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Entries tagged [planning]

Agile Planning : tools and processes

by Jerome Kehrli


Posted on Wednesday Jun 14, 2017 at 08:42PM in Agile


All the work on Agility in the Software Engineering Business in the past 20 years, initiated by Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham and Ron Jeffries, comes from the finding that traditional engineering methodologies apply only poorly to the Software Engineering business.

If you think about it, we are building bridges from the early stages of the Roman Empire, three thousand years ago. We are building heavy mechanical machinery for almost three hundred years. But we are really writing software for only fifty years.
In addition, designing a bridge or a mechanical machine is a lot more concrete than designing a Software. When an engineering team has to work on the very initial stage of the design of a bridge or mechanical machine, everyone in the team can picture the result in his mind in a few minutes and breaking it down to a set of single Components can be done almost visually in one's mind.

A software, on the other hand, is a lot more abstract. This has the consequence that a software is much harder to describe than any other engineering product which leads to many levels of misunderstanding.

The waterfall model of Project Management in Software Engineering really originates in the manufacturing and construction industries.
Unfortunately, for the reasons mentionned above, despite being so widely used in the industry, it applies only pretty poorly to the Software Engineering business. Most important problems it suffers from are as follows:

  • Incomplete or moving specification: due to the abstract nature of software, it's impossible for business experts and business analysts to get it right the first time.
  • The tunnel effect: we live in a very fast evolving world and businesses need to adapt all the time. The software delivered after 2 years of heavy development will fulfill (hardly, but let's admit it) the requirements that were true two years ago, not anymore today.
  • Drop of Quality to meet deadlines: An engineering project is always late, always. Things are just a lot worst with software.
  • Heightened tensions between teams: The misunderstanding between teams leads to tensions, and it most of the time turns pretty ugly pretty quick.

So again, some 20 years ago, Beck, Cunningham and Jeffries started to formalize some of the practices they were successfully using to address the uncertainties, the overwhelming abstraction and the misunderstandings inherent to software development. They formalized it as the eXtreme Programming methodology.

A few years later, the same guys, with some other pretty well known Software Engineers, such as Alistair Cockburn and Martin Fowler, gathered together in a resort in Utah and wrote the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in which they shared the essential principles and practices they were successfully using to address problems with more traditional and heavyweight software development methodologies.

Today, Agility is a lot of things and the set of principles of practices in the whole Agile family is very large. Unfortunately, most of them require a lot of experience to be understood and then applied successfully within an organization.

Unfortunately, the complexity of embracing a sound Agile Software Development Methodology and the required level of maturity a team has to have to benefit from its advantages is really completely underestimated.
I cannot remember the number of times I heard a team pretending it was an Agile team because it was doing a Stand up in the morning and deployed Jenkins to run the unit tests at every commit. But yeah, honestly I cannot blame them. It is actually difficult to understand Agile Principles and Practices when one never suffered from the very drawbacks and problems they are addressing.

I myself am not an agilist. Agility is not a passion, neither something that thrills me nor something that I love studying in my free time. Agility is to me simply a necessity. I discovered and applied Agile Principles and practices out of necessity and urgency, to address specific issues and problems I was facing with the way my teams were developing software.

The latest problem I focused on was Planning. Waterfall and RUP focus a lot on planning and are often mentioned to be superior to Agile methods when it comes to forecasting and planning.
I believe that this is true when Agility is embraced only incompletely. As a matter of fact, I believe that Agility leads to much better and much more reliable forecasts than traditional methods mostly because:

  • With Agility, it becomes easy to update and adapt Planning and forecasts to always match the evolving reality and the changes in direction and priority.
  • When embracing agility as a whole, the tools put in the hands of Managers and Executive are first much simpler and second more accurate than traditional planning tools.

In this article, I intend to present the fundamentals, the roles, the processes, the rituals and the values that I believe a team would need to embrace to achieve success down the line in Agile Software Development Management - Product Management, Team Management and Project Management - with the ultimate goal of making planning and forecasting as simple and efficient as it can be.
All of this is a reflection of the tools, principles and practices we have embraced or are introducing in my current company.

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