I was recently in Bangalore speaking at the Rational Software Conference, which was really well done this year, and visiting customers. In addition to discussing how to scale agile software development approaches, particularly when the team is distributed geographically and organizationally, I was also asked about what I thought about a software factory approach to development. My instinctual reaction was negative, software factories can result in lower overall productivity as the result of over specialization of staff (I prefer generalizing specialists
), too many hand-offs between these specialists (I find close collaboration to be far more effective), and too much bureaucratic overhead to coordinate these activities. I initially chalked it up to these people still believing that software development was mostly a science, or perhaps an engineering domain, whereas my experiences had made me come to believe that software development is really more art than it is a science. Yet, the consistent belief in this strategy by very smart and experienced people started me thinking about my position.
Just let me begin by saying that this blog posting isn't meant to be yet another round in the age old, and relatively inane, "art vs. science" debate within the software development community. That debate is a symptom of versusitis
, a dread disease which particularly plagues the IT industry and which can any of us at any time. There is no known cure, although the combination of experience, open-mindedness, and critical thought are the best inoculation against versusitis that we have so far. In that vein, let me explore the issues as I see them and I will let you think for yourself.
On the one hand software development has aspects of being an art for several reasons. First, the problem definition is never precise, nor accurate, and even when we have detailed specifications the requirements invariably evolve
anyway. The lack of defined, firm requirements requires us to be flexible and to adjust to the situation that we find ourselves in. Second, teams typically find themselves in unique situations, necessitating a unique process and tool environment to reflect this (assuming that you want to be effective, otherwise there's nothing stopping you from having a "repeatable process" and consistent tool environment). Third, software is built by people for people, requiring that the development team have the ability to build a system with a user interface which meets the unique needs of their end users. One has only to look at the myriad UI designs out there to see that surely there is a bit of art going on. Fourth, if software development wasn't at least partially art then why hasn't anyone succeeded at building tools which take requirements as inputs and produce a viable solution that we can easily deploy? It's been over four decades now, so there's been sufficient time and resources available to build such tooling. Fifth, regardless of how much of a scientific/business facade we put over it, our success rate at producing up front detailed cost estimates and schedules speak for itself (see Funding Agile Projects
for links to articles).
On the other hand software development has aspects of being a science for several reasons. First, some aspects of software development have in fact been automated to a significant extent. Second, there is some mathematical basis to certain aspects of software development (although in the case of data-oriented activities the importance of relational theory
often gets blown way out of proportion and I have yet to see a situation where formal methods proved to be of practical value).
What does this have to do with Agility@Scale. As you know, one of the agile scaling factors
is Organizational Complexity, and cultural issues are the hardest to overcome. Whether your organization believes that software development is mostly an art or mostly a science is a cultural issue which will be a major driver in you choice of methods and practices. Organizations which believe that software development is more of a science will prefer strategies such as software factories, model-driven architecture (MDA),
and master data management (MDM)
. And there is ample evidence to support the claims that some organizations are succeeding at these strategies. Although you may not agree with these strategies, you need to respect the fact that many organizations are making them work in their environments. Similarly, organizations which believe that software development is more of an art will find that agile and lean strategies are a better fit, and once again there is ample evidence that organizations are succeeding with these approaches (there's also evidence that agile projects are more successful
than traditional projects, on average). Once again, you may not agree with these strategies but you need to respect the fact that other people are making them work in practice.
Trying to apply agile approaches within an organization that believes software development is mostly a science will find it difficult at best, and will likely need to embark on a multi-year program to shift their culture (likely an expensive endeavor which won't be worth the investment). Similarly, trying to apply a software factory strategy in an organization that believes that software development is mostly an art will also run aground. The bottom line is that one size does not fit all, that one strategy is
not right for all situations and that you need to understand the trade-offs of various strategies, methodologies, techniques, and practices and apply them appropriately given the situation that you face. In other words, it depends! If you are embarking on a software process initiative, and you don't have the broad experience required to effective choose between strategies (very few organizations do, although many believe otherwise), then you should consider Measured Capability Improvement Framework (MCIF)
to help increase your chance of success.
