Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Risk of Agile, and How to Mitigate

Agile software development process is all the rage these days, and for good reason: by managing the complexity inherent in software projects, minimizing WIP (work in progress), and a bunch of other great values outlined here

I’d like to address the principles individually in a following post, but for now, I’ve experienced some real risks that follow directly from the agile process as commonly conceived and realized. I will address some of those risks here.

I’ve seen this in multiple workplaces: the project has been divided into close-knit teams, and the teams work in sprints of e.g. two weeks.  The sprint goals and costs are agreed on at the beginning of each sprint. Each team member takes on the sprint goals as they have bandwidth, and at the end of the sprint, the team does some simple demo to show the team’s work.

The general problem is, although these teams are ultimately highly interdependent - they all fit together to make the product! – they each end up developing local solutions to common problems.

Class types, XSD schemas, logging solutions, configuration files – either these are ultimately shared or they should be. If the former, software development risk is pushed back to the end of the cycle when everybody has to figure out how to integrate and work together. If the latter, there’s duplicated work with resulting cost and risk. (Such risk could show up late in the cycle: “I thought you added the streaming log option!” “I did, but over here. You guys developed your own logger, so you’re on your own.”)

The solution: Share resources early. Sorry agilites, this requires a bit of planning. Decide early on what the shared resources are, and be aware of when the need might arise for a resource that might be shared. Put shared resources in a common location…

I’ve seen cases where this is not done, and it’s very expensive. Agile dislikes planning, but without a plan, for a project that involves engineers in the double-digits, people eventually don’t know what’s going on they must guess, and often guess incorrectly. Confused and frustrated engineers can create an amusing setting (for those with a sense of humor about it) but it doesn’t ship quality software on schedule.

And remember: Duplication on information or resources is anathema to quality!