Software Methodology Career Phase I: Experiences at RELA and Requisite, Inc.
I have been committed to improving software engineering and software development management practices throughout my career. While that goal has been a constant, I now recognize three distinct stages of my understanding of software development practice and maturity. In Phase I, I was the CEO of RELA, Inc., where we developed software for others on a contract basis. RELA developed a wide variety of software applications ranging from stomach-churning adventure park rides to life-sustaining medical devices. Because the software we wrote was always for others, we were constantly aware of the need to “build the right thing.” Our individual livelihoods, our company, and its stakeholders all depended on our ability to understand what problems our solutions needed to address and how to apply effective best practices in achieving that solution.
In order to do so, we depended on many of the rigorous practices based on the waterfall method in use at that time. Indeed, some of our customers, and other key regulatory agencies such as the FDA, mandated its use, so we followed it prescriptively even as we tried to improve it. While it is entertaining now for many of us to criticize and make fun of the methods we employed, the fact is that the waterfall method was a substantial improvement over the cut-and-try methods of the past, and more importantly, it delivered results. Much of my focus at that time was on the requirements process, because that is where the critical discovery happened, solution behavior was defined, and our contracts were based.
That experience led me to my next career as founder and CEO of Requisite, Inc., makers of RequisitePro, a product solution for requirements management. At Requisite, we advanced and developed requirements practices and products, so in a sense we became experts in the front end of the lifecycle. We sold Requisite to Rational in 1997, and I embarked on Phase II of my software development process career.
Software Methodology Career Phase II: Experiences at Rational Software
In this phase, I was a senior executive at Rational Software and was involved in the promulgation of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and the Rational Unified Process (RUP). At Rational, I had the good fortune of working directly with thought leaders such as Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson, James Rumbaugh, Walker Royce, and Philippe Kruchten. During this time, my coauthor, Don Widrig, and I also published the first edition of the Addison-Wesley text Managing Software Requirements (2000).
Then our thinking was based on object orientation, and that technique provided additional flexibility in our development methods and additional resiliency in the software we wrote. It also led to a software process that was fundamentally different from the waterfall method and one that is characterized as being iterative and incremental. In this method, each iteration was a working piece of code that could be objectively assessed and evaluated. This method was far more agile than my prior experiences: we were no longer forced to rely solely on intermediate work products—documents, design reviews, and the like—but could see and measure tangible progress.
Rational codified that process in a written process description, the Rational Unified Process, and marketed and applied that process with good success across the industry. In addition, we applied the process in the development and release of Rational Suites, which required the coordination of as many as 800 team members in four countries. We released Rational Suites twice per year, each with an integrated set of products and a common install. Rational was eventually purchased by IBM, and today RUP is marketed under the auspices of IBM’s Rational Software Division and is in use by hundreds of thousands of practitioners.
Software Methodology Career Phase III: Experiences with Agile and Rally
Upon leaving Rational, I became an independent consultant and adviser to development-stage software businesses, where I coached business strategy and software development practices to a half dozen new ventures. I used the opportunity to leverage some of the more innovative, lightweight methods, including XP and Scrum, and witnessed firsthand the improvements in productivity and quality that these methods delivered to these smaller teams.
After a short time, I was so won over by these methods that I soon refused to engage with any business or any team that did not have a strong sense of agility. The risk to the business was too great otherwise! At the same time, I began to see the limitation of those methods. As the teams and applications grew, the team’s ability to refactor code became less practical, and we also noticed the need for more assured communication of requirements as well as for more “architectural runway.” During this time, I was also consulting methodologist to Rally Software and helped to develop its hosted solution for distributed agile development. At Rally, I was heavily influenced by our interaction with agile thought leaders such as Ryan Martens, Ken Schwaber, Jim Highsmith, Mike Cohn, Tom and Mary Poppendieck, and Jeff Sutherland.
