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The adoption of Agile: TALC vs. Hype Cycle

An interesting poll was posted at Scrumology asking us to indicate where we consider ‘Agile’ to be on the Hype Cycle. A little note…

logo-myfragilityThe presentation of my framework My.Fragility starts with a general introduction on ‘Agile’ before diving into Scrum and going beyond. This introduction ends with a maturity assessment of Agile using Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life Cycle. The conclusion is that Agile has Entered the Bowling Alley (so has definitely Crossed the Chasm).

In 2008 I added a comparison with Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Application Development, which puts Agile in the Trough of Disillusionment and predicts a period of 5-10 years before mainstream adoption.

Agile on the Hype Cycle for Application Development 2007 (Gartner)

However, having studied and compared both models I am convinced that Agile is -at least- on its way to the Slope of Enlightenment:

Agile on the Hype Cycle vs. TALC

Other objections I have with Gartner are:

  • Agile is primarily the common denominator of a number of methods and is as such not one defined method. As a practitioner of Scrum, combining it with XP and going beyond with My.Fragility, I believe these methods to be certainly farther in adoption.
  • A complete Agile approach covers a number of practices and disciplines that Gartner separates (e.g. various testing levels). See my indications on the Hype Cycle.
  • My intuition and daily experience contradict the 5-10y expectation.

Challenge: from the TALC I expect Scrum to become the Agile Gorilla

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The spell of the Man-Month broken?

Brooks - The Mythical Man-MonthFrederick Brooks published his essay The Mythical Man-Month in 1975, as one of 15 essays in the same-titled book on managerial aspects of software development. I wanted to check on the actual value of this historical piece of work. I have read the 20th anniversary edition, to which the author added an essay with his updated opinion on his original statements. This edition also holds the even more known 1986 paper No Silver Bullet.

The book: modern myth or ancient history?

The 1975 cases are technically not appealing (IBM’s OS/360) and hardly relevant for today’s technological environments. But the organizational topics are striking, with the title essay on top (justly mythical by itself). Although the core statement (“Brooks’ Law”) “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later” has again been overtaken by history. But blame the myth of the man-month for confusing effort and progress, for neglecting the need for communication, for ignoring repartitioning tasks and training, and decreasing team productivity. People (developers) are not ‘replaceable pieces of machinery ‘! Brooks also stresses the creative nature of software development.

I agree on the diagnosis, but the suggested remedies (a lot on estimating and roles) are somewhat vague and far-fetched. E.g. 1/6 = coding, surgical team and ‘directors’/‘producers’, ‘aristocratic’ architects, etc.

But then, there’s the author’s 1995 retrospective seeming to make the lecture vivid again. He formulates views that are greatly in line with… Agile. But then (bis), Brooks doesn’t seem to recognize it and sticks to his ancient solution, i.e. a sort of surgical designers. But since the ‘90s we hàve seen the definite rise of Agile (this common denominator was only established in 2001!).

Can we today overcome the curse of the mythical man-month?

I believe that at least Agile does show a way out! Of the problems highlighted by Brooks, but in a very different direction than surgical design. Because Agile has a fundamentally different approach on communication and the ‘people’ aspect of software development.

e.g. Estimating is done by the whole team and in Story Points, i.e. complexity. This is at the same time the base for measuring progress (i.e. velocity being the number of Story Points realized in a Sprint), and avoids the confusion with effort.

In his Agile bible, Agile Software Development, Alistair Cockburn has substantially stressed the fact that communication hàs a cost, increasing our awareness of the impact on progress and budget. His views on Information Radiators and Osmotic Communication have meanwhile been greatly adapted by Agile teams.

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Scrum (all sorts of people)

logo-myfragilityScrum is also in the minds of people. My mind is set on the ability of fragility. How about you?

Are you ‘management’? Then you should not only be willing to believe that a software project can truly deliver quality and business value. You should also do (a lot) more than just gather a group of programmers with a project manager on top during a (project’s) timebox.

Okay, so far for a view the community will quickly agree upon.

What is usually less focused on is the level of commitment of the actual team members. In my experience this may turn out to be at least as difficult to achieve. Because it takes the absolute will to self-organize, not wanting to depend on other people to take decisions for you (the essence of ScrumMaster facilitation versus Project Management’s execution of control), to outweigh every (technical) choice against the (business) value and functional profit, to discuss and communicate openly, etc.

