The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Posts Tagged ‘Function Points

The System Assumes the System is Right

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The post It Won’t Work Here proposed tactics for dealing with a specific class of arguments why a company should not adopt Agile:

  • Uniqueness: “Some very unique elements exist in our company. These elements render industry data inapplicable.”
  • Secret sauce: “Something very special element existed in the companies reporting great success with Agile. Our company does not possess nor have access to the ‘secret sauce’ that enabled success elsewhere.”
  • Cultural change: “For the Agile initiative to succeed, our corporate culture needs to change. The required cultural change takes a lot of time and involves a great deal of pain. All in all, the risk of rolling Agile is unacceptably high.”
  • Affordability: “The company is strapped to the degree that investment in another software method is a luxury it can’t afford.”
  • Software is not core to us: “We are not a software company, nor is software engineering our core competency. Software is merely one of the many elements we use in our business.”

This posts augments It Won’t Work Here by shedding light on the reflexive behavior of the system the Agile champion is likely to run into while applying the recommended tactics.

The fundamental distinction the Agile champion needs to keep in mind is between individuals and organizations. To quote from Charles Perrow‘s work on the subject of complex organizations:

One cannot explain organizations by explaining the attitudes and behavior of individuals or even small groups within them. We learn a great deal about psychology and social psychology but little about organizations per se in this fashion.

To successfully function as an entity, an organization must assume that the system put in place to carry out its tasks is right. If the system is not right, the order and integration required for the proper functioning of the organization can’t be maintained. This assumption about being right tends to become all-inclusive. It is applied to both essential tasks and non-essential trivia.

The key to the success of Agile adoption in the face of the “system is right” reflex, is to budget your battles. As an Agile champion you fight only for things that are core to Agile methods, not for the myriad of contextual details about which the system assumes it is right.

For example, I would not spend a lot of energy on determining the unit of measure to be used in the Agile initiative. As an Agilist I prefer stories as the standard unit, e.g. release 2.0 was 500 stories while releases 3.0 constitutes 1,000 stories. But, I would accept lines of code or functions points as the standard unit of measure if the system so prefers.

Conversely, I would not accept system convictions when they violate core principles of Agile. For example, The Agile Triangle advocated by Jim Highsmith views scope, schedule and cost as constraints. This way of viewing Agile software is non-negotiable in my book. The reason for this strongly held conviction of mine is simple – the Agile initiative is likely to fail if the three (scope, schedule, cost) are considered as goals.

Source: based on Figure 1-3 in Jim Highsmith‘s Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products.

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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.

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…