Modified by ScottAmbler
I was recently involved in an online discussion about how to calculate the benefits realized by software development teams. As with most online discussions it quickly devolved into camps and the conversation didn’t progress much after that. In this case there was what I would characterize as a traditional project camp and a much smaller agile/lean product camp. Although each camp had interesting points, the important thing for me in the conversation was the wide cultural and experience gap between the people involved in the conversation.
The following diagram summarizes the main viewpoints and the differences between them. The traditional project camp promoted a strategy where the potential return on investment (ROI) for a project would be calculated, a decision would be made to finance the project based (partly) on that ROI, the project would run, the solution delivered into production, and then at some point in the future the actual ROI would be calculated. Everyone was a bit vague on how the actual ROI would be calculated, but they agreed that it could be done although would be driven by the context of the situation. Of course several people pointed out that it rarely works that way. Even if the potential ROI was initially calculated it would likely be based on wishful thinking and it would be incredibly unlikely that the actual ROI would be calculated once the solution was in production. This is because few organizations are actually interested in investing the time to do so and some would even be afraid to do so. Hence the planned and actual versions of the traditional strategy in the diagram.
The agile/lean camp had a very different vision. Instead of investing in upfront ROI calculation, which would have required a fair bit of upfront requirements modelling and architectural modelling to get the information, the idea was that we should instead focus on a single feature or small change. If this change made sense to the stakeholders then it would be implemented, typically on the order of days or weeks instead of months, and put quickly into production. If your application is properly instrumented, which is becoming more and more common given the growing adoption of DevOps strategies, you can easily determine whether the addition of the new feature/change adds real value.
Cultural differences get in your way
The traditional project camp certainly believed in their process. In theory it sounded good, and I’m sure you could make it work, but in practice it was very fragile. The long feedback cycle, potentially months if not years, pretty much doomed the traditional approach to measuring benefits of software development to failure. The initial ROI guesstimate was often a work of fiction and rarely would it be compared to actuals. The cultural belief in bureaucracy motivated the traditional project camp to ignore the obvious challenges with their chosen approach.
The agile/lean camp also believed in their strategy. In theory it works very well, and more and more organizations are clearly pulling this off in practice, but it does require great discipline and investment in your environment. In particular, you need investment in modern development practices such as continuous integration (CI), continuous deployment (CD), and instrumented solutions (all important aspects of a disciplined agile DevOps strategy). These are very good things to do anyway, it just so happens that they have an interesting side effect of making it easy (and inexpensive) to measure the actual benefits of changes to your software-based solutions. The cultural belief in short feedback cycles, in taking a series of smaller steps instead of one large one, and in their ability to automate some potentially complex processes motivated the agile/lean camp to see the traditional camp as hopeless and part of the problem.
Several people in the traditional project camp struggled to understand the agile/lean approach, which is certainly understandable given how different that vision is compared with traditional software development environments. Sadly a few of the traditionalists chose to malign the agile/lean strategy instead of respectfully considering it. They missed an excellent opportunity to learn and potentially improve their game. Similarly the agilists started to tune out, dropping out of the conversation and forgoing the opportunity to help others see their point of view. In short, each camp suffered from cultural challenges that prevented them from coherently discussing how to measure the benefits of software development efforts.
How Should You Measure the Effectiveness of Software Development?
Your measurement strategy should meet the following criteria:
Measurements should be actioned. Both the traditional and agile/lean strategies described above meet this criteria in theory. However, because few organizations appear willing to calculate ROI after deployment as the traditional approach recommends, in practice the traditional strategy rarely meets this criteria. It is important to note that I used the word actioned, not actionable. Key difference.
There must be positive value. The total cost of taking a measure must be less than the total value of the improvement in decision making you gain. I think that the traditional strategy falls down dramatically here, which is likely why most organizations don’t actually follow it in practice. The agile/lean strategy can also fall down WRT this criterion but is much less likely to because the feedback cycle between creating the feature and measuring it is so short (and thus it is easier to identify the change in results to the actual change itself).
The measures must reflect the situation you face. There are many things you can measure that can give you insight into the ROI of your software development efforts. Changes in sales levels, how often given screen or function is invoked, savings incurred from a new way of working, improved timeliness of information (and thereby potentially better decision making), customer retention, customer return rate, and many others. What questions are important to you right now? What measures can help provide insight into those questions? It depends on the situation that you face, there are no hard and fast rules. For a better understanding of complexity factors faced by teams, see The Software Development Context Framework.
