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).
activities are evolutionary (iterative and incremental) and highly collaborative in nature. Initially requirements are explored at a high level via requirements envisioning
at the beginning of the project and the details are explored on a just-in-time (JIT) basis via iteration modeling
and model storming
activities. The way that you perform these agile practices, and the extent to which you do so, depends on the situation in which a project team finds itself. The Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is a contextual framework for effective adoption and tailoring of agile practices to meet the unique challenges faced by a system delivery team of any size. To see how this works, let's apply the concepts of the ASM to see how we would scale our agile approach to requirements.
First, let's consider how a small, co-located team would work. The first two categories of the ASM are core agile development and disciplined agile delivery
, the focus of both are small co-located teams in a fairly straightforward situation. In these situations simple techniques such as user stories
written on index cards and sketches on whiteboards
work very well, so the best advice that I can give is to stick with them. Some teams will take a test-driven development
(TDD) approach where they capture their requirements and design in the form of executable specifications
, although this sort of strategy isn't as common as it should be (yet!), likely because of the greater skill and discipline that it requires. Traditionalists often balk at this approach, believing that they need to document the requirements in some manner. But, for a small co-located team working in a collaborative manner, requirements documentation proves to be little more than busy work, often doing nothing more than justifying the existence of a business analyst who hasn't made the jump to agile yet. Don't get me wrong, there are good reasons to write some requirements documentation, and we'll see this in a minute, but you should always question any request for written specifications and try to find more effective ways to address the actual goal(s) motivating the request. Never forget that written documentation
is the least effective communication
option available to you.
Although inclusive tools
such as whiteboards and paper work well for requirements, for development activities you will need electronic tools. You will either put together an environment from point-specific tools or adopt something more sophisticated such as IBM Rational Team Concert (RTC)
which is already fully integrated and instrumented. RTC is a commercial tool, but luckily you can download a 10-license environment free of charge, which is just perfect for a small team. Larger teams, of course, will need to purchase licenses. One of the things that a disciplined agile delivery approach adds to core agile development is it addresses the full delivery life cycle, which is important because it explicitly includes pre-construction activities such as requirements envisioning. The first step in scaling agile techniques is to adopt a full delivery life cycle which covers the full range of activities required to initiate a project, produce the solution, and then release to solution to your end users.
More interesting is the third category of the ASM, Agility@Scale, and how its eight agile scaling factors
affect the way that you tailor your process and tooling strategy. Let's explore how each one could potentially affect your agile requirements strategy:
- Geographical distribution. The majority of agile teams are distributed in some manner -- some people are working in cubicles or private offices, on different floors, in different buildings, or even in different countries -- and when this happens your communication and coordination risks goes up. To counter this risk you will need to perform a bit more requirements envisioning up front to help ensure that everyone is working to the same vision, although this doesn't imply that you need to write detailed requirements speculations which would dramatically increase the risk to your project. Remember, agilists do just barely enough modeling and are prepared to iteratively elicit the details when they need to do so. The more distributed the team is the more likely they will need to adopt software-based requirements modeling tools such as IBM Rational Requirements Composer (RRC) which supports streamlined, agile requirements elicitation throughout the delivery life cycle. Index cards and whiteboards are great, but they're difficult to see if you're outside the room where they're posted. I've written a fair bit about distributed agile development in this blog.
- Team size. Some organizations, including IBM, are successfully applying agile techniques with teams of hundreds of people. A team of one hundred people will naturally work much differently than a team of ten people, or of one thousand people. Large teams are organized into collections of smaller teams, and the requirements for the overall project must be divvied up somehow between those teams. The implications are that as the team size grows you will need to invest a bit more time in initial requirements envisioning, and in initial architecture envisioning for that matter; you will need to use more sophisticated tools; and may need to use more sophisticated modeling techniques such as use cases and functional user interface prototypes. See large agile teams for more advice.
