The Agile Executive

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Posts Tagged ‘Cutter Consortium

Extending the Scope of The Agile Executive

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For the past 18 months Michael Cote and I focused The Agile Executive on software methods, processes and governance. Occasional posts on cloud computing and devops have been supplementary in nature. Structural changes in the industry have generally been left to be covered by other blogs (e.g.  Cote’s Redmonk blog).

We have recently reached the conclusion that The Agile Executive needs to cover structural changes in order to give a forward-looking view to its readers. Two reasons drove us to this conclusion:

  • The rise of software testing as a service. The importance of this trend was summarized in Israel’s recent Cutter blog post “Changing Playing Fields“:

Consider companies like BrowserMob (acquired earlier this month by NeuStar), Feedback Army,  Mob4Hire,  uTest (partnered with SOASTA a few months ago), XBOSoft and others. These companies combine web and cloud economics with the effectiveness and efficiency of crowdsourcing. By so doing, they change the playing fields of software delivery…

  • The rise of devops. The line between dev and ops, or at least between dev and web ops, is becoming fuzzier and fuzzier.

As monolithic software development and delivery processes get deconstructed, the structural changes affect methods, processes and governance alike. Hence, discussion of Agile topics in this blog will not be complete without devoting a certain amount of “real estate” to these two changes (software testing as a service and devops) and others that are no doubt forthcoming. For example, it is a small step from testing as a service to development as a service in the true sense of the word – through crowdsourcing, not through outsourcing.

I asked a few friends to help me cover forthcoming structural changes that are relevant to Agile. Their thoughts will be captured through either guest posts or interviews. In these posts/interviews we will explore topics for their own sake. We will connect the dots back to Agile by referencing these posts/interviews in the various posts devoted to Agile. Needless to say, Agile posts will continue to constitute the vast majority of posts in this blog.

We will start the next week with a guest post by Peter McGarahan and an interview with Annie Shum. Stay tuned…

Technical Debt at Cutter

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No, this post is not about technical debt we identified in the software systems used by the Cutter Consortium to drive numerous publications, events and engagements. Rather, it is about various activities carried out at Cutter to enhance the state of the art and make the know-how available to a broad spectrum of IT professionals who can use technical debt engagements to pursue technical and business opportunities.

The recently announced Cutter Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation service is quite unique IMHO:

  1. It is rooted in Agile principles and theory but applicable to any software method.
  2. It combines the passion, empowerment and collaboration of Agile with the rigor of quantified performance measures, process control techniques and strategic portfolio management.
  3. It is focused on enlightened governance through three simple metrics: net present value, cost and technical debt.

Here are some details on our current technical debt activities:

  1. John Heintz joined the Cutter Consortium and will be devoting a significant part of his time to technical debt work. I was privileged and honored to collaborate with colleagues Ken Collier, Jonathon Golden and Chris Sterling in various technical debt engagements. I can’t wait to work with them, John and other Cutter consultants on forthcoming engagements.
  2. John and I will be jointly presenting on the subject Toxic Code in the Agile Roots conference next week. In this presentation we will demonstrate how the hard lesson learned during the sub-prime loans crisis apply to software development. For example, we will be discussing development on margin…
  3. My Executive Report entitled Revolution in Software: Using Technical Debt Techniques to Govern the Software Development Process will be sent to Cutter clients in the late June/early July time-frame. I don’t think I had ever worked so hard on a paper. The best part is it was labor of love….
  4. The main exercise in my Agile 2010 workshop How We Do Things Around Here in Order to Succeed is about applying Agile governance through technical debt techniques across organizations and cultures. Expect a lot of fun in this exercise no matter what your corporate culture might be – Control, Competence, Cultivation or Collaboration.
  5. John and I will be doing a Cutter webinar on Reining in Technical Debt on Thursday, August 19 at 12 noon EDT. Click here for details.
  6. A Cutter IT Journal (CITJ) on the subject of technical debt will be published in the September-October time-frame. I am the guest editor for this issue of the CITJ. We have nine great contributors who will examine technical debt from just about every possible perspective. I doubt that we have the ‘real estate’ for additional contributions, but do drop me a note if you have intriguing ideas about technical debt. I will do my best to incorporate your thoughts with proper attribution in my editorial preamble for this issue of the CITJ.
  7. Jim Highsmith and I will jointly deliver a seminar entitled Technical Debt Assessment: The Science of Software Development Governance in the forthcoming Cutter Summit. This is really a wonderful ‘closing of the loop’ for me: my interest in technical debt was triggered by Jim’s presentation How to Be an Agile Leader in the Agile 2006 conference.

