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Agile is Rational, Rational is Agile Series: Agile and Governance. Oxymoron?

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HOLITZA: Good morning gentlemen, good to see you guys again.

BOOCH: Good to be back.

AMBLER: Yes, good to be back.

HOLITZA: So you know, we've talked a lot about Agile and different aspects of it from modeling to testing to the scaling of Agile, and I get how it works in large organizations.

But I did some research in a break and I looked at the Agile manifesto. And you know in reading it, some of the tenets of the manifesto seem to contradict the notion of governance. I was wondering if you guys can talk me down.

AMBLER: Yes, definitely. I think there's a lot of opportunity for governance in the Agile world, and I've been arguing for years that Agile projects are actually easier to govern than traditional projects due to the greater visibility, the greater collaboration.

But there's also some challenges. And I think the...and what we're seeing in some customers is that the trust between developers, between management and senior management isn't quite there.

And one of the things you've got to do to enable governance is to be able to report metrics, to be able to report your actual status and show that information effectively. And more importantly, to be able to share that in a trustful manner. And the trust isn't there in many companies, and I think we're going to have to help build up trust over the years now.

BOOCH: And remember, in the manifesto you're probably reacting to the one that speaks about responding to change versus over following a plan. But if you read the entire manifesto, it says, hey, there's value in the items on the right.

So even the manifesto itself notes that following a plan it's not an inherently evil thing. But there is an issue of priority that dealing with resilience is more important than analy following a process.

AMBLER: Exactly. And I think what we're seeing in a lot of organizations that are moving to Agile, including IBM, is that we're focusing more on providing reasonable guidance and direction, and leaving the details up to the teams.

So as long as you stay within the bounds and focus on what you need to do but still do it within the constraints of your organization, then that solves a lot of issues. There's obviously still reporting issues and sharing information, but at least just sort of defining the sandbox you're allowed to stay in is a step in the right direction.

BOOCH: And I really like the two phrases that were used here. One is the notion of trust, that in the presence of trust then it's a lot easier to have a process that is a little bit more resilient to change because you can...you've calibrated the people around you, you trust them and know them personally.

The other thing that was noted is the notion of reasonableness. And you know, if it's not reasonable, if it doesn't smell right, then something is wrong there. And if the smell continues to happen then you need to do something about it, and that's really what the manifesto is saying: don't get so locked up in a process for the sake of the process itself. If it smells bad, go seek out the source of that smell and do something about rather than live with that smell.

HOLITZA: That makes a lot of sense. So one of the questions I have is, how do...are there challenges in Agile projects around government, compliance, regulations and so forth?

AMBLER: I think that it's the exact same challenges that actually the traditional teams have. You need to understand the regulations that you need to conform to. You also need to actually read the regulations.

I found a lot of developers will not read the regulations, not really understand what they need to do. And then they're...because of that lack of knowledge, they just believe whatever they're told. And so if you let the beaurocrats interpret the regulations, you'll often end up with a very bureaucratic response.

If you let the practical people interpret the regulations, you'll end up with a very practical response. And there's a fairly good history now of Agile teams actually working in regulatory environments, there's been case studies and articles written about this.

I know for a fact that the FDA is happy to see Agile projects. They're a little skeptical and they should be, but they're very open minded because they're more interested in the quality and addressing risk. So as long as you can show that you've done that and this is something Agile teams are very good at then you can definitely survive an audit often with flying colors.

BOOCH: I'd observe also that if you reframe your question and say, if I have process X, how does it play with these government regulations, you could apply any phrase for X, be it Agile, Waterfall, you name it. So there are inherent issues in dealing with the often complex multitudinous and sometimes self contradictory regulations that are out there.

But note that many of the things we're talking about and the Agile notions really deal with principles at the micro level, and certainly also the macro level, but more so on the micro level in terms of the social interactions and the other kinds of interactions among individuals who trust one another in a development team.

And so the general rules that we'll see in regulations tend to be at the higher level and there are places where these overlap and conflict with one another perhaps. But if you go back to the principles of reasonableness, then there is no conflict there.

HOLITZA: Right, right, makes sense. So can I ask you guys, what is Rational doing these days to address governance and Agile environments combined?

AMBLER: Well, we're doing a couple of things. First in products like RTC Rational Team Concert we're seeing project dashboards that report real time metrics or near real time, you know, some of the trends are calculated and it takes an hour or so sometimes. But pretty close to real time.

And that sort of information when management knows what they're looking at can really help them to get a handle on what's actually happening. And this goes back to the visibility issue that I was talking about earlier. Agile work, Agile project teams are much more visible to management than traditional teams, and this makes them easier to govern.

BOOCH: I can't speak authoritatively for Rational anymore because I am beyond Rational these days, you know, that I'm actually with Research. But to that end, I can point out some of the things going on in Research also that are amplifying what's been happening inside Rational as well.

We're the folks that worry about the next three to five years, and therefore are concerned about breakthroughs with innovations that will help the next set of product streams. There are a couple of things going on, actually three things going on in that space that come to mind.

We have a team working on architectural governance looking at what are the ways we can instrument projects to provide the right kinds of metrics to organizations. And this is great, because it means you can deal with measuring things that really cost little for the developer themselves. And not just in the measuring things but also looking at processes as well.

We also have an effort in conjunction with some of the Rational folks looking at how one builds financial models to support the evolution of the system during its iterative [INAUDIBLE] concept that's fundamental to Agile notions.

And lastly and this one's a bit more further out and exploratory we're really looking at what the enterprise application lifecycle itself is, because we're speaking here mostly of the rhythms within a single team which is exactly right and useful.

But if you look at an enterprise as a whole, it's not just a single rhythm, it's not just a single process, but it's the overlapping interactions of multiple rhythms simultaneously. And we're taking a look at really what that's all about. So, those are the three things that we're dealing with in Research that are applicable to this Agile work.

HOLITZA: That's interesting. Well, I appreciate your insight, guys. And I do want to talk a little bit more about one other topic that's on my mind, talk about next time is really talking about the holistic projects that companies are doing whether they be greenfield or brownfield or legacy in nature, and you know, how...if Agile can work for all those. So, you want to get together next time and we'll chat about that?

AMBLER: Sure, it works for me. You bring the coffee, I'll be there.

BOOCH: Definitely, looking forward to it.

HOLITZA All right.

AMBLER: Me, too.

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