class development or at scale, particularly when the domain or technology is very complex or in regulatory environments, disciplined agile team will find they need to support their whole team testing efforts with an independent test team running in parallel to the development team. These testing issues often include validation of non-functional requirements – such as security, performance, and availability concerns – and around production system integration. All of these issues are of clear importance for operations departments.
- Continuous deployment. With this practice you automate the promotion of your working solution between environments. By automating as much of the deployment effort as possible, and by running it often, the development team increases the chance of a successful deployment and thereby reduces the risk to the operations environment. Note that deployment into production is generally not automatic, as this is an important decision to be made by your operations/release manager(s).
- Continuous documentation. With this practice supporting documentation, including operations and support documentation, is evolved throughout the lifecycle in concert with the development of new functionality.
- Production release planning. This is the subset of your release planning efforts which focuses on the activities required to deploy into production.
- Production readiness reviews. There should be at least one review, performed by the person(s) responsible for your operations environment, before the solution is deployed into production. The more critical the system, the more product readiness reviews may be required.
- End-of-lifecycle testing. Minimally you will need to run your full automated regression test suite against your baselined code once construction ends. There may also be manual acceptance reviews or testing to be performed, and any appropriate fixing and retesting required to ensure that the solution is truly ready for production.
There’s more to it though than simply adopting some good practices. Your process must also embrace several supporting philosophies. The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
process framework not only adopts the practices listed above, and more, but it also promotes several philosophies which enable DevOps:
- Delivery teams should be enterprise aware, that they should work with people such as operations staff and enterprise architects to understand and work towards a common operational infrastructure for your organization.
- Operations and support people should be recognized as key stakeholders of the solution being worked on.
- The delivery team should focus on solutions over software. Software is clearly important, but we will often provide new or upgraded hardware, supporting documentation (including operations and support procedures), change the business/operational processes that stakeholders follow, and even help change the organizational structure in which our stakeholders work.
- Your process should include an explicit governance strategy. Effective governance strategies motivate and enable development teams to leverage and enhance the existing infrastructure, follow existing organizational conventions, and work closely with enterprise teams – all of which help to streamline operations and support of the delivered solutions.
For more detail about this topic, I think that you will find the article I wrote for the December 2011 issue of Cutter IT Journal entitled “Disciplined Agile Delivery and Collaborative DevOps
” to be of value.
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.
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.
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
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
Recently I have been asked by several customer organizations to help them to understand how to account for the expense of agile software development. In particular, incremental delivery of solutions into production or the marketplace seem to be causing confusion with the financial people within these organizations. The details of accounting rules vary between countries, but the fundamentals are common. In order to get properly account for the costs incurred by software development teams you need to keep track of the amount of work performed and the type of work performed to develop a given solution. Time tracking doesn't have to be complex: at one customer developers spend less than five minutes a week capturing such information.
Why is Time Tracking Potentially Valuable?
There are several financial issues to be aware of:
Capitalization. For public companies capital expenses (CapEx) can potentially boost book value through the increase in assets (in this case a software-based solution) and increase in net income (due to lower operating expenses that year). On the other hand, operational expenses (OpEx) are accounted for in the year that they occur and thereby reduce net income which in turn reduces your organization's taxes for that year.
Matching. One of the goals of good accounting is to accurately reflect the net income of the enterprise and to prevent income manipulation or "smoothing". As such a key tenet is the principle of matching revenues with the appropriate expenses. For software this means that we expense the cost of the software over the lifetime of the asset against the income at that time. An implication of this is that capitalizing software development, when appropriate, before the software goes into production clearly violates the matching principle since there is no benefit of the asset until such time.
Tax Credits. In some countries you can even get tax credits for forms of software development that are research and development (R&D) in nature.
The point is that the way that a software developer's work is accounted for can have a non-trivial impact upon your organization's financial position.
What Do Agilists Think of Time Tracking?