- Compliance requirement. When regulatory issues – such as Sarbanes Oxley, ISO 9000, or FDA CFR 21 – are applicable you are likely going to be required to capture requirements specifications in some manner and to enact traceability between those requirements. However, I highly recommend that you read the actual regulations yourself and don't let bureaucrats interpret them for you (doesn't it always seem that their interpretation always results in an onerous, documentation heavy solution?) because I have yet to run into a regulation which required you to work in an ineffective manner. Managing your requirements as work items in RTC can often more than meet your regulatory requirements for documentation and traceability, although you may want to consider a tool such as IBM Rational RequisitePro for complex regulatory situations.
- Domain complexity. The manner in which you elicit requirements for a data entry application or an informational web site will likely be much simpler than for a bio-chemical process monitoring or air traffic control system. More complex domains will require greater emphasis on exploration and experimentation, including but not limited to prototyping, modeling, and simulation. Although user stories may be effective as a primary requirements artifact in simple domains, in more complex domains you are likely to find that you need to drive your requirements effort with more sophisticated modeling techniques.
- Organization distribution. Sometimes a project team includes members from different divisions, different partner companies, or from external services firms. In these cases, particularly where the work is strictly organized between the various organizations (perhaps for security concerns), you may need a more sophisticated approach to managing the requirements. RTC enables you to organize the requirements between teams, and then to automatically track progress in real time via the RTC project dashboard.
- Technical complexity. The technical complexity of a solution can vary widely, from a single platform silo application to a multi-platform application working with legacy systems and data to a full-blown systems engineering effort. Complex technical domains, just like complex business domains, require more complex strategies for requirements elicitation and management. The requirements for your legacy systems are likely to have been captured using tools and techniques appropriate for that platform, for example the requirements for your COBOL application may have been captured using data flow diagrams and data models, whereas the requirements for your Java legacy application where captured using UML diagrams. The subteam working on the COBOL system might be using IBM Rational Application Developer (RAD) and RTC for Z whereas the Java subteam may use Eclipse with RTC. Because systems engineering projects can stretch on for years, particularly when the hardware is being developed in parallel to the software, sophisticated tooling such as IBM Rational DOORS is often used in these situations. For more information about systems engineering, see the IBM Rational Harmony process.
- Organizational complexity. Your approach to requirements elicitation and management will be affected by a host of organizational complexities, including your corporate culture. When the culture is flexible and collaborative you can be very agile in your approach to requirements, but as it becomes more rigid you become more constrained in what is considered acceptable and thus take on greater project risk. For example, many organizations still struggle with their approach to funding projects, often demanding that the project team provides an "accurate" estimate up front to which they will be held to. This in turn motivates risky behavior on the part of the development, including a "big requirements up front (BRUF)" approach where a detailed requirements speculation is developed early in the project. This is just one example of how questionable corporate culture can impact the way in which an agile team works.
- Enterprise discipline. Some organizations have enterprise-level disciplines, such as enterprise architecture, enterprise business modeling, strategic reuse, and portfolio management in place. These disciplines can easily be agile and from what I can tell the more successful efforts appear to lean more towards the agile end of the spectrum rather than the traditional end. Having an enterprise business modeling effort underway will affect your project-level requirements strategy -- you'll be able to leverage existing models, have access to people who understand the domain at an enterprise level, and will likely need to map your project efforts back to your enterprise models. The enterprise modelers will likely be using tools such as IBM Rational System Architect or IBM Websphere Business Modeler.
It is important to note that the way that you tailor the agile practices that you follow, and the tools that you use, will reflect the situation that you find yourself in. In other words, you need to right size your process and the Agile Scaling Model (ASM) provides the context to help you do so. As you saw above, in simpler situations you will use the simpler tools and techniques which are commonly promoted within the core agile development community. But, when things become a bit more complex and one or more of the scaling factors applies you need to modify your approach -- just don't forget that you should strive to be as agile as you can be given the situation that you find yourself in.
On Nov 16 2011, Kim Werner, Agile Coach from ATSC and Liz Parnell, Solution Design Manager from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), gave a webcast
sharing their experiences regarding how BCBSNC adopted a few Agile techniques, with the help of some good coaching, and adopted some IBM Rational Jazz tools
(Rational Team Concert and Rational Requirements Composer) to reduce time to market and lower development costs. BCBCNC works in the highly-regulated healthcare industry, so faced a few interesting constraints when adopting agile.
