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.
A common misunderstanding about agile software development approaches are that they're only applicable to small, co-located teams. Yes, it's much easier to be successful with small teams, and with co-located teams, and as a result agilists being smart people prefer to work this way. After all, why take on extra risk when you don't need to do so? But, sometimes reality gets in the way and you find yourself in a situation where you need a large team, or you need to distribute your team (see previous blog postings for strategies for distributed agile development), and you would still like to be as agile as possible. The good news is that it's still possible to be agile with a large team, although you will need to go beyond some of the popular "agile in the small" strategies to succeed.
Here are some disciplined agile strategies to succeed at large-team agile:
- Question the need for a large team. Many times an organization will believe that they need a large team because their process is overly complex, because they're still organized for waterfall development, or simply because that's what they're used to. I've seen teams of 80 people doing the work of 20 as the result of over-specialization of job roles and all the bureaucracy required to organize and validate their work.
- Do some initial envisioning. In order to succeed the team must work together towards the same goals. This is true for small teams but doubly true for larger ones -- without a common vision chaos will quickly ensue. You must gain this common vision on two fronts: you need a common business vision and a common technical vision. To gain the common business vision you must do some initial, high-level requirements envisioning and to gain the common technical vision some common architecture envisioning. This isn't to say that you need to take on the risk of detailed, up-front specifications but you must at least have a high-level understanding of the scope and technical solution in order to move forward effectively. So, expect to spend the first few weeks of your project doing this initial modeling.
- Divide and conquer. You never have a team of 200 people, instead you have a collection of subteams that add up to 200 people. This is called having a team of teams.
- Align team structure with architecture. The most effective way to organize the subteams is to have each one implement one or more components, and thereby to build your overall system as a "system of systems". This reduces the coordination required because the majority of the communication will be within the subteams themselves. You'll still need to coordinate the subteams, that will never go away, but you can reduce the overhead (and the risk) by being smart about the way that you organize the people. A common mistake is to organize around job function (e.g. having architects in Toronto, developers in Raleigh, testers in Bangalore, and so on). This increases communication overhead and risk because these people need to work together closely to get something built.
- Project management coordination. Each subteam will have a team lead/coach, and these people will need to coordinate their work. There is often an overall project manager who leads this group. To coordinate the work within their subteam the team lead/coach will often have a daily meeting, in the Scrum method this is called a scrum meeting, where people share their current status and identify any problems they may be running into. To scale this effectively the team lead/coach attends a daily team coordination meeting, a scrum of scrums, where the same sort of information is shared at the overall team level.
- Product owner coordination. Similarly, each subteam has a product ownder, also referred to as an "on-site customer", who is responsible for making decisions about the requirements and for providing information to the team in a timely manner. Sometimes a single product owner will work with several subteams. The product owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some requirements envisioning to identify the initial scope and to start portioning the requirements between the subteams. Because the requirements between the subsystems are interrelated and should be reasonably consistent, the product owners will need to meet on a regular basis to share information, to negotiate priorities, and to resolve requirements-related disputes.
- Architecture coordination. Each subteam will have an architecture owner, often a senior technical person and sometimes also in the role of the team lead/coach. These architecture owners will get together at the beginning of the project to do some initial architecture envisioning, based on the requirements envisioning efforts of the product owners. They will identify the major subsystems, and their interfaces, enabling the effective organization of the team into smaller subteams corresponding to the architecture. They will also get together regularly to evolve the architecture and to resolve any major technical issues.
- System integration team. For complex systems, which is often what large teams work on, an effective system integration effort is critical to your success. Although this may be easy at first, as the overall system evolves the need for a subteam focused solely on this quickly becomes apparent. This not only supports the development efforts of the subteams, it also supports independent investigative testing.
- Independent testing team. An independent testing team is common on mid-to-large size agile projects to enhance the testing efforts of the development subteams. This testing team will work in parallel to the developers, they get a new build on a regular basis (minimally each iteration, although more often is desirable), which they test in more advanced ways than what is typical with Test-Driven Development (TDD). For example, they often validate non-functional, quality of service (QoS) type requirements as well as technical constraints, things that often aren't captured well via user stories. They'll also do investigative testing to try to break the system by using it in ways not thought of by the product owners.
