best practices across project teams or product groups. This is where audits (one component of a larger organizational governance program whose discussion is beyond the scope of this article) can play a meaningful role not only in helping to spread best practices beyond the context of a single project team, but by acting as a catalyst for organization-wide agile transformation.
As a memorable illustration, a number of Sapient project teams developing data-intensive web applications felt that implementing fully automated unit tests for their front-end code would be too onerous a task to justify the effort required. Our adoption and compliance program afforded us visibility into this lack of rigorous TDD. It also brought to our attention another team's innovative solution integrating StrutsTestCase with DDSteps and the project's continuous integration build. Thus, we were able to not only help these teams connect and prevent a significant process deficit from going unchecked, but we were also able to create a generalized solution to a common project need.
In Sapient Approach, iterations can vary between one and four weeks depending on a number of factors. As such, we have adopted a monthly project audit schedule, which roughly corresponds with the upper limit on iteration length. Given that most of our projects run at least six months in duration, this approach offers us ample opportunities to observe projects and inject positive change without subjecting projects to undue process volatility.
Summary Of Best Practices:
- Establish process adoption plans at the time of project inception or as soon as possible thereafter.
- Provide flexibility for project teams to deviate from accepted best practice when there exists a valid business justification for doing so.
- Ensure that the whole team feels that it owns its defined process.
- Use project leaders as catalysts for process adoption.
- Audit against intent and adequacy of implementation - not the literal step-by-step process.
- Conduct audits early and often to ensure a continuous flow of best practices to projects from the organization and vice-versa.
It is worth taking a moment to challenge the necessity of adoption and compliance programs in promoting and sustaining collaboration in agile organizations. Could there be conditions under which this need is obviated? In all likelihood, there exists a "tipping point" beyond which the number agile-aware practitioners engaged in project work reaches critical mass and the need for a formal mechanisms becomes moot. However, given that the number of experienced agile coaches today is relatively small in comparison to the industry as a whole, any large, multi-national organization will likely find this tipping point to be intolerably distant in the face of significant double-digit percentage growth.
 The Standish Group, The Chaos Chronicles v3.0 , 2004.
About the Author
Erik M. Gottesman is a Senior Manager, Technology at Sapient, a global services firm that helps clients innovate their businesses in the areas of marketing, business operations, and technology. As a member of the Sapient|Approach team, Erik is responsible for Sapient's research and point of view on software methodologies, metrics, effective team structures, efficiency initiatives and overall process-improvement programs. While at Sapient, Erik has also delivered solutions for Hilton International, Nissan and major financial services firms. Apart from his publishing credits relating to software development, Erik's theoretical writings on artificial intelligence and music have appeared in the proceedings of various international symposia. Erik holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performing Arts Technology, both from the University of Michigan.