Although it might not be obvious, and important success factor in adopting agile techniques
is to be able to determine whether a team is agile or not. The challenge that many organizations face is that many teams will claim to be agile, yet management, who often has little or no experience with agile approaches, cannot tell which claims are true and which are over zealous (I'm being polite). The following are the criteria that I suggest you look for in a disciplined agile team:1. Produce working software on a regular basis
. This is one of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto
, and in my experience is a critical differentiator between the teams that are agile and those that are merely claiming it. Ideally the team should produce potentially shippable software each iteration. That doesn't mean that they'll deploy the system into production, or the marketplace, each iteration but they could if required to do so. Typically the team will deploy into a pre-production testing environment or a demo enviroment at the end of each iteration (or more often for that matter).2. Do continuous regression testing, and better yet take a Test-Driven Development (TDD) approach
. Agile developers test their work to the best of their ability, minimally doing developer regression testing via a continuous integration (CI) strategy
and better yet do developer-level TDD
. This approach enables development teams to find defects early, thereby reducing the average cost of addressing the defects, it also helps them to deliver higher quality code and to move forward safely when adding or changing functionality.3. Work closely with their stakeholders, ideally on a daily basis
. A common practice of agile teams is to have an on-site customer or product owner who prioritizes requirements and provides information on a timely manner to the team. Disciplined agile teams take it one step further and follow the practice active stakeholder participation
where the stakeholders get actively involved with modeling and sometimes even development.4. Are self-organizing within a governance framework
. Agile teams are self-organizing, which means that the people doing the work determines how the work will be done, they're not told by a manager who may not even be directly involved with the work how it will be done. In other words the team does its own planning, including scheduling and estimation. Disciplined agile teams are self governing within an effective governance framework
.5. Regularly reflect on how they work together and then act to improve on their findings
. Most agile teams hold a short meeting at the end of each iteration to reflect upon how well things are working and how they could potentially improve the way that they are working together. Sometimes this is done in a more formalized manner in the form of a retrospective
, but often it's done informally. The team then acts on one or more of their suggested improvements the next iteration. Disciplined agile teams take this one step further and measure their software process improvement (SPI) progress over time: the act of taking these measures, perhaps via a product such as Rational Self Check
, helps to keep the team on track in their SPI efforts.
I have yet to discover an ad-hoc development team which met all five criteria, and most of them rarely meet two or three.Further reading:
The explicit phases of the Unified Process -- Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition -- and their milestones are important strategies for scaling agile software development to meet the real-world needs of modern organizations. Yes, I realize that this is heresy for hard-core agilists who can expound upon the evils of serial development, yet these very same people also take a phased approach to development although are loathe to admit it. The issue is that the UP phases are like seasons of a project: although you'll do the same types of activities all throughout a project, the extent to which you do them and the way in which you do them change depending on your goals. For example, at the beginning of a development project if you want to be effective you need to do basic things like identify the scope of the project, identify a viable architecture strategy, start putting together your team, and obtain support for the project. Towards the end of a project your focus is on the activities surrounding the deployment of your system into production, including end-of-lifecycle testing efforts, training, cleaning up of documentation, piloting the system with a subset of users, and so on. In between you focus on building the system, including analysis, design, testing, and coding of it. Your project clearly progresses through different phases, or call them seasons if the term phase doesn't suit you, whether your team is agile or not.
The UP defines four phases, each of which address a different kind of risk:1. Inception. This phase focuses on addressing business risk by having you drive to scope concurrence amongst your stakeholders. Most projects have a wide range of stakeholdres, and if they don't agree to the scope of the project and recognize that others have conflicting or higher priority needs you project risks getting mired in political infighting. In the Eclipse Way this is called the "Warm Up" iteration and in other agile processes "Iteration 0".2. Elaboration. The goal of this phase is to address technical risk by proving the architecture through code. You do this by building and end-to-end skeleton of your system which implements the highest-risk requirements. Some people will say that this approach isn't agile, that your stakeholders should by the only ones to prioritize requirements. Yes, I agree with that, but I also recognize that there are a wide range of stakeholders, including operations people and enterprise architects who are interested in the technical viability of your approach. I've also noticed that the high-risk requirements are often the high-business-value ones anyway, so you usually need to do very little reorganization of your requirements stack.3. Construction. This phase focuses on implementation risk, addressing it through the creation of working software each iteration. This phase is where you put the flesh onto the skeleton.4. Transition. The goal of this phase is to address deployment risk. There is usually a lot more to deploying software than simply copying a few files onto a server, as I indicated above. Deployment is often a complex and difficult task, one which you often need good guidance to succeed at.