- Some specialties reappear. On larger teams it can make sense to have some people be a bit more specialized than what we normally see on small agile teams. For example, it's common to see people in the role of agile DBA, tech writer, build master, or user experience (UE) professional. More complex systems often require people in these roles, although it still behooves these poeple to not be pure specialists but instead to be generalizing specialists with a wider range of skills. Also, recognize that the reintroduction of specialists can be a slippery slope back to the bureaucracy of traditional software development.
Modified by ScottAmbler
IBM Rational recently published an update to my Agility@Scale e-book, which can be downloaded free of charge. The e-book is a 21 page, 2.3 meg PDF (sorry about the size, guess the graphics did it) . It overviews the Agile Scaling Model (ASM) (which has since been replaced by the Software Development Context Framework (SDCF) ), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), the scaling factors of agility at scale, and ends with some advice for becoming as agile as you can be. In short it's a light-weight coverage of some of the things I've been writing about in this blog the past couple of years. Could be a good thing to share with the decision makers in your organization if they're considering adoption agile strategies.
My new white paper, Disciplined Agile Delivery: An Introduction
, is now available free of charge from IBM.com. The paper overviews the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) process framework, a hybrid comprised of strategies from Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, and other agile methods which is people first, learning oriented, and enterprise aware. DAD is the basis from which you can scale agile.
- Context counts - The Agile Scaling Model
- People first - People, and the way they interact with each other, are the primary determinant of success for a solution delivery project.
- Learning-oriented - The DAD process framework promotes the ideas that team members should collaborate closely and learn from each other, that the team should invest effort to learn from their experiences and evolve their approach, and that individuals should do so as well.
- Hybrid - DAD adopts and tailors strategies from Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, UP, Kanban, and many others. It addresses many of the issues Mark Kennaley discusses in SDLC 3.0.
- IT solution focused - DAD teams produce potentially consumable solutions every construction iteration. This extends Scrum's "potentially shippable" strategy to explicitly address usability/consumability plus the fact that we're really delivering full solutions not just software.
- Goal-driven delivery life cycle - The DAD lifecycle is focused on delivery, not just construction. Furthermore it is goals-driven, the DAD process framework suggests various strategies to fulfill those goals but does not prescribe specific practices.
- Risk and value driven - The DAD lifecycle is risk and value driven. It extends Scrum's value-driven lifecycle which produces potentially shippable software each sprint/iteration so that it explicitly includes light-weight milesstones such as ensuring stakeholder consensus as to the scope of the project early in the lifecycle, proving the architecture with working code early in the lifecycle, ensuring sufficient functionality exists before transition, and ensuring production readiness before actual release of the solution.
- Enterprise aware - The DAD process framework promotes the ideas that DAD teams should work closely with their enterprise architecture groups to ensure they leverage and evolve the existing infrastructure, adopt and follow corporate guidelines, and work to the overall organizational vision. DAD teams are self organizing with appropriate governance.
For some reason, it seems as if everyone's grandfather at one point in time recommended to use the right tools for the job. That's practical wisdom from my point of view, one that is certainly an issue for agile development.
One of the primary messages, I hope, of the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is that context counts. Although the focus of the ASM is on describing a contextual framework for tailoring your process to meet the needs of the situation that you find yourself in, it's also applicable to your tooling selection. For example, the tool choices of a co-located team will be much different than that of a geographically distributed team. A co-located team will likely use a whiteboard
or paper for their agile modeling
efforts, whereas distributed team members may need to capture their diagrams using a more sophisticated tool such as Rational Requirements Composer (RRC)
so that their work can be shared electronically. Having said that, RRC would be overkill for a co-located team (unless they had regulatory compliance issues). Different teams, different situations, therefore different tooling choices.
