The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Posts Tagged ‘ERP

Is There Something Inherently un-Agile About ERP Software?

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A reader of the post Make the Hairs on the Back of Your Neck Stand Up posed the following question:

I wonder if there’s something inherently un-Agile (and thus, unable to change fast enough to meet new business demands) about older enterprise software, or just ERP software?

The answer IMHO is size. To quote Capers Jones:

Since defect potentials tend to rise with the overall size of the application, and since defect removal efficiency levels tend to decline with the overall size of the application, the overall volume of latent defects delivered with the application rises with size. This explains why super-large applications in the range of 100,000 function points, such as Microsoft Windows and many enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications may require years to reach a point of relative stability. These large systems are delivered with thousands of latent bugs or defects. 

The phenomenon described by Jones is often exacerbated through the “ship more infrequently” syndrome. IMVU’s Timothy Fritz describes it as follows:

While this may decrease downtime (things break and you roll back), the cost on development time from work and rework will be large, and mistakes will continue to slip through. The natural tendency will be to ship even more infrequently, until you aren’t shipping at all. Then you’ve gone and forced yourself into a total rewrite. Which will also be doomed.  

You might choose to reduce your technical debt instead of trying total rewrite. Chances are you will struggle to find Elbow Room for Handling Technical Debt. My hunch is that once >50% of development resources are assigned to maintaining the software on an on-going basis, it is time to get into refactoring big time. If you don’t, sooner or later you are likely to find you can’t afford the software you developed.

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Make the Hairs on the Back of Your Neck Stand Up

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Cote sent me the recent CIO Magazine article entitled ERP’s Paralysis Problem and the Repercussions for Business Everywhere. The article discusses the findings from a December 2009 study conducted by IDC and sponsored by ERP vendor Agresso, as follows:

A couple of verbatim responses from respondents should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up: “Capital expenditure priorities are shifted into IT from other high-payback projects” just to perform necessary ERP changes, noted one respondent. Said another: “Change to ERP paralyzes the entire organization in moving forward in other areas that can bring more value.”

To make doubly certain the message gets across, the article finishes with the following “nocturnal” paragraph:

As the sun finally sets on the first decade in the new millennium, it’s high time we say good night to ERP. A new day will be starting soon, and the blemished legacy and failings of ERP’s nearly four-decade-long reign will be a distant memory.

Maybe. While ERP systems no doubt have their own particular twists, the sorry state of affairs described above is true of various industries that have developed complex software systems over prolonged periods of time. Just in the past few months I have witnessed such situations in banking and health care. In previous life I had been exposed to more of the same in other industries. The software decayed and decayed but technical debt had never been reduced. Consequently, the cost of change, any change, today is horrendous. As Jim Highsmith‘s chart below indicates, “once on the right of the curve, all choices are hard.”

in-can-you-afford-the-software-you-are-developing

In Estimating Software Costs, author Capers Jones quantifies five-year cost of software application ownership (for the vendor). He examines three similar applications, each of nominal size of 1000 function points, as a function of the sophistication of the corresponding projects. The respective life cycle costs are as follows:

  • Lagging projects: $2,316,000
  • Average projects: $1,860,000
  • Leading projects: $1,312,000

Jones goes on to issue the following stern warning:

All known compound objects decay and become more complex with the passage of time unless effort is exerted to keep them repaired and updated. Software is no exception… Indeed, the economic value of lagging applications is questionable after about three to five years. The degradation of initial structure and the increasing difficulty of making updates without “bad fixes” tends towards negative returns on investment (ROI) within a few years.

Enough, indeed, to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up…