Each phase ends with a milestone review, which could be as simple as a short meeting, where you meet with prime stakeholders who will make a "go/no-go" decision regarding your project. They should consider whether the project still makes sense, perhaps the situation has changed, and that you're addressing the project risks appropriately. This is important for "agile in the small" but also for "agile in the large" because at scale your risks are often much greater. Your prime stakeholders should also verify that you have in fact met the criteria for exiting the phase. For example, if you don't have an end-to-end working skeleton of your system then you're not ready to enter the Construction phase. Holding these sorts of milestone reviews improves your IT governance efforts by giving senior management valuable visibility at the level that they actually need: when you have dozens or hundreds of projects underway, you can't attend all of the daily stand up meetings of each team, nor do you even want to read summary status reports.
These milestone reviews enable you to lower project risk. Last Autumn I ran a survey via Dr. Dobb's Journal (www.ddj.com) which explore how people actually define success for IT projects and how successful we really were. We found that when people define success in their own terms that Agile has a 71% success rate compared with 63% for traditional approaches. Although it's nice to that Agile appears to be lower risk than traditional approaches, a 71% success rate still implies a 29% failure rate. The point is that it behooves us to actively monitor development projects to determine if they're on track, and if not either help them to get back on track or cancel them as soon as we possibly can. Hence the importance of occasional milestone reviews where you make go/no-go decisions. If you're interested in the details behind the project, they can be found at http://www.ambysoft.com/surveys/success2007.html .
Done right, phases are critical to your project success, particularly at scale. Yes, the traditional community seems to have gone overboard with phase-based approaches, but that doesn't mean that we need to make the same mistakes. Let's keep the benefit without the cost of needless bureaucracy.[Read More
During the second week of August the Agile 2011 conference was held in Salt Lake City (SLC). As you likely know the Agile Manifesto was formulated 10 years ago in SLC so it was apropos to hold it there. There was some excitement around the 10 year anniversary of the manifesto, with a panel session with the 17 authors of it. Sadly there seemed to be little excitement around the efforts of the 10th anniversay agile workshop
in February which proposed a potential path forward for the agile community. I found the conference to be an evolutionary improvement over the conferences of the past few years, which is a very good thing because the focus since 2008 has moved beyond the "cool" new programming techniques to include the issues that enterprises face.
Starting at the Agile 2008 conference I've seen an uptick in interest in what I would consider some of the more mature topics in agile development, although I'm unfortunately still seeing significant confusion out there too, in part due to over-exuberence of people new to agile. For example, there's people still asking about basic issues about agile architecture
and agile database
techniques, although I was really happy to see more coherent discussions around scaling agile
. My own presentation about the Agile Scaling Model
was well attended and I suspect I opened a few people's eyes regarding the realities that we face (yes, there's a lot more to it than holding a "scrum of scrums", yeesh). We have a long way to go until people really start to understand scaling issues, but we're clearly on the path to getting there.
The conference show floor was interesting, with a wide range of vendors offering services and products focused on agile and lean. One thing that I noticed was many vendors had large monitors showing off their ability to support lean task boards, which for the most part they all looked the same. At the IBM booth we were showing off some of the Jazz tools
, in particular Rational Team Concert (RTC)
. For a long time now we've been giving away fully functional, with no time limit, licenses of RTC for teams of up to 10 people. Something worth checking out.
The Agile 201x conferences hosted by the Agile Alliance are always a good investment of your time and money, and Agile 2011 was no exception. See you at Agile 2012 in the great state of Texas!