One of the concerns that I run into from customers is that some of our legacy products don't support agile very well. Once again, it's a matter of context because many of our legacy products reflect the realities faced by more traditional teams. The challenge occurs when you try to take a legacy product which is well suited for traditional development, such as Rational ClearCase
, and try to apply it on agile projects. Although ClearCase makes sense in certain scaling situations, particularly very large teams that are geographically distributed, you'd be better advised to use something like Rational Team Concert (RTC)
for configuration management on most agile teams (note that RTC does far more than just SCM).
So, if you're taking an agile approach you should consider Rational tools such as RTC, RRC, Rational BuildForge
, Rational AppScan
, and others which support agile
development. Granted, some you would only use at scale -- for example Buildforge is a good option in really complex environments, but if you don't face that complexity then you'll likely find that RTC's build engine is sufficient. Similarly, if you're taking a traditional approach to development then you'll likely consider products such as ClearCase, Appscan, RTC, and Rational Software Architect (RSA)
instead. Different situations, different tooling choices.
What's even more confusing is that some products support a range of process paradigms. For example, RTC supports agile, lean, iterative, and traditional approaches to development. The same can be said of Appscan and several other products. Notice how I listed RTC and Appscan for both agile and traditional development above.
So, if anyone tells you that Rational tools don't support agile development don't believe them. Ask them which tools that they're talking about, and ask them if they're aware of the Rational products that do support agile development. Context counts.
I recently recorded an audio podcast
about Collaborative Development and Operations (DevOps) and how it relates to Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
. The podcast is 17 minutes long and covers a range of topics including:
- What are the challenges typically faced by Disciplined Agile Development teams as they begin to transition their working solutions into production?
- How best could this gap between Development and Operations be closed so that they worked collaboratively rather than in silos?
- If this DevOps gap was decreased or even closed, what would the measurable value be to Agile projects and their business stakeholders?
On a related note, IBM's Collaborative Development and Operations
landing page has some great resources if you're interested in how to implement.
Timo Tenhunen has recently published his master's thesis, Challenges in Scaling Agile Software Development
, and has been kind enough to make it available online. I suspect you'll find it to be an interesting read.
I recently did the voice over for our Rational.Everyware Agility@Scale whiteboard video
, which is a bit less than 4 minutes in length. As I narrate a whiteboard sketch evolves, sometimes using sticky-notes and index cards, to help explain what I'm talking about.
In the video, I describe:
- The history of agile
- Some of the challenges surrounding traditional development
- Some of the basics of agile, such as increased collaboration with stakeholders and on delivery of consumable solutions
- The benefits of agile, including increased quality, time to value, stakeholder satisfaction, and ROI
- Domains where agile is being applied successfully
- What IBM agility@scale is all about
- How some of the scaling factors change the way that you'll work and approach tooling
- Rational Team Concert (RTC), what it is and why you'd be interested in it
- Benefits that customers are seeing with RTC
- How you can download a fully-functional version of RTC for a team of up to 10, with no time limit, free of charge
So, it's basically a cool marketing video for a bunch of free stuff.
I recently wrote an "e-book" for Internet Evolution overviewing agile software development at scale. The goal of the Agility at Scale: Become as Agile as You Can Be
ebook is to get people thinking outside of the box a bit when it comes to agile development strategies and see that they really are ready for primetime.
The popular Agile literature can often seam naive when it comes to how Agilists work with project stakeholders:- Extreme Programming (XP) has a practice called On-Site Customer where one or more people work closely with your team to provide information and to make decisions in a timely manner.- Scrum has the role of Product Owner who is the one single person that the development team goes to for decisions about requirements. - Agile Modeling (AM) has the practice of Active Stakeholder Participation which extends On-Site Customer to get the stakeholder(s) actively involved with the modeling effort through the use of inclusive tools and techniques.
