Agile or not Agile – that is the question ? Or is it ? by Ivar Jacobson

I often get called into companies who are thinking of going "Agile".  They have invested many thousands of dollars on a very complex SDLC taking the best ideas from the industry, but that process is not being followed and their teams are effectively not working together, and now think that Agile will solve those problems.  They come to IJC with a simple question "how do I adopt agile ?".  But when you dig, you find that this question is not as easy as it would appear.  When you question their motivation and their constraints, you find a whole list of issues and problems that Agile by itself can not solve.  Issues can range from off-shoring, to quality and performance.  Issues that no one approach can solve.

Agile software development seems to be a way of describing everything that is good in software process today.  It combines techniques and team practices with ways of changing organizations.  Thus, when people talk about agile they are talking about so many different things it is really hard to get a handle on them all - it is like saying I like European food and everyone knows what that means.  Do I mean Spanish, Swedish, French...?  Of course I can not mean English.  There is a lot of great stuff that has the label Agile, but the area that I will discuss today are the team techniques that Agile has brought to the table.  In particular SCRUM. 

First let's define a structure that SCRUM fits into.  SCRUM provides a fantastic set of very simple project management processes that help teams better function, but it does not provide great guidance in the areas of actually building software or making sure that project fits into something much larger.  Thus, I always position SCRUM in the context of three other processes.  Firstly, on top is an organizational process.  These are typically described in SDLC milestones, gates or phases.  They represent the key stages a project MUST go through from a funding and control point of view.  The second view of process is the team.  How does the team function to deliver software in support of this lifecycle?  This I label as team.  The third is the techniques that an individual must employ to actually build software.  Techniques such as OOAD or Test Driven Development - Also this is where techniques such as Use Case Driven development fit. SCRUM fits nicely into the middle layer - It is a set of team techniques that really help the team become a team.  But without the top and bottom views of process being in place SCRUM by itself would not work. 

Firstly SCRUM provides a very simple set of roles.  Product Owner (the go to person who owns the problem you are solving), the SCRUM Master (the person who runs the SCRUM meetings and protects the team) and the Development Team (the people that do the work).  I also often add a fourth role that of the Technical Owner, the person who owns the system from a technical point of view and is the go to person about all things about the architecture.  Secondly it provides three meetings.  A kick off meeting at the start of a sprint.  Oh, I had better introduce the idea of a sprint - A sprint is like an iteration.  A small chunk of time when stuff happens - has a clear set of goals and delivers stuff.  In terms of what it delivers they are classically stories, but can also be features or other units of stuff.  What is important about a sprint is that real work is done, that means working software is produced, tested and deployed (maybe to a pseudo production environment).  The second type of meeting, and the one that gets all the press is the daily Scrum - this meeting is short, say 15 minutes, and focused on three questions.  How did you do, what are you doing and what is stopping you?  These three questions enable the project to move along at a rapid, focused rate.  The third meeting is all about retrospective and proving you did what you were promising in your sprint.   So, SCRUM provides a great way of organizing the team, but without the lifecycle the team can not decide on what sprints they will do and the management can not appreciate the value of this sprint in the context of something bigger.  Without some techniques for building software individuals do not know what to do. 

So SCRUM must always be part of something bigger to really make an impact.  I would therefore argue that agile on its own is like a single food item; really to enjoy it, it needs to be put into the context of a meal.

4 Comments
  1. David West | February 28, 2008 at 4:22 pm Reply

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    I can not comment abotu OpenUP, but I am sure you will find references on the Rational site within IBM. With respect to EssUP there are a number of references on http://www.ivarjacobson.com including MDS and a large US insurance company ( http://www.ivarjacobson.com/resources/module/publications_action-download/file_id-107/ ). I have been applying the practice approach and EssUP for the last 18 months and have found it very successfull with customers in terms of improving the adoption and providing a framework that helps plan that adoption.

  2. Frank Ko | February 26, 2008 at 5:20 am Reply

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    After reviewing OpenUP for few days, I still have a hard time applying it to a real project. Do you know of any publicly available case study of OpenUP or EssUP in real projects? I like the way ESI has piloted studies of CMMI with quantified benefits.

  3. David West | February 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm Reply

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    OpenUP can be defined as an agile method when you compare the ideas of OpenUP and the agile manifesto. But the focus should not be on agile or not, but how easy is it to use, and what bits can you apply to help your organization be successfull. There are lots of great stuff in OpenUP, also in agile, and other methods. Focus on trying to use the ideas and forget if it is agile, or structured etc..

  4. Frank Ko | February 21, 2008 at 4:46 am Reply

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    In your opinion is OpenUP an agile methodology? Is the new discipline based manifestation of it has enough SCRUM features?