Scrum is a simple way to outperform and excel but all parties should respect its essence, that I represent on my Scrum Diamond:scrum-diamond

think (talk) about it…

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Kanban and Scrum (done or to be done?)

Kan and Ban are Japanese for Card and Signal. A Kanban (signal card) originates from the Toyota Production System (TPS) where it is a physical card that visualizes a pull question for inventory. It serves to minimize stock in a ‘Just In Time’ strategy and is a way to ‘eliminate waste’ while assuring a continuous flow of goods.

In an Agile context, a Story Card is a Kanban. Out of eXtreme Programming it grew into an established Agile practice in describing a feature. A Kanban Board holds the active Story Cards per ‘status’, thus being an Information Radiator (term by Alistair Cockburn, also my inspiration for the Games metaphor).

My.Fragility_logoMy Scrum Product ànd Sprint Backlog items are User Stories. (‘Minimal Marketable Feature’ is more generic, but I stick to ‘User Story’) The Sprint Backlog is made visible by sticking a printout from my (Excel) tracking model on a wall. Around the Daily Scrum (we do it standing up) each Story Lead writes the estimated time to finish a Story on the printout and I create the Sprint Burndown. That works fine. We use a Kanban Board only for feedback from functional testing. This is generally too small to create a Story (would be ‘waste’).

Velocity is a way to optimize the inventory and the continuity of work. Traditionally ‘velocity’ equals the #Story Points (gummy bears) that can be finished in one iteration (a Sprint). However, I apply an overall Velocity as a multiplicator on Story Points (ideal time) to result in #planning days. The size of the inventory (in #Story Points) for a Sprint is determined by dividing the available #planning days of a team (minus 2 slack days) by expected Velocity (Yesterday’s weather). Note: continuity is also assured by the presence of the Product Owner. He/she makes sure that no functional issue remains unsolved, on the spot!

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Scrum and the Cooperative Game

In many (IT) partnerships and implementations people seem to prefer to strangle each other rather than assure mutual benefits.

I’m applying Scrum (over 4 years already), in my projects and in my management. It continuously helps me to cross fences; between suppliers and customers, business and IT, analysts and developers, x-layer developers and y-layer developers, etc.

In my Scrum-based development process I use Pre-Game Staging to name the barely enough preparative phase for 1 stage of software development. The “Games” metaphor was described by Alistair Cockburn in his biblical work Agile Software Development. I strongly agree with him that software development should be a Cooperative Game.

  • Cooperative: a team of people works together towards a common goal, not to fight each other.
  • Non-zero sum: the players are not opposed and do not try to win by getting the other at zero. There are multiple winners.
  • Finite and goal-seeking: the game ends when the goal is achieved. The game is not meant for just staying in existence.

You will find this as well in the integrated prerequisite for supplier-customer relationships (possibly multi-tier), from Toyota’s Lean Production to Poppendieck’s Lean Software Development. It offers far more certainties than our commonly applied bidding processes. Think (read) about it!

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Scrum merciless exposes…

  • Old skool thinking of people as ‘replaceable pieces of machinery’.
  • Dead hierarchy (chop it of to make your tree breathe again).
  • The invaluable waste and trash piled up at the end of a sequential process.
  • The mighty power of teams to unhide, be responsible and deliver.
  • Ways to combine fun, satisfaction, discipline and results.

(maybe I should expose myself finally as being all about Scrum, Scrum as designed and intended, throw my tracking and other models into the wide, wide world and be known)

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scrum is so… simple

and therefore extremely effective.

  • Describe desired product ideas and options in a Product Backlog.
  • Find a motivated and committed Product Owner.
  • Find a motivated and committed Team.
  • Master the team in adopting and following the Scrum Process.

And start… delivering (month after month after…) real business value.

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The enterprise and Scrum

The enterprise and ScrumAfter reading Ken Schwaber’s last book ‘The enterprise and Scrum’ and my recent change of employer, I’ve put the emphasis of my approach, my presentations and my framework on the process of Scrum more. The previous 4 years I have been practicing and promoting Scrum mainly from the combination with eXtreme Programming because my professional context was custom software development (mainly JavaEE).

At the same time I have more stressed the idea of ‘Value Driven Development’ (both in my -excel based- framework as well as in my introduction to Scrum). Reminds me of the fact that I should now include ‘sustainable pace’ as essential in Scrum as well, and not merely as an adoption from XP.