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StrategyDec 19, 2011

The Failure of the Agile Model: Technology

Brad Buhl

“I love technology, but not as much as you, you see. But I still love technology. Always and forever.” –Kip Dynamite (‘Napoleon Dynamite’)

Much like Kip, the first value of the Agile Manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” But make no mistake – Agile gives no excuse for a lack of effective monitoring and measurement of progress against plan, or project reporting. In fact, the Agile methodology seeks to make more transparent the process and more simplified the tools in order to streamline production.

And once your organization has made the switch to Agile, perhaps with scrum task boards using sticky notes and burn up and down charts using Excel, an eventual question comes from the executive suite: Can you prove the value to the process?

Rally ‘Round the Family, with a Pocket Full of Shells

There are a growing number of Agile toolsets, with one of the best known offered by Rally Software (full disclosure: Rally is also a partner with Credera). What a technology like Rally can enable in an organization is a holistic Agile project view and real time communication platform, instead of having to track spreadsheets, emails, status reports and resource tasks in different tools.

Ben Horowitz blogged about not having a magical “silver bullet” to face a business challenge, but rather “lead bullets,” implying multiple tactics required for victory rather than a single shot strategy. Similarly, technology in the Agile process will not be a silver bullet by merely installing and integrating process. It takes a holistic, dedicated approach to a monitoring and measurement tool in order to effectively manage – otherwise you don’t know what you don’t know!

Ultimately, there are two base requirements which an Agile toolset must contain for your business to be successful and find ROI in even deploying an Agile technology:

  1. Automation – quite simply, a tool should at a minimum save on the resource time of transcribing stories and tasks, putting together charts and reports, and documenting blocks.

  2. Collaboration – without the ability for cross-team collaboration, a technology is only another cog in the wheel of email, document management, instant messaging, time entry, etc. Team collaboration is essential to iterative Agile project work.

The business, then, is right to ask for the proof. And without a good set of Agile analytics, there will be no baseline or proof to work from in validating Agile methodology value. Baseline reporting and improvement should at a minimum be measured around:

• Development velocity at both Sprint team and individual levels

• Change in velocity and team capacity

• Planned vs. actual percent complete

• Backlog growth

• Defect generation and resolution rates

• Planned vs. earned value (relative to business revenues/cost impacts)

• Cost performance index (earned value divided by actual costs)

• Scheduled performance index (earned value divided by planned value)

Do note the first five bullets are more traditionally managed project metrics, but the last three provide the value to the business, and are the underpinnings of any executive’s fiscal view of Agile process success.

And though a metric such as earned value in an organization can be wholly determined by marketplace adoption of a new feature or system, directly tying the development cycle to the business creates a partnership rather than cost center mentality throughout an organization.

After all, if IT is always considered just a cost center, or commodity set of services, then why adopt an Agile methodology – why not outsource IT altogether?!

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