The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Posts Tagged ‘Code Refactoring

Why Spend the Afternoon as well on Technical Debt?

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/233228813/

Yesterday’s post Why Spend a Whole Morning on Technical Debt? listed eight characteristics of the technical debt metric that will be discussed during the morning of October 27 when Jim Highsmith and I deliver our joint Cutter Summit seminar. This posts adds to the previous post by suggesting a related topic for the afternoon.

No, I am not trying to “hijack” the Summit agenda messing with the afternoon sessions by colleagues Claude Baudoin and Mitchell Ummel. I am simply pointing out a corollary to the morning seminar that might be on your mind in the afternoon. Needless to say, thinking about it in the afternoon of the 28th instead of the afternoon of the 27th is quite appropriate…

Yesterday’s post concluded with a “what it all means” statement, as follows:

Technical debt is a meaningful metric at any level of your organization and for any department in it. Moreover, it is applicable to any business process that is not yet taking software quality into account.

If you accept this premise, you can use the technical debt metric to construct boundary objects between various departments in your company/organization. The metric could serve as the heart of boundary objects between dev and IT ops, between dev and customer support, between dev and a company to which some development tasks are outsourced, etc. The point is the enablement of working agreements between multiple stakeholders through the technical debt metric. For example, dev and IT ops might mutually agree that the technical debt in the code to be deployed to the production environment will be less than $3 per line of code. Or, dev and customer support might agree that enhanced refactoring will commence if the code decays over time to more than $4 per line of code.

You can align various departments by by using the technical debt metric. This alignment is particularly important when the operational balance between departments has been disrupted. For example, your developers might be coding faster than your ITIL change managers can process the change requests.

A lot more on the use of the technical debt metric to mitigate cross-organizational dysfunctions, including some Outmodel aspects, will be covered in our seminar in Cambridge, MA on the morning of the 27th. We look forward to discussing this intriguing subject with you there!

Israel

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Consumerization of Enterprise Software

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ross/3055802287/

Figure 1: Consumerization of IT

The devastation in traditional Publishing needs precious little mentioning. Just think about a brand like BusinessWeek selling for a meager cash offer in the $2 million to $5 million range, McGraw Hill getting into interactive text books through Inkling or Flipboard delivering “… your personalized social magazine” to your iPad. This devastation might not have gotten the attention that the plight of the ‘big three’ automobile manufacturers got, but in its own way it is as shocking as a visit to the abandoned properties in Detroit is.

As most of my clients do enterprise software, many of my discussions with them is about the consumerization of IT. From a day-to-day perspective this consumerization is primarily about six aspects:

  • Use of less expensive/consumer-focused components as infrastructure
  • ‘Pay as you go’ pricing (through Cloud pricing mechanisms/policies)
  • Use of web application interfaces to monitor IT infrastructure
  • Use of mobile and consumer based devices for accessing IT alerts and interfacing with systems
  • Use of the fast growing number of mobile applications to enhance productivity
  • Application of enterprise social networks and social software in the data center

From a strategic perspective, IT consumerization IMHO is all about the transformation toward “everything as a service” [1]. The virtuous cycle driven by Cloud, Mobile and Social manifests itself at three levels:

  • It obviously affects the IT folks with whom I discuss the subject. Immense changes are already taking place in many IT departments.
  • It affects their company. For example, the company might need to change the business design in order to optimize its supply chain.
  • It affects the clients of their company. Their definition of value changes these days faster than the time it takes the CIO I speak with to say “value.”

© Copyright 2010 Israel Gat

Figure 2: The Virtuous Cycle of Cloud, Mobile and Social

Sometimes I get a push-back from my clients on this topic. The push-back is usually rooted in the immense complexity (and fragility) of the enterprise software systems that had been built over the past ten, twenty or thirty years. The folks who push back on me point out that consumerization of IT will not scale big time until enterprise software gets “consumerized” or at least modernized.

I agree with this good counter-point but only up to a point. I believe two factors are likely to accelerate the pace toward “consumerization” of enterprise software:

  1. Any department/business unit that can get a service in entirety from an outside source is likely to do so without worrying about enterprise software and/or data center considerations. This is already happening in Marketing. As other functions start doing so, more and more links in the value chain of enterprise software will be “consumerized.” In other words, these services will be carried out without the involvement of the IT department.
  2. Once the switch-over costs from legacy code to state-of-the-art code are less than the steady state costs (to maintain and update legacy code), the “consumerization” of enterprise software is going to happen with ferocious urgency.

If you are in enterprise software you need to start modernizing your applications today. The reason is the imperative need to mitigate risk prior to reaching the end-point, almost irrespective of how far down the road the end-point might be.  See Llewellyn Falco‘s excellent video clip Rewriting Vs Refactoring for a crisp articulation of the risk involved in rewriting and why starting to refactor now is the best way to mitigate the risk.

Footnotes:

[1] The phrase “Everything as a Service” has been coined by Russ Daniels.

