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Musings

Agile – is it for you?

17 Feb 2011 by Lorraine Steyn

Is Agile right for your company? Have a look at VersionOne’s October Agile Survey:

  • 87% of respondents said that implementing Agile significantly improved their ability to manage changing priorities.
  • 74% of respondents saw improvements in productivity.
  • The biggest concern around Agile is Loss of Management Control followed by Lack of Upfront Planning.
  • 90% of organizations surveyed (4770 respondents from 91 countries) had used Agile practises to some degree.

The Agile Manifesto holds that people and collaboration should be valued over processes and plans (purists please excuse the paraphrasing). These are brave words, and they have always made total sense to us at KRS. We have seen the energy and delivery that results from involved, switched-on individuals.

Most of us would agree that we’d like our software delivery to improve – heck, there’s always room for improvement, even if you think you’re doing OK. The big question for many is whether Agile is the answer.

KRS has some lessons to share, and we’re very willing to assist companies also travelling this road.

The first hurdle is called Scrumbut. This is where teams do Scrum, but. a million little things don’t work for the team, so they change the rules. It seems to be human nature to change things before really understanding them. Start by being a purist – do it all right by the book.

The next challenge (we don’t do problems) is resistance to change. I leave you to deal with your team personalities, but advise that you take a strong line. Get on the bus, or leave.

The next challenge is too much enthusiasm. Agile will solve everything! It will all be better tomorrow! Everyone will be happier! Agile practises are just that – you have to practise. Improvements come in unexpected hops and jumps, and sometimes you go backwards a bit.

If anyone tries to “sell” you Agile as a silver bullet, change your advisors. Training in Scrum practises is essential, and mentoring is a strong help. People who have practised; who have experience, can help your teams move forward with much more confidence.

KRS places test driven development (TDD) as your next critical step. You cannot move to short iterations and improved productivity unless your team knows that they are not breaking more than they build!

Experience says that Agile productivity improvements will flatten out within about a year, and may even reverse after that, if you don’t have good quality assurance in place. For the managers, the explanation is that it is relatively easy to start doing quick code changes for a while, but at some point the code base is such a mess that your developers jump ship in terror and you pretty much have to start over!

If it’s all gone well, your team has the short iterations under control and can respond to change; they are a well gelled team with great communication within and outside the team; they learn from their retrospectives; the product owners really feel that they own their systems rather than being hostage to IT; and everyone is patting each other on the backs for a job well done.

So the last word for this discussion is for the sophisticated team above. Architecture. Did you lose the overall architectural vision when you lost the long term planning? Whatever great Agile stuff you do along the way, don’t abandon every principle of good systems design to get there.

Useful community support can be found at the Scrum User Group SA and online specialist sites like Agile Zone.

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