Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Microservices Journal Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Jason Bloomberg

Related Topics: Microservices Journal, Java, .NET, Linux, Virtualization, Web 2.0

Microservices Journal: Article

Fanning the Flames of Agile

The brilliance of agile is that it is easy to understand

Knowledge creation is a major source of value creation. And great companies -and their employees - know that continuous learning is a key to generating knowledge, and thus value. The agile mindset, particularly in development, is gaining popularity, with credit to a suite of powerful ideas and practices commonly known as the agile methodology - defined by Wikipedia as "software development methods based on iterative and incremental development."

Agile on Paper
In February 2001, a group of 17 software developers wrote the Agile Manifesto, the Magna Carta of the agile movement. At just 68 words, it was elegant, but at that point just words on paper. Early attempts to apply it came by adapting existing techniques such as lean manufacturing (adapted from Toyota's methodologies), Crystal, Scrum and XP (Extreme Programming). Admittedly, we were still learning. Buying into "agile" signaled your ideals were more lofty than grounded. Agile supporters were revolutionary, but agile was not.

Later that year, Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle, two of the manifesto's signatories, published the watershed Agile Software Development With SCRUM. The authors noted how the Agile Manifesto could map to tangible business practices and showcased how they actually applied it. They described agile in a real-world setting, and the world hasn't been the same since. They moved SCRUM from abstract rugby imagery to concrete possibility.

We learned that agile is an approach for value generation - an approach for moving ideas from an early ideal to sustainable, real-world changes.

Most of all, we learned that agile concepts are valid.

Agile in Practice
Concepts are one thing, but successful application is quite another.

Let's look at the company where I work. SAS is the world's largest privately held software company, and we have been proponents of the agile mindset since the company's inception in 1976. SAS invests 25 percent of revenues back into R&D and regards itself as a learning company. We learn by listening; we learn by doing.

SAS first evaluated agile Scrum in 2007. Teams heard of early wins and wanted to apply agile in their own areas. Since then, SAS has formally trained thousands of personnel and invested in an infrastructure for its R&D portfolio. At SAS, agile is applied across the enterprise. It's used to manage small projects and very large projects encompassing hundreds of staff members. It's also used to bring a common approach to how SAS manages its products.

Agile is empirical - that is, we apply, learn and adapt. It is true for applying any one specific agile practice, and it is true for applying agile at scale over years. This leads to some questions: What did we learn? How did we adapt? Moreover, what cultural norms did we lean on to help garner such a strong embrace of agile and its benefits? Knowing the answers to these questions could help accelerate your own success story.

We Learned One Size Does Not Fit All
Agile books and blogs make it all sound so clean: Do A, then B, then C. Further, with so much positive press on agile development, it is tempting for any firm's executive or business controls team to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead of mandating the same approach for everyone, we fostered a grass-roots movement. Concurrently, we used a senior executive as an advocate and recruited an operational agile champion to drive the rollout. It is important for the executive team to understand and expect agile from its teams, but not from a single template.

We adapted by creating the flexible SAS Agile Framework. It includes three integral parts: setup (training and coaching), defined practices, and an agile team self-assessment survey. The framework is helping us meet demands and energize teams with the freedom to envision and realize exciting opportunities.

Agile is applied differently in R&D, Pubs, IT, Professional Services, and other divisions in SAS. Practices are configured in the best way for the teams and markets they serve.

We Learned to Nurture the Movement
Bottom line: We watched and we listened. We nurtured our cultural norm of not accepting the status quo, and to keep a skeptical eye. More specifically, we worked hard to make sure teams weren't buying in just because of the buzz. It was important that they understood the business drivers of agile, planned time for training and startup, and applied the right agile practices in the right way for their project.

Just as with every team member, every team is different. When a team member became critical of certain agile practices for a team, we listened closely.

A Journey, Not a Destination
View agile as a journey: It takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master. Teams typically invest in group training, and then a small pilot. Agile is not unlike other practices where at first it's awkward, challenging and even slightly less productive. However, as a team becomes more comfortable, you'll typically hear people say they would never go back. We're all motivated by accomplishments, and agile creates the thriving state of productivity and morale we need to achieve them.

We Adapted Our Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
SAS is like other software development firms where the existence of an overarching software development life cycle is important. At SAS, agile holds ours together. It serves as the glue between all groups and ensures that products flow along an orderly and controlled path. Five years into agile at scale, we re-evaluated the process, then made it less linear and extended it to overlap even more than it already did. We halved the lifecycle size. We reduced the number of management checkpoints and cut back the number of required artifacts. Yet because of how agile overlays the entire process, it resulted in a better way for R&D.

