Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Different Ways of Scaling Agile

At this year's Construx Software Executive Summit one of the problems that we explored was how to scale software development, especially Agile development, across projects, portfolios, geographies and enterprises. As part of this, we looked at 3 different popular methods for scaling Agile: LeSS (Large Scale Scrum), SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), and DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery).

LeSS and LeSS Huge - Large Scale Scrum

Craig Larman, the co-author of LeSS (and LeSS Huge - for really big programs), started off by criticizing the "contract game" or "commitment game" that management, developers and customers traditionally play to shift blame upfront for when things (inevitably) go wrong on a project. It was provocative and entertaining, but it had little to do with scaling Agile.

He spent the rest of his time building the case for restructuring organizations around end-to-end cross-functional feature teams who deliver working code rather than specialist component teams and functional groups or matrices. Feature teams can move faster by sharing code and knowledge, solving problems together and minmizing handoffs and delays.

Enterprise architecture in LeSS seems easy. Every team member is a developer - and every developer is an architect. Architects work together outside of teams and projects in voluntary Communities of Practice to collaborate and shape the organization's architecture together. This sounds good - but architecture, especially in large enterprise environments, is too important to try and manage out-of-band. LeSS doesn't explain how eliminating specialization and working without upfront architecture definition and architectural standards and oversight will help build big systems that work with other big systems.

LeSS is supposed to be about scaling up, but most of what LeSS lays out looks like Scrum done by lots of people at the same time. It's not clear where Scrum ends and LeSS starts.

SAFe - Scaled Agile Framework

There's no place for management in LeSS (except for Product Owners, who are the key constraint for success - like in Scrum). Implementing Less involves fundamentally restructuring your organization around business-driven programs and getting rid of managers and specialists.

Managers (as well as architects and other specialists) do have a role in SAFe's Scaled Agile Framework - a more detailed and heavyweight method that borrows from Lean, Agile and sequential Waterfall development approaches. Teams following Scrum (and some XP technical practices) to build working code roll up into programs and portfolios, which need to be managed and coordinated.

In fact, there is so much for managers to do in SAFe as "Lean-Agile Leaders" that Dean Leffingwell spent most of his time enumerating and elaborating the roles and responsibilities of managers in scaling Agile programs and leading change.

Some of the points that stuck with me:

  • The easiest way to change culture is to have success. Focus on execution, not culture, and change will follow.
  • From Deming: Only managers can change the system - because managers create systems. Change needs to come from the middle.
  • Managers need to find ways to push decisions down to teams and individuals, giving them strong and clear "decision filters" so that they understand how to make their own decisions.

DAD - Disciplined Agile Delivery

Scott Ambler doesn't believe that there is one way to scale Agile development, because in an enterprise different teams and projects will deliver different kinds of software in different ways: some may be following Scrum or XP, or Kanban, or Lean Startup with Continuous Deployment, or RUP, or SAFe, or a sequential Waterfall approach (whether they have good reasons, or not so good reasons, for working the way that they do).

Disciplined Agile Development (DAD) is not a software development method or project management framework - it is a decision-making framework that looks at how to plan, build and run systems across the enterprise. DAD layers over Scrum/XP, Lean/Kanban or other lifeycles, helping managers make decisions about how to manage projects, how to manage risks, and how to drive change.

Projects, and people working in projects, need to be enterprise-aware - they need to work within the constraints of the organization, follow standards, satisfy compliance, integrate with legacy systems and with other projects and programs, and leverage shared resources and expertise and other assets across the organization.

Development isn't the biggest problem in scaling Agile. Changes need to be made in many different parts of the organization in order to move faster: governance (including the PMO), procurement, finance, compliance, legal, product management, data management, ops, ... and these changes can take a long time. In Disciplined Agile Development, this isn't easy, and it's not exciting. It just has to be done.

Scaling Agile is Hard, but it's worth it

Almost all of us agreed with Dean Leffingwell that "nothing beats Agile at the team level". But achieving the same level of success at the organizational level is a hard problem. So hard that none of the people who are supposed to be experts at it could clearly explain how to do it.

After talking to senior managers from many different industries and different countries, I learned that most organizations seem to be finding their own way, blending sequential Waterfall stage-gate development and large-scale program management practices at the enterprise-level with Agile at the team level. Using Agile approaches to explore ideas and requirements, prototyping and technical spikes to help understand viability and scope and technical needs and risks early, before chartering projects. Starting off these projects with planning and enough analysis and modeling upfront to identify key dependencies and integration points, then getting Agile teams to fill in the details and deliver working software in increments. Managing these projects like any other projects, but with more transparency into the real state of software development - because you get working software instead of status reports.

The major advantage of Agile at scale isn't the ability to react to continuous changes or even to deliver faster or cheaper. It's knowing sooner whether you should keep going, or if you need to keep going, or if you should stop and do something else instead.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don’t Waste Time Writing Perfect Code

A system can last for 5 or 10 or even 20 or more years. But the life of specific lines of code, even of designs, is often much shorter: months or days or even minutes when you’re iterating through different approaches to a solution.

