Tuesday, 17 June 2014 11:20

Agile practices: what's folklore, what's quantifiable?

By

Accepted practices in software development - whether for Agile or other methodologies - have largely been rooted in anecdote. But that's changing.

Many of the practices adopted in software development have been based on anecdote and folklore, Rally Software director of analytics Larry Maccherone told iTWire, but the adoption of big data technology allows choices to be based on what really happens.

Mr Maccherone said that when he was at Carnegie Mellon University, the Agile movement had largely rejected metrics. He subsequently joined Rally Software, which had a large quantity of development-related data.

Once that data was anonymised and its use cleared by the customers that provided it, he began looking for measures that correlated strongly with development performance.

The most significant was to keep work in progress low, or 'limiting WIP' as it is known in the Agile world. Agile coaches always advocated less was better, Mr Maccherone said, but he found that while this was true up to a point and could lead to a fourfold improvement on quality measures and halve the time to market, that wasn't the whole story.

If work in progress becomes too narrow, productivity suffers as work becomes blocked on particular tasks, for example because of the unavailability of specialist staff. When that happens, other staff are left idle.

He also found that although the received wisdom was to break up teams at the end of a project, better performance resulted from maintaining stable teams. "People learn how to work together" as a team, he said, but that process takes time.

It's also important that each person should belong to exactly only one team, otherwise switching between contexts takes its toll. It doesn't make much difference whether an individual is moved between teams daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly, "it's dramatically bad to do it at all," Mr Maccherone said.

The suspicion is that being committed and accountable to one team makes a big difference.

The original study looked at five areas of activity (and a paper describing the results can be found here [PDF]), but has now been repeated on a broader scale with 55 variables under consideration.

Mr Maccherone noted that the latest study found that Australian and New Zealand developers outperformed their peers in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and India. They were up to 60% more productive, and achieved one-seventh of the defect density.

The next best performers were in North America while India was at the bottom of the pack with "the absolute worst performance... and the worst quality," he said.

Page 2: More findings and an example


Other interesting findings were that reducing the iteration length improved responsiveness and productivity at the cost of quality (possibly because reducing the time available leads to less review and testing activity), and that the best reason for adopting Agile is "my boss told us to" (perhaps because a high-level decision means the required structural, process and cultural changes are more likely to be put into place to support the change).

"We're using big data techniques" to get at these understandings, he stressed.

Companies can get the benefit of their fellow Rally customers experiences in this regard by adopting the Rally Insights product that is currently in beta.

"Without data you're just shooting in the dark," he added, but gave the familiar warning that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. That is, just because 'width' is inversely correlated with quality, reducing width will not necessarily and automatically increase the quality of the team's work, as the current low quality could be the result of some other factor such as a inadequate skills.

If you don't have a team history to compare your current practices, the alternative is to use industry benchmarks - "we [Rally] are the only folks that can do that," Mr Maccherone said. Otherwise the human mindset is to make decisions based on a model that is not necessarily the 'best fit' to the situation, but merely the 'first fit' (ie, the first model that someone thinks of that seems to describe the situation, even if the match isn't very close).

One example of the way a Rally customer used data to justify a change of practices involved "a large toy manufacturer in Denmark". Using Rally software to explore productivity revealed a 107% improvement for one group over a two-month period.

What happened was that this group was working while most of the other people were on holiday. This meant the open-plan office was quieter, and there were fewer meetings.

So the company is moving its development teams to separate rooms, and instead of meeting with as many as four stakeholders, the teams now meet with just one, and he or she is responsible for disseminating the information to the other stakeholders.

The data from this change will be used to calculate the monetary value of the productivity improvements to support other similar investments. Mr Maccherone said.


Subscribe to ITWIRE UPDATE Newsletter here

PROMOTE YOUR WEBINAR ON ITWIRE

It's all about Webinars.

Marketing budgets are now focused on Webinars combined with Lead Generation.

If you wish to promote a Webinar we recommend at least a 3 to 4 week campaign prior to your event.

The iTWire campaign will include extensive adverts on our News Site itwire.com and prominent Newsletter promotion https://itwire.com/itwire-update.html and Promotional News & Editorial. Plus a video interview of the key speaker on iTWire TV https://www.youtube.com/c/iTWireTV/videos which will be used in Promotional Posts on the iTWire Home Page.

Now we are coming out of Lockdown iTWire will be focussed to assisting with your webinatrs and campaigns and assassistance via part payments and extended terms, a Webinar Business Booster Pack and other supportive programs. We can also create your adverts and written content plus coordinate your video interview.

We look forward to discussing your campaign goals with you. Please click the button below.

MORE INFO HERE!

INTRODUCING ITWIRE TV

iTWire TV offers a unique value to the Tech Sector by providing a range of video interviews, news, views and reviews, and also provides the opportunity for vendors to promote your company and your marketing messages.

We work with you to develop the message and conduct the interview or product review in a safe and collaborative way. Unlike other Tech YouTube channels, we create a story around your message and post that on the homepage of ITWire, linking to your message.

In addition, your interview post message can be displayed in up to 7 different post displays on our the iTWire.com site to drive traffic and readers to your video content and downloads. This can be a significant Lead Generation opportunity for your business.

We also provide 3 videos in one recording/sitting if you require so that you have a series of videos to promote to your customers. Your sales team can add your emails to sales collateral and to the footer of their sales and marketing emails.

See the latest in Tech News, Views, Interviews, Reviews, Product Promos and Events. Plus funny videos from our readers and customers.

SEE WHAT'S ON ITWIRE TV NOW!

BACK TO HOME PAGE
Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

Share News tips for the iTWire Journalists? Your tip will be anonymous

WEBINARS ONLINE & ON-DEMAND

GUEST ARTICLES

VENDOR NEWS

Guest Opinion

Guest Reviews

Guest Research

Guest Research & Case Studies

Channel News

Comments