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Agile Digital Transformation Insights Lean Startup Organisational Change

I Googled ‘Agile’ — and wish I hadn’t.

I Googled ‘Agile’ and discovered my worst fears. Confusion and mis-information about Agile software development, how it works, and how to make it effective as a method of digital solution delivery.

Following on from the short, rather poorly animated video, let me share a slightly more concise and coherent insight on how Agile should work and how it’s possible to make it a means of delivering exceptional outcomes. Spoiler alert: it’s probably not what you expect or want to hear, but please know I’m here to support you if you feel in the slightest bit unsure about what to do next.

The methods used to build solutions with software haven’t changed significantly for 30 years. And even though we’ve lived in the The Age of Agile for almost 20 of those years, the time it takes to deliver solutions, not to mention quality and efficacy, are still falling short of expectations.

Beyond Agile, examined why software development failed to meet the lofty aspirations of the Agile Manifesto founders. The book also explained how to avoid some of the classic mistakes of Agile software development.

A talk given by one of the creators of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Dave Thomas, underlines the dysfunction caused when the principles of the manifesto are misinterpreted or distorted to fit an enterprise IT agenda. He half-jokingly attributes the downfall as our tendency to turn adjectives into nouns; so instead of the title Manifesto for Agile Software Development, people turn it around a truncate it to — Agile Manifesto, thus losing its meaning and purpose.

Beyond Agile explores many of the noteworthy lightweight methodologies in use today, some of which pre-date Agile. This provides context and explains why software development often fails to meet expectations. Another founder of the Manifesto for Agile, Alistair Cockburn, puts it simply:

“The Agile Manifesto was the product of seventeen people from different schools and backgrounds. No one person is responsible for the words we came up with — it is clear that it was the product of all seventeen people. The addition or removal of any one person would have changed the outcome, something we recognised and discussed at the end of that meeting.

Whether you think ‘Agile’ saved the world or poisoned it, be sure always to recognise that it grew from a rich compost (joke intentional) of backgrounds. The next time you read a would-be history of the Agile movement, look for all those names. If you don’t see them, it is not a history; it is one person’s recounting of their journey, years after the event (as indeed, this one is).”

Cockburn’s statement gets to the heart of why Agile is such an enigma: few people bother to understand or respect it for what it is, choosing instead to follow second-hand interpretations of the manifesto or, worse still, adopt a consultant’s cheap imitation of it.

Agile often fails, not because it is inherently flawed or lacking in some respect, but how people interpret and apply the principles. The Agile Manifesto and its core principles are, in fact, quite logical and straightforward. The problem with Agile is it was released into the world and then distorted by people unwilling and unable to think about the true meaning and purpose of the method. Kent Beck, the creator of Extreme Programming and another of the creators of the Agile Manifesto, calls this the ‘staring dog problem.’

“If you try to point something out to a dog, it will look at your finger,” he explains. “If you explain an idea in terms of concrete practices — like test-driven development, pair programming, continuous integration — people will fixate on the practices and stop thinking.”

Kent is calling out that often we’re unable to make the cognitive leap between practice and application. Scrum and other so-called enablers of Agile fail precisely because they compensate for lack of intellectual integrity. They shroud important ideas like user-centricity and fast iteration in rituals and catchy names. The Agile manifesto left too much room for interpretation and not enough specific rules. It feels like we’re back where we started in the late twentieth century with powerful technology and tools but no idea how to make them relevant to the ever changing needs of our enterprise users and customers.

Beyond Agile, describes three outcomes Agile practised well delivers:

  1. Eliminates (or at least reduce) waste in software development;
  2. Creates software that people use; and
  3. Delivers projects on time and budget.

An analysis of fifty thousand software projects conducted by The Standish Group in 2015 found 29% of projects was successful (meaning they were delivered on time, on budget, and to a satisfactory standard). The remainder, 71% were either failures or failed to meet expectations. Just think about that for a moment: starting a large-scale technology project, there’s only a 1 in 3 chance of success. Not very good odds. The same report in 2018 showed the situation got worse, with only 23% of projects successful and 77% unsuccessful.