These are great strategies for small, co-located teams doing straightforward development, but they quickly fall apart at scale. This occurs for several reasons:1. Stakeholders are a diverse group. Your stakeholders include end users, business management, project funders, enterprise architects, operations staff, support staff, other system development teams, and many others. Different people have different, and often contradictory, requirements and they certainly have different priorities. It's questionable whether a single person, or a handful of persons, can adequately represent this diverse group.2. One person becomes a bottleneck. Even with a small co-located team this is a problem, let alone one that is geographically distributed or one that is very large. There's no way that a single person can be available 24/7 in a responsive manner to support distributed teams.3. It's a difficult role. The Product Owner/Customer (POC) is responsible for representing the business to the development team. They're making important decisions on a regular basis, decisions which they'll be held accountable for.4. One person becomes a serious project risk. Not only is it questionable whether a single person can fairly represent all stakeholders, even if they could what happens if you lose that person? They effectively become a single point of failure for your team.
To scale this role, consider the following strategies:1. Recognize the true scope of the POC role. Not only are they stakeholder proxies they also are a development team representative to the stakeholder community as a whole. As stakeholder proxies they'll make decisions and prioritize the work, they'll run requirements elicitation sessions, they'll negotiate priorities, and they'll put the development team in contact with stakeholders who have expertise in specific aspects of the domain. As team representatives they'll often demo the current version of the system to other stakeholders, communicate the status of the project to people, and respond to various requests for information from the stakeholders.2. Have multiple people in it. A single POC works well for small, co-located teams developing simple software. At scale you'll soon discover that you need multiple people in this role so that they don't become a bottleneck. For distributed teams it's common to see each subteam have one or more POCs who are managed by a primary/chief POC. The primary POC typically works on the coordinating team with the chief architect (I'll talk about this role in a future blog posting) and the program manager (also a topic for a future blog posting).3. Train them in business analysis skills. The person(s) in the POC role need good business analysis skills. If fact, it's common for people who were formerly BAs for traditional teams to step into the POC role, particularly with BAs who originally come from the business side of your organization. This strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. As a BA they've likely got solid business knowledge but their instincts may motivate them to take a documentation-driven approach to providing information to the development team instead of a collaboration-based approach. Be careful.4. Consider the full system development lifecycle. There's far more to the POC role than supporting the development team during Construction iterations. During "Iteration 0", the Inception phase for an Agile RUP project or the warm-up phase for an Eclipse Way project, the POC(s) will often lead the initial requirements envisioning efforts. The product backlog, or better yet your work item list, needs to come from somewhere after all. During the release iteration(s), the Transition phase for RUP or the End-Game phase for Eclipse Way, the POC(s) will focus on communicating the upcoming release to the stakeholder community, will be actively involved with any final user acceptance testing (UAT), and may even be involved with training end users.
In my January 2008 column in Dr Dobb's Journal, posted at http://www.ddj.com/architect/204801134 , I provide detailed advice about how to scale the way that you work with stakeholders on Agile projects by applying the practices of Agile Model Driven Development (AMDD). There's no magic solution, you just need to choose to organize yourself effectively. The good news is that you can easily work with stakeholders at scale.[Read More
It's customary to start a blog by describing the vision for it. Although this vision will undoubtedly evolve over time, it's always good to put a stake in the ground to get things started. Agile software development is clearly taking off and in my opinion is becoming the dominant development paradigm. Furthermore it appears that Agile approaches enjoy a higher success rate, providing better value for your IT investment, than do traditional approaches. Although organizations are succeeding at simpler projects with agile, many are struggling when applying Agile in more complex situations. They're finding that the "Agile rhetoric" doesn't always live up to its promises once you move into these complex situations. My goal with this blog is to share strategies for applying Agile techniques at scale.
