Getting to "Done" in Agile Development


You Be Agile While I Stay the Same

As an agile consultant, I should fess up. My profession bears a burden for one of the biggest problems encountered in agile adoptions. In our earnest desire to help get buy-in within an organization, we invariably highlight the benefits. All it takes is one slightly overeager evangelist to make agile sound a little too close to a silver bullet, and all of a sudden it is perceived as this magical thing that is going to simply plug into your organization, make development teams run faster with higher quality, and in no way impact other parts of the organization. This is probably further exacerbated by the small nature of agile teams—generally around seven people—that they do not include release engineers, system administrators, or other specialized experts whose expertise is in short demand. In the old world, they were integrated through a linear process: Architects became involved during analysis and release engineers came in during preparation for launch for example.

Agile projects can unify separate groups. The product owner can change the relationship between the business and technology by bringing someone into the team who represents the customer’s voice. Unfortunately, not all interests can be folded into the process. When teams experience trouble, release engineering is a great solution. Chances are a Scrum team is working in an environment where team members have administrative rights. Even if they are using a continuous integration or other automated build process, there is likely a great deal of variance from what a production deployment looks like, and it does not involve the people who will actually be moving the code into a production environment.

Thus, the project moves along nicely with team members thinking they could deploy their code to production any time they want. Only later do they realize they have no release notes, their configuration settings are unable to port from multiple environments, and the system administrators have no idea how the new system works. All of a sudden, a simple production release turns into weeks of debugging, documenting, and supporting people who are trying to rapidly learn about a system they didn't see until they were asked to deploy it into a production environment.

This concept has an infinite number of permutations: The upstream system managed in a traditional waterfall process that will supposedly be ready just in time to integrate, the performance team that only checks the application's performance at the end of the release, and the support team that doesn't familiarize itself with the application until shortly before launch. All of these items are examples of people on the boundary of an agile project who can cause catastrophic problems if they are not aligned with the team's activity. This is, of course, easier said than done.

I have seen teams invite these groups to their semi-weekly demonstrations, try to elicit requirements from them, and even go so far as open up environments to them in order to get feedback. Some stakeholders take advantage of these opportunities, but I have also seen many stakeholders request to know when the product will launch, and then disengage until shortly before that date. The specifics of these situations vary, but the net impact is the same. The businesses see their application mature while receiving a sense of the completion rate. They become confident and trust the team as they see features complete at a nice rate, and they may even say good things about agile. However, as they are excited and prepared for the big launch date, things go horribly awry. The actual implementation is that final moment of accountability when all that work that was only "Done, Done" is shown to be not completely ready. In good cases, the team learns a valuable lesson and starts adding more to its definition of done. In bad cases, someone asserts, "This happened because we didn't have good requirements and design up front," and somewhere an agile initiative dies.

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Kathy Iberle's picture
August 22, 2013 - 11:39am

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