Other sources corroborate these stats. In a paper presented to the 7th International Conference on Knowledge Management in Organisations, Stanley and Uden proved that software projects typically overrun their budgets by two hundred per cent, and exceed their scheduled completion dates by fifty per cent.

But it’s the cost of project failures that’s the real issue here. It’s nothing short of tragic:

– The cost of re-worked and abandoned systems costs the US economy an estimated $75 billion per year;

– In Australia, $5.4 billion is wasted each year on IT projects that don’t deliver value or are abandoned completely;

– One project alone — the infamously abandoned National Health Service patient record system in the United Kingdom — cost taxpayers £10 billion.

To put those numbers into perspective, the United Nations estimates that a yearly investment of $267 billion would end world hunger by 2030. A meagre $175 billion per year would eliminate extreme poverty globally.

It’s been almost two decades since the Agile Manifesto was written, and even longer since Winston Royce published Managing the Development of Large Software Systems. But little has changed and no single methodology has improved software development; it’s still a hugely expensive and wasteful endeavour that rarely meets expectations. And that’s hard to accept, in any era.

It shouldn’t be beyond humans to come up with a better, more reliable way of developing software solutions. Just as garment makers and car manufacturers in past centuries industrialised their domains, so too software coders need to do the same. Digitisation begets automation.

Methods like Beyond Agile address some of the shortfalls, but it’s by no means a silver bullet. The method requires skilled people, disciplined practices, full engagement with users and problem owners.

When I Googled ‘Agile’ I was hoping for the answer to some of the more taxing questions surrounding the method. What I came away with was this: to make Agile software development successful, there are four areas that align closely to the original manifesto principles:

  1. Start by defining the challenge or problem to be fixed
  2. Define the project outcome in terms of a quantifiable measure
  3. Describe the first 6–12 features or functions the solution must have
  4. Identify the first half a dozen users you’ll engage at the outset and throughout.

Rinse and repeat.

Digital Village is a community of IT professionals dedicated to providing flexible IT project team solutions in an authentic Agile way to enterprises in Australia and New Zealand.

Categories
Case Study

Wundar Launches Mentoring Platform

“What next..?”

…A question faced by all entrepreneurs but particularly ‘non-technical’ founders that require tech solutions. Even knowing where to start can be a challenge. Having struggled with previous tech partners, Rupert Ballinger, CEO & founder of Wundar, recruited Digital Village to guide him through the process of developing their private mentorship platform.

Digital Village – Wundar case study with Rupert Ballinger

Rupert had spent the previous 12 to 18 months conducting customer research & was sure his private mentorship platform served a real purpose. It was time to start developing a product but not coming from a tech background put him in a daunting position.

“It was challenging,” he recalls. “It was hard being a non-technical founder. I had trouble finding the right technology partner to help build Wundar & take me on that journey. I was really looking for someone to sort of hold my hand and help educate me and my team and give me the opportunity to learn about what we’re actually doing and how to do it.”

Rupert had raised a considerable amount of seed money but spent much of it with previous agencies building prototypes (too much by his own admission) that continued to fail. He felt previous tech partners were too focussed on the tech itself rather than helping him develop his initial idea into a product that solved a real-world problem.

“It’s key to find a partner like Digital Village, who can really roll up their sleeves and get into the trenches with you at that early stage and really help you on that discovery phrase. It’s the biggest challenge & I think it’s the software agencies that need to be responsible for helping startup finders find that market fit without spending too much money.”

Sprinting To Success

After an initial meeting with Digital Village, founder Jason and DV Producer Jithesh hosted a workshop with Rupert to understand Wundar, its requirements and the problem space. An end product was then mapped out & broken down into four smaller modules.

Digital Village utilises a 20-Day methodology that divides projects into 20 day iterations (or sprints). Each 20 day sprint has predetermined outcomes for a set cost. The agile methodology reduces risk and wastage & ensures the correct product is built from the start through continuous testing & feedback throughout the process. Although general outcomes are predetermined, each module is flexible and based on both the needs of the business for the month & results of the previous module.

