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The Runway of Software Products

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“… the “runway” available for software products to mature and take off  is both limited and precarious. Software products are subject to two over-arching phenomena that affect the runway big time: open source software and software decay…

Click here for a discussion how the two phenomena – open source and software decay – affect both the runway and the hardware v. software discussion.

Written by israelgat

October 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

How to Combine Development Productivity Data with Software Quality Metrics

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Consider the situation described in Should You Invest in This Software:

  • One of your portfolio companies expects to ship 500K lines of code in 6 months.
  • The company asks for additional $2M to complete development and bring the product to market.
  • Using technical debt quantification techniques you find the technical debt amounts to $1M.

You are not at all comfortable “paying back” the technical debt in addition to funding the requested $2M. You wonder whether you should start afresh instead of trying to complete and fix the code.

Photo credit: @muntz (Flickr)

A good starting point for assessing the fresh start option is Michael Mah‘s studies of software productivity. Based on the QSMA SLIM metrics database of more than 8,000 projects, Michael will probably bracket the productivity per person in a team consisting of product management, development and test at 10-15K lines of code per year. If you use the 15K lines of code per year figure for the purposes of the analysis, 500K lines of code could theoretically be delivered with an investment of about 33.3 (500/15) man years. Assuming average loaded cost of $99,000 per man-year,  the software represents a programming effort of $3.3M. Not much is left if you deduct $3M ($2M+1M) from $3.3M…

Five considerations are of paramount importance in evaluating the start afresh option:

  • The comparison above ($3.3M versus $3.0M) is timeless. It is a snapshot at a certain point in time which does not take into account the value of time. To factor in the time dimension, the analysis needs to get into value (as distinct from cost) considerations. See the note on Intrinsic Quality v. Extrinsic Quality at the bottom of this post.
  • Your “mileage” may vary. For example, best in class teams in large software projects have reported productivity of 20K lines of code per team member per year. As another example, productivity in business applications is very different from productivity in real-time software.
  • If you decide to start with a brand new team, remember Napoleon’s quip: “Soldiers have to eat soup together for a long time before they are ready to fight.”
  • If you decide to start afresh with the same team plus some enhancements to the headcount, be mindful of  ‘Mythical Man-Month‘ effects. Michael Mah’s studies of the BMC BPM projects indicate that such effects might not hold for proficient Agile teams. Hence, you might opt to go Agile if you plan to enhanced the team in an aggressive manner.
  • Starting afresh is not an antidote to accruing technical debt (yet again…) over time. But, it gives you the opportunity to aggressively curtail technical debt by applying the techniques described in Using Credit Limits to Constrain Development on Margin. For example, you might run source code analytics every two weeks and go over the results in the bi-weekly demo.

As long as you are mindful of these five aspects (timeless analysis, your mileage may vary, Napoleon’s quip, mythical man-month effects and credit limits on technical debt), combining technical debt figures with productivity data is an effective way to consider the pros and cons of “fix it” versus starting afresh. The combination of the two simplifies a complex  investment decision by reducing all considerations to a single common denominator – $$.

Note: This is not a discussion from a value perspective. The software, warts and everything, might (or might not)  be valuable to the target customers. The reader is referred to Jim Highsmith‘s analysis of Intrinsic quality versus Extrinsic Quality in Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products. See the Cutter Blog post entitled Beyond Scope, Schedule and Cost: Measuring Agile Performance for a short summary of the distinction between the two.

The Business Value of Agile Software Methods

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I conducted 10 sessions this year on the topic Socializing Agile with Your Executives. The various Agile champions that attended these sessions identified two major obstacles to successful vetting of the topic:

  1. Lack of hard quantitative data.
  2. The “It won’t work here” syndrome.

This post is about the first of the two – lack of hard quantitative data. A follow-on post will deal with the second obstacle.