The measures should be difficult to game. Once again, traditional falls down here. ROI estimates are notoriously flakey because they require people to make guesses about costs, revenues, time frames, and other issues. The measurements coming out of your instrumented applications are very difficult to game because they’re being generated as the result of doing your day-to-day business.
The strategy must be compatible with your organization. Once again, this is a “it depends” type of situation. Can you imagine trying to convince an agile team to adopt the traditional strategy, or vice versa? Yes, you can choose to improve over time.
Not surprisingly, I put a lot more faith in the agile/lean approach to measuring value. Having said that, I do respect the traditional strategy as there are some situations where it may in fact work. Just not as many as traditional protagonists may believe.
At IBM Rational we define disciplined agile delivery as:
Disciplined agile delivery is an evolutionary (iterative and incremental) approach which regularly produces high quality solutions in a cost effective and timely manner via a risk and value driven life cycle. It is performed in a highly collaborative, disciplined, and self-organizing manner within an appropriate governance framework, with active stakeholder participation to ensure that the team understands and addresses the changing needs of its stakeholders to maximize business value provided. Disciplined agile delivery teams provide repeatable results by adopting just the right amount of ceremony for the situation which they face.
Let’s explore the key points in this definition:
- Full delivery life cycle. Disciplined agile delivery processes have life cycles which are serial in the large and iterative in the small. Minimally they have a release rhythm which recognizes the need for start up/inception activities, construction activities, and deployment/transition activities. Better yet, they include explicit phases as well. It is very important to note that these are not the traditional waterfall phases – requirements, analysis, design, and so on – but instead different “seasons” of a project. The point is that we need to look beyond agile software development and consider the full complexities of solution delivery. Adopting a full delivery life cycle, not just a construction life cycle, is arguably the “zeroth” agile scaling factor.
- Evolutionary. Agile strategies are both iterative and incremental in nature. Iterative means that you are working in a non-serial manner, on any given day you may do some requirements analysis, some testing, some programming, some design, some more testing, and so on. Incremental means that you add new functionality and working code to the most recent build, until such time as the stakeholder determines there is enough value to release the product.
- Regularly produces high quality solutions. Agilists are said to be quality focused. They prefer to test often and early, and the more disciplined ones even take a test-first approach where they will write a single test and the just enough production code to fulfill that test (then they iterate). Many agile developers have adopted the practice of refactoring, which is a technique where you make simple changes to your code or schema which improves its quality without changing its semantics. Adoption of these sorts of quality techniques seems to work – it appears that agile teams are more likely to deliver high quality systems than traditional teams (according to the DDJ 2008 Project Success survey). Within IBM we take it one step further and focus on consumability, which encompasses quality and other features such as ease of deployment and system performance. Furthermore, although some agile methods promote the concept of producing “potentially shippable software” on a regular basis, disciplined agile delivery teams produce solutions: a portion of which may be software, a portion of which may be hardware, and a portion of which will be the manner in which the system is used.
- Cost effective and timely manner. Agile teams prefer to implement functionality in priority order [http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/prioritizedRequirements.htm], with the priority being defined by their stakeholders (or a representative thereof). Working in priority order enables agile teams to maximize the return on investment (ROI) because they are working on the high-value functionality as defined by their stakeholders, thereby increasing cost effectiveness. Agile teams also prefer to produce potentially shippable solutions each iteration (an iteration is a time-box, typically 2-4 weeks in length), enabling their stakeholders to determine when they wish to have a release delivered to them and thereby improving timeliness. Short iterations reduce the feedback cycle, improving the chance that agile teams will discover problems early (they “fail fast”) and thereby enable them to address the problems when they’re still reasonably inexpensive to do so. The DDJ 2008 Project Success survey found that agile teams are in fact more likely to deliver good ROI than traditional teams and more likely to deliver in a timely manner.
- Value driven life cycle. One result of building a potentially shippable solution every iteration is that agile teams produce concrete value in a consistent and visible manner throughout the life cycle.
