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ebizQ's Business Agility Watch

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Agile From the Ground Up: Talking With Tony Baer

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Listen to my podcast with Tony Baer, Senior Analyst at Ovum, where Tony leads Ovum's research on the software lifecycle. In this podcast we dive into detail about one of the hottest enterprise topics of the day: Agility. Tony also blogs at OnStrategies Perspectives and you can follow his Twitter stream right here.

Listen to or download the 8:17 minute podcast below:



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---TRANSCRIPT---

PS: When we first discussed this podcast you questioned whether I wanted to talk about business Agility or software development Agility. And while I want to talk about software Agility, can you tell me are there any important similarities between the two?

TB: Well, there's similarities but I think its more synergies really in terms in terms of that they are both about responsiveness. I mean the whole idea of Agility just taking away from whether you're the specific context is that it's the ability to be flexible and to essentially go intelligently with the flow. In other words, to understand what changes are important and what need to be responded to versus what changes are essentially out wires and will otherwise drive you off your central direction or your central goal.

Now, seeing that we're in such moment of extreme change and everything is changing, how exactly is Agile methodology changed?

Well, it's really more of evolution rather than a revolution. And it's an evolution from essentially the ground up. I mean Agile essentially start kind of an isolated pockets and especially in small web development projects, where basically developers felt that the world was going too fast and that existing methodologies that at least in their more modern incarnation were designed in the client server era really did not apply. And so they really came out with essentially the idea that they wanted working software over basically adaptation and process and so on and so forth that was the whole subject of Agile manifesto which will, I believe, nine years old this year.

What's happened in the meantime is that we've seen a number of successes. I'm not going to say that the path has been all beauty and light but the fact that there has been enough successes and Agile is sufficiently in tune with the pressures to basically produce tangible results that it has caught on. And now it's getting to the point where enterprises are starting to look at well, how can we start to gain more broad benefit out of this and see could this be adopted at more of an enterprise rather than a local ad hoc workgroup level.

Drilling down into the company, where is Agile software development at in today's enterprise?

Well, it originated in local development groups. I mean software development in most organizations is a very sort of balkanized universe and it reflects essentially the structure of the business itself. And we have companies where you have lots of local autonomy and local business units. I think that's where you've seen probably the fastest take up of Agile because you have a great degree of local flexibility and autonomy.

That being said, there are a number of well-known organizations, large development organizations that have really been embracing and it's not a recent thing; this has been going on for a while and looking at how they can essentially institutionalize Agile not necessarily as being -- I mean in some case they maybe saying this is "the" methodology but I don't think there's any single answer for in most organizations to all development needs but they're looking at is as now part of a portfolio of enterprise software methodologies.

Now is Agile software at odds with other current enterprise methodologies?

TB: Well, I mean the obvious of contrast is with waterfall, which is line all your ducks up in a row and then do everything in strict sequence and finally at the end, implement all at once. Agile is very much dimetrically opposed to that. That is not to say that Agile is always right and waterfall is always wrong; it's going to depend on the project.
It's really more of a spectrum where you have waterfall at one end, Agile at the other and then you would have, let's say, a lot of methodologies like a lot of the rapid application development methodologies and rapid prototyping methodologies that emerge during the client server era. And from that standpoint, to get cliché-ish about, Agile is essentially kind of like what the web is to client server. It's essentially -- its an iteration. It's an iterative change in architecture that made things more decentralized and more multi-tiered. And so it's the kind of same thing with Agile.

Something near and dear to ebizQ readers is Enterprise Architecture and SOA. Is Agility at odds with EA and SOA?

Well, it's the classic sort of dilemma of how far do we plan ahead, how far ahead do we factor the risks. And for instance, you take a methodology say like (indiscernible) unified process, which says get all your risks out there initially, get them out there so you know what you're going to deal with. Whereas, depending on the flavor of Agile, and there are many flavors, someone would say well just deal with risks as they come up. I don't want to draw any clichés here because like Agile's not a single methodology; there are a lot of different variations there.
I think an interesting case and point is let's say, Enterprise Architecture and SOA. Enterprise Architecture tends to -- I mean if it's done properly is that you're essentially cataloging your best practices and hopefully making them kind of like a living document, a living process where essentially you're sharing this and constantly updating this. of course, the problem with Enterprise Architecture is that it tends to be -- a lot of enterprise architects tend to take a very waterfally type approach to their practice.
And what's really interesting, I was at an open group session that was lead by colleague, Dana Gardner, a few years ago, a panel session, and conducted a staff poll of the audience. And it was asked how much time is a reasonable time to get a return on investment for Enterprise Architecture. And the responses centered around two years. And my response to that is today who has time for a two-year ROI? Enterprise Architecture could learn some principles from the Agile community in terms of trying to take things in more biteable chucks, not try and boil the ocean. On the other hand, Agile methodologies especially as they are being called upon to scale up need to take on some of those sort of planning and architectural disciplines that have been developed in the enterprise architectural community. And in turn, if you adopt Service Oriented Architecture properly, you essentially baked that into your process to developing services.

There's a debate in terms of what is the right methodology, for instance, for attacking SOA. For instance, do you plan for reuse or do you harvest after the fact? And the fact that there's no single right or wrong answer. But that's kind of an example as to how Agile methodologies could essentially harvest best practices from some of the disciplines that might otherwise be seen as dimetrically opposed to Agile.

Now, do you seen any important trends for the future of Agility?

Well, I think the whole Lean debate is really interesting and I think it's kind of related to that last question about do we adopt some of those disciplines. I mean there are a lot of folks in the Agile community that basically think that Lean is diversion that's going to get into a lot of useless sort of analysis paralysis and it reminds me of a lot of the arguments I've seen in another area in the ITOL space.

A lot of folks in IT operations see ITOL as "another Six Sigma" set of hoops to jump through. It really isn't. But the fact is that I think that Lean has a lot of potential value and benefits they could convey on Agile. So think that's going to be a very interesting area to watch in the next, year and half. I know that debate came out very heavily at the last Agile Conference and I think that's a debate you're going to continue to see over the next year or two.

ebizQ’s expert blog team covers a broad range of BPM, business integration, business analytics/monitoring, collaboration, content and related issues.

Peter Schooff

Peter Schooff is Contributing Editor at ebizQ, and manager of the ebizQ Forum. Contact him at pschooff@techtarget.com

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