An inhibitor that I run into again and again within organizations that are still in the process of adopting agile development techniques is something that I call the "We're Special" anti-pattern. The people involved believe that their situation is special, that some unique factor in their environment makes it all but impossible to adopt agile techniques, and therefore they need to continue to work in the manner that they've always worked, regardless of the obvious inefficiencies of doing so.
An organization suffers from this agile adoption anti-pattern when they start giving domain-based or technology-based excuses for why they can't become more agile. For example, I've heard bank employees claim that "Agile works fine for building web sites, but we're building financial systems therefore agile won't work for us", telecom employees claim "Agile works fine for building financial systems, but we're building embedded systems therefore agile won't work for us", and government employees claim "Agile works fine for embedded systems, but we're building web sites therefore agile won't work for us." Needless to say I often struggle to not roll my eyes.
The reality is that the business domain that you're working in doesn't dictate your ability to adopt agile strategies. I've seen very successful agile projects in banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, retail companies, pharmacueticals (yes, life critical applications), telecoms, and government agencies. I've also met people working in those domains claim that they're special because of the inherent challenges of the domain.
Similarly, technology isn't an issue. I've seen project teams that were successful at applying agile approaches using Java, VB, COBOL, C, Linux, Windows, System Z, on PCs, and so on. Granted, some technology platforms suffer from a plethora of "agile tooling", PL/1 comes to mind and I'm sure that there's a few more niche platforms where this is the case, but with a little online searching it's often possible to find good open source tools out there (or what's stopping you from starting such a project?).
The primary issues around agile adoption are cultural in nature. Can you become more flexible in your thinking? Can you become more disciplined (agile requires greater levels of discipline than traditional approaches)? Can you build a collaborative environment with your business stakeholders? Can you move away from bureaucratic processes to ones which focus on adding real value? Can you invest in your IT staff to give them modern development skills required for test-driven development (TDD), continuous integration, and agile database techniques (to name a few)? Addressing the "people issues", the cultural issues, is the hard part of moving towards agile.
If you're looking for valid excuses for why your organization can't move to agile, here's some valid adoption inhibitors that I see in organizations all the time:
- Our project management office (PMO) has been trained and certified in traditional strategies and struggles to come to grips with agile project management techniques
- We don't have the funding to train, educate, and mentor people in agile techniques
- Middle management is threatened by agile strategies because their role clearly needs to change
- Senior technical staff, in particular our architects, don't accept the need to roll up their sleeves and be actively involved on project teams
- Our IT governance effort is not itself being governed effectively and is all but out of control, focusing on bureaucracy instead of enabling development teams to succeed
- Our data management group insists on working in a serial and documentation heavy manner
- Our QA/testing group insists on detailed requirement specifications
- Our staff is overly specialized, resulting in numerous hand-offs between analysts, developers, architects, testers, and so on
The above list is just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that the real problems that you face are cultural in nature, not domain-based nor technology-based. It is possible to overcome these inhibitors to success, but you need to understand that you're suffering from them, what the implications are, and how to overcome them. This is one of the facets of the Health Assessment portion of our new Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF) service, the goal of which is to help organizations improve their internal IT processes. Although MCIF isn't specifically about becoming more agile, the reality is that there are a lot of great agile practices out there, and some of them are good options for your organization. Assuming of course you get over your misconception that you're special for some reason and instead accept the need that you've got some hard slogging ahead of you to improve your IT game.Further reading:
Modified by ScottAmbler
In my previous blog posting, http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=strategies_for_distributed_agile_teams , I overviewed several strategies for improving your effectiveness at geographically distributed development (GDD). Those strategies were fairly generic and directly applicable to both traditional and agile development teams. In this posting I focus on strategies which are more agile in nature, although they could also be applied to more traditional approaches as well. These strategies are:
1. Get the whole team together at the beginning of the project. Your goals are to build rapport amongst the team, to get to know the people that you’re working with to facilitate communication later on, and to better understand the situation on the ground. The implication is that you will need to fly some people around, increasing your initial expenses, an investment that many organizations balk at. The reality is that you will eventually end up paying for travel anyway, either because you actually flew people around or because your communication costs are higher throughout the project. In short, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
2. Organize your team around the system architecture. The most effective way to organize a distributed team is around the architecture of the system that you are building, not around the job functions of the people involved. In other words, if your team is in Toronto, Rome, and Bangalore then each subteam should be responsible for one or more subsystems. It would be a mistake to organize the teams around job function, for example to have the architects and analysts in Toronto, the developers in Rome, and the testers in Bangalore because this structure would require significantly more documentation and other forms of communication to coordinate the teams, increasing both cost and risk. As I mentioned in my previous blog posting you will need to invest in some initial architecture envisioning at the beginning of a project to identify the subsystems and their public interfaces, and that to do that you’ll also need to do some initial requirements envisioning to drive this architecture effort. I suggest that you take an Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD) approach to this to enable you to gain the value from modeling without the costs and risks associated with up-front comprehensive modeling and documentation that get many traditional project teams in trouble.