- Risk and value driven life cycle. Core agile processes are very clear about the need to produce visible value in the form of working software on a regular basis throughout the life cycle. Disciplined agile delivery processes take it one step further and actively mitigate risk early in the life cycle – during project start up you should come to stakeholder concurrence regarding the project’s scope, thereby reducing significant business risk, and prove the architecture by building a working skeleton of your system, thereby significantly reducing technical risk. They also help with transition to agile, allowing traditional funding models to use these milestones before moving to the finer grained iteration based funding that agile allows.
- Highly collaborative. People build systems, and the primary determinant of success on a development project is the individuals and the way that they work together. Agile teams strive to work closely together and effectively as possible. This is a characteristic that applies to both engineers on the team, as well as their leadership.
- Disciplined. Agile software development requires greater discipline on the part of practitioners that what is typically required by traditional approaches.
- Self organizing. This means that the people who do the work also plan and estimate the work.
- Self-organization within an appropriate governance framework. Self-organization leads to more realistic plans and estimates which are more acceptable to the people implementing them. At the same time these self-organizing teams must work within an appropriate governance framework which reflects the needs of their overall organizational environment. An “appropriate governance framework” explicitly enables disciplined agile delivery teams to effectively leverage a common infrastructure, to follow organizational conventions, and to work towards organizational goals. The point is that project teams, regardless of the delivery paradigm they are following, need to work within the governance framework of their organization. More importantly, effective governance programs should make it desirable to do so. Our experience is that traditional, command-and-control approaches to governance where senior management explicitly tells teams what to do and how to do it don’t work very well with agile delivery teams. We’ve also found that lean development governance, an approach which is based on collaboration and enablement, is far more effective in practice. Good governance increases the chance that agile delivery teams will build systems which fit into your overall organizational environment, instead of yet another stand-alone system which increases your overall maintenance burden and data quality problems.
- Active stakeholder participation. Agile teams work closely with their stakeholders, who include end users, managers of end users, the people paying for the project, enterprise architects, support staff, operations stuff, and many more. Within IBM we distinguish between four categories of stakeholder: principles/sponsors, partners (business partners and others), end users, and insiders These stakeholders, or their representatives (product owners in Scrum, or on-site customers in Extreme Programming, or a resident stakeholder in scaling situations), are expected to provide information and make decisions in a timely manner.
- Changing needs of stakeholders. As a project progresses your stakeholders will gain a better understanding of what they want, particularly if you’re showing them working software on a regular basis, and will change their “requirements” as a result. Changes in the business environment, or changes in organization priority, will also motivate changes to the requirements. There is a clear need for agile requirements change management [http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/changeManagement.htm] on modern IT projects.
- Repeatable results. Stakeholders are rarely interested in how you delivered a solution but instead in what you delivered. In particular, they are often interested in having a solution which meets their actual needs, in spending their money wisely, in a high-quality solution, and in something which is delivered in a timely manner. In other words, they’re interested in repeatable results, not repeatable processes.
- Right amount of ceremony for the situation. Agile approaches minimize ceremony in favor of delivering concrete value in the form of working software, but that doesn’t mean they do away with ceremony completely. Agile teams will still hold reviews, when it makes sense to do so. DDJ’s 2008 Modeling and Documentation Survey found that agile teams will still produce deliverable documentation, such as operations manuals and user manuals, and furthermore are just as likely to do so as traditional teams. The DDJ September 2009 State of the IT Union survey found that the quality of the documentation delivered by agile teams was just as good as that delivered by traditional teams, although iterative teams (e.g. RUP teams) did better than both agile and traditional.
I recently wrote a detailed article about Large Agile Teams that was a detailed walkthrough of how to structure agile teams of various sizes. I suspect that this is the most comprehensive online discussion of this topic. The article addressed the following topics:
Organizing Agile Teams. The article starts with a summary of the results of some industry research that I've done regarding the size of agile teams, showing that agile techniques are in fact being successfully applied on a variety of team sizes. It then goes into detail describing the organization structure of agile teams at various sizes. The article starts with a discussion of small agile teams, covering the common rhetoric of how to organize such a team and then making observations about what actually happens in practice. It then walks through two approaches to organizing medium sized teams of 15 to 50 people - a structure for a single team and a structure for a team of teams. Finally, it walks through how to organize a large agile program of 50+ people, focusing a fair bit on the need for a leadership team to coordinate the overall activities within the program. This advice is similar to what is seen in the SAFe framework although proves to be a bit more flexible and pragmatic in practice.
