Over the past seven years, Coveros team members have served on scores of agile development projects ranging from five-person, custom-development efforts, to large system integration efforts with hundreds of team members working world-wide. One byproduct of all this experience is the recognition of a surprisingly consistent and predictable pattern of value realized by the organizations adopting the agile methodology. In nearly all cases, the initial benefits are realized by the business stakeholders. Over time, however, the team ascends the maturity curve and the entire organization derives significant value. Below, we overview the pattern of benefits that your organization can expect to realize through adoption of the agile methodology.
The first major benefit comes very quickly in the form of shared project vision or Organizational Clarity. This usually occurs within the first 2-5 weeks of the project during the requirements gathering or “Envision” phase. During the Envision, a series of facilitated meetings and regular readout to the organization ensure that there is no ambiguity with regard to the goals, drivers, priorities or assumptions associated with the initiative. During this stage, every member of the team, from Product Manager, to Engineer, to Tester, have the same vision and are moving towards the same goals.
With a clear plan in place, the team begins development. Within 1-2 iterations, the team has a firm grasp on the process, and begin to invite the wider organization in at select intervals (e.g., Iteration kickoff, technical spike presentations, user acceptance testing). It is at this point that it becomes clear the level of Transparency that agile brings to the initiative. This transparency can be as simple a status on a project team wall in the case of co-located teams, or as rich as a wiki-based project website publishing real-time status and development metrics to the entire organization. Regardless, this can be a painful time as agile serves as a light shining in the dark corners of the organization. It is at this point that quite a few of opportunities for organizational and procedural improvement are identified and discussed.
It should be noted that most companies are satisfied with the gains realized, and halt further investment. Coveros believes that this is really the time for a second round of investment that takes the team to the next level of gains. This investment is usually in the form of developer-level training and tools. This training is primarily focused around gaining deeper understanding of the XP development best practices.
After 2-4 iterations, User Acceptance Testing (UAT) sessions become a time for celebration and excitement as the number and severity of defects, missed requirements and miscommunications on requirements is measurably reduced. This newfoundQuality is due both to the rigor imposed during the requirements definition exercises at the iteration planning meetings, and to the adoption of the XP development best practices.
As developers move towards mastery of such concepts of unit testing, refactoring and continuous integration, the maintainability of the application increases and the post iteration defect count always decreases.
It is interesting to note that the duration of the iteration does not seem to have an effect on the number of iterations required to hit the Quality milestone. The major caveats are the characteristics of the initiative being executed. Greenfield-development and smaller teams will tend to hit the Quality milestone more quickly than system-integration or maintenance teams.
Coveros finds that after 3-6 iterations, organizations typically find that the team has hit its stride and are hitting their delivery commitments with surprising accuracy. This high-degree of Predictabiliy can be attributed to the team sharpening their skills around estimation of effort, delivering high quality code and understanding their iteration”velocity”. This new predictability causes a powerful, positive ripple effect through the organization as enterprise- or program-level planning becomes dependable for the first time. It is at this point that the promise of agile is realized; the ability to shift development focus quickly based on the needs of the business.
The final stage in the progression is never fully realized, but provides continual, increasing return on investment in the area of Development Efficiency. This comes as teams get more efficient and gain a mastery over the process and best practices. Extremely high efficiency is typically realized only with teams that are together over a period of six months or more, however, continual gains can be expected at any point in the initiative.
Whether you’ve begun to adopt agile, or are investigating its benefits, Coveros can safely predict that your organization should gain Clarity, Transparency, Quality, Predictability and Efficiency on your initiative given the proper implementation. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to comment on this entry, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .