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).
I recently recorded an audio podcast
about Collaborative Development and Operations (DevOps) and how it relates to Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
. The podcast is 17 minutes long and covers a range of topics including:
- What are the challenges typically faced by Disciplined Agile Development teams as they begin to transition their working solutions into production?
- How best could this gap between Development and Operations be closed so that they worked collaboratively rather than in silos?
- If this DevOps gap was decreased or even closed, what would the measurable value be to Agile projects and their business stakeholders?
On a related note, IBM's Collaborative Development and Operations
landing page has some great resources if you're interested in how to implement.
One of the scaling factors
called out in the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is “regulatory compliance”. This name is a bit of a misnomer because this scaling factor really addresses two issues: complying to regulations imposed upon you from external sources and choosing to adhere to internal regulations willingly adopted by your organization. It is relatively common for agile teams to find themselves in such situations. For example, in the 2009 Agile Practices Survey
one third of respondents said that they were applying agile on projects where one or more industry regulations applied.
First let’s consider external regulatory compliance. In these situations you may face the need to undergo an audit by an external regulatory body with consequences for non-compliance ranging from anywhere to a warning to a fine or even to legal action. Sometimes even a warning may be a grave thing. A few years ago I was working with a pharmaceutical company which had discovered that a warning from the FDA for non-compliance with their CFR 21 Part 11 regulation, when reported in major newspapers, resulted on average in a half-billion dollar loss to their market capitalization as the result of a dip in their stock price. There are financial regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II, informational regulations such as HIPAA which focuses on health information privacy, technical regulations such as ISO 27002 for security practices, and even life-critical regulations such as some of the FDA regulations.
External regulations are typically managed by a government organization or industry watchdog will range in complexity and can have a myriad of effects on project teams. For example, you may need to be able to prove that you had a documented process and that you followed it appropriately; you may need to produce extra artifacts, or more detailed artifacts, than you normally would; you may need to add extra features to your solution, such as tracking financial information, that you wouldn’t have normally implemented; you may need to produce specific reports to be submitted to the regulatory body; or you may even need to submit your team to audits, sometimes scheduled and sometimes not, to ensure regulatory compliance. Interestingly, even though many of those requirements go against the agile grain, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that organizations were successfully applying agile techniques while still conforming to external regulations. So yes, it is possible to scale your agile strategy to address regulatory compliance.
Second, let’s consider compliance to internally adopted, or sometimes even developed, “regulations” which you will be potentially evaluated/appraised against. Perfect examples of these are process improvement frameworks such as CMMI and ISO 900x. Similar to external regulations, the 2009 Agility at Scale Survey
found that some agile teams are succeeding in situations where they have chosen to adopt such frameworks. It’s important to note that frameworks such as CMMI aren’t primarily about ensuring the compliance of development teams to a standard process, regardless of what CMMI detractors may claim, but instead about process improvement. Process improvement at the IT department (or beyond) is an enterprise discipline issue from the point of view of ASM, implying that frameworks such as CMMI affect more than one scaling factor.
When you find yourself in a regulatory situation, whether those regulations are imposed or willingly adopted, the best advice that I can give is to read the regulations and develop a strategy to conform to them in the most agile manner possible. If you let bureaucrats interpret the regulations you’ll likely end up with a bureaucratic strategy, but if you instead choose to take a pragmatic approach you will very likely end up with a very practical strategy. Part of that strategy is to treat the regulatory representative(s) within your organization as important stakeholders whom you interact with regularly throughout the project.
Modified by ScottAmbler
In 2009 I wrote a white paper entitled The Agile Scaling Model (ASM): Adapting Agile Methods for Complex Environments for IBM Rational. Apparently it's been taken down, which I think is unfortunate as it contains some interesting ideas that your organization may be able to benefit from.
The original white paper addresses several key issues:
It provides and explains a definition for disciplined agile delivery. A more up to date discussion of DAD can be found on the Disciplined Agile Delivery site.