Supporting Large Agile Teams. The leadership structure to support a large agile team is reasonably straightforward once you understand the issues that such a team faces. In this section the article overviews the need for three important sub teams within your overall leadership team: The Product Delivery Team, The Product Management Team, and The Architecture Team. It also describes the need for an optional Independent Testing/Integration Team, something misleadingly labeled an integration team in SAFe, that reflects some of the known agile testing and quality practices that I've been writing about for several years.
Organizing subteams. The article includes a detailed discussion for how to organize the work addressed by agile sub teams within a large agile program. These strategies include feature teams, component teams, and internal open source teams. As you would expect with the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) framework, the article clearly summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of each approach on provides guidance for when (not) to apply each one. I suspect you'll find this portion of the article to be one of the most coherent discussions of the Feature vs. Component team debate.
Tailoring agile practices. The article provides a detailed overview of how the various DAD process goals are tailored to address the issues faced by large teams. This advice includes: Do a bit more up-front requirements exploration; Do a bit more up-front architectural modelling; Do a bit more initial planning; Adopt more sophisticated coordination activities; Adopt more sophisticated testing strategies; and Integrate regularly. My hope is that you find this part of the article very illuminating regarding how the DAD framework provides flexible and lightweight advice for tailoring your approach to address the context of the situation that you face.
Other Resources. The article ends with a collection of links to other resources on this topic.
I welcome any feedback that you may have about Large Agile Teams.
The basic idea behind DevOps
is that your development strategy and operations strategy should reflect one another, that you should strive to optimize the whole IT process. This implies that development teams should work closely with your operations staff to deliver new releases smoothly into production and that your operations staff should work closely with development teams to streamline critical production issues.
DevOps has its source in agile software development, and it is an explicit aspect of the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
process framework. As a result there is a collection of agile development strategies which enable effective DevOps throughout the agile delivery lifecycle. These strategies include:
- Initial requirements envisioning. Disciplined agile teams invest time at the beginning of the project to identify the high-level scope in a light-weight, collaborative manner. This includes common operations requirements such as the need to backup and restore data sources, to instrument the solution so that it can be monitored in real time by operations staff, or to architect the solution in a modular manner to enable easier deployment.
- Initial architecture envisioning. Disciplined agile teams will also identify a viable architectural strategy which reflects the requirements of their stakeholders and your organization’s overall architectural strategy (hence the need to work closely with your enterprise architects and operations staff). One goal is to ensure that the team is building (or buying) a solution which will work well with the existing operational infrastructure and to begin negotiating any infrastructural changes (such as deploying new technologies) early in the project. Another goal is to ensure that operations-oriented requirements are addressed by the architecture from the very start.
- Initial release planning. As part of release planning the disciplined agile team works closely with their operations group to identify potential release windows to aim for, any release blackout periods to avoid, and the need for operations-oriented milestone reviews later in the lifecycle (if appropriate).
- Active stakeholder participation. Disciplined agile teams work closely with their stakeholders, including both operations and support staff, all the way through the lifecycle to ensure that their evolving needs are understood.
- Continuous integration (CI). This is a common technical agile practice where the solution is built/compiled, regression tested, and maybe even run through code analysis tools. CI promotes greater quality which in turn enables easier releases into production.
- Parallel independent testing. For enterprise-class development or at scale, particularly when the domain or technology is very complex or in regulatory environments, disciplined agile team will find they need to support their whole team testing efforts with an independent test team running in parallel to the development team. These testing issues often include validation of non-functional requirements – such as security, performance, and availability concerns – and around production system integration. All of these issues are of clear importance for operations departments.
- Continuous deployment. With this practice you automate the promotion of your working solution between environments. By automating as much of the deployment effort as possible, and by running it often, the development team increases the chance of a successful deployment and thereby reduces the risk to the operations environment. Note that deployment into production is generally not automatic, as this is an important decision to be made by your operations/release manager(s).
- Continuous documentation. With this practice supporting documentation, including operations and support documentation, is evolved throughout the lifecycle in concert with the development of new functionality.
