Geeks With Blogs

The Life and Times of a Dev Yes, we're really that weird

Over the years, I have experienced many different styles of software development. In the early days, most of the development was Waterfall development. In the last few years, I’ve become an advocate of Scrum.

As I talked about last month, many people have misconceptions about what Scrum really is. The reason why we do Scrum at Veracity is because of the difference it makes in the life of the team doing Scrum. Software is for people, and happy motivated people will build better software.

However, not all executives understand Scrum and how to get the information from development teams that use Scrum. I think that these executives need a support system for managing Agile teams.

Historical Software Management

When Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line, I doubt he realized the impact he’d have on Management through the ages. Historically, management was about managing the process of building things. The people were just cogs in that process. Like all cogs, they were replaceable.

Unfortunately, most of the software industry followed this same style of management. Many of today’s senior managers learned how to manage companies before software was a significant influence on how the company did business. Software development is a very creative process, but too many managers have treated it like an assembly line. Idea’s go in, working software comes out, and we just have to figure out how to make sure that the ideas going in are perfect, then the software will be perfect.

Lean Manufacturing

In the manufacturing industry, Lean manufacturing has revolutionized Henry Ford’s assembly line. Derived from the Toyota process, Lean places emphasis on always providing value for the customer. Anything the customer wouldn’t be willing to pay for is wasteful.

Agile is based on similar principles. We’re building software for people, and anything that isn’t useful to them doesn’t add value. Waterfall development would have teams build reams and reams of documentation about how the software should work. Agile development dispenses with this work because excessive documentation doesn’t add value. Instead, teams focus on building documentation only when it truly adds value to the customer. Many other Agile principals are similar.

Playing Catch-up

Just like in the manufacturing industry, many managers in the software industry have yet to understand the value of the principles of Lean and Agile. They think they can wrap the uncertainties of software development up in a nice little package and then just execute, usually followed by failure. They spend a great deal of time and money trying to exactly predict the future. That expenditure of time and money doesn’t add value to the customer.

Managers that understand that Agile know that there is a better way. They will instead focus on the priorities of the near term in detail, and leave the future to take care of itself. They have very detailed two week plans with less detailed quarterly plans. These plans are guided by a general corporate strategy that doesn’t focus on the exact implementation details.

These managers also think in smaller features rather than large functionality. This adds a great deal of value to customers, since the features that matter most are the ones that the team focuses on in the near term and then are able to deliver to the customers that are paying for them.

Agile managers also realize that stale software is very costly. They know that keeping the technology in their software current is much less expensive and risky than large rewrites that occur infrequently and schedule time in each release for refactoring of the existing software.

Agile Executives

Even though Agile is a better way, I’ve still seen failures using the Agile process. While some of these failures can be attributed to the team, most of them are caused by managers, not the team. Managers fail to understand what Agile is, how it works, and how to get the information that they need to make good business decisions.

I think this is a shame. I’m very pleased that Veracity understands this problem and is trying to do something about it. Veracity is a key sponsor of Agile Executives. In fact, Galen is this year’s acting president for Agile Executives.

The purpose of Agile Executives is to help managers better manage Agile teams and see better success. Agile Executives is trying to build a community of executives that range from managers interested in Agile to managers that have successfully adopted Agile. Together, these managers can form a community of support and ideas that will help make Agile teams more successful.

Helping Your Team

You can help too! Talk with your manager and get them involved in Agile Executives. Help Veracity build the community. If your manager understands Agile better, he’ll understand how to help his teams, which will result in software that adds more value for customers.

If you have any questions about how you can be involved, please let me know.

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Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 12:22 PM | Back to top

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