When applying Agile strategies at scale you are likely to run into one or more of the following complexity factors:1. Geographical distribution. Is your team, including stakeholders, in different locations? Even being in different cubicles within the same building can erect barriers to communication, let alone being in different cities or even on different continents.2. Regulatory compliance. Regulations, including the Sarbanes-Oxley act, BASEL-II, and FDA statutes, to name a few, can increase the documentation and process burden on your projects. Complying to these regulations while still remaining as agile as possible can be a challenge.3. Entrenched policies, people, and processes. Most agile teams need to work within the scope of a larger organization, and that larger organization isn't always perfectly agile. Hopefully that will change in time, but we still need to get the job done right now. Your existing culture and organization can really hinder your ability to scale agile approaches, then a few "simple" changes can really help your efforts.4. Legacy systems. Although the politically correct term would be "proven assets" the reality is that it can be very difficult to leverage existing code and data sources due to quality problems. The code may not be well written, documented, or even have tests in place, yet that doesn't mean that your agile team should rewrite everything from scratch. Some legacy data sources are questionable at best, or the owners of those data sources difficult to work with, yet that doesn't given an agile team license to create yet another database.5. Organizational distribution. When your teams are made up of people working for different divisions, or if you have people from different companies (such as contractors, partners, or consultants), then your management complexity rises.6. Degree of governance. If you have one or more IT projects then you have an IT governance process in place. How formal it is, how explicit it is, and how effective it is will be up to you. IBM has been doing a lot of work in this topic over the past few years, and just recently Per Kroll and I have done some work around Lean Governance strategies. 7. Team size. Large teams will be organized differently than small teams, and they'll work differently too.8. System complexity. The more complex the system the greater the need for a viable architectural strategy. An interesting feature of the Rational Unified Process (RUP) is that it's Elaboration phase's primary goal is to prove the architecture via the creation of an end-to-end, working skeleton of the system. This risk-reduction technique is clearly a concept which Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum teams can clearly benefit from.
It is definitely possible to scale Agile software development to meet the real-world complexities faced by modern organizations. Based on my experiences, I believe that over the next few years we'll discover that Agile scales better than traditional approaches. Many people have already discovered this, but as an industry I believe that there isn't yet sufficient evidence to state this as more than opinion. My goal with this blog is to provide advice for scaling Agile so as to increase your chances of success.
So, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. My strategy will be to address common questions which I get when working with customers and with internal IBM development teams. I have the privilege to work with a variety of software development teams worldwide, helping them to become more agile. They're all struggling with the same basic issues although don't recognize it because they're too focused on their own situation. So hopefully I'll be able to spread the word about what's actually working in practice.
I hope that you stay tuned.
- Scott[Read More
In the early days of agile, the applications where agile development was applied were smaller in scope and relatively straightforward. Today, the picture has changed significantly and organizations want to apply agile development to a broader set of projects. Agile hence needs to adapt to deal with the many business, organization, and technical complexities today’s software development organizations are facing. This is what Agility@Scale is all about – explicitly addressing the complexities which disciplined agile delivery teams face in the real world.These agile scaling factors which we've found to be important are:
- Team size. Mainstream agile processes work very well for smaller teams of ten to fifteen people, but what if the team is much larger? What if it’s fifty people? One hundred people? One thousand people? Paper-based, face-to-face strategies start to fall apart as the team size grows.
- Geographical distribution. What happens when the team is distributed, perhaps on floors within the same building, different locations within the same city, or even in different countries? Suddenly effective collaboration becomes more challenging and disconnects are more likely to occur.
- Compliance requirement. What if regulatory issues – such as Sarbanes Oxley, ISO 9000, or FDA CFR 21 – are applicable? These issues bring requirements of their own that may be imposed from outside your organization in addition to the customer-driven product requirements.
- Enterprise discipline. Most organizations want to leverage common infrastructure platforms to lower cost, reduce time to market, and to improve consistency. To accomplish this they need effective enterprise architecture, enterprise business modeling, strategic reuse, and portfolio management disciplines. These disciplines must work in concert with, and better yet enhance, your disciplined agile delivery processes.
- Organizational complexity. Your existing organization structure and culture may reflect traditional values, increasing the complexity of adopting and scaling agile strategies within your organization. To make matters worse different subgroups within your organization may have different visions as to how they should work. Individually the strategies can be quite effective, but as a whole they simply don’t work together effectively.
- Organization distribution. Sometimes a project team includes members from different divisions, different partner companies, or from external services firms. This lack of organizational cohesion can greatly increase the risk to your project.
