Finding the Heart of Agile

Even with its wide popularity across the software development world, there are more than a few programmers who simply don’t like Agile. The reasons for this antipathy range from a resistance to change, to simply being averse to the meetings and procedures typical of many Agile frameworks.

Bringing these prodigal sons – and daughters – back to fold is an important part of building a successful application engineering team. Some tech thought leaders feel returning to the simplicity of Agile in its earlier days will help. Let’s take a closer look at some of their concepts to see if they may help your staff.

The Modern Movement to return Agile to its Roots

There are two main movements hoping to lessen the animosity towards Agile by instead focusing on what caused its growth in the first place. Modern Agile is something we’ve talked about previously on the blog. Guided by four simple principles, this flavor of Agile is continuing to attract proponents hoping a simplified methodology leads to happy developers and a subsequent boost in productivity.

The other newer movement within the Agile community is called the Heart of Agile. It was first developed by Alistair Cockburn, one of the original authors of the Agile Manifesto. Like Modern Agile, the Heart of Agile also focuses on four simple principles Cockburn feels are essential to the original methodology.

The Four Keys to the Heart of Agile

In 2014, Cockburn began to feel Agile had become too dependent on procedures and policies; “overly decorated” was the term he used.  With Agile getting away from the simplicity he felt was vital to its initial success; it seemed like a good time to restate the core concepts of the methodology. Of course, Cockburn stays away from calling the Heart of Agile a framework, methodology, or process; instead he refers the curious to its four core actions: collaborate, deliver, reflect, and improve.

“Collaborate” is the first action and one many software engineering professionals feel is one of the most important aspects of Agile and related frameworks, like DevOps. “Deliver” is self-explanatory, and remains a focus at any software shop, including those striving to achieve continuous delivery.

“Reflect” is an important concept helping individual developers and software engineering teams understand their own previous project work and where they can become better. “Improve” is the fourth action to Cockburn’s new manifesto and serves as the natural result of any reflection.

Cockburn emphasizes that these four actions are practiced by anyone in the software development industry on a daily basis. “Each one unpacks into unendingly complicated skills, actions, tools, and all. Each is rich with nuance. And still, we can fold back up all the nuance and complications, and remind ourselves: ‘Collaborate. Deliver. Reflect. Improve.’” says Cockburn.

Ultimately, his most important point is to never lose sight of these four simple concepts no matter the relative complexity of an organization’s Agile framework or the increasing number of tools required to manage a mature DevOps organizational structure. They are words worthy of periodic reflection. Keep returning to them on a weekly or daily basis.

Thanks for reading this edition of the Betica Blog. Keep returning for additional insights and philosophies from the world of software development.

Finding the Business Value in your Investment in Agile and DevOps

As companies continue to invest resources transforming their software development practice into an Agile and/or DevOps model, determining the resultant ROI still eludes some. This conclusion is one of the major findings in a recent survey of CIOs published in ZDNet. On the other hand, many respondents report the faster time to production of software enhancements and bug fixes.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the other results of the study to see if these conclusions help your organization decide whether or not Agile and DevOps make sense in your shop.

DevOps Study reveals the need to Accurately measure Business Value

The study in question was conducted by Forrester Research and sponsored by Blueprint Software. While a majority of those surveyed are able to offer anecdotal evidence of the success of their DevOps transition – typically faster software delivery – they largely can’t translate that evidence into tangible business value. Forrester defines this term as increased revenue, improved competitiveness, a growing customer base, and ultimately – enhanced profitability.

45 percent of the surveyed companies currently use business value as a metric to measure the efficacy of their software development process. Nearly two-thirds of the organizations in the survey rely on that time-honored metric – speed to production – as the prime indicator of success using DevOps and Agile. Surprisingly, only one-third considers return on investment to be a valid indicator of success when migrating to these newer methodologies.