Experiences with Agile at Enterprise Scale
Concurrently, I was personally challenged by a number of larger organizations to bring the level of agility and responsiveness I had witnessed to their enterprise. It was with some trepidation that I accepted this assignment and spent the next few years applying the core principles of agility in larger organizations, including applying my experience to large-scale development at BMC Software, Inc., where we worked with hundreds of highly distributed developers to deliver new applications of substantial scope and scale.
In so doing, I was pleased to discover that many of the best practices as taught by the agile methods delivered immediate out-of-the-box value to the enterprise. I also discovered that, by themselves, these best practices did not fully address the challenge at enterprise scale. Therefore, we gradually evolved an extended set of practices that were necessary to achieve enhanced agile results at scale. Finding little published in the marketplace to counsel larger companies, I resolved to write this book. I do so in the hope that your enterprise can leverage what we’ve learned and apply it to deliver higher productivity and higher quality to your customers. In a world dominated by software, it is hard to imagine a higher leverage point for our industry and, indeed, our economy as a whole.
How to Read This Book
Part I: Overview of Software Agility
This book is divided into three parts. Part I provides a short history of the agile movement with a discussion of some of the primary agile methods that are in use today, including XP and Scrum, as well as a discussion of RUP, which is an iterative and incremental method that can be applied in an agile fashion. In addition, we take a brief look at a number of other methods that helped sponsor the agile movement, including Lean Software Development, Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM), and Feature-Driven Development (FDD). We look at these methods not to teach the methods themselves but to provide a basis for understanding Parts II and III. As we will discover, each method has brought substantially new thinking to software development practices, and each has contributed substantially to the state-of-the-art. In addition, we’ll start to see a set of agile best practices emerge, many of which have already been applied at significant scale, and we will use these as the basic building blocks of enterprise agility.
Part II: Seven Agile Team Practices That Scale
Part II describes these building blocks, the seven agile team practices that scale, one per chapter. In a sense, these practices may be considered the essence of agile in that all the agile methods apply these practices either explicitly or implicitly. For those new to agile or for those large organizations contemplating implementation of these practices, Part II of the book should provide comfort, because by simply adopting any of the agile methods described—or better, mixing and matching as necessary for the company’s current context—many of these best practices will naturally emerge and provide an immediate benefit to applications of virtually any scope. While they are not trivial to address and master, they have been proven in a wide variety of project contexts, and they will benefit any team that adopts them.
Together, Parts I and II of the book provide an overview of software agility and describe seven best practices that can be applied at virtually any scale. Each of these practices can directly and immediately improve the productivity and quality outcomes for teams who choose to adopt them.
Part III: Creating the Agile Enterprise
To achieve true enterprise agility, however, more work remains, and that is the topic of Part III. We describe an additional set of capabilities, guidelines, principles, practices, and insights that will allow the organization to apply agility at virtually any level of application or system scale. These practices have been derived from experiences in the field in applying agile in larger circumstances. They include “green field” projects of smaller teams of 40 to 50 developers distributed across multiple countries, including extensive outsourcing, as well as larger organizations of up to a thousand developers working toward a common purpose on systems that required intense coordination among those teams. Some of the principles in Part III may seem obvious at first. Others are more subtle and have been discovered by experience in applying agile at scale. Many of these principles came about as teams reflected on their prior release efforts and came to modify their behavior over time so as to continually improve results.
Taken together, our hope this is that this book will help larger organizations achieve productivity and quality gains of as much as 200 percent, as such has been achieved by the smaller teams that have applied them. In turn, these results will provide benefits of faster time to market, higher return on development investment, and increased customer satisfaction for the enterprise. And lest we forget, organizations that head down this path have an additional intangible benefit: the teams themselves love agile methods, and empowering them to experiment and advance their methods is a key to engaging them in a virtuous cycle of empowerment, continuous process improvement, improved project outcomes, personal and professional growth, and higher job satisfaction. In an industry that faces the challenge of encoding much of the world’s intellectual property, what could be more virtuous than that!