It describes criteria to determine is a team is agile. I've explored this issue via several surveys over the years since then. See the January 2013 How Agile Are You? results.
It describes the ASM, which distinguishes between core agile development techniques, disciplined agile delivery strategies, and agility at scale. The ASM was superceded in early 2013 by the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF). Perhaps this is why the ASM paper was taken down??
It overviews the eight scaling factors which a delivery team may face, scaling factors which motivate changes in the process that you will follow and the tools that you will adopt. The SDCF provides my recent thoughts regarding scaling factors. I have also run various IT Surveys over the years exploring how well organizations fare at scaling agile.
It describes the implications of the ASM. My blog posting Scaling Agile: Start with a Disciplined Foundation covers this very well.
It argues that you should strive to be as agile as you need to be, and that will be driven by the situation that you face.
There is a fair bit of rhetoric surrounding agile methods, some of which we subscribe to and some of which we don’t. We’d like to briefly examine the rhetoric which we’ve found to be the most misleading for people trying to be effective at adopting agile techniques. The following list is in the format X but Y, where X is the rhetoric and Y is the strategy promoted by the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework. This includes:
- Requirements evolve throughout the lifecycle BUT the scope should still be agreed to at the beginning of the project. There has to be an initial vision for a project, a vision which your stakeholders should help define and then agree to, and to come to that vision you will need to perform some initial requirements envisioning. A list of high level features is part of this initial vision. Yes, the details are very likely to evolve over time but the fundamental goals of your project and scope of your effort needs to be defined early in your project. In a very small minority of situations you may not be able to get the right people together, either physically or virtually, to define the initial vision – this should be seen as a significant project risk.
- Simple designs are best BUT the architecture should be thought out early in the lifecycle. Too many developers interpret the advice to focus on simple designs to mean that they should build everything from scratch. Yet more often than not the simplest design is to take advantage of what is already there, and the best way to do that is to work closely with people who understand your existing technical infrastructure. Investing in a little bit of architectural envisioning early in the lifecycle enables your team to identify existing enterprise assets that you can leverage, to identify your architectural options, and to select what appears to be the best option available to you. The details will still emerge over time, and some decisions will be deferred until a later date when it’s more appropriate to make them, but the bottom line is that disciplined agilists think before they act.
- Teams should be self organizing BUT they are still constrained (and enhanced) by your organizational ecosystem. Intellectual workers, including IT professionals, are most effective when they have a say in what work they do and how they do it. IT professionals can improve their productivity by following common conventions, leveraging and building out a common “dev-ops” infrastructure, building towards a common vision, and by working to common business and technical visions. In short, disciplined agile professionals are "enterprise aware".
- Delivery teams don’t need prescriptive process definitions BUT they do need some high-level guidance to help organize their work. Individual IT professionals are typically highly-skilled and highly-educated people often with years of experience, and teams of such people clearly have a wide range of knowledge. As a result of this knowledge it is incredibly rare for such people to read detailed procedures for how to do their work. However, they often still require some high-level advice to help them to organize their work effectively. Teams can often benefit from techniques and patterns used by other teams and this knowledge sharing should be encouraged.
- IT professionals know what to do BUT they’re still not process experts. A decade ago the strategy was to provide detailed process advice to teams, but recently the pendulum has swung the other way to provide little or no defined process at all. Over the last few years there’s been a trend within the agile community to advise teams to define their own process so that it’s tailored to their own unique situation. While this clearly strokes people’s egos, it’s relatively poor advice for several reasons. First, although every team is in a unique situation there is significant commonality so having at least a high-level process framework from which to start makes sense. Second, although these teams have a wide range of knowledge it might not be complete, nor consistent, nor is it clear what the trade-offs are of combining all the really good techniques that people know about. There is significant benefit in having a flexible process framework such as DAD which shows how everything fits together.
