Getting Clueful: 7 Things CIOs Should Know About Agile Development

Agile methodologies for software projects can help organizations create better software faster. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that before. Here, experienced programmers explain the key ingredients to make those goals achievable

3. Agile Changes More than Development Workflow

Part of an organization's tackling the agile development process is accepting that it will — and should — change company culture as well as process.

The important changes include pervasive use of feedback and increased collaboration — factors that force business and IT colleagues to be truthful with each other and bring visibility into problems an organization may have to address.

Consultant George Dinwiddie from iDIA Computing suggests using a burn-down chart to track project progress. Doing so, he says, shows how progress is converging (or not) on the goal line and lets a manager know when to take action. "That action might be to move the goal line, or to make changes in the way the software is being produced to try to speed it up."

When a developer asks the business customer about a feature, he gets feedback on the desired goal; the customer can see from the incrementally growing software how well it works. Says Dinwiddie, "The feedback should be generated with as little delay as possible. Reducing the time between when a decision is made and when it is validated will pay off in reduced waste."

Another effect is increased collaboration. . . as long as management recognizes its side effects. "Everyone in the organization should be collaborating, with the organizational end goals in mind, instead of just minding their own business and doing their assigned jobs in isolation," says Steven Gordon, an independent agile software development coach.

Note: That collaboration brings to the surface a lot of issues, problems and obstructions in the organization. Do not kill the messenger, Gordon urges; agile is not creating these issues, only making them more apparent. CIOs have to prioritize and address the problems. "If the organization appears to be ignoring these issues after they are surfaced, people will come to believe that the agile principles make no difference and will go back to just minding their own business and doing their jobs in isolation," Gordon says.

But in the widest sense, a long-term effect of agile development may be truthfulness. "I won't mince words: If you can't be truthful, you can't do agile successfully," says Mishkin Berteig, president of Berteig Consulting. "Truthfulness is the foundation of the practices, it is the foundation of even the principles. If you look at the agile manifesto, you can see that the idea of truthfulness is at the foundation in communication, in human interactions, in construction, and in customer-vendor relationships."

Berteig is often surprised how often this concept is a revelation to executives. "Most of our organizational cultures in the corporate world are based on distrust and a decided lack of truthfulness. To change to a culture of truthfulness is a deep, long and difficult change — just like any other culture change!"

Yet, he asks, without a culture of truthfulness how can one learn from the inevitable mistakes? How can an organization create mutually beneficial relationships with clients? How can you be certain that at the end of each iteration the team is delivering what it really says it's delivering, or be certain that the stakeholders really want what they say they want? Berteig adds, "Traditional bureaucratic processes and procedures are often a result of a lack of truthfulness and an attempt to make up for that deficit."

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