Standing back to reflect on where we are with respect to technical debt at Cutter, I see a lot of things coming nicely together: Agile, technical debt, governance, risk management, devops, etc. I am not certain where the confluence of all these threads, and possibly others, might lead us. However, I already enjoy the adrenaline rush this confluence evokes in me…

Cutter’s Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation Service

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Source: Cutter Technical Debt and Valuation Service

The Cutter Consortium has announced the availability of the Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation Service. The service combines static code analytics with dynamic program analytics to give the client “x-rays” of the software being examined at any desired granularity – from the whole project portfolio to a single instruction. It breaks down technical debt into the areas of coverage, complexity, duplication, violations and comments. Clients get an aggregate dollar figure for “paying back” debt that they can then plug into their financial models to objectively analyze their critical software assets. Based on these metrics, they can make the best decisions about their ongoing strategy for the software development effort under scrutiny.

This new service is an important addition to the enlightened software governance framework that Jim Highsmith, Michael Mah and I have been thinking about and contributing to for sometime now (see Beyond Scope, Schedule and Cost: Measuring Agile Performance and Quantifying the Start Afresh Option). The heart of both the technical debt service and the enlightened governance framework is captured by the following words from the press release:

Executives in charge of software governance have long dealt with two kinds of dollar figures: One, the cost of producing and maintaining the software; and two, the value of the software, which is usually expressed in terms of the net present value associated with the expected value stream the product will generate. Now we can deal with technical debt in the same quantitative manner, regardless of the software methods a company uses.

When expressed in terms of dollars, technical debt ties neatly into value vis-à-vis cost considerations. For a “well behaved” software project, three factors — value, cost, and technical debt — have to satisfy the equation Value >> Cost > Technical Debt. Monitoring the balance between value, cost, and technical debt on an ongoing basis is an effective way for organizations to stay on top of their real progress, and for stakeholders and investors to ensure their investment is sound.

By boiling down technical debt to dollars and tying it to cost and value, the service enables a metrics-driven governance framework for the use of five major constituencies, as follows:

Technical debt assessments and valuation can specifically help CIOs ensure alignment of software development with IT Operations; give CTOs early warning signs of impending project trouble; assure those involved in due diligence for M&A activity that the code being acquired will adapt to meet future needs; enables CEOs to effectively govern the software development process; and, it provides critical information as to whether software under consideration constitutes an asset or a liability for venture capitalists who need to make informed investment decisions.

It should finally be pointed out that the technical debt assessment service and the governance framework it enables are applicable to any software method. They can be used to:

  • Govern a heterogeneous environment in which multiple software methods are used
  • Make apples-to-apples comparisons between disparate software projects
  • Assess project performance vis-a-vis industry norms

Forthcoming Cutter Executive Reports, Executive Updates and Email Advisors on the technical debt service are restricted to Cutter clients. As appropriate, I will publish the latest and greatest news on the subject in the Cutter Blog (which is an open forum I highly recommend).

Acknowledgements: I would like to wholeheartedly thank the following colleagues for inspiring, enlightening and supporting me during the preparation of the service:

  • Karen Coburn
  • Jennifer Flaxman
  • Jonathon Golden
  • John Heintz
  • Jim Highsmith
  • Ken Collier
  • Kim Leonard
  • Kara Letourneau
  • Michal Mah
  • Anne Mullaney
  • Chris Sterling
  • Cindy Swain
  • Sarah Wiesbrock

Should You Ship This Code Before Reducing Technical Debt?!