We Adapted by Investing in Agile Coaches
Coaching can make a big difference, and not only in sports.

A common question asked with enterprises new to agile is: Who should play the role of the Scrum master? At SAS, this role fell to our project managers. We were fortunate. Publicly held firms find this challenging because of the required mechanisms and extra control systems their project managers must handle. Although SAS is a $3 billion dollar company, we're private and can operate unencumbered.

In our journey we noticed that teams fared better when they engaged with experienced agile veterans - they got up to speed faster. We looked closer and found by internal survey data that coaching has a positive correlation on all of intended benefits of Scrum. We now have a large team of trained coaches engaged with their own teams and others as well.

We Adapted by Tirelessly Encouraging Transparency
We also applied the agile philosophy of transparency about larger project risks and mitigations to being frank and open with individual team members. This helped create healthy, self-directed work teams.

For example, our teams openly discuss the agile self-assessment surveys. Teams independently record and then jointly discuss summary and detailed data scores and write-in comments. The discussion is useful for identifying two to three action items, but even more useful for helping teams build trust and maturity.

A word of caution, however: Be careful when looking at agile metadata between teams. Teams perform at different rates, have different compositions, and come to know requirements estimates (story points) differently. Asking a team why its numbers are different from another's can threaten its freedom and inadvertently move them to game. Can we benefit from enterprisewide analysis? Yes, if we thoroughly describe to teams the intention of such an analysis and why it's being done. It helps drive corporate training and updates upper management on progress, for instance.

We Adapted by Bringing a New Meaning to the Term ‘Flexible'
At SAS, we were able to establish a different type of relationship with our product owners, development and test teams, and support teams. We moved from setting long-range targets with multiple commitments and promises to shorter-range iterative targets. Demos now occur routinely, and that in turn builds confidence with all project stakeholders.

Benefits, Compounded
Practices yield benefits. Better practices yield better benefits.

In the internal survey mentioned earlier, we noticed something profound. Teams that tended to adopt agile practices with a higher degree of maturity tended to have better results overall. Intuitively, one might suspect this to be true - and the data objectively proved it. That evidence makes it even easier for staff members at all levels to commit.

SAS is an agile company. Our customers and workforce are increasingly receptive to the large-scale implementation of agile Scrum. It's now a part of our daily fiber and undoubtedly will continue to be part of our ongoing success.

The brilliance of agile is that it is easy to understand. The danger of agile is that it is easy to understand, and can be underestimated. Be mindful of what it takes to employ it well to yield the most benefit. Engage. Find a cohort, a validation pilot, a way to connect. Most of all, enjoy the journey.

