Lean-Agile Traceability: Strategies and Solutions


There are viable alternatives to achieving transparency and identification other than what many regard as "formal traceability." Some of these include:

  • Direct customer communication, and better ways to make project information more transparent to the customer
  • Ways of applying principles of simplicity and minimizing intermediate artifacts
  • Adapting XP's 4 rules of "simple code" to other kinds of information as well, as long as those rules can be translated and interpreted correctly for such non-code artifacts
  • Applying the principle of locality of reference and the DRY principle in an attempt to single source information

Many of these concepts and more are embodied in Sam Guckenheimer's recent book Software Engineering with Microsoft Visual Studio Team System. We found this book to be surprisingly good (outstanding even) and not at all what one might expect given the apparent tool/vendor-specific nature suggested by the title. The value-up paradigm, and most of the other concepts and values in the book, are very well aligned with agility while still meeting the needs of more rigorous ceremony in their software and systems engineering efforts. Guckenheimer describes the basic differences as follows:

<--pagebreak-->Attitudinal Differences Between Work-Down and Value-Up Paradigms

Core Assumption




Work-Down Attitude




Value-Up Attitude




Planning and change process 




Planning and design are the most important activities to get right. You need to do these initially, establish accountability to plan, monitor against the plan, and carefully prevent change from creeping in.




Change happens; embrace it. Planning and design will continue through the project. Therefore, you should invest in just enough planning and design to understand risk and to manage the next small increment.




Primary measurement 




Task completion. Because we know the steps to achieve the end goal, we can measure every intermediate deliverable and compute earned value running as the percentage of hours planned to be spent by now versus the hours planned to be spent to completion.




Only deliverables that the customer values count (working software, completed documentation, etc.). You need to measure the flow of the work streams by managing queues that deliver customer value and treat all interim measures skeptically.




Definition of quality 




Conformance to specification. That's why you need to get the specs right at the beginning.




Value to the customer. This perception can (and probably will) change. The customer might not be able to articulate how to deliver the value until working software is initially delivered. Therefore, keep options open, optimize for continual delivery, and don't specify too much too soon.




Acceptance of variance 




Tasks can be identified and estimated in a deterministic way. You don't need to pay attention to variance.




Variance is part of all process flows, natural and man-made. To achieve predictability, you need to understand and reduce the variance.




Intermediate work products 




Documents, models, and other intermediate artifacts are necessary to decompose the design and plan tasks, and they provide the necessary way to measure intermediate progress.




Intermediate documentation should minimize the uncertainty and variation in order to improve flow. Beyond that, they are unnecessary.




Troubleshooting approach 




The constraints of time, resource, functionality, and quality determine what you can achieve. If you adjust one, you need to adjust the others. Control change carefully to make sure that there are no unmanaged changes to the plan.




The constraints may or may not be related to time, resource, functionality, or quality. Instead, identify the primary bottleneck in the flow of value, work it until it is no longer the primary one, and then attack the next one. Keep reducing variance to ensure smoother flow.




Approach to trust 




People need to be monitored and compared to standards. Management should use incentives to reward individuals for their performance relative to the plan.




Pride of workmanship and teamwork are more effective motivators than individual incentives. Trustworthy transparency, where all team members can see the overall team's performance data, works better than management directives.





There are several strategies and tactics that can be employed to achieve "lean" traceability in service to trustworthy transparency and friction-free metrics.

About the author

Brad Appleton's picture Brad Appleton

Brad Appleton is a software CM/ALM solution architect and lean/agile development champion at a large telecommunications company. Currently he helps projects and teams adopt and apply lean/agile development and CM/ALM practices and tools. He is coauthor of the book Software Configuration Management Patterns, a columnist for the CMCrossroads and AgileConnection communities at Techwell.com,  and a former section editor for The C++ Report. You can read Brad's blog at blog.bradapp.net.

About the author

Steve Berczuk's picture Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and Scrum Master at Fitbit. The author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, he is a recognized expert in software configuration management and agile software development. Steve is passionate about helping teams work effectively to produce quality software. He has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and is a certified, practicing ScrumMaster. Contact Steve at steve@berczuk.com or visit berczuk.com and follow his blog at blog.berczuk.com.

About the author

Robert Cowham's picture Robert Cowham

Robert Cowham has long been interested in software configuration management while retaining the attitude of a generalist with experience and skills in many aspects of software development. A regular presenter at conferences, he authored the Agile SCM column within the CM Journal together with Brad Appleton and Steve Berczuk. His day job is as Services Director for Square Mile Systems whose main focus is on skills and techniques for infrastructure configuration management and DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) - applying configuration management principles to hardware documentation and implementation as well as mapping ITIL services to the underlying layers.

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