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File:Control flow graph of function with loop and an if statement without loop back.svg

Source: JulesH, Wikipedia, A control flow graph of a simple function

Technical debt is usually perceived as a measure of expediency. You borrow a little (time) with the intent of paying it back as soon as possible. To quote Ward Cunnigham:

Shipping first time code is like going into debt. A little debt speeds development so long as it is paid back promptly with a rewrite… I thought that rushing software out the door to get some experience with it was a good idea, but that of course, you would eventually go back and as you learned things about that software you would repay that loan by refactoring the program to reflect your experience as you acquired it.

As is often the case with financial debt, technical debt accrues with compound interest. Once it reaches a certain level (e.g. $1 per line of code) you stare at a difficult question:

Should I ship this code before reducing the accrued technical debt?!

The Figure below, taken from An Objective Measure of Code Quality by Mark Dixon, answers the question with respect to one important component of technical debt – cyclomatic complexity. Once complexity per source code file exceeds 74, the file is for most practical purposes guaranteed to contain errors. Some of the errors in such a file might be trivial. However, a 2007 study by Capers Jones indicates about a third of the errors found in released code are likely to be serious enough to stop an application from running or create erroneous outputs.

mccabegraph.jpg

To answer the question cited above – Should You Ship This Software Before Reducing Technical Debt?! –  examine both cost and risk for the number of error-prone files you are about to unleash:

  • The economics of defect removal clearly favor early defect removal over late defect removal. The cost of removal grows exponentially as function of time.
  • Brand risk should be first and foremost on your mind. If complexity figures higher than 74 per file are more of the norm than the exception, you are quite likely to tarnish your image due to poor quality.

If you decide to postpone the release date until the technical debt has been reduced, you can apply yourself to technical debt reduction in a biggest-bang-for-the-buck manner. The analysis of complexity can identify the hot spots in your code, giving you a de-facto roadmap you would be wise to follow.

Conversely, if you opt to ship the code without reducing technical debt, you might lose this degree of freedom to prioritize your “fix it” work.  Customer situations and pressures might force you to attend to fixing modules that do not necessarily provide as much bang for the buck.

Postscript: Please note that the discussion in this post is strictly limited to intrinsic quality. It does not address at all extrinsic quality. In other words, reducing/eliminating technical debt does not guarantee that the customer will find the code valuable. I would suggest reading Beyond Scope, Schedule and Cost: Measuring Agile Performance in the Cutter Blog for a more detailed analysis of the distinction between the two.

Erratum: The figure above is actually taken from a blog post on the Mark Dixon paper cited in my post. See McCabe Cyclomatic Complexity: the proof is in the pudding. My apology for the error.

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.

Definition: Agile Methodology

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Agile Methodology is actually a bit of a controversial termVarious authors consider Agile a method, as distinct from a methodology. Others, prefer methodology over method. For example, using the Merriam-Webster dictionaries, Alistair Cockburn makes the following distinction between methodology and method in Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game :

  • Methodology: A series of related methods or techniques
  • Method: Systematic procedure

Alistair views Agile as a methodology in the sense defined above. For example, he discusses Crystal as a family of methodologies. The reader is referred to Alistair’s book for a an excellent analysis of the various aspects of methodologies. As a matter of fact, Alistair tracks down the confusion between method and methodology to certain inconsistencies between various versions of the Oxford English Dictionary.

On the other hand, best I can tell from various conversations with him, Jim Highsmith seems to prefer the term Agile Method. This preference is reflected in Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products. It is possible that Jim’s preference is due to writing his book from a project management perspective.

Rather than getting in-depth to the method versus methodology controversy, I would simply cite two definitions I find useful in capturing the essence of Agile methodology, or method if you prefer.