Michael Mah‘s landmark study How Agile Projects Measure Up, and What This Means to You has been my recommendation for the Agile champion who needs to elevate his/her Agile pitch from qualitative to quantitative. This excellent study in nicely supplemented now by The Business Value of Agile Software Methods: Maximizing ROI with Just-in-Time Processes and Documentation by Rico, Sayani and Sone. It is an excellent fit for the champion promoting Agile for the following reasons:

  1. The book captures, analyzes and synthesizes the results of hundreds of systemic research studies.
  2. It provides data on the various Agile methods without favoring one over another. Furthermore, the authors are quite explicit in stating that it not the method itself but the fit of a method to a company/culture/environment that counts.
  3. It places equal weight on costs and benefits of Agile, thereby giving the reader a good grasp on trade-offs. This grasp can be enhanced through free downloads of cost and benefit spreadsheets from the corresponding Download Resource Center.
  4. A very impressive aspect of this new book is the broad spectrum of the metrics it provides. Just about any business metric your CIO/CFO/CXO might use as the basis for his/her decision-making process, including Real Options Analysis (ROA), is provided. Moreover, the book encourages the use of multiple metrics, clearly indicating the pro and cons of individual metrics. For example:

The business value of Agile methods may be as much as 90% higher than NPV using ROA under extreme market conditions, including high inflation, risk change, and amount of time.

Readers of this blog are familiar with my quip “Don’t take you boss to lunch; take him/her to the daily stand-up meeting.” I would suggest you give The Business Value of Agile Software Methods to your boss at the end of his/her first stand-up meeting. This recommendation is nicely seconded by the following excerpt from Sanjiv Augustine‘s review of the book:

… those looking to build a bullet proof case for agile methods based on solid data and comprehensive research and analysis will find this an invaluable work.


Disclosure: Colleague David F. Rico has kindly sent me a free copy of The Business Value of Agile Software Methods.

The Changing Nature of Innovation: Part I — New Forms of Experimentation

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Colleague Christian Sarkar drew my attention to two recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles that shed light on the way(s) innovation is being approached nowadays. To the best of my knowledge, none of the two articles has been written by an author who is associated with the Agile movement. Both, if you ask me, would have resonated big time with the authors of the Agile Manifesto.

The February 2009 HBR article How to Design Smart Business Experiments focuses on data-driven decisions as distinct from decisions taken based on “intuition”:

Every day, managers in your organization take steps to implement new ideas without having any real evidence to back them up. They fiddle with offerings, try out distribution approaches, and alter how work gets done, usually acting on little more than gut feel or seeming common sense—”I’ll bet this” or “I think that.” Even more disturbing, some wrap their decisions in the language of science, creating an illusion of evidence. Their so-called experiments aren’t worthy of the name, because they lack investigative rigor. It’s likely that the resulting guesses will be wrong and, worst of all, that very little will have been learned in the process.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to new, broadly available software and given some straightforward investments to build capabilities, managers can now base consequential decisions on scientifically valid experiments. Of course, the scientific method is not new, nor is its application in business. The R&D centers of firms ranging from biscuit bakers to drug makers have always relied on it, as have direct-mail marketers tracking response rates to different permutations of their pitches. To apply it outside such settings, however, has until recently been a major undertaking. Any foray into the randomized testing of management ideas—that is, the random assignment of subjects to test and control groups—meant employing or engaging a PhD in statistics or perhaps a “design of experiments” expert (sometimes seen in advanced TQM programs). Now, a quantitatively trained MBA can oversee the process, assisted by software that will help determine what kind of samples are necessary, which sites to use for testing and controls, and whether any changes resulting from experiments are statistically significant.

On the heels of this essay on how one could attain and utilize experimentally validated data, the October 2009 HBR article How GE is Disrupting Itself discusses what is already happening in the form of Reverse Innovation:

  • The model that GE and other industrial manufacturers have followed for decades – developing high-end products at home and adapting them for other markets around the world – won’t suffice as growth slows in rich nations.
  • To tap opportunities in emerging markets and pioneer value segments in wealthy countries, companies must learn reverse innovation: developing products in countries like China and India and then distributing them globally.
  • While multinationals need both approaches, there are deep conflicts between the two. But those conflicts can be overcome.
  • If GE doesn’t master reverse innovation, the emerging giants could destroy the company.

It does not really matter whether you are a “shoe string and prayer” start-up spending $500 on A/B testing through Web 2.0 technology or a Fortune 500 company investing $1B in the development and introduction of a new car in rural India in order to “pioneer value segments in wealthy countries.” Either way, your experimentation is affordable in the context of the end-result you have in mind.