3. Have “daily stand-up meetings”. A common practice on co-located agile teams is to have daily stand-up meetings where people share the status of what they did yesterday, what they intend to do today, and whether they’re running into any problems. These short meetings enable team coordination. Distributed teams can do this as well, the people in a given geographical location can hold local stand-up meetings and then representatives from each location can hold a shared meeting to coordinate the subteams. Whereas local stand-up meetings are held first thing in the morning, distributed daily stand-up meetings may need to be held at unusual times so as to include people at distant locations.
4. Have Ambassadors. Ambassadors are people who travel between sites, often technically senior people or senior business experts, to share information between the subteams. Getting the team together at the beginning of the project sets the foundation for communication, but without continual investment in maintaining effective collaboration between teams you run the risk of your subteams deviating from the overall strategy. These are typically short engagements, a week or two in length, because of the pressures it puts on the people doing the actual traveling. The implication is that you’ll have several people flying between sites at any given time on a reasonable rotation schedule. Because you’ll have some people flying around, your local team rooms should accommodate visitors by having one or more desks available for them to use when they’re visiting.
5. Have Boundary Spanners. A boundary spanner is someone who is located on site who focuses on enabling communication between subteams as well as within their subteam. On large distributed teams you’ll find that you have three flavors of boundary spanners – team leaders who take on project management responsibilities on the subteam, product owners who are responsible for representing the business within the subteam, and architecture owners responsible for technical direction on the team. These boundary spanners will work closely with their peers, having regular coordination meetings across all subteams as well as impromptu one-on-one meetings to deal with specific issues between individual subteams.
6. Ensure that the global team gets the credit it deserves. In both offshoring and nearshoring environments it’s common to see small teams in North America or Europe driving the efforts of significantly larger teams in another country. Yet, at the end of the project it always seems as if the smaller team, often because they work for the direct customer, gets the lion’s share of the credit – unless of course the project failed, then the subcontracting team often seems to get virtually all of the “credit”. This clearly isn’t fair, and it clearly doesn’t promote effective teamwork between the subteams in the future.
7. Take a lean approach to development governance. As I’ve written in the past, effective governance is based on enablement and collaboration instead of the traditional approaches of management and control. Good governance measures progress through regular delivery of working software, not through status reports or delivery of detailed specifications. Good governance is based on the idea of having a living process which changes to reflect lessons learned as your project progresses. In a previous blog posting at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/page/ambler?entry=lean_development_governance I’ve discussed lean development governance in greater detail.
The strategies that I’ve described are clearly nothing more than common sense, something that can be said of all agile strategies. Sadly, as Mark Twain lamented, common sense isn’t very common in practice.[Read More
A recurring discussion that I have with experienced agile developers is what it means to take a disciplined agile approach. The conversation usually starts off by some saying "but it already requires discipline to do agile", something that I fully agree with, followed by "therefore 'disciplined agile' is merely a marketing term", something which I don't agree with. The challenge with the "standard" agile discipline is that it is often focused on construction activities within a single project team, clearly important but also clearly not the full picture. There's more to an agile project than construction, and there's more to most IT departments than a single development project. In short, there are many opportunities for IT professionals to up their discipline, and thereby up their effectiveness, opportunities which we make explicit in the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework.
