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Being effective at Agile Development - Nadhan's Top 5 steps

In a ComputerWorld article, Brian Bloom refers to a survey by Voke Inc that found companies do not understand the costs of rework and cannot identify clear benefits of going agile. This is very typical of enterprises that tend to jump on a bandwagon without ensuring appropriate measurement mechanisms are in place to track and maximize the returns from such ventures. Agile development is no different.


In a recent post, I outlined the significance of tracking the ROI from cloud computing. A few months back, I also listed the steps that CFOs must take in order to compute the cost of Cloud Computing. The underlying theme in both posts is the need to have an effective measurement mechanism in place for the status quo before switching to a new paradigm. Doing so will enable enterprises to get a more quantifiable handle on tangible returns from initiatives like Agile Development.


Here are the top 5 steps enterprises can take to ensure that they are effective overall at Agile Development:


1. Definition. One of the interesting results from the Voke survey as mentioned by Theresa Lanowitz, a Voke analyst is that there were 100 definitions for agile development. Multiple interpretations might even exist within the same enterprise. Enterprises must work across Business and IT to define what it means while addressing nuances specific to their environment.


2. Business involvement. Being agile does not translate into the development teams operating independently in auto-pilot mode. Business needs to be involved closely with the project development teams to ensure that the solutions are being built out in alignment with the business needs. The methodology being followed is just a guideline and an instrument to execute the development activities.


3. Back to basics. Agile development does not take away the need to stick to the fundamentals of software development. You may not have all the requirements detailed but they still need to be unambiguous. Code should still follow best practices of using reusable components, with clear documentation, code scanning and analysis. Unit Testing still needs to be performed ensuring proper test coverage. Configuration Management best practices of checking and checkout code with appropriate versioning comments are vital. Failure to adhere to these best practices can compromise the quality of the deliverables.


4. Training and awareness. Agile development involves several techniques that need to be adhered to as well. The survey cites a global team of 40 that is holding a scrum meeting -- not a viable approach for any methodology. Practitioners must be trained on how Agile is embraced within the enterprise in a structured manner.


5. Tracking cost. Enterprises polled could not quantify the costs of rework. Having this knowledge and ensuring that the right measurement mechanisms are in place are vital to have a frame of reference. How do you know you are better off with a new financial investment if you don't have a handle on your current returns? Enterprises must have effective mechanisms to track the additional costs incurred due to rework across multiple projects. Tracking end-to-end IT performance through an executive scorecard is a key enabler to tracking overall costs.


Building solutions using Agile Development techniques is good. Knowing that you are effective at it is priceless.


How about you? How mature is your enterprise when it comes to Agile Development? I would be interested to know. Have you considered how Applications Development would be in 2020?


Additional resources:


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Horia Slușanschi(anon) | ‎08-29-2012 06:04 AM


A good summary Nadhan. Here are some further thoughts:


1. Definition. Creating a definition for use in your organization as a starting point, and then actively working to improve it over time is an excellent beginning. It will open up constructive dialogue.


2. Business involvement. No surprise here. Agile is not “just for developers”. To get an improved flow of business value, organizations need to improve their focus on optimizing value streams, linking closer both specification and creation (Continuous Design), as well as creation and operation (Continuous Delivery).


3. Back to basics. This one is due to a fairly common mis-perception that “agile” somehow means cowboy-coding, with utter disregard for engineering excellence. Effective Agile teams are committed to continuous improvement – and they deeply value mastery in matters of engineering.


4. Training and awareness. This is very closely related to “back to basics” – but needs to involve more than just the practitioners of software-intensive systems development. We also need to help executives, business leaders, system users, and operations folks alike (in addition to the apps development community) to appreciate the impact and implications of working with smaller amounts of work-in-process, shorter cycle times, and rapid sequences of incremental rel....


5. Tracking cost. I suggest organizations should consider tracking Business Value rather than just cost. Throughput Accounting offers a significantly better alternative to the traditional cost accounting practices.

I fully agree that we need a robust measurement system to make sure we’re improving. However, I’d like to make sure that the measurement system we use helps us focus on improving the system as a whole, rather than just attempting to lower piece part costs ad nauseam. Local optimization (cost reduction) does not guarantee global improvement in the dimensions that matter most. Value delivery improvement, however, as measured in terms of satisfied demand, cycle time reductions and adaptable throughput seem like far better candidates for measurement.


Nadhan | ‎08-29-2012 02:41 PM

Thank you very much for your insightful comments, Horia.  Especially your detailed comments for each step.  Great point about tracking business value rather than just cost -- positions us well to track the ROI overall.  Another observation you made that resonates with me is about local optimization not guaranteeing global improvement in the dimensions that matter most.


The extent to which these steps are adopted by enterprises for Agile Development can significantly impact the results from a survey like the one conducted by Voke.


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