Some code matters more than other code

Researching how code changes over time, Michael Feathers has identified a power curve in code bases. Every system has code, often a lot of it, that is written once and is never changed. But a small amount of code, including the code that is most important and useful, is changed over and over again, refactored or rewritten from scratch several times.

As you get more experience with a system, or with a problem domain or an architectural approach, it should get easier to know and to predict what code will change all the time, and what code will never change: what code matters, and what code doesn’t.

Should we try to write Perfect Code?

We know that we should write clean code, code that is consistent, obvious and as simple as possible.

Some people take this to extremes, and push themselves to write code that is as beautiful and elegant and as close to perfect as they can get, obsessively refactoring and agonizing over each detail.

But if code is only going to be written once and never changed, or at the other extreme if it is changing all the time, isn’t writing perfect code as wasteful and unnecessary (and impossible to achieve) as trying to write perfect requirements or trying to come up with a perfect design upfront?

You Can't Write Perfect Software. Did that hurt? It shouldn't. Accept it as an axiom of life. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Because perfect software doesn't exist. No one in the brief history of computing has ever written a piece of perfect software. It's unlikely that you'll be the first. And unless you accept this as a fact, you'll end up wasting time and energy chasing an impossible dream.”
Andrew Hunt, The Pragmatic Programmer: from Journeyman to Master

Code that is written once doesn’t need to be beautiful and elegant. It has to be correct. It has to be understandable – because code that is never changed may still be read many times over the life of the system. It doesn't have to be clean and tight – just clean enough. Copy and paste and other short cuts in this code can be allowed, at least up to a point. This is code that never needs to be polished. This is code that doesn't need to be refactored (until and unless you need to change it), even if other code around it is changing. This is code that isn't worth spending extra time on.

What about the code that you are changing all of the time? Agonizing over style and coming up with the most elegant solution is a waste of time, because this code will probably be changed again, maybe even rewritten, in a few days or weeks. And so is obsessively refactoring code each time that you make a change, or refactoring code that you aren't changing because it could be better. Code can always be better. But that’s not important.

What matters is: Does the code do what it is supposed to do – is it correct and usable and efficient? Can it handle errors and bad data without crashing – or at least fail safely? Is it easy to debug? Is it easy and safe to change? These aren't subjective aspects of beauty. These are practical measures that make the difference between success and failure.

Pragmatic Coding and Refactoring

The core idea of Lean Development is: don’t waste time on things that aren't important. This should inform how we write code, and how we refactor it, how we review it, how we test it.

Only refactor what you need to, in order to get the job done - what Martin Fowler calls opportunistic refactoring (comprehension, cleanup, Boy Scout rule stuff) and preparatory refactoring. Enough to make a change easier and safer, and no more. If you’re not changing the code, it doesn't really matter what it looks like.

In code reviews, focus only on what is important. Is the code correct? Is it defensive? Is it secure? Can you follow it? Is it safe to change?

Forget about style (unless style gets in the way of understandability). Let your IDE take care of formatting. No arguments over whether the code could be “more OO”. It doesn’t matter if it properly follows this or that pattern as long as it makes sense. It doesn't matter if you like it or not. Whether you could have done it in a nicer way isn’t important – unless you’re teaching someone who is new to the platform and the language, and you’re expected to do some mentoring as part of code review.

Write tests that matter. Tests that cover the main paths and the important exception cases. Tests that give you the most information and the most confidence with the least amount of work. Big fat tests, or small focused tests – it doesn't matter, and it doesn't matter if you write the tests before you write the code or after, as long as they do the job.

It’s not (Just) About the Code

The architectural and engineering metaphors have never been valid for software. We aren’t designing and building bridges or skyscrapers that will stay essentially the same for years or generations. We’re building something much more plastic and abstract, more ephemeral. Code is written to be changed – that is why it’s called “software”.

“After five years of use and modification, the source for a successful software program is often completely unrecognizable from its original form, while a successful building after five years is virtually untouched.”
Kevin Tate, Sustainable Software Development

We need to look at code as a temporary artefact of our work:

…we're led to fetishize code, sometimes in the face of more important things. Often we suffer under the illusion that the valuable thing produced in shipping a product is the code, when it might actually be an understanding of the problem domain, progress on design conundrums, or even customer feedback.
Dan Grover, Code and Creative Destruction

Iterative development teaches us to experiment and examine the results of our work – did we solve the problem, if we didn’t, what did we learn, how can we improve? The software that we are building is never done. Even if the design and the code are right, they may only be right for a while, until circumstances demand that they be changed again or replaced with something else that fits better.

We need to write good code: code that is understandable, correct, safe and secure. We need to refactor and review it, and write good useful tests, all the while knowing that some of this code, or maybe all of it, could be thrown out soon, or that it may never be looked at again, or that it may not get used at all. We need to recognize that some of our work will necessarily be wasted, and optimize for this. Do what needs to be done, and no more. Don’t waste time trying to write perfect code.

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