The ZDNet analysis of the survey notes that organizations need to improve communication and collaboration throughout their business to truly gauge the impact of a transition to Agile and DevOps. Since DevOps already requires this additional focus on team interaction as part of its process, these same teams can work together to devise a set of metrics to accurately measure the new methodology’s contribution to business value. Companies need to get beyond merely using status updates over email to communicate success.

Taking the Steps to bridge the DevOps Cultural Divide

Many of the surveyed organizations are trying to improve their still nascent DevOps implementations with both technical and business initiatives. 61 percent are engaged in the process of developing better metrics to measure the value of process improvement. Improving business requirements is occurring at 58 percent of the companies – another task that benefits from the additional collaboration ushered in by DevOps.

Close to half of the firms in the study are improving the management of their Agile teams, while also leveraging new technical practices, like continuous testing, to gain additional efficiencies in the SDLC. 84 percent of those surveyed feel devising a means for tracing delivered source code components to their initial business initiative would go a long way in improving business value metrics. The automation of reporting throughout the entire DevOps release chain to boost business visibility is something desired by 80 percent of the respondents.

If anything, the results of the survey reveal how DevOps is still maturing at most of the organizations currently implementing it. Improving the visibility of the process through better reporting that advertises how software enhancements are meeting vital business needs can only help. Read the survey in full to see how its conclusions can help your team go Agile!

Keep returning to the Betica Blog for additional insights from the software development world. As always, thanks for reading!

Improving your Agile Standup Meetings

Meetings and communication in general are essential aspects of any Agile process. The number of get-togethers probably depends on your organization’s choice of Agile framework, but some form of daily standup is likely. Making those standup meetings more valuable and efficient adds to the efficacy of any software development project.

Given that Agile is supposed to make software engineering faster, here is a unique idea for improving those Agile standup meetings. Consider this bit of insight to ensure your next development effort is completed on time and under budget.

Improv makes your Software Development Meetings more Valuable

In an article for SD Times, Madison Moore describes how improv – used in a fashion similar to a comedy troupe – offers the potential to make daily Agile meetings more rewarding. Wayde Stallmann, who works in the software development industry as an Agile coach, devised the practice to improve the productivity and collaboration level of meetings. Stallmann feels using these improv techniques during meetings – both standups and scaled retrospectives – enhances four vital Agile qualities: collaboration, trust, creativity, and communication.

Starting off each meeting with an improv activity lasting a few minutes helps get everyone’s attention focused on the task at hand. “In the first few minutes, everyone talks and has equal voice. No one dominates the game which sets the tone that no one dominates the meeting,” said Stallmann. Once again, the focus is on fostering collaboration among a team of equals.

Some of these gaming activities serve well to fire up the brain – useful for standups occurring first thing in the morning. The Alphabet Conversation is one such example. One person starts a conversion using a sentence beginning with the letter “A;” followed by the next person with “B,” and so on.

While some may feel activities like the Alphabet Conversation seem like a waste of time, Stallmann finds tangible value in the exercise. “We get into the aspect of how a team can solve a problem that no one individually can solve,” said Stallmann. He’s encountered skeptics throughout his coaching activities, but maintains everyone eventually sees the light after they try out the process.

Creating Agile Team Players

The most important benefit derived from improv activities at the beginning of meetings isn’t making software development faster; instead these efforts teach everyone on an Agile project how to be a better team player. Companies eventually see a benefit from what first seems like an unintuitive exercise. “When I was with AT&T as a Scrum Master, I had a team where we did a three-minute warmup game to start each standup, and we did this for two years straight. They did it for a year after I left the team, which I think is testament to the fact that it wasn’t because I was asking them to do it,” said Stallman.

If your team’s morning standups seem like wasteful drudgery, consider leveraging Stallman’s improv gaming techniques. If it works for AT&T, it just may make a difference for your development staff. Getting their minds focused on the gaming activity to start helps keep their attention during the rest of the meeting.

When you need additional insights on the software development process, keep coming back to the Betica Blog. As always, thanks for checking us out!