More Stories By Tim Arthur

Tim Arthur, MSMOT, PMP, CSM, draws from the experience of very small to very large private and public projects managed under various models. He’s been with SAS for 15 years. Prior to that he led mission-critical 24/7 global software systems with IBM for 17 years. As the SAS Agile Champion he’s helped train and coach over 3,000 people on teams of all sizes, worldwide.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
In 2015, 4.9 billion connected "things" will be in use. By 2020, Gartner forecasts this amount to be 25 billion, a 410 percent increase in just five years. How will businesses handle this rapid growth of data? Hadoop will continue to improve its technology to meet business demands, by enabling businesses to access/analyze data in real time, when and where they need it. Cloudera's Chief Technologist, Eli Collins, will discuss how Big Data is keeping up with today's data demands and how in t...
Modern Systems announced completion of a successful project with its new Rapid Program Modernization (eavRPMa"c) software. The eavRPMa"c technology architecturally transforms legacy applications, enabling faster feature development and reducing time-to-market for critical software updates. Working with Modern Systems, the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) leveraged eavRPMa"c to transform its Student Information System from Software AG's Natural syntax to a modern application lev...
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the...
While DevOps most critically and famously fosters collaboration, communication, and integration through cultural change, culture is more of an output than an input. In order to actively drive cultural evolution, organizations must make substantial organizational and process changes, and adopt new technologies, to encourage a DevOps culture. Moderated by Andi Mann, panelists will discuss how to balance these three pillars of DevOps, where to focus attention (and resources), where organizations m...
ProfitBricks has launched its new DevOps Central and REST API, along with support for three multi-cloud libraries and a Python SDK. This, combined with its already existing SOAP API and its new RESTful API, moves ProfitBricks into a position to better serve the DevOps community and provide the ability to automate cloud infrastructure in a multi-cloud world. Following this momentum, ProfitBricks has also introduced several libraries that enable developers to use their favorite language to code ...
Change becomes the central principle of today’s enterprises, and thus business agility becomes the most important characteristic our organizations must exhibit. Agile Architecture lays out a best practice approach for achieving this agility – and thus drives and coordinates the other revolutions, as both digital and DevOps are about being able to deal with change better as well.
Dave will share his insights on how Internet of Things for Enterprises are transforming and making more productive and efficient operations and maintenance (O&M) procedures in the cleantech industry and beyond. Speaker Bio: Dave Landa is chief operating officer of Cybozu Corp (kintone US). Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave has been on the forefront of the Cloud revolution driving strategic business development on the executive teams of multiple leading Software as a Services (SaaS) ap...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vicom Computer Services, Inc., a provider of technology and service solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. They are located at booth #427. Vicom Computer Services, Inc. is a progressive leader in the technology industry for over 30 years. Headquartered in the NY Metropolitan area. Vicom provides products and services based on today’s requirements...
How do you securely enable access to your applications in AWS without exposing any attack surfaces? The answer is usually very complicated because application environments morph over time in response to growing requirements from your employee base, your partners and your customers. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Haseeb Budhani, CEO and Co-founder of Soha, will share five common approaches that DevOps teams follow to secure access to applications deployed in AWS, Azure, etc., and the frict...
Today, the demand for new applications is growing at an unprecedented rate throughout lines of business and across industries. Customer expectations for mobile and e-commerce capabilities are transforming software development speed and quality into a competitive differentiator for even the most unlikely businesses. For existing software development shops, the proliferation of platforms, increasing need for total global uptime, and accelerating pace of industry disruption by fast-paced startups h...
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding bu...
Thought experiment: let’s say your app gets a message from somewhere, perhaps from another app, but you don’t know from where. The message contains the number 47 but no other information. What should your app do with the message? The answer: nothing. There’s no way for your app to make any sense out of a single datum with no context, no additional information or metadata about the datum itself. Now, let’s scale up this thought experiment to a data lake. There are a few common definitions o...
Back in 2009 I posted about the “Great Cloud Shakeout” and the coming market consolidation into a few very large clouds. Nearly 5 1/2 years later and it’s about (long past?) time I took another look to see how I did. Back then I predicted that the market would be dominated by “mega CSPs” by the name of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Note that this was during a period of Cambrian Explosion in the CSP market – it seems like everybody in the hosting business wanted to be a cloud provider....
What exactly is a cognitive application? In her session at 16th Cloud Expo, Ashley Hathaway, Product Manager at IBM Watson, will look at the services being offered by the IBM Watson Developer Cloud and what that means for developers and Big Data. She'll explore how IBM Watson and its partnerships will continue to grow and help define what it means to be a cognitive service, as well as take a look at the offerings on Bluemix. She will also check out how Watson and the Alchemy API team up to off...
Security is one the more prominent of the application service categories, likely due to its high profile impact. After all, if security fails, we all hear about it. The entire Internet. Forever. So when one conducts a survey on the state of application delivery (which is implemented using application services) you kinda have to include security. Which of course, we did.
No, not the head-banging, gritty, heavy metal Metallica song (though that's certainly awesome too.. excuse me for a moment while I turn it up to 11) but the Puppet as in automation kind of master. The importance placed on APIs - which are key to automation - in our State of Application Delivery 2015 survey was high, with 40% of respondents saying it was important to them that their infrastructure be API-enabled. Automation using those APIs is generally being accomplished through a variety of m...
The concept and subsequent adoption of 'Containerization'' is growing at a rapid speed with the support of almost every other major player in the industry. This concept is much more efficient than the Virtualization which has been a major option for Infrastructure optimization in the past decade. The following factors distinguish a Container from a Virtual Machine. Containers contain Only the Application Specific libraries and binaries. They do not include a guest operating system. Rather ...
DevOps tasked with driving success in the cloud need a solution to efficiently leverage multiple clouds while avoiding cloud lock-in. Flexiant today announces the commercial availability of Flexiant Concerto. With Flexiant Concerto, DevOps have cloud freedom to automate the build, deployment and operations of applications consistently across multiple clouds. Concerto is available through four disruptive pricing models aimed to deliver multi-cloud at a price point everyone can afford.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Column Technologies, a global technology solutions company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Established in 1998, Column Technologies is a leader in application performance and infrastructure management for commercial and federal markets. The company is headquartered in the United States, with a diverse and talented team of more than 350 employees around th...
As we recently previewed (read more about our London PoP in Jesse's post), Blue Box is opening a new Data Center in London, but hadn't announced the provider. Today we're excited to partner with TelecityGroup, whom we've selected as our data center partner in London. We chose their Powergate location, which is one of the U.K.'s most advanced, flexible and energy efficient carrier-neutral data centres. Why does that matter to you? Well, when customers choose Blue Box, they're trusting us with ...