Let's explore the many aspects to taking a disciplined agile approach:
You adopt "standard" agile discipline
. Aspects of agile which require discipline
include adopting practices such as test-driven development (TDD), active stakeholder participation, working collaboratively, shortening the feedback cycle
, and many more. These strategies are a great start to becoming disciplined IT professionals.
You take a goal-driven approach
. When we first started working on the DAD framework I didn't want to create yet another prescriptive framework, particularly given Rational's track record with the Rational Unified Process (RUP) framework. Rational has been pilloried for years for the prescriptive nature of RUP, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of great ideas in RUP that agile teams can benefit from, some of which we adopted in DAD and many of which are being actively reinvented with the agile community even as you read this. Furthermore, there are many prescriptive elements of the Scrum method that can get teams in trouble. For example, Scrum prescribes that you hold a daily stand up meeting, often called a Scrum meeting, where everyone should answer three questions. That's a great approach for teams new to agile, but it proves problematic in many situations due to it's prescriptive nature. Do you really need to do this once a day? I've been on teams where we held coordination meetings twice a day and others only once a week. Do you really need to stand up? I've been on geographically distrubited agile teams where many of us were sitting down during coordination calls. Do you really need to answer three questions, two of which are clearly focused on status regardless of claims otherwise? I've been on lean teams where we met around our Kanban board and focused on potential blockers. The answers to these questions depends on the context of the situation you find yourself in. The challenge, at least from the point of view of a process framework, is how do you avoid falling into the trap of being overly prescriptive. The strategy we adopted in DAD is to take a goal-driven approach. The observation is that regardless of the situation you find yourself in there are common goals your team will need to fulfill. For example, at the beginning of a project common goals include developing an initial plan, initially exploring the scope, initially identifying a technical strategy, and securing initial funding (amongst others). Throughout construction you should coordinate your activities, improve the quality of your ecosystem, and produce a potentially consumable solution on a regular basis (more on this below). So, instead of prescribing a daily stand up meeting the DAD framework instead indicates you should coordinate your activities, and gives several options for doing so (one of which is a Scrum meeting). More importantly DAD describes the advantages and disadvantages of your options so that you can make the choice that's best suited for the situation your team finds itself in (see this blog posting
for a detailed example of the types of tables included in the DAD book to help you through such process tailoring decisions). In short, our experience is that it requires discipline to take a goal driven approach
to agile delivery over the prescriptive strategies in other agile processes.
You take a context-driven approach
. There are many tailoring factors, which I describe in the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF)
, which you need to consider when making process, tooling, and team structure decisions. For example, a large team will adopt a different collection of practices and tools than a small team. A geographically distributed team will adopt a different strategy than a team that is co-located. You get the idea. Other tailoring factors include compliance, team culture, organization culture, technical complexity, domain complexity, and project type. It requires discipline to recognize the context of the situation you find yourself in and then act accordingly.
You deliver potentially consumable solutions
. One of the observations that we made early in the development of the DAD framework was that disciplined agile teams produce potentially consumable solutions, not just potentially shippable 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. For example, not only are we writing software but we may also be updating the hardware on which it runs, writing supporting documentation, evolving the business processes around the usage of the system, and even evolving the organizational structure of the people working with the system. In other words, disciplined agilists focus on solutions over software
. Furthermore, "potentially shippable" isn't sufficient: not only should it be shippable but it should also be usable and should be something people want to use. In other words it should be consumable (a concept DAD adopted from IBM's Outside In Development
). 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 "
such as user interface design and process design to name just two.
The incremental delivery of potentially consumable solutions on an incremental basis requires discipline
to do successfully. DAD teams focus on repeatable results not repeatable processes
You are enterprise aware
. Whether you like it or not, as you adopt agile you will constrained by the organizational ecosystem, and you will need to act accordingly. It takes discipline to work with enterprise professionals such as enterprise architects, data admistrators, portfolio managers, or IT governance people who may not be completely agile yet, and have the patience to help them. It takes discipline to work with your operations and support staff in a DevOps
manner throughout the lifecycle, particularly when they may not be motivated to do so. It requires discipline to accept and potentially enhance existing corporate development conventions (programming guidelines, data guidelines, UI guidelines, ...). It requires discipline to accept that your organization has an existing technology roadmap that you should be leveraging, building out, and in some cases improving as you go. In short, enterprise awareness requires a level of discipline
not typically seen on many agile teams.