- Production release planning. This is the subset of your release planning efforts which focuses on the activities required to deploy into production.
- Production readiness reviews. There should be at least one review, performed by the person(s) responsible for your operations environment, before the solution is deployed into production. The more critical the system, the more product readiness reviews may be required.
- End-of-lifecycle testing. Minimally you will need to run your full automated regression test suite against your baselined code once construction ends. There may also be manual acceptance reviews or testing to be performed, and any appropriate fixing and retesting required to ensure that the solution is truly ready for production.
There’s more to it though than simply adopting some good practices. Your process must also embrace several supporting philosophies. The Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
process framework not only adopts the practices listed above, and more, but it also promotes several philosophies which enable DevOps:
- Delivery teams should be enterprise aware, that they should work with people such as operations staff and enterprise architects to understand and work towards a common operational infrastructure for your organization.
- Operations and support people should be recognized as key stakeholders of the solution being worked on.
- The delivery team should focus on solutions over software. Software is clearly important, but we will often provide new or upgraded hardware, supporting documentation (including operations and support procedures), change the business/operational processes that stakeholders follow, and even help change the organizational structure in which our stakeholders work.
- Your process should include an explicit governance strategy. Effective governance strategies motivate and enable development teams to leverage and enhance the existing infrastructure, follow existing organizational conventions, and work closely with enterprise teams – all of which help to streamline operations and support of the delivered solutions.
For more detail about this topic, I think that you will find the article I wrote for the December 2011 issue of Cutter IT Journal entitled “Disciplined Agile Delivery and Collaborative DevOps
” to be of value.
In November 2011 Paul Gorans, the Accelerated Solution Delivery (ASD) practice lead in IBM GBS, and I ran an agile adoption survey
. The survey explored a range of issue, including the factors that appear to be associated with the success and failure of agile project teams. Paul wrote up his thoughts in his Agile State of the Art Survey
article on ibm.com and I did the same for Dr Dobb's Journal in Agile Success Factors
. This blog posting summarizes the results of the survey.
Factors which appear to accelerate agile adoption include:
- People are assigned to a single team
- Development teams have easy access to business expertise
- Development teams are organized for agile delivery (not traditional)
- Your organization has an agile support group/community of excellence
- Your organization is explicitly addressing barriers to agility
- There is executive sponsorship for agile
- Agile teams are measured on value creation
- Your organization's IT governance strategy includes an agile path
Factors which appear to decelerate agile adoption include:
- Agile teams are measured using traditional metrics
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.
Modified by ScottAmbler
One of the scaling factors called out in the Software Development Context Framework is “geographic distribution". As with the other scaling factors the level of geographic distribution is a range, with co-located teams at one extreme and far-located at the other. When your team is co-located the developers and the primary stakeholders are all situated in the same work room. If you have some team members in cubicles or in separate offices then you're slightly distributed, if you're working on different floors in the same building you're a bit more distributed, if you're working in different buildings within the same geographic area (perhaps your team is spread across different office buildings in the same city or some people work from home some days) then your team is more distributed, if people are working in different cities in the same country you're more distributed, and finally if people are working in different cities around the globe you're even more distributed (I call this far located).
As your team becomes more distributed your project risk increases for several reasons:
Communication challenges. The most effective means of communication between two people is face-to-face around a shared sketching space such as a whiteboard, and that requires you to be in the same room together. As you become more distributed you begin to rely on less effective communication strategies.
Temporal challenges. When people are in different time zones it becomes harder to find common working times, increasing the communication challenges. One potential benefit, however, is the opportunity to do "follow-the-sun" development where a team does some work during their workday, hands off the work to another team in a significantly different time zone, who picks up the work and continues with it. This strategy of course requires a high degree of sophistication and discipline on the part of everyone involved, but offers the potential to reduce overall calendar time.
Cultural challenges. As the team becomes more distributed the cultural challenges between sites typically increases. Different cultures have different work ethics, treat intellectual property differently, have different ideas about commitment, have different holidays, different approaches to things, and so on.