- IT professionals should validate their own work to the best of their ability BUT they likely aren’t testing experts so therefore need help picking up the appropriate skills. The mantra in the agile community is to test often and test early, and better yet to test first. As a result agile teams have adopted a “whole team” approach where the development team does its own testing. This works when there are people on the team with sufficient testing skills and more importantly can transfer those skills to others. Minimally you will need to embed testers into your delivery teams, but you should also consider explicit training and mentoring of everyone on the team in testing and quality skills. You may find my agile testing and quality strategies article to be an interesting read.
- Disciplined agile teams work in an iterative manner BUT still follow a lifecycle which is serial over time. On any given day people on a DAD project team may be performing analysis, testing, design, programming, deployment, or a myriad of other activities and iterating back and forth between them. But, the DAD lifecycle includes three distinct phases which are performed in order. So, DAD is both iterative in the small but serial in the large.
The Agile Scaling Model (ASM) is a contextual framework for effective adoption and tailoring of agile practices to meet the unique challenges faced by a system delivery team of any size.
The ASM distinguishes between three scaling
- Core agile development. Core agile methods, such as Scrum and Agile Modeling, are self governing, have a value-driven system development lifecycle (SDLC), and address a portion of the development lifecycle. These methods, and their practices, such as daily stand up meetings and requirements envisioning, are optimized for small, co-located teams developing fairly straightforward systems.
- Disciplined agile delivery. Disciplined agile delivery processes, which include Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) and Open Unified Process (OpenUP), go further by covering the full software development lifecycle from project inception to transitioning the system into your production environment (or into the marketplace as the case may be). Disciplined agile delivery processes are self organizing within an appropriate governance framework and take both a risk and value driven approach to the lifecycle. Like the core agile development category, this category is also focused on small, co-located teams delivering fairly straightforward systems. To address the full delivery lifecycle you need to combine practices from several core methods, or adopt a method which has already done so.
- Agility at Scale. This category focuses on disciplined agile delivery where one or more scaling factors are applicable. The eight scaling factors are team size, geographical distribution, regulatory compliance, organizational complexity, technical complexity, organizational distribution, domain complexity, and enterprise discipline. All of these scaling factors are ranges, and not all of them will likely be applicable to any given project, so you need to be flexible when scaling agile approaches to meet the needs of your unique situation. To address these scaling factors you will need to tailor your disciplined agile delivery practices and in some situations adopt a handful of new practices to address the additional risks that you face at scale.
The first step in scaling agile approaches is to move from partial methods to a full-fledged, disciplined agile delivery process. Mainstream agile development processes and practices, of which there are many, have certainly garnered a lot of attention in recent years. They’ve motivated the IT community to pause and consider new ways of working, and many organizations have adopted and been successful with them. However, these mainstream strategies (such as Extreme Programming (XP) or Scrum, which the ASM refers to as core agile development strategies) are never sufficient on their own; as a result organizations must combine and tailor them to address the full delivery life cycle. When doing so the smarter organizations also bring a bit more discipline to the table, even more so than what is required by core agile processes themselves, to address governance and risk.
The second step to scaling agile is to recognize your degree of complexity. A lot of the mainstream agile advice is oriented towards small, co-located teams developing relatively straightforward systems. But once your team grows, or becomes distributed, or you find yourself working on a system that isn’t so straightforward, you find that the mainstream agile advice doesn’t work quite so well – at least not without sometimes significant modification. Each of the scaling factors introduces their own risks, and when addressed effectively can actually reduce project risk, and for your project team to succeed you will want to identify the scaling factors applicable to the situation that you face and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said (OK, in this case blogged about) than done.
IBM Rational advocates disciplined agile delivery as the minimum that your organization should consider if it wants to succeed with agile techniques. You may not be there yet, still in the learning stages. But our experience is that you will quickly discover how one or more of the scaling factors is applicable, and as a result need to change the way you work.
Modified by ScottAmbler
When I talk to people about scaling agile techniques, or about agile software development in general, I often put describe strategies in terms of various risks. I find that this is an effective way for people to understand the trade-offs that they're making when they choose one strategy over another. The challenge with this approach is that you need to understand these risks that you're taking on, and the risks that you're mitigating, with the techniques that you adopt. Therein lies the rub, because the purveyors of the various process religions ( oops I mean methodologies) rarely seem to coherently the discuss the risks which people take on (and there's always risk) when following their dogma (oops, I mean sage advice).
