Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Ultimate Measure of Agile?

I attended a local lunch meeting where a panel of people talked about Agile development and how they addressed challenges in each of their organizations. Two of the panelists were managers in software product environments. As they talked, it was obvious that each person was at a different stage of maturity in their adoption of Agile. The first speaker seemed to think they were doing Agile development, but his description of their lifecycle seemed to indicate that they were just doing Iterative development with mini-waterfalls. The second speaker seemed to be much further along as they were committed to short, timeboxed iterations of 2 weeks with co-located teams serving both testing and development efforts.

When it came to Q&A, there was something that was bugging me so I asked them this question, "How has the adoption of Agile impacted the Release Cycle time?" The answer from both was what I expected after hearing the earlier discussion, "Not much at all". Because of marketing and other budgetary reasons, they felt they could only do a release or perhaps two a year.

And yet, especially that they are managers, I think they are missing perhaps the ultimate measure of Agile - How quickly are we giving our customers working software? Perhaps this is what I have learned from Lean and the emphasis on Waste and Value. Within Lean, the emphasis is to always improve the cycle time to the customer by providing the most valuable functions and minimizing waste. Part of waste is partially completed functionality.

I think as people implement Agile, they will realize that they need to mature to a point where they are incorporating Lean. After all, shouldn't software be about maximizing ROI from both the customer and shareholder point-of-view? You cannot improve ROI if you aren't improving the cycle time. You cannot improve cycle time without improving quality and removing waste.

While each of these individuals have gained some benefits with Agile such as better adapting to change, getting frequent feedback, and better ways to track progress, they still haven't realized the greatest reward of all - getting working software out to customers as quickly as possible. This goes beyond budgets and marketing plans, and turns the organization 180 degrees to fully accommodate customers. They don't want to have to wait a whole year for another product, they want changes as quickly as possible. If you can't find a way to make it happen, it's possible a competitor will.

Maximizing Customer and Shareholder ROI by provide working product that meets both business and customer value as quickly as possible. This is the ultimate measure of being an Agile organization!

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