- Technical complexity. Some applications are more complex than others. It’s fairly straightforward to achieve high-levels of quality if you’re building a new system from scratch, but not so easy if you’re working with existing legacy systems and legacy data sources which are less than perfect. It’s straightforward to build a system using a single platform, not so easy if you’re building a system running on several platforms or built using several disparate technologies. Sometimes the nature of the problem that your team is trying to address is very complex in its own right.
Each factor has a range of complexities, and each team will have a different combination and therefore will need a process, team structure, and tooling environment tailored to meet their unique situation. Further reading:
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.
Yesterday I was involved with a workshop around agile development at scale. At one point in the conversation we started talking about the relationship between cost and quality. Some of the people in the workshop were relatively new to agile and still believed the traditional theory that to build in high quality it costs more, sometimes substantially more. This does appear to be true on traditional waterfall projects, but some people were making the mistake that this was an "natural law of IT" which also must apply to agile project teams. I naturally jumped on that idea and described how agile developers have found that writing high quality code leads to lower development costs and shorter time to value, in direct contradiction to traditional theory. A few people struggled with the idea for a bit, and one was pretty adamant that in some cases the need for very high quality does in fact lead to greater cost and time. He talked about his experiences on large-scale Rational Unified Process(RUP)
projects and in particular how some URPS (usability, reliability, performance, and supportability) requirements can increase your cost. At this point Per Kroll, co-author of Agility and Discipline Made Easy: Practices from OpenUP and RUP
, jumped into the conversation and pointed out although higher quality does lead to lower cost in most cases, using Toyota's lean approach to manufacturing as an example, that the agile community didn't completely have the relationship between quality and cost completely correct. My spidey sense told me that a learning opportunity was coming my way.
Per and I had an offline discussion about this to explore what he'd been observing in practice. In most situation it appears to be the case that higher quality does in fact lead to lower costs and shorter time for delivery, something that Per and I had observed numerous times. This happens because high quality code is much easier to understand and evolve than low quality code -- the agile community has found that it is very inexpensive to write high quality code by following practices such as continuous integration
, developer regression testing [or better yet test-driven development(TDD)
], static code analysis
, following common development conventions, and agile modeling strategies
. When you "bake in" quality from the start through applying these techniques, instead of apply traditional techniques such as reviews
and end-of-lifecycle testing (which is still valid for agile projects, but should not be your primary approach to testing) which have long feedback cycles
and therefore prove costly in practice. But, as we've learned time and again, when you find yourself in more complex situations of Agility@Scale sometimes the mainstream agile strategies fall down. For example, in situations where the regulatory compliance scaling factor is applicable, particularly regulations around protecting human life (i.e. the FDA's CFR 21 Part 11), you find that some of the URPS requirements require a greater investment in quality which can increase overall development cost and time. This is particularly true when you need to start meeting 4-nines requirements (i.e. the system needs to be available 99.99% of the time) let alone 5-nines requirements or more. The cost of thorough testing and inspection can rise substantially in these sorts of situations.
In conclusion, it does seem to be true in the majority of situations, which is what the level 1 rhetoric focuses on, that higher quality leads to lower development costs. But at scale this doesn't always seem to hold true.
PS -- Sorry for the corny title, but a couple of days ago at the Rational Software Conference I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage from the Discovery Channel's Mythbuster's show as part of the conference keynote. They're great guys, BTW, who have had a really positive impact on motivating children to be interested in science (apparently kids like to see stuff get blown up, go figure).[Read More
One of the scaling factors
of the Agile Scaling Model (ASM)
is technical complexity.
The fundamental observation is that the underlying technology of solutions varies and as a result your approach to developing a solution will also need to vary.
It’s fairly straightforward to achieve high-levels of quality if you’re building a new system from scratch on a known technology platform, but not so easy when there are several technologies, the technologies are not well known, or legacy assets are involved.
