Agile Adoption – Crossing the Chasm
Why is it so difficult to switch to agile process from waterfall?
By: Udayan Banerjee
Apr. 16, 2012 09:15 AM
Everybody acknowledges that IT has to plays a key role in any new service or product design. Therefore, IT needs to align with business and be flexible to changing business needs. It is a question of how to be agile rather than should we be agile. Then, why is there such a gulf between the people who evangelize agile processes and those who look at them with great suspicion?
Any application is built to satisfy a business goal. The process has two major steps where the step one is to define the application behavior which will help in meeting the business goal and the step two is to translate the application behavior to a working application. The definition of the application behavior is the requirement specification and it is the link between business and IT.
In the waterfall methodology, development starts after the requirement is frozen. It is assumed that if business users can unambiguously and comprehensively specify the application behavior, IT can build the application satisfying the stated behavior. All the management practices based on waterfall methodology is build around this assumption. However, in most real life project we find that one of the following things have happen.
As a result the final application does not meet the business goal. Then it becomes a blame game between business and IT, where business claims that "this is not what I wanted" and IT claims that "I have delivered as per your signed-off requirement". Since there is a gap between desired application and what is stated in the requirement, it is concluded that the root cause of the failure is improper requirement definition. In the next project more rigorous process is applied to make the requirement definition more comprehensive and as early in the lifecycle as possible. In spite of all these rigor, one of the most frequently cited reason for project failure is improper requirement management.
In current business context, is it possible to freeze requirement?
If we go back in time, most IT applications were written to automate internal processes. The emphasis was on adopting industry best practices. Vast majority of the user were internal to the organization and they had to adopt to the application interface rather than the application interface being tailored for the user needs. Times have changed and many of the IT applications are an integral part of the product or service offering. Significant part of the users are external to the organization. The focus has shifted from following the best practices to having innovative offering. The new motto is usability and user centric design. Though there are guidelines and principle available on how to design such application, in practice it involves many iterations where many idea needs to be tried before a workable solution is arrived at. Sometimes, applications may have to be modified very late in the development cycle. In such cases, though the requirement is driven by a business goal, business users are not always sure about how the system should behave. It is necessary to try out the application before taking decision on its suitability. To this we can add the changing business goal arising out of change in the environment.
If all these points are added up, it becomes clear that requirements will change.
This has led to the realization that we need agile processes which works when requirements are constantly changing rather than spending time and energy on freezing requirement. As a result agile processes were born. The key principle behind any agile processes is to have a mechanism where the users can try out the application as it is being built and give feedback so that:
It is easier to adopt agile methodology in letter than in spirit. An iterative development process becomes ineffective, unless user feedback is used to change and fine tune the application behavior. This may involve introduction of new features, discarding features and reprioritization of features. It is not always easy to reorient an organization entrenched in waterfall development. Not only it is necessity to change mind-set of the people involved, it is also imperative to modify some the key management practices.
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Defect: What Is a Defect?
Zero defect software means all the identified test cases are passed. This does not in any way indicate that the software meet the business needs. Since, test cases can only be identified for the explicitly documented requirement, we need to move beyond that and reorient how defect is defined. Therefore, regardless of presence of any explicit test case, a defect is when the application ...
The responsibility of identifying and eliminating first and second category of defect is with developers. The third category can not be done by the developers alone and needs an active involvement of the user.
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