Fast forward to Agile methods. The chunking of work to two-week segments makes experimentation affordable – you cancel an unsuccessful iteration as needed and move on to work on the next one. Furthermore, you can make the go/no-go decision with respect to an iteration based on statistically significant “real time” user response. This closed-loop operational nimbleness and affordability , in conjunction with a mindset that considers a “failure” of an iteration as a valuable lesson to learn from, facilitates experimentation. Innovation simply follows.

“How do we move towards an agile procurement or agile development methodology?”

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Colleague and friend Annie Shum sent me the following excerpt from  U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra’s Friday keynote talk at the University of Maryland’s CIO Forum:

Questioned on whether service-oriented architecture still is an emphasis in a federal cloud computing paradigm, Kundra said SOA “absolutely” still matters. “Look at the Social Security Administration and what it’s done with SOA and local government,” he said. “They can build lightweight applications to interact with databases elsewhere.” That embrace of modern development practices extends beyond just SOA or upgrading programmers’ skills from COBOL. “How do we move towards an agile procurement or agile development methodology?” asked Kundra [highlighted by IG].

The {SOA –> agile procurement –> agile development} connection is intriguing. Obviously, Kundra gets the nature of the next revolution in productivity. My hunch would be that Business Service Management, particularly in its Agile BSM flavor, would soon be added to the mix.

Open Source Software and Agile Software Development: Parallels and Lessons for Enterprise IT

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Cutter Consortium has published the Executive Update entitled Open Source Software and Agile Software Development: Parallels and Lessons for Enterprise IT by Sebastian Hassinger (“Seb”) and me. Here is the abstract:

The phenomenon of open source software (OSS) is a recognized and mature aspect of the global IT market with profound implications for enterprise IT. A newer trend emerging is the various disciplines and methodologies that fall under the rubric of agile software development, which has a number of interesting parallels with and similarities to OSS. With the adoption en masse of OSS projects, such as Linux and Apache, by the mainstream enterprise customer, there is a track record of more than 10 years with which to gauge the extent and the nature of the impact on the enterprise. While agile has not yet reached the level of adoption that OSS enjoys, all indications are positive for that occurring in the near future. By examining its parallels with OSS, one can make inferences about the nature of the long-term potential impact of agile.

I am honored to co-publish with Seb!

(If you have not yet “e-met” Seb, here is his bio:

Sebastian Hassinger has worked in the IT industry for more than 25 years in large firms and as an entrepreneur. He founded two ISPs, helped launched several startups, and held senior strategy and business development roles with Apple, IBM, and Oracle. Mr. Hassinger created the first customer support Web site for Apple Computer. At IBM, he helped create a new business unit in the Tivoli subsidiary to address the needs of system management in the Internet era; worked on special projects for Tivoli’s CTO, including defining an Internet protocol for management of dynamic services; and was Senior Strategist for IBM’s Pervasive Computing initiative. At Oracle, Mr. Hassinger is Director of Market Development, where his specific responsibilities include developing the financial services market worldwide and the Asia-Pacific horizontal market. He holds MBAs from Columbia University and London Business School, is a published author, and holds more than a dozen software and business model patents. He can be reached at

Cloud Computing Meet the Iterative Requirements of Agile

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It so happened that a key sentence fell between my editing fingers while publishing Annie Shum‘s splendid post Cloud Computing: Agile Deployment for Agile QA Testing. Here is the corrected paragraph with the missing sentence highlighted:

By providing virtually unlimited computing resources on-demand and without up-front CapEx or long-term commitment, QA/load stress and scalability testing in the Cloud is a good starting point. Especially, the flexibility and on-demand elasticity of the Cloud Computing meet the iterative requirements of Agile on an on-going basis. More than likely it will turn out to be one of the least risky but quick ROI pilot Cloud projects for enterprise IT. Case in point, Franz Inc, opted for the Cloud solution when confronted with the dilemma of either abandoning their critical software product testing plan across dozens of machines and databases or procuring new hardware and software that would have been cost-prohibitive. Staging the stress testing study in Amazon’s S3, Franz completed its mission within a few days. Instead of the $100K capital expense for new hardware as well as additional soft costs (such as IT staff and other maintenance costs), the cost of the Amazon’s Cloud services was under $200 and without the penalty of delays in acquisition and configuration.

Reading the whole post with this sentence in mind makes a big difference… And, it is is a little different from my partner Cote‘s perspective on the subject

My apology for the inconvenience.