It's less chaotic today than it was yesterday

SD Times reviews the new, 2006 Chaos Report from the Standish Group. According the article:

35 percent of software projects started in 2006 can be categorized as
successful, meaning they were completed on time, on budget and met user

I'm not sure if 35 percent is a good number, but it surely beats 16.2 percent in the 1994 report.

It would be nice to know how the size and complexity of average software project has developed during those 12 years. Maybe that is in the report, we just have to wait a bit more (and get 500$ for the report from somewhere).

The report lists three reasons for the improvement:
  • better project management,
  • iterative development, and
  • the emerging Web infrastructure.

I don't know if better project management in this context means agile project management. A quote “Managers have a better understanding of the dynamics of a project.” hints to that direction. Iterative development at least is something that we believe is essential for success, and it is nice to get more and more data to show that. Web infrastructure plays quite insignificant role in firmware development.

If you happen to know recent data about new product development success rate in general, or maybe even embedded software numbers, I would be most interested seeing them.


What does it mean to be agile?

OK, the ESC2007 Conference is over. Many of the classes and especially Peer Roundtable discussions at the conference, Beer Roundtable discussions at the bars after conference hours, and long flight hours with a colleague, woke several questions, among them:

-What does it mean to be agile?
-When is an organization/team considered agile?

In his review (pdf) Dr. Pekka Abrahamsson showed the software life-cycle support of different agile methods. We know that Scrum does not have any engineering practices described in detail, but focuses on project management. That's why it has been adapted also outside software development. It is simple. This is why majority of the so called agile adaptations at least say they follow Scrum. As have we; we have used it with cross-disciplined embedded system development teams to develop a complete embedded system as fast paced iterative development. I have also written in my paper how I saw reflective iterative development as a tool itself for figuring out what practices you need. This said I share Simon Baker's post

Are you missing the point?

As long as you share the underlying values of agile development, and keep the obvious practices like short iteration, demonstrable progress and retrospectives, you are going to figure out the rest of it - or die trying or at least you figure out the need for something and can start looking. If your survival anxiety in your current environment is high, but you have juniority prevailing in your team, you can still gain a lot from practicing "just" Scrum. Scrum puts the basic structure in place with its simple rules and in my experience this is an immediate relief to chaos. This does not mean that it is easy. It will make everything visible; good and bad and needs a lot of discipline and nurturing.

With this approach, you being now out of the chaos and anarchy, it is time to bring in the engineering practices. Our case has shown that they are needed. We have experienced with eXtreme Programming (XP) practices; collocated team, pair programming (development), test driven development, coding standard, metaphor, and so on. We have seen the value in them, but not been able to actually master them in firmware or embedded system development in order to put the discipline into using them. Still we feel that we gain from practicing Scrum, and agile development as learning-driven thinking. This is the very reason why we still keep learning more skills and practices.

Are we agile? I do not know.

If your environment is functioning and open minded, and you have master mind developers in your team, why not go full blown XP right away? We have manifested that those practices are of high value, but they are hard for beginners. We now have also hard evidence to support the effectiveness of these methos (see for example the AGILE-ITEA project, run by the same Dr. Pekka Abrahamsson btw). It may be that with this approach you find out that you need some project management practices from Scrum. Who knows.

I wrote in my original paper about agile firmware development that lot of the agile programming practices for firmware development need innovative thinking. I think last week at the ESC2007 I met some of the people capable doing this. In the front line James Grenning from Object Mentor and Mike Karlesky and Greg Williams from Atomic Object. They have put these engineering practices into full use (also) in low end firmware projects. They are also willing to share their knowledge by publishing their tools as open source, and having discussions about the methods. Maybe we even become clients of these guys some day... Furthermore during the classes and discussions I got the feeling that a fair amount of people are actually practicing.

We have just scratched the surface, but after last week I believe that it is time to put some serious effort into agile programming practices, and actual firmware development. After all that is where we started this journey. It just kind a slipped into system development.

Are we agile after adapting these practices? I do not know.