So, I thought I'd run a simple test. Last week on LinkedIn's Agile and Lean Software Development group I ran a poll to see what people thought about time tracking. The poll provided five options (a limitation of LinkedIn Polls) to choose from:
Yes, this is a valuable activity (33% of responses)
Yes, this is a waste of time (39% of responses)
No, but we're thinking about doing so (2% of responses)
No, we've never considered this (18% of responses)
I don't understand what you're asking (5% of responses, one of which was mine so that I could test the poll)
The poll results reveal that we have a long way to go. Of the people inputting their time more of them believed it was a waste of time than understood it to be a valuable activity. When you stop and think about it, the investment of five minutes a week to track your time could potentially save or even earn your organization many hundreds of dollars. Looking at it from a dollar per minute point of view, it could be the highest value activity that a developer performs in a given week.
The discussion that ensued regarding the poll was truly interesting. Although there were several positive postings, and several neutral ones, many more were negative when it came to time tracking. Some comments that stood out for me included:
It's a colossal waste of time unless you're billing a customer by the hour.
We record time spent on new development work (as distinct from other tasks such as bug fixing in legacy code and so on) as this is capitalised as an asset and depreciated.
I think the *most* pointless example was where the managers told us what we should be putting in.
One day we will move past the "just do it" mentality and have some meaningful conversations and the reasons for what we do.
In my experience time tracking is a massive waste... of time. It's a poor substitute for management.
Why do you need to know more than the info available through Sprint Backlog, Sprint burndown and the daily standup?
Some of my teams (I am SM for three teams) are skeptical about this. They do not think that keeping track of task hours this way will be any more useful than the daily standup reports. And they do not believe that Management can resist the temptation to use task hours as a measure.
I think that there are several interesting implications from this discussion:
Agilists need to become more enterprise aware. It's clear to be really effective that agile delivery teams need a better understanding of the bigger picture, including mundane things such as tax implications of what they're doing. In Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) this is something that we refer to as being enterprise aware. There's far more to enterprise awareness than understanding pertinent accounting principles, for interest disciplined agile teams work towards a common technology roadmap and common business roadmap, but appreciating why time tracking is a potentially valuable activity would be a good start.
Management needs to communicate better. It's also clear that management needs to communicate more effectively regarding why they're asking people to track their time. To be fair, management themselves might not be aware of the tax implications themselves so may not be making effective use of the time data they're asking for.
Management needs to govern more effectively. Several people were clearly concerned about how management was going to use the time data (by definition they are measures) which could be a symptom of both poor communication as well as poor governance (unfortunately many developers have experiences where measures have been used against them, a failure of governance, and no longer trust their management teams to do the right thing as a result).
Time tracking should be streamlined. It was obvious from the conversation that several people worked in organizations where the time tracking effort had gotten completely out of hand. Spending 5 minutes a week is ok, and to be quite blunt should be more than sufficient, but spending fifteen minutes or more a day doing so is far too much. Over the years I've helped organizations design measurement programs and I've seen a lot of well-intention efforts become incredibly onerous and expensive for the people they were inflicted upon. I suspect it's time for a reality check in some of these organizations people were alluding to. A good heuristic is that for any measurement you should be able to indicate the real cost of collecting it, the use(s) that the information is being put to, and the value resulting from those uses. If you can't quickly and coherently do that then you need to take a hard look at why you continue to collect that metric. The lament "we might need it one day" is a symptom that you're wasting time and money.
Agile rhetoric is getting in the way. Some of the team-focused agile practices, such as burndown charts (or better yet ranged burndown charts) and stand up meetings may be preventing people from becoming enterprise aware because they believe that all of their management needs are being met by them.
You may be missing out on the benefits of time tracking. Many organizations are potentially leaving money on the table by not being aware of the implications of how to expense software development.
Disciplined agilists are enterprise aware. This is important for two reasons: First, you want to optimize your organizational whole instead of sub-optimize on project-related efforts; second, you can completely miss opportunities to add real value for your organization. In the anecdote I provided it was clear that many agile developers believe that an activity such as time tracking is a waste when that clearly doesn't have to be the case. Worse yet, although someone brought up the issues around capitalizing software development expenses early in the conversation a group of very smart and very experienced people still missed this easy opportunity to see how they could add value to their organization.
Granted, time tracking on an agile project team is nowhere near as sexy as topics such as continuous integration (CI), TDD, the definition of done, continous architecture, or many more. But you know what? Although it's a mind-numbingly mundane issue it is still an important one. 'Nuff said (I hope).