Toxic Code

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“[The 100% loan-to-value subprime loan is] the most dangerous product in existence and there can be nothing more toxic…”

This quip by Angelo Mozilo, founder of Countrywide Financial, led me to coin the term “toxic code.” The code stops being an asset when it accumulates technical debt equal to the value it is expected to generate. As matter of fact, the code could become a liability when the cost to “pay back” the technical debt exceeds the revenues the code would generate. Such situations have been known to happen more often than we might realize. They occur, for example, when numerous customers develop elaborate business processes around poor quality enterprise software.

I will be exploring the topic in my May 27, 2010 presentation at The Path to Agility conference in Columbus, OH. Here is the abstract of my talk:

Technical debt had originally been conceived as an expediency measure – “a little debt speeds development so long as it is paid back promptly with a rewrite.” However, like financial debt, unrestrained borrowing can lead to a broad spectrum of difficulties, from collapsed roadmaps to inability to respond to customer problems in a timely manner, and anything in between.

Recent advances in source code analysis enable us to quantify technical debt and express it in $$ terms. By so doing, the software development process can be governed with unprecedented effectiveness. It is possible to constrain the “development on margin” mal-practice and avoid the toxic code phenomenon: technical-debt-to-value ratio of 100%. Moreover, even toxic code can ultimately be “marked-to-market” by reducing/eliminating technical debt.

The combination of Agile refactoring practices with technical debt analytics brings rigor to the software development process through:

  • Providing quantifiable data about the overall state of the code and its value
  • Highlighting error-prone modules in the code and offering guidance to fixing them in a biggest-bang for-the-buck manner
  • Pinpointing technical issues all the way down to the individual line of code level
  • Balancing the technical debt work stream vis-a-vis other work streams

In the course of managing software development in this manner, your team will improve its design, coding, testing and project management skills. Ultimately, these improvements are the best antidote against accrual of technical debt in the future.

Written by israelgat

April 19, 2010 at 4:45 am

Wrestling with Scaling Software Agility

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Software Development Times has just published Guest View: Wrestling with Scaling Software Agility by Ryan Martens and me. This Guest View is a little unique in that Ryan and I actually try to wrestle each other to the ground… Here is why we try to do so:

Agile champions spend a lot of time trying to communicate the agile premise to the executives in their organization. The difference in context between the champion and the executive often makes it a difficult conversation. A Scrum Master versed in behavior-driven design is not always able to relate to the frustrations of a sales executive who gets free advice on how to sell from everyone and his grandmother.

Conversely, a CFO does not necessarily understand why unit test coverage on the company’s legacy code is still inadequate after a full year of investment in agile methods that embrace refactoring as a core practice.

To bridge the chasm through this article, we resort to role-playing. Ryan Martens plays the Agile Champion; Israel Gat plays the Skeptical Executive. Metaphorically speaking, each one tries to wrestle the other to the ground.

Before you get into this Guest View, I would like to reinforce an important disclaimer:

A note of caution before Ryan and Israel make irreparable damage to their long-standing relationship: The two actually understand each other extremely well and rarely are they of different opinions on the fundamentals of agile in real life…

Enjoy the article!

Technical Debt: Refactoring vis-a-vis Starting Afresh

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Only three options are available to you once your technical debt overwhelms the development and customer support teams:

  1. Continue as is.
  2. Start refactoring in earnest to pay back your debt.
  3. Switch to a new code base, either by launching an unencumbered development project or through acquiring new software from another company.

The first option, obviously, does not solve any problem – you simply continue a struggle that becomes more and more difficult over time. As indicated in the post Elbow Room for Handling Technical Debt, the second option is quite difficult to carry out if it is exercised at a late point in the software’s life cycle. This post examines the third option – starting afresh.

The attraction of starting afresh is always tempting. The sins of the past, hidden in layers over layers of technical debt and manifesting themselves in low customer satisfaction and poor customer retention, are (sort of) forgiven. The shiny new software holds the promise of better days to come.

Trouble is, your old sins are there to get you in three nasty ways:

  1. New technical debt: Even if the shiny new software is very good indeed, it will decay over time. Unless you transformed your software engineering practices to ensure refactoring is carried out on an ongoing basis, sooner or later you will accrue new technical debt.
  2. Migration: Good that the new software might be, it is not likely to provide all the functionality the old software had. Migrating your customers will require a lot of hard work, particularly if your customers developed elaborate business processes on top of your old software.
  3. Critical race between old and new: For a period of time (say a couple of years) the old software is likely to run alongside the new software. Any significant new regulatory requirement will force you to update both the old software and the new software. Ditto for security. Any nifty new technology you might want to embed in your new software is likely to be equally desirable to customers who still use your old software. You will be pressed to incorporate the new technology in the old software, not just in the new software.

Before opting for new software (in preference to refactoring the old software), I would recommend you compare the economics of the two option. My rule of a thumb for the calculus of introducing new enterprise software to replace legacy software is straightforward:

For a period of about two years, assume the run rate for dev/test/support will be 150% of your current investment in development, test and support of the old software.

Please note that the 150% figure is just the expected run rate for running the new software alongside the legacy software. You will need, of course, to add the cost of acquiring/producing the new software to the economic calculus.

You might be able to reduce the ‘150% for two years’ investment by applying some draconian migration measures. Such measures, of course, will affect your customers. In the final analysis, your decision to acquire new software must be viewed as the following simple question:

What value do you place on your customer base?!