For example, consider the risks associated with the various strategies for initially specifying requirements or design. At the one extreme we have the traditional strategy of writing initial detailed speculations, more on this term in a minute, and at the other extreme we have the strategy of just banging out code. In between are Agile Modeling (AM) strategies such as requirements envisioning and architecture envisioning (to name a few AM strategies). Traditionalists will often lean towards the former approach, particularly when several agile scaling factors apply, whereas disciplined agile developers will lean towards initial envisioning. There are risks with both approaches.
Let's consider the risks involved with writing detailed speculations (there's that term again):
You're speculating, not specifying. There is clearly some value with doing some up-front requirements or architecture modeling, although the data regarding the value of modeling is fairly slim (there is a lot of dogma about it though), but that value quickly drops off in practice. However, the more you write the greater the chance that you're speculating what people want (when it comes to requirements) or how you're going to build it (when it comes to architecture/design). Traditionalists will often underestimate the risks that they're taking on when they write big requirements up front (BRUF) , or create big models up front (BMUF) in general, but in the case of BRUF the average is that a large percentage of the functionality produced is never used in practice -- this is because the detailed requirements "specifications" contained many speculations as to what people wanted, many of which proved to be poor guesses in practice.
You're effectively committing to decisions earlier than you should. A side effect of writing detailed speculations is that by putting in the work to document, validate, and then update the detailed speculations the decisions contained in the speculations become firmer and firmer. You're more likely to be willing to change the content of a two-page, high-level overview of your system requirements than you are to change the content of a 200-page requirements speculation that has been laboriously reviewed and accepted by your stakeholders. In effect the decision of what should be built gets "carved in stone" early in the process. One of the principles of lean software development is to defer decisions as late as possible, only making them when you need to, thereby maximizing your flexibility. In this case by making requirements decisions early in the process through writing detailed speculations, you reduce your ability to deliver functionality which meets the actual needs of your stakeholders, thereby increasing project risk.
You're increasing communication risk. We've known for decades that of all the means of communication that we have available to us, that sharing documentation with other people is the riskiest and least effective strategy available to us for communicating information (face-to-face communication around a shared sketching environment is the most effective). At scale, particularly when the team is large or the team geographically distributed, you will need to invest a little more time producing specifications then when the team is co-located, to reduce the inherent risks associated with those scaling factors, but that doesn't give you license to write huge tomes. Agile documentation strategies still apply at scale. Also, if you use more sophisticated tooling you'll find it easier to promote collaboration on agile teams at scale.
You're traveling heavy. Extreme Programming (XP) popularized the concept of traveling light. The basic idea is that any artifact that you create must be maintained throughout the rest of the project (why create a document if you have no intention of keeping it up to date). The implication is that the more artifacts you create the slower you work due to the increased maintenance burden.
There are also risks involved with initial envisioning:
You still need to get the details. Just because you're not documenting the details up front doesn't imply that you don't need to understand them at some point. Agile Modeling includes several strategies for exploring details throughout the agile system development life cycle (SDLC), including iteration modeling performed at the beginning of each iteration as part of your overall iteration planning activities, just in time (JIT) model storming throughout the iteration, and test-driven development (TDD) for detailed JIT executable specification.
You need access to stakeholders. One of the fundamental assumptions of agile approaches is that you'll have active stakeholder participation throughout a project. You need to be able to get information from your stakeholders in a timely manner for the previously listed AM techniques to work effectively. My experience is that this is fairly straightforward to achieve if you educate the business as to the importance of doing so and you stand up and fight for it when you need to. Unfortunately many people don't insist on access to stakeholders and put their projects at risk as a result.