As you would imagine, because the project risk increases the more distributed your team is, the lower the average success rates of agile projects decrease as they become more distributed. The 2008 IT Project Success Survey found that co-located agile teams has an average success rate of 79%, that near located teams (members were in same geographic area) had a success rate of 73%, and that far-located agile teams had a success rate of 55%. The success rate decreases similarly for project teams following other paradigms.
The practices that you adopt, and the way that you tailor the agile practices which you follow, will vary based on the level of geographic distribution of your team. For example, a co-located team will likely do initial architecture envisioning on a whiteboard and keep it at a fairly high-level. A far-located team will hopefully choose to fly in key team members at the beginning of the project, at least the architecture owners on the various sub-teams, to do the architecture envisioning together. They will likely go into greater detail because they will want to identify, to the best of their ability, the interfaces of the various subsystems or components which they'll be building.
Interestingly, the Agility at Scale 2009 survey found that it was quite common for agile teams to be geographically distributed in some manner:
45% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were co-located
60% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members spread out through the same building
30% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams were working from home
21% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had people working in different offices in the same city
47% of respondents indicated that some of their agile teams had team members that were far located
The bottom line is that some organizations, including IBM, have been very successful applying agile techniques on geographically distributed teams. In fact, agile GDD is far more common than mainstream agile discussion seem to let on.
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
Over the past few months I've had several people ask me whether it makes sense to offshore agile testing, and more importantly when it makes sense to do so. So I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject:
Focus on whole team testing. The basic strategy is that agile teams should strive to do as much, if not all, of the testing themselves. We call this whole team testing. For organizations new to agile this can be daunting because they may be organized in such a way that programmers write code and then hand it over to testers for validation and verification. The implication is that organizations will need to invest in their staff so that the programmers become more well rounded and pick up testing skills (we refer this as moving from being a specialist to a generalizing specialist).
Offshore entire development teams. A common strategy for organizing geographically distributed agile teams is to have whole teams at each location. For example, if your larger team is spread across three locations - Toronto, London, and Bangalore - then each team is responsible for implementing end to end functionality. With a component-based approach the Toronto team should be fully responsible for one or more subsystems, the London team responsible for one or more subsystems, and the Bangalore team responsible for one or more subsystems. With a feature-team approach the Toronto team would implement all of the functionality, end-to-end, for a feature regardless of which subsystems that functionality affects. Agile teams typically aren't organized by job function (e.g. analysis is done in London, design and coding in Toronto, testing in Bangalore) due to the overhead of handoffs between sites, the increased risk of miscommunication due to less effective ways of communicating information, and the increased complexity of managing the work.
Adopt independent testing at scale. You may choose, or be forced to have, an independent test team that focuses on some of the more complex forms of testing. The general idea is that this team works in parallel to other subteams and tests their working builds on a regular basis. Having said that, the vast majority of the testing effort should still be done in a whole team fashion. If your team is experiencing agile scaling factors such as domain complexity or technical complexity then you may find that it makes economic sense to have an independent test team focus on forms of testing that are difficult for the subteams to address, in particular pre-production system integration testing. If your team is in a regulatory domain where independent testing is required, then you're better off to "shift left" this effort with an independent test team to reduce both cost and risk.
Offshore independent testing carefully. I would offshore independent testing only to organizations that I have a very good, long-term relationship with that have proven that they can work in a disciplined agile manner. I would also want to ensure that they have actual experience with agile independent testing AND are staffing the team with people that have that experience. A clear sign that they don't understand what is required is if the independent testing team is asking for a detailed requirements specification, an indication that they're planning on doing confirmatory testing which is better suited for whole team testing. Furthermore, I would only do this if I don't have adequate staff to do so myself AND do not have time to build up my own independent test team.
I suspect that you're going to find yourself in serious trouble if:
You do not have successful experiences with agile delivery in simpler (e.g. non-offshoring) situations first. Walk before you try to run.
You think you can save money by having agile programming done in one location and agile testing in another (the coordination costs are going to be much larger than you think)
You're offshoring testing because you're new to agile (in this situation you don't have the experience to organize let alone govern the offshored activities)
You work with a service provider where you don't have a proven track record with them when it comes to agile development (a proven track record with traditional approaches is a good start but still very risky)
In short, it can make sense to offshore agile testing in a very narrow range of situations. Be very careful.