There are several potential technical complexities which a Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) team may face:
- New technology platforms. Your team may choose to work with a technology platform which is either new to the team or sometimes even new to the industry. In the past few years new technology platforms include the Android operating system, Apple’s iPad platform, and various cloud computing (http://www.ibm.com/ibm/cloud/) platforms. Working with these platforms may require you to adopt new development tools and techniques, not to mention the need to train and mentor your staff in their usage. Furthermore, your team may need to allocate time for architectural spikes to explore how to use the new technology and to prove the overall architecture with working code early in the project lifecycle (this is a DAD milestone).
- Multiple technology platforms. IT solutions often run on multiple platforms. For example, a system’s user interface (UI) could run in a browser, access business logic implemented using J2EE on Websphere which in turn invokes web services implemented in COBOL running on a Z-series mainframe, and stores data in an Oracle database, a DB2 database, and in several XML files. Implementing new business functionality, or updating existing functionality, could require changes made on several of these platforms in parallel. The implication is that you’ll need to adopt tools and strategies which enable your team to develop, test, and deploy functionality on all of these platforms. Testing and debugging in particular will become more difficult as the number of technology platforms increases, potentially requiring you to adopt the practice of parallel independent testing. The Agility at Scale survey found that 34% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with multiple technology platforms.
- Legacy data. IT solutions should leverage existing, legacy data wherever possible to reduce the number of data sources and thereby increase data quality within your organization. Also, using existing data sources can potentially speed up development, assuming your team has a good relationship with the owners of the legacy data sources (sadly, this often isn’t the case as the Data Management Survey found). Working with legacy data sources may require improved database regression testing, practices, database refactoring practices, and agile approaches to data administration. The Agility at Scale survey found that 42% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with legacy data sources (personally, I’m shocked that this figure is so low, and fear that many agile teams are contributing to data quality problems within their organization as a result).
- Legacy systems. There are several potential challenges with legacy systems. First, the code quality may not be the best either because it was never really that good to begin with or because it’s degraded over the years as multiple people worked with it. You know you’ve got a quality problem if you’re either afraid to update the code or if when you do so you have to spend a lot of time debugging and then fixing problems revealed when doing the update. If the legacy system is a true asset for your organization you will want to pay off some of this technical debt by refactoring the code to make it of higher quality. Second, you may not have a full regression test suite in place, making it difficult to find problems when you do update the code let alone when you refactor it. Third, your development tools for your legacy code may be a bit behind the times. For example, I often run across mainframe COBOL developers still working with basic code editors instead of modern IDEs such as Rational Developer for System Z. Some of the strategies to deal effectively with legacy systems are to adopt a modern development toolset if you haven’t already done so (better yet, if possible adopt a common IDE across platforms and thereby reduce overall licensing and support costs) and to adopt agile practices such as static code analysis, dynamic software analysis, and continuous integration (CI). The Agile Project Initiation Survey found that 57% of respondents were integrating their new code with legacy systems and 51% were evolving legacy systems.
- Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. COTS solutions, also called package applications, can add in a few complexities for agile teams. The packages rarely come with regression test suites, they often have rules about what you can modify and what you shouldn’t (rules that are ignored at your peril), and they’re often architected with the assumption that they’re the center of the architectural universe (which is a valid assumption if they’re the only major system within your organization). As I describe in my article Agile Package Implementations it is possible to take an agile approach to COTS implementations, although it may require a significant paradigm shift for the people involved. The Agility at Scale survey found that 15% of respondents indicated that their agile teams were working with COTS solutions.
- System/embedded solutions. For the sake of simplicity, if your team is developing a solution with both hardware and software aspects to it then you’re a systems project. Embedded systems are a specialization where the system has a few dedicated functions often with real-time constraints. Bottom line is that systems/embedded projects are typically more challenging than software-only projects – it gets really interesting when laws of physics starts to kick in, such as when you’re building satellites or space probes. I highly suggest Bruce Douglass’s book Real-Time Agility if you are interested in taking an agile approach to systems/embedded solution delivery.
The technical complexity faced by a project team is contextual – Working with four technology platforms is straightforward for someone used to dealing with seven, but difficult for someone used to dealing with just one. Recommended Reading: