Process Based - Better than Agile for Enterprise

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failure” with two lost Mars probes. The aerospace and defense industries have learned from decades of experience that very heavy process is required when the expense of defects is measured in the loss of human lives.Fortunately for most of us, our defects are not that expensive and spending $50,000 to prevent a $5,000 defect does not make sense. A more mundane example that I’ve experienced first-hand, is that of a large financial software organization that had significant business pressure to improve time-to-market. They were able to reduce their sofware release cycle from quarterly to once every three weeks both by application of enterprise CM tools and processes and by having a highly talented development staff. The high level processes that goverened the interaction between the different teams allowed the developers to develop, the testers to test and the infrastructure team to do the production installs. The change management team coordinated all of the activity according to a well-defined, well documented process.Within the development team however, was a very Agile-like environment. Having well defined roles and responsibilities and a far-reaching overall process restricted the scope of developer’s activities to primarily development activities. The developers were largely kept away from the day-to-day business of production support, managing the QA build and testing. This no doubt increased the individual Agile developer’s individual effectiveness and many were glad to shed the excess, often stress-increasing responsibilities. Process and Agile living together in harmony.In my consulting engagements, my goal is to help that organization be continuously and maximally productive within the required constraints.Considering that you will likely have a mix of Process and Agile, the two most important decisions to make are:

  1. How finely grained should you make your process?
  2. What kind of people do you have?

The scale or scope of the process is important. We certainly would not normally define and document a process down to the level of every key that should be typed and every decision to be made on a minute-by-minute basis. So, how “tight” should we make the process-part of our environment? There are no easy answers, but you may find that you can only apply so many changes to the environment at any one time before overloading the participants and adding stress and therefore expense. Even if your organization demands a tight process, you may have to start lighter and tighten it over time. Consider how easy it will be for a new person to learn the process.

The biggest impact of all is the people who define the culture, as Bob Aiello pointed out in last month’s Crossroads News (Behaviorally Speaking: Content Management - The argument against process! , Crossroads News, March 2003). I’ve worked with people who become almost furious unless they have a perfectly defined process prepared for them to follow, but I myself would go crazy with hour-by-hour process and would definitely prefer a more Agile type environment. (As you can see, I’m not bashing Agile!) If you put both of us together and force us to interact in the wrong way, at least one of us is likely to be unhappy. There is the danger that with the wrong mix of people, you will never strike that balance between Process and Agile.

Because I tend to work with larger financial organizations, my consulting prescription is often more Process and a little bit of Agile. Finding the balance for each organization within the constraints imposed by the business is part of the challenge and art of consulting.

Sean Blanton is Director of Consulting for Catalyst Systems Corporation.  Sean has been with Catalyst for 6 years

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