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An Agile Development Rant
09/13/2010

OK, I just accessed a recent Forrester report on agile development tools, courtesy of IBM, and boy, am I steamed. What were they thinking?

Let me list the ways in which I appear to be in strong disagreement with their methods and conclusions:

1.       Let’s look at how Forrester decided organizations were doing agile development. Oh, “lean” development is agile, is it? No consideration of the arguments last year that lean NPD can have a counter-effect to agile development? … Interesting, “test-driven development” without anything else is agile. Hmm, no justification … Wow, Six Sigma is agile. Just by concentrating on quality and insisting that bugs get fixed at earlier stages, magically you are agile … Oh, here’s a good one. If your methodology isn’t formal, you aren’t agile. I bet all those folks who have been inventing agile processes over the last few years would agree with that one – not. … Oh, wow again, iterative is not the slightest bit agile, nor is spiral. But Six Sigma is. If I were a spiral methodology user, I would love to be in the same category as waterfall. The writers of the Agile Manifesto would be glad to hear about that one …

2.       Next weirdness: “development and delivery leaders must implement a “just-in-time” planning loop that connects business sponsors to project teams at frequent intervals to pull demand and, if necessary, reprioritize existing project tasks based on the latest information available.” Gee, it seems to me this stands agile on its head. Agile was supposed to use regular input from business users to drive changing the product in the middle of the process. Now we’re in the land of “just in time”, “sponsors”, and “if necessary [!-ed.], reprioritizing existing tasks”. Note how subtly we have shifted from “developer and user collaborate to evolve a product that better meets the user’s needs” to “if you want this produced fast, sign off on everything, because otherwise we’ll have to rejigger our schedule and things may get delayed -- and forget about changing the features.”3.       Oh, here’s a great quote: “Measurement and software development have historically been poor bedfellows; heated debates abound about the value of measuring x or y on development projects. Agile changes this with a clear focus on progress, quality, and status metrics.” On what planet are these people living? I have heard nothing else for the past two years but counter-complaints between IT managers who complain that developers ignore their traditional cost/time-based metrics and agile proponents who point out correctly that “time to value” is a better gauge of project success, and that attempting to fit agile into the straitjacket of rigid “finish the spec” measurements prevents agile development from varying the product to succeed better. Let’s be clear: all the evidence I have seen, including evidence from a survey I did at the beginning of 2009 while at Aberdeen Group, indicates that those organizations that focused on progress, status, or quality metrics (typically, those that did not do agile development) did far worse on average in development speed, development cost, and software quality than those who did not.4.       Here’s an idea that shows a lack of knowledge of history: “historic ALM (application lifecycle management) vendors.” ALM means that you extend application development into the phase after online rollout, delivering bug fixes and upgrades via the same process. By that criterion, there are no historic ALM vendors, because there was no significant market for linking development and application management until recently. Believe me, I spent the late 90s and early 00s trying to suggest to vendors that they link development and application monitoring tools, and getting nowhere.5.       Forrester is for vendors with a strong focus on “agile/lean development.” Here we are again with the “lean.” Tell me, just where in the Agile Manifesto is there any positive mention of “product backlog”?6.       I can’t see any sign anywhere that Forrester, in their vendor assessments, has asked the simple question: is a “practitioner tool” that can be or is integrated with the vendor’s toolset likely to increase or decrease agility? For example, many formal/engineering tools are known to constrain the ability to change the product in the middle of the process. The old Rational design toolsets were famous for it – the approach was reasonable for huge aerospace projects. Their descendants live on in the RUP, and one of the big virtues of Team Concert was that it initially did not attempt to impose those tools on the agile developer. So, are these new “task management” tools that IBM is adding built from the ground up for agile developers, or are they old Rational tools bolted on? Or did Forrester just assume that all “task management” tools are pretty much equally agile? If they don’t even acknowledge the question, it sure looks that way.7.       Yup, here’s their set of criteria. The main ones are management, running a project, analytics, and life-cycle support. Any assessment of the agility of the tool in there? How about collaboration support, ability to change schedules in midstream, connection of analytics to market data to drive product changes, and a process for feedback of production-software problems and user needs to the developer to allow incremental adaptation? How about even a mention that any of these are folded into the criteria?8.       There seems to be confusion about the differences between collaborative, open-source, and agile development creeping in here. Collaborative and open-source development can be used in concert with agile development; but both can be used with development processes that are the opposite of agile – or what do you think the original offshoring movement that required rigid, clear spec definition as well as frequent global communication was about? I like CollabNet a lot; but, having followed them since the beginning of the century, I can attest that in the early years of the decade, there was no mention of agile development in their offerings or strategies. Ditto IBM; Eclipse is open-source, and in its early years there was no mention of agile development.You know, I was aware that Forrester was losing historical perspective when it let stellar analysts like Merv Adrian go. But I never imagined this. I really think that IBM, who is now pointing to the Forrester report, should think again about citing this to show how good Team Concert is. To see why I’m still steamed, let me close with one quote from the Agile Manifesto:  We … value: individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; responding to change over following a plan.” I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the whole tone of the Forrester Report is exactly the opposite. Heck of a job, Forrie. 

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Wayne Kernochan