An interesting metaphor for Agile has been used by Jim Highsmith in a 2009 Cutter Advisory:

Visualize a house structure with a roof, a foundation, and three pillars… The roof is business goals — the rationale for implementing agile methods and scaling to larger agile projects. The foundation is agile values or principles — principles that need careful interpretation as to how to apply them to larger teams. And finally, the three pillars: organization, product backlog, and process/practice.

The simplicity of the metaphor makes it quite effective in communicating what Agile is in a concise way without losing the richness of the various elements in Agile.

Using Scrum as an example, colleague David Spann gives the following down-to-earth summary of the key structural components of Agile in a 2008 Cutter Executive Report:

Scrum, as a management methodology, is elegant in its design, requiring only three roles (i.e., product owner, ScrumMaster, and self-organized team), three ceremonies (sprint/iteration planning, daily Scrum/debrief, and sprint review meetings), and three artifacts (product and sprint backlogs and the burndown chart) — just-enough practical advice so agile teams do not overcomplicate the development lifecycle with too much ceremony and documentation.

Needless to say, the structural elements will change from one Agile methodology to another. However, examining an Agile methodology through the {roles, ceremonies, artifacts} “lens” is an excellent way to summarize an Agile methodology. Furthermore, it enables easy comparison between the ‘usual suspects’ of Agile – Crystal Methods, Dynamic Systems Development, Extreme Programming, Feature Driven Development, and Kanban. The reader is referred to The Business Value of Agile Software Methods: Maximizing ROI with Just-in-Time Processes and Documentation for detailed comparisons between the various methods/methodologies.

Predicting the Year Ahead

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Cutter Consortium has published predictions for 2010 by about a dozen of its experts. My own prediction, which examines the crash of 1929, the burst of the “dot-com bubble” in 2000 and the financial collapse in 2008, is actually quite bullish:

I expect 2010 to be the first year of a prolonged golden age. Serious as the various problems we all are wrestling with after the 2008-2009 macro-economic crisis are, they should be viewed as systemic to the way a new generation of revolutionary infrastructure gets assimilated in economy and society.

In addition to the techno-economic view expressed in the Cutter prediction, here are my Agile themes for 2010:

  • Agile moves “downstream” into Release Management.
  • Agile breaks out of Development into IT (and beyond) in the form of Agile Infrastructure and Agile Business Service Management.
  • SOA and Agile start to be linked in enterprise architecture and software/hardware/SaaS organizations.
  • Kanban starts an early adoption cycle similar to Scrum in 2006.

Acknowledgements: I am thankful to my colleagues Walter Bodwell, Sebastian HassingerErik Huddleston, Michael Cote and Annie Shum who influenced my thinking during 2009 and contributed either directly and indirectly to the themes listed above.

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 shassinger@gmail.com).

An Omen in Chicago

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Amazing how things come together. A gentleman introduces himself at the conclusion of my breakout session (Socializing Agile with your Executives) in yesterday’s Rally Agile Success Tour (AST) event in Chicago. I am pleasantly surprised to learn he is Cutter Consortium colleague Scott Stribrny. Within a few sentences I discover he was actually the Cutter consultant to Follett Software. As readers of this blog are well aware of, Follett Software was prominently featured in the landmark study of Agile quality, productivity and time-to market by Michael Mah. To put the icing on the cake (so to speak), Rachel Weston – Rally’s Director of Professional Services – uses this very study by Michael Mah in her keynote presentation at the end of the event…

Symphono’s Robert Schmitt started the day with a quote from one of his developers:

I don’t want to deliver just twice a year; I love to deliver!

The power of this kind of craftsman’s pride in his/her software was nicely illustrated by hard numbers Robert cited. For example, on one of their projects, Symphono observed a cost of $12K instead of the $72K they would have expected under traditional software methods.