Wundar UI on IOS

Module 1 // Proof Of Concept: Functions such as onboarding organisations, user registration, profile set up. Mod 1 allowed Wundar to get early users on board & experience the app to determine what the next module of work should include.

Module 2 // Add Social Media Features: Introduced a newsfeed, the ability to create content posts with text, image, and video. The MVP was released to both the App Store & Google Play Store.

Module 3 // Build ‘Events’ Feature & Upgrade Messaging: Real-time chatting was added with the ability to share images & documents. Improvements/ fixes were made to features developed in Modules 1 & 2.

Module 3a // Trial user feedback was gathered & improvements made based on the user experience of the new & existing features.

Module 4 // Private Groups Within A Private Network: A group chat feature was also added & further improvements made. Wundar now had a fully working product.

“I’ve heard too many stories where startups and founders run out of money, close the doors because they spent too much in the initial prototype stages. They couldn’t get into the market; they couldn’t even get it to the market… and they go back to the workforce. It’s a sad story & I almost got to that point. It’s a bit of a miracle I got through. So that’s why I feel so strongly about how important the agile methodology is that Digital Village has adopted.”

Wundar Launches

Having met all requirements, Wundar has launched as two native apps on the App Store & Google Play Store. The service is being trialled with three different groups & 50 new users are being onboarded each week. As a partner of Wundar, Digital Village are continuing to develop further iterations of the mentorship platform & share Rupert’s excitement for the future.

“We’ve got a great product and two native apps. It’s been cost-effective & we think we’ve got real market fit, so it’s really exciting,” adds Rupert.

Who is Wundar?

Wundar is a private mentoring network that allows you to connect and engage with your own community in a safe and secure environment. Communicate privately, stay up to date with community news, and search your network for mentors.

Solution

Mobile application

API

Python

Design

Sketched prototype utilising design sprints

Hosting

Amazon Web Solution

Front End

Angular Java Script

Key Features

Profile Setup
Private Social Network (invite only)
Private Groups
Newsfeed
Job Search
Events
Live Chat

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Categories
Agile Digital Transformation Insights Lean Startup

Time to pump up the tyres on Agile — without a budget blow-out

by Paul Scott, Director and Board Advisor at Digital Village

Photo by Henry Perks on Unsplash

The fall out from COVID-19 has yet to be fully understood, but one thing’s for sure; enterprises will be seeking fast, efficient and flexible ways to solve their problems with digital solutions. Projects have been backing up during the lockdown and now’s the time to begin clearing the backlog. It’s likely to lead to an uptick in demand for skilled resources, but will they be able to deliver fast enough and to quality?

The announcement this week of the budget blow out at the Australian Digital Transformation Agency’s son-of-Mygov project hows just how quickly things can get out of control without a laser focus on solving one problem one at a time.

The methods used to build solutions with software haven’t changed significantly for 30 years. And even though we’ve lived in the Agile Age for almost 20 of those years, the time it takes to deliver solutions, not to mention quality and efficacy are still falling short of expectations.

Beyond Agile, examined why software development failed to meet the lofty aspirations of the Agile Manifesto founders. The book also explained how to avoid some of the classic mistakes of Agile software development.

A recent talk given by one of the creators of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Dave Thomas, underlines the dysfunction caused when the principles of the manifesto are misinterpreted or distorted to fit a corporate IT agenda. He half-jokingly attributes the downfall as our tendency to turn adjectives into nouns; so instead of the title Manifesto for Agile Software Development, people turn it around a truncate it to — Agile Manifesto, thus losing its meaning and purpose.

Beyond Agile explored many of the noteworthy ‘lightweight’ methodologies in use today, some of which pre-date Agile. This provided context and explained why software development often fails to meet people’s expectation. One of the founders of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Alistair Cockburn puts it simply:

“The Agile Manifesto was the product of seventeen people from different schools and backgrounds. No one person is responsible for the words we came up with — it is clear that it was the product of all seventeen people. The addition or removal of any one person would have changed the outcome, something we recognised and discussed at the end of that meeting.