You may still need some documented speculations. As noted previously you may in fact need to invest in some specifications, particularly at scale, although it's important to recognize the associated risks in doing so. For example, in regulatory compliance situations you will find that you need to invest more in documented speculations simply to ensure that you fulfill your regulatory obligations (my advice, as always, is to read the regulations and then address them in a practical manner).
The ways that you approach exploring requirements, and formulating architecture/design, are important success criteria regardless of your process religion/methodology. No strategy is risk free, and every strategy makes sense within given criteria. As an IT professional you need to understand the risks involved with the various techniques so that you can make the trade-offs best suited for your situation. One process size does not fit all.
My final advice is to take a look at the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework as it provides a robust strategy for addressing the realities of agile software development in enterprise settings.
People who are new to agile are often confused about how agile teams address architecture, but luckily we're seeing more discussion around agile architecture
now in the community so this problem is slowly being addressed from what I can tell. But, what I'm not seeing enough discussion about, at least not yet, is how is enterprise architecture addressed in the overall agile ecosystem. So I thought I'd share some thoughts on the subject, based on both my experiences over the years (see the recommended resources at the bottom of this posting) as well as on an enterprise architecture survey
which I ran in January/February 2010.
My belief is that effective enterprise architecture, particularly in an agile environment, is:
- Business driven. Minimally your EA effort should be driven by your business, not by your IT department. Better yet it should be business owned, although this can be a challenge in many organizations because business executives usually aren't well versed in EA and view it as an IT function. Yes, IT is clearly an important part of EA but it's not the entirety of EA nor is it the most critical part. In many organizations the IT department initiates EA programs, typically because the business doesn't know to do so, but they should quickly find a way to educate the business in the need to own your organization's EA efforts.
- Evolutionary. Your enterprise architecture should evolve over time, being developed iteratively and introduced incrementally over time. An evolutionary approach enables you act on the concrete feedback that you receive when you try to actually implement it, thereby enabling you to steer its development successfully.
- Collaborative. The EA survey clearly pointed to "people issues" being critical determinants of success, and of failure, of EA programs. My experience is that the best enterprise architects, just like the best application architects, work closely with the intended audience of their work, both on the business side of things as well as on the IT side. They will "roll up their sleeves" and become active members of development teams, often in the role of Architecture Owner on agile teams or Architect on more traditional teams. Their mission is to ensure that the development teams that they work with leverage the EA, to mentor developers in architecture skills, and to identify what works and what doesn't in practice so that they can evolve the EA accordingly. Enterprise architects, architects in general, who don't participate actively on development teams (holding architecture reviews isn't active participation) run the risk of being thought of as "ivory tower" and thus easy to ignore.
- Focused on producing valuable artifacts. The most valuable artifacts are useful to the intended audience, are light weight, and ideally are executable. Many EA programs run aground when the enterprise architects focus on artifacts that they've always wanted but that development teams really aren't very excited about -- yes, it might be interesting to have a comprehensive comparison of cloud technologies versus mainframe technologies, but a collection of reusable services would be fare more interesting to them. A detailed enterprise data model indicating suggested data attributes would be intellectually interesting to develop, but a list of legacy data sources with a high-level description of their contents would be immediately valuable to many development teams. A detailed model depicting desired web services would be useful, but an actual collection of working services that I can reuse now would be even better.
- An explicit part of development. In Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) architectural activities are an explicit part of the overall delivery process. Part of the architectural advice is that delivery teams should work closely with their organization's enterprise architects so that they can leverage the common infrastructure, and sometimes to help build it out, effectively. Disciplined agile teams realize that they can benefit greatly by doing so.
The Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
calls out addressing enterprise disciplines, such as enterprise architecture, as one of eight scaling factors which may apply to a given project. The interesting thing about this scaling factor is that it's the only one where things get potentially easier for development teams when we move from the simple approach, having a project focus, to the more complex approach, where we have an enterprise focus. By having a common infrastructure to build to, common guidelines to follow, and valuable artifacts to reuse project teams can benefit greatly. So, I guess my advice is to seriously consider adding enterprise disciplines to your agile strategy.Recommended Resources:
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.
