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Agile is Rational, Rational is Agile Series: What’s the Buzz – Agile, its Myths, Misconceptions & Applications

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HOLITZA: Hi, Scott. Hi, Grady. Great to connect with you guys.

BOOCH: Good to be here.

HOLITZA: Great.

I can't believe our schedules finally aligned so we could talk. I know you guys, being two of the...IBM's leading thought leaders around software, you guys spend a lot of time on the road traveling, so being here virtually in Second Life is probably like a day hanging out on the beach for you both. And Grady, you may very well be at the beach.

BOOCH: Actually it's minus five now. I wish I was at the beach.

HOLITZA: Oh yes, me too. Me, too.

I wanted to talk to guys about a customer I've been working with. And they like many are increasingly challenged to deliver their software applications faster and cheaper, and to do it while not sacrificing quality in so doing. This particular company has been developing software for years using a mainly waterfall approach.

I know there are many ways to address that the challenges there, but they've been talking about using an Agile development methodology. And you know, I wanted to educate myself on this methodology, and that's kind of why I wanted to meet with you guys today. So, what's the buzz all about around Agile?

AMBLER: Well, I think a lot of the...a lot of the buzz that we're hearing is around the greater discipline that Agile brings to the table. The more collaborative approaches and the more iterative and revolutionary approach to development, is a leading to higher quality and greater stakeholder satisfaction in what's being delivered, and also quicker time to value. So there's a lot of good stuff going on here.

BOOCH: When you talk about your customer using waterfall approaches, that brings to mind a number of possibilities. And probably what it means, without having spent direct time with them, is that they have a fairly linear approach to developing software in which they'll, you know, analyze and then design and then implement.

And that implies to me that their biggest challenge will be one of a cultural change, because Agile really brings a more permeable mechanism among those phases. And furthermore, there are explicit means of feedback and loops, and that has a lot of change for not just developers, but also the managers who follow what's happening here.

AMBLER: Grady's brought up a great point: the cultural change is absolutely critical to recognize as well as the need for management to change their approach to governing and managing projects.

HOLITZA: And I know they're worried about control and losing control when they move to a smaller, smaller teams. They feel like they'll just be doing cowboy coding and you know, not be responsible to their managers.

AMBLER: Yes, I think the good news is that there's much greater opportunities for governance with Agile than there was with traditional, so, but it does require greater accountability on the part of management. So there's no easy trade off here.

BOOCH: Now it's greater intentionality. I mean, the managers can't just do a fire and freak out on this.

AMBLER: Exactly.

HOLITZA: Exactly.

You know, the other thing I want to talk about was that this customer has been a Rational customer for years, and they're under the impression that Rational is more, does better around more traditional projects, more traditional methodologies and that they really can't do, move to an Agile and support an Agile paradigm.

AMBLER: Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. We've got some really great products with Jazz and some really good stuff going on with Measure Capability Improvement Framework. So I think we've done some, made some real advances in Agile development, particularly in Agile at scale as well as disciplined Aagile approaches.

BOOCH: If you think about the core of what Rational processes have been literally over the decades, it's focused upon incremental linear development, delivering executable, testable executables,and with a focus on growing the architecture. These are very much in harmony with Agile approaches.

HOLITZA: Great, great. Well, that's good to know. So Scott, what are some of the other misconceptions about Agile that you've encountered in your travels?

AMBLER: Well, as Grady was mentioning, a lot of people seem to believe that there's a lack of architecture in Agile development, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's also concern that we're not doing testing, yet the reality is we're doing more testing and not less in the Agile community, which is, you know, where some of the greater discipline comes in.

Agile definitely scales. IBM's delivered software to the marketplace with Agile teams of over 200 people, and we currently have Agile programs in place of 500 to 600 people, so there's a lot of good stuff going on there.

We're also doing a lot of work with legacy systems. I think almost all of our clients have a lot of legacy software out there that they want to leverage, and Agile has some very sophisticated approaches to dealing with that both on the application side of things as well as on the database side of things.

And earlier as I was mentioning, Agile really is easier to govern than traditional, and I think this is one of the critical areas for a lot of organizations is there is a push for improving governance, and I think Agile is definitely something that they should be taking seriously.

BOOCH: I feel a little bit like Dr. Phil in saying this, but for those folks who are looking at Agile, your customer in particular, and saying, I have all these great fears, you know, what I'd recommend to them get to the core of what that fear is about.

And in many cases, you'll find it's probably the uncertainty of the unknown, they've never tried this before. And in that end, you know, mentoring can certainly help. And also the fear of loss of control.

And as Scott pointed out, that's truly a myth that we'd like to bust here because there are opportunities for greater control and not just greater control, but better control, over building the right things in the lifecycle than one would have with the more traditional waterfall approaches.

BOOCH: So as Dr. Phil would say, is it working for you? Well, I'd imagine what their lifecycle, the waterfall lifecycle now is doing is not working for them. And for that reason it's very reasonable they began to look at these Agile approaches.

AMBLER: Yes, exactly. I couldn't have said that better myself.

BOOCH: Well, Dr. Phil said it first.

HOLITZA: So what types of customers are most successful? I mean, you mentioned that large scale operations like IBM, and you've mentioned some customers that are larger than 200 or 200, you know, most people think that Agile works better in small shops. Is this true also?

AMBLER: Well, Agile definitely works good in small shops. And I think one of our primary experiences has been that Agile has to be flexible. And depending on your situation so, you know, you're going to manage a small team in a different manner than you would a large team. You'll manage a team that's in a regulatory environment differently than in a non regulatory environment. A team that's distributed will work differently than a team that's not distributed.

So you can apply Agile in all these situations, but your approach is going to differ depending on the complexities that your team faces. So we are seeing that, we're also seeing Agile being done in the financial industry, in manufacturing, in telecommunications, in the government, and in a range of domains. So I think this is a good thing to be seeing now. Agile really is being adopted across the board within the IT industry.

BOOCH: Agreed.

HOLITZA: Well, thanks for the insight, guys. You know, I know we all have places to be, and you know, but I'd really like to get together with you guys again and talk about this in more detail. And maybe talk next about the architecture piece and you know, maybe you can share some more stories, Grady, about this and the things you've seen around architecture and Agile methodology. And maybe we can talk more about the myths later. But I really appreciate you guys time in getting together with me today.

AMBLER: Sure.

HOLITZA: So let's talk a little bit more about this, same time, same place?

AMBLER: Absolutely, it'll be a blast.

HOLITZA: I'll buy the coffee next time, okay, guys?

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BOOCH: Thanks a lot.

AMBLER: It's pretty expensive in Linden dollars, so, hey.

HOLITZA: Exactly.

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