Whether you think ‘Agile’ saved the world or poisoned it, be sure always to recognise that it grew from a rich compost (joke intentional) of backgrounds. The next time you read a would-be history of the Agile movement, look for all those names. If you don’t see them, it is not a history, it is one person’s personal recounting of their own journey, years after the event (as indeed, this one is).”

Cockburn’s statement gets to the heart of why Agile is such an enigma: few people bother to understand or respect it for what it is, choosing instead to follow second-hand interpretations of the manifesto or, worse still, a consultant’s cheap imitation of it.

Agile failed not because it was inherently wrong or misguided. The Agile Manifesto was an irrefutable thing of beauty, and its core values are spot-on. The problem with Agile is it was released into the wild and then co-opted by people unwilling and unable to really think about it or understand what it meant. Kent Beck, the creator of extreme programming and one of the original signatories to the Agile Manifesto, calls this the ‘staring dog problem.’

“If you try to point something out to a dog, it will look at your finger,” he explains. “If you explain an idea in terms of concrete practices — like test driven development, pair programming, continuous integration — people will fixate on the practices and stop thinking.”

Scrum and other lightweight spawns of Agile are failures precisely for this reason. They shroud important ideas like user-centricity and fast iteration in practices, rituals, silly names and guiding principles. The Agile manifesto itself, despite its brevity, left too much room for interpretation. And now it feels like we’re back where we started in the late twentieth century with powerful technology and tools and no idea what to do with them.

Beyond Agile describes the three reasons why the method was created :

  1. To eliminate (or at least reduce) waste in software development;
  2. To create software that people actually use; and
  3. To deliver projects on time and on budget.

An analysis of fifty thousand software projects conducted by The Standish Group found that in 2015, an average of 29% of projects were successful (meaning they were delivered on time, on budget and to a satisfactory standard). The remainder, 71% were either failures or ‘challenged’ to meet expectations. Just think about that for a moment: starting a large scale technology project you only have a 1 in 3 chance of being able to celebrate success. Not very good odds. The same report in 2018 showed the situation had got worse with only 23% of projects successful and 77% wither challenged or failed.

Other sources corroborate these worrisome facts. In a paper presented to the 7th International Conference on Knowledge Management in Organisations, Stanley and Uden proved that software projects typically overrun their budgets by two hundred per cent, and exceed their schedules by fifty per cent.

But it’s the cost of the failures that’s the real issue here. The financial impact of project failure is nothing short of tragic:

  • The cost of re-worked and abandoned systems costs the US economy an estimated $75 billion per year;
  • In Australia, $5.4 billion is wasted each year on IT projects that don’t deliver value or are abandoned completely;
  • One project alone — the infamously abandoned National Health Service patient record system in the United Kingdom — cost taxpayers £10 billion.

To put those numbers into perspective, the United Nations estimates that a yearly investment of $267 billion would end world hunger by 2030. A meagre $175 billion per year would eliminate extreme poverty globally.

It’s been a long time since the Agile Manifesto was written, and even longer since Winston Royce published Managing the Development of Large Software Systems. But nothing has changed and no single methodology has really improved software development. Software development is still a hugely expensive, wasteful endeavour that rarely meets expectations. And that’s unacceptable, especially as we approach the end of lockdowns in the COVID era.

It shouldn’t be beyond humans to come up with a better, more reliable way of developing software solutions. Just as garment makers and car manufacturers in past centuries industrialised their domains, so too software coders need to do the same. Digitisation begets automation.

Methods like Beyond Agile address some of the shortfalls of alternative methods, but it’s by no means a silver bullet. It requires skilled people, disciplined practices and full engagement with users and the problem owners. Indeed its quite likely that many of the principles distilled in Beyond Agile can and should be applied to other development methods. This would go some way to fixing Agile.

In summary, to make Agile methods work there are four areas to consider which align closely to the original manifesto:

  1. Start by defining the challenge or problem to be fixed
  2. Define the outcome in terms of a quantifiable measure
  3. Describe the 6–12 features or functions the solution must have
  4. Identify the first half a dozen users you’ll engage at the outset and throughout.

Rinse and Repeat.

Digital Village is a community of IT professionals dedicated to providing flexible IT project team solutions to enterprise in Australia and New Zealand.