Playboy’s Mark Row highlighted the intricacies of project managing contents alongside project managing software. In Mark’s experience, contents developers tend to be visually oriented. Writing requirements does not quite cut it for folks of such orientation. As Mark needs to manage software development priorities across all contents initiatives (and many owners), the balance to be struck between the two is quite tricky. The non-formalistic nature of Agile has proven quite effective in bringing things together. As a matter of fact, Mark indicated Playboy’s marketing teams are now doing daily Scrum-like stand-up meeting. The bottom line from the perspective of his executive management is crystal clear:

Night and day since going Agile

Pariveda’s Jim West kept all of us honest with respect to how bad the starting point for Agile often is. According to Jim, they did not start Agile from square zero – they actually started from minus two (-2)…. In spite of this far from optimal starting conditions, Pariveda been successful on two noteworthy accounts:

  • Productivity improved by 15-20%
  • The managed to satisfy the needs of other processes by incorporating them in their Agile process. For example, SOX work items are represented as story cards in their backlog

Last but not least, ShopLocal’s Brendan Flynn highlighted the progress they made with Agile contracts. They incorporate both user stories and acceptance criteria in the contract. Furthermore, they pay special attention to specifying what is not included in the contract. To paraphrase the French proverb, Shop Local’s experience is that “good accounts make good (customer) relationships.” Remarkably, they achieve good customer relationships through Agile contracts at the scale of 5+ Billion page views annually through just one of their products!

Expressive quips were brought up in the lively Q&A sessions that followed the presentations. Here are a few gems:

    Make Agile your flavor [tailoring Agile to the needs of the organization]
    Make database decisions [data-driven decisions in Agile]
    A cube empire [working environments in the 80’s and 90’s]
    Exchange requests, not change requests [Agile contract policy]

In two week the Agile Success Tour “train” will cross the channel to London. (Please, do not enquire now how the train will make its way from Boulder, CO to Paris, France – we are delaying the decision on that leg of the trip to the last responsible minute). I suspect some of the Agile topics to be discussed in London might give a mild heart-burn to UK-based ITIL aficionados. But, how appropriate it is to conclude a year of great Agile success tours with an event in the grand city London!

Running for the Agile Alliance Board

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I am running for the Agile Alliance board. Here is my position statement:

Agile to me is about finding my voice. For most of my professional career I was entrusted with developing and bringing to market large scale enterprise software systems. Fulfilling and rewarding that so doing was, rarely had I experienced the great excitement that comes from the pursuit of a bigger purpose. Over the past few years Agile has been giving me this extra gratification. I feel privileged and fortunate to participate in and contribute to a movement that has the potential to transform quite a few industries.

My voice has been expressed in various speaking engagements, research notes by the Cutter Consortium, blog posts in The Agile Executive, and tweets under the handle agile_exec. I am primarily concerned with elevating Agile to the enterprise level, making certain Agile “islands” scale up, scale out and scale downstream. Moreover, I push toward devising business models that utilize the power of Agile instead of shoe horning Agile methods to fit arcane business designs.

As an Agile Alliance board member, I will focus on mainstreaming Agile methods with an eye toward making a significant economic impact. I share the concern Diana Larsen expressed in a recent Agile Roots panel: Agile as a term has crossed the chasm, but Agile as a method might not. The main obstacle IMHO is that our business fabric has not caught up with Agile methods. Software capitalization and Agile contracts are two good examples of areas which are not yet where they need to be. I plan to address both, and then some, if I get elected.

If we as a movement succeed in making Agile cross the chasm, the economics of software, of products in which software is embedded and of business processes that utilize software could change dramatically. As software is becoming pervasive, Agile software has the potential to become a low cost input in our economy. The macro-economic effect of this descending cost of software could be as powerful as that of the prosperity ultra cheap oil (as energy source) produced during the period 1908-1971. I am committed to doing my bit toward this worthy goal through the Agile Alliance.

Written by israelgat

July 26, 2009 at 8:43 pm