The Null Terminator

Ethan Ram’s geeky blog on the seam of technology and product management.

On how to go Agile without missing your yearly quota/deadlines

Going Agile in a B2B Company – Part 2

This is the second post about going Agile on a B2B company. Read the 1st part – that’s where you’ll find the why. This post is about the how.

Well… So much has been written on how to go Agile and what an Agility project looks like. I’m not going to repeat. I’ll be giving some general key guidelines – so that when you go on reading about Agile methodologies you can look at it with the right perspective; When you go to your managers to ask for an Agility project funding and time you’ll come with a good plan; When you speak with an Agile Coach you can see how well he can fit into your Agility project, rather than him dictating you what it should look like.

First thing to know is that Going Agile is not a one-time project thing. It’s a management philosophy. But – if you haven’t been practicing Agility in your company you should start with an Agile project with set goals – ppl like to have clear goals. Still, you should always remember that being Agile should be a general long-term goal. A goal to move fast, to be more productive, to beat competition.

A working company cannot and should not stop everything (development, sales) to have an Agile project in place. No manager would approve that, even in a startup. Most development group is investing about 25% of its time in building infrastructure and refactoring existing code. The initial Agility project would certainly require more resources, but it should not stop every other functional development.

Agile projects are all different because organizations are different and their Agility focus is different. Setting “standard” ultimate goals to achieve in a 6 months project is not realistic. Your managers will not understand where you are heading and what the urgency is (and you’ll miss your quota/deadlines). It’s better to educate your staff with the Agility concepts you want to embed in your process and set short-term goals that people understand. Then continue evolving in the Agile directions.

An Agility project should ultimately reduce development time, shorten release cycles, improve product quality and make your development team happier in general. But these are hard to quantify and it’s hard to “sell” an Agility project to higher management if you talk about these goals. So here is an idea – Start by setting project goals where your product lacks the most in a ways that hurts the SALES cycle and OPs. If you manage to improve here the benefit is measurable, immediate and noticeable. You’ll also make some other department managers happy about your Agility project and it’ll be easy to set new Agility goals.

So if it’s taking 5 days of work to configure each new customer environment – focus to resolve that with the Agility thinking and tools in mind – maybe by automating the installation and configuration process. If your QA cycle takes 2 weeks from code freeze to release – that’s an excellent place to start your test automation. If you’re having troubles upgrading customer’s database every time a new version is released – set fixing this issue as one of your first goals as part of your Agility project – for instance, by moving your database schema to the main code branch, building it as part of every build.

Introduce your managers (group leaders, team leaders) to the Agility philosophy and tools first. Set clear Agility goals for 2 months ahead and get your managers involved early in the process of how to get to those goals in time. Prepare to have some resistance – ppl don’t like changes and in many cases they will see it as an extra workload, even if they agree with your long-term goals. When you have a plan gather everyone and explain them Agility-Why and show them the plan.

Automation… Automation… Automation!

Many of the Agility tools and methodologies involve automating manual work – build servers, automatic unit testing, integration testing and QA automation – all require scripting and batch files. You’ll quickly find that your developers prefer coding in JAVA/C# than in Ant/cshell and that there are only few QA engineers that can script. This means ppl will need to adjust, evolve and learn new stuff as part of an Agility project. I found that I had to replace some of my QA staff with others that had automation and scripting in their background. I had to give some time for my developers to learn Ant scripting so that they can contribute to the Agility project in the short-term and continue developing in an Agile way later-on.

Task force

You’ll surely be creating some new development infrastructure to enable the Agile process to happen. A Continuous Integration Server, updated workspaces/projects for your developers that include built-in emulators for unit-testing, a new product packaging/installer etc. It’s wise to have a task-force in place that would build this infrastructure that would then be used by everyone else. Create a task-force built from engineers from all teams. This will help make sure that planning takes into consideration all relevant aspects and that when the initial infrastructure is ready there are already engineers in all teams that know how to use it and can teach the rest.

The new infrastructure soon affects every engineer’s daily work so it better be stable and solid enough so that it doesn’t break everyone’s work halting development completely. The task force should build the infrastructure and emulators, then the first few unit-tests and scripts on-top of it, to see that it’s actually functioning and can also be used by everyone else as an example. You can also start using the new infrastructure and test automation in parallel with the older process and throw warnings on unit-tests that fail rather than block the process.

In GameGround after the initial infra was developed we took 80% of engineers (everyone but a few left to fix blocker bugs) for a week of writing unit tests. So that everyone had both a chance to experience writing unit tests to their code, use the new infrastructure and understanding how development is going to be changed. This also meant that by the end of that week we also had a significant amount of our code tested regularly by our continuous integration server – 10%-20% of functionality. A good start.

Well, I must say, in reality, it was (is) much harder to achieve… I’ll try to write about the hurdles I’ve had in one of my future posts.

p.s. the post really had little with “yearly quota” – but it comes to show that an Agile project can be done without derailing the yearly planning of the company…

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One response to “On how to go Agile without missing your yearly quota/deadlines

  1. PM Hut 2011 Oct 11 at 07:46

    Hi Ethan,

    This a great series. Going Agile is one of the hottest topics in (IT) project management at the moment. I would like to republish this whole series on PM Hut ( http://www.pmhut.com ) where many project managers will benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

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