How Agile Development Can Lead to Better Results and Technology-Business Alignment

Studies show agile development works, and yet few companies follow its principles. Read this article to learn how your organization can manage the agile way.

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To many of the businesspeople on the team, the results were shocking. They told Waghray that this project should have taken three times as long as it did, which was roughly eight weeks from start to finish. According to Waghray, the VZ Navigator project “made a significant and immediate impact on the bottom line and it has now enabled an organizational capability to do this with similar products.” It is “a culture and timing change,” Waghray says of the process, “but I have never gotten more accolades from a business project.”

Managing the Agile Change

Since agile teams are designed to be autonomous bands of rapid change agents making critical business decisions on the fly, the once-immutable laws of project management shift dramatically. Because waterfall’s typical 18-to-24-month development times are drastically reduced to two-week windows, every day of development and every conversation become critical. In Dury’s IT shop, mornings start with a team huddle and a breakdown of what everyone is responsible for completing that day. “We don’t need to talk about what gets done three weeks from now—this is what we want to do today,” Dury says. “We don’t want to lose days.”

It’s incumbent on CIOs to set the new expectations—teamwork, openness, collaboration—for everyone in their agile group. “There’s an expectation of collaboration. You can’t just go work in your own little world,” says Farm Credit Services’ Martin. “There’s also a new visibility into the work and, in some cases, the nonwork.”

Those team members who resist, however, will more than likely find themselves out of a job. (An old Persian saying seems appropriate for CIOs to remember: “The dogs bark, the caravan passes on.”) Scott Ambler, an agile expert who works as practice leader for agile development at IBM, suspects that many developers, requirements analysts, and data and testing staffers are worried about agile’s career-changing consequences. “They have likely worked on a slew of failures, and they often feel powerless to change things. Worse yet, they have the threat of outsourcing hanging over their heads,” Ambler says.

The CIO’s job is to manage the anxiety and ensure that his team focuses on producing high-grade software in a timely and cost-efficient manner. “In the agile community, the only measure of progress on a software development project is the delivery of working software,” Ambler says. “The traditional development community has lost sight of that.”

Why Are So many CIOs Cool to Agile Software Development?

Skepticism is the word most often used when CIOs and analysts are asked why so many CIOs have been cool toward agile software development. They hear about it at a conference or in an article and it sounds good, but the 2006 “State of Agile” survey reports that only 5 percent of respondents cited the CIO as being the initial champion of agile development processes. Surprisingly, 11 percent said their president or CEO was driving agile acceptance.

Without the CIO’s backing, as well as support from influential business stakeholders, agile’s software development and project management time and cost efficiencies cannot be realized. “When companies don’t have a VP-level or CIO-type executive driving adoption of agile, they will run into so many obstacles,” says Forrester’s Schwaber. At Farm Credit Services, Martin’s agile move has grabbed the attention and support of his CEO. There are no obstacles (besides keeping up with project demand), he says.

The agile mentality has even proliferated throughout the rest of the organization. Martin knew he’d made the right move when he’d heard that business teams were holding daily stand-up meetings—mirroring IT’s practices. “We’ve even got business units asking, How can we be more agile?” he says.

Martin’s agile journey has come full circle. He’s gone from being a CIO who didn’t know anything about it or anyone doing agile, to an agile evangelist, spreading gospel at conferences, trade shows and CIO breakfast meetings. “I couldn’t fathom going back to a waterfall methodology,” he says.

Senior Writer Thomas Wailgum can be reached at twailgum@cio.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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