You adopt a full delivery lifecycle
. Empirically it is very easy to observe that at the beginning of an agile project there are some activities that you need to perform to initiate the project. Similarly at the end of the project there are activities that you need to perform to release the solution into production or the marketplace. The DAD process framework addresses the effort required for the full delivery effort, including project initiation, construction, and deployment. Our experience is that it requires discipline on the part of IT professionals to include explicit phases
for Inception/Initation, Construction, and Transition/Deployment and more importantly to focus the appropriate amount of effort on each. One danger of explicit phases is that you run the risk of taking what's known as a Water-Scrum-Fall
approach, a term coined by Dave West the person who wrote the forward for the DAD book, where you take an overly heavy/traditional approach to inception and transition in combination with a lighter agile approach to construction. Water-Scrum-Fall occurs because many organizations haven't made a full transition to agile, often because they think it's only applicable to construction. Our experience is that you can be very agile in your approach to inception and transition, experience we've built into the DAD framework. Having said that it clearly requires discipline to keep inception activities short
and similarly it requires discipline to reduce the "transition phase" to an activity
You adopt a wider range of roles
. An interesting side effect of adopting a full delivery lifecycle is that you also need to adopt a more robust set of roles. For example, the Scrum method suggests three roles - Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Team Member - a reflection of the Scrum lifecycle's construction focus. DAD suggests three primary roles - Team Lead, Product Owner, Team Member, Architecture Owner
, and Stakeholder - as well as five secondary roles which may appear at scale.
You embrace agile governance
. Governance establishes chains of responsibility, authority and communication in support of the overall enterprise’s goals and strategy. It also establishes measurements, policies, standards and control mechanisms to enable people to carry out their roles and responsibilities effectively. You do this by balancing risk versus return on investment (ROI), setting in place effective processes and practices, defining the direction and goals for the department, and defining the roles that people play with and within the department. It requires discipline to adopt an agile approach to governance
, and that's something built right into the DAD framework.
- Does the team regularly produce value for their stakeholders?
- Does the team validate its own work to the best of its ability?
- Are stakeholders actively involved?
- Is the team self organizing?
- Does the team strive to improve their process?
Some interesting results include:
94% of teams which are claiming to be agile are providing value to stakeholders on a regular basis.
87% of teams which are claiming to be agile are validating their own work.
95% of teams which are claiming to be agile are working closely with stakeholders.
56% of teams which are claiming to be agile are self organizing.
88% of teams which are claiming to be agile are improving the process that they follow throughout the lifecycle.
Teams which are claiming to be agile often aren't. 53% of "agile teams" meet the five criteria, although 72% meet all but the self-organization criteria.
Teams which are moving towards agile but aren't there yet are reasonably close. 39% of those teams meet all five criteria and 63% meet all but self-organization.
I believe that there are several important implications:
- Whenever someone claims to be on an agile team you may want to explore that claim a bit deeper.
The low level of self organization may be an indicator of cultural challenges with organizations in that their project managers aren't giving up sufficient control. The Agility at Scale survey
in November 2009 found that 59% of respondents who indicated that their organization hadn't adopted agile techniques yet that a rigid culture was hampering their efforts. The IT Governance and Project Management
survey in July 2009 discovered that "questionable behaviors", many of which were ethically questionable (I'm being polite), were far too common within IT project management.
Although "agile teams" may not be as agile as they claim, they're still doing better than traditional V-model teams, as revealed (again) by the 2010 IT Project Success
If there was some sort of consensus within the agile community as to the criteria for determining whether a team is agile, I highly suspect that the agileness ratings would increase over time. What gets measured often improves.
However, how agile you are isn't anywhere near as important as getting better at what you're doing. So perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree on this issue. ;-)