Modified by ScottAmbler
One of the scaling factors called out in the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF) is domain complexity. The general idea is that agile teams will find themselves in different situations where some teams are developing fairly straightforward solutions, such as an informational website, whereas others are addressing very complex domains, such as building an air-traffic control system (ATCS). Clearly the team building an ATCS will work in a more sophisticated manner than the one building an informational website. I don't know whether agile techniques have been applied in the development of an ATCS, although I have to think that agile's greater focus on quality and working collaboratively with stakeholders would be very attractive to ATCS delivery teams, I do know that agile is being applied in other complex environments: The 2009 Agility at Scale Survey found that 18% of respondents indicated that their organizations had success at what they perceived to be very complex problem domains,.
Increased domain complexity may affect your strategy in the following ways:
Reaching initial stakeholder consensus becomes difficult. One of the risk reduction techniques called out in Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) is to come to (sufficient) stakeholder consensus at the beginning of the project during the Inception phase (called Sprint 0 in Scrum or Iteration 0 in other agile methods). Stakeholder consensus, or perhaps "near concensus" or "reasonable agreement" are better terms, can be difficult to come to the more complex the problem domain is because the stakeholders may not fully understand the implications of what they're making decisions about and because there is likely a greater range of stakeholders with differing goals and opinions. The implication is that your project initiation efforts may stretch out, increasing the chance that you'll fall back on the old habits of big requirements up front (BRUF) and incur the costs and risks associated with doing so.
Increased prototyping during inception. It is very common for disciplined agile teams to do some light-weight requirements envisioning during inception to identify the scope of what they're doing and to help come to stakeholder consensus. The greater the complexity of the domain, and particularly the less your team understands about the domain, the more likely it is that you'll benefit from doing some user interface (UI) prototyping to explore the requirements. UI prototyping is an important requirements exploration technique regardless of paradigm, and it is something that you should consider doing during both initial requirements envisioning as well as throughout the lifecycle to explore detailed issues on a just in time (JIT) manner.
Holding "all-hands reviews". One strategy for getting feedback from a wide range of people is to hold an "all hands review" where you invite a large group of people who aren't working on a regular basis with your team to review your work to date. This should be done occasionally throughout the project to validate that the input that you're getting from your stakeholder represenatives/product owners truly reflects the needs of the stakeholders which they represent. The 2010 How Agile Are You? Survey found that 42% of "agile teams" reported running such reviews.
Increased requirements exploration. Simple modeling techniques work for simple domains. Complex domains call for more complex strategies for exploring requirements. The implication is that you may want to move to usage scenarios or use cases from the simpler format of user stories to capture critical nuances more effectively. A common misunderstanding about agile is that you have to take a "user story driven approach" to development. This is an effective strategy in many situations, but it isn't a requirement for being agile.
The use of simulation. You may want to take your prototyping efforts one step further and simulate the solution. This can be done via concrete, functional prototypes, via simulation software, via play acting, or other strategies.
Addition of agile business analysts to the team. Analysis is so important to agile teams we do it every day. In situations where the domain is complex, or at least portions of the domain is complex, it can make sense to have someone who specializes in exploring the domain so as to increase the chance that your team gets it right. This is what an agile business analyst can do. There are a few caveats. First, even though the domain is complex you should still keep your agile analysis efforts as light, collaborative, and evolutionary as possible. Second, this isn't a reason to organize your team as a collection of specialists and thereby increase overall risk to your project. The agile analyst may be brought on because their specialized skills are required, but the majority of the people on the team should still strive to be generalizing specialists. This is also true of the agile analyst because their may not be eight hours a day of valuable business analysis work on the team, and you don't want the BA filling in their time with needless busy work.
The important thing is to recognize that the strategies which work well when you're dealing with a simple domain will not work well for a complex domain. Conversely, techniques oriented towards exploring complex domains will often be overkill for simple domains. Process and tooling flexiblity is key to your success.