“Agile” has been a buzzword in organizations of late. Use of Agile methodologies results in continuous engagement of end users in the development process. Organization development processes are tailored to make them focused on accommodating change. Agile processes work well for both development teams and business sponsors. To make Agile appealing to organizations, possible benefits have to be articulated well. This would act as an incentive for business sponsors to consider Agile. This is of immense help especially at the beginning when organizations are in a dilemma about the use of Agile methodologies. Buy in from business sponsors is critical as it results in continuous involvement of stakeholders and also helps to get the right product owners involved during the development process.
Approach to define Agile benefits for software development project:
The benefits from Agile could be seen on multiple parameters of a software development project.
To understand which parameter would appeal to a business sponsor, pre-work is needed to assess current performance of software development process. The performance should be understood in terms of Speed of delivery of scope, schedule adherence, cycle time, cost, quality of product and number of post-production issues. In addition to understanding current performance, some thought should also be given to the return on investment for a particular parameter. For example, an organization might be struggling with the issue of late delivery of products and cycle time could be a priority to bring in optimum return on investment.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In an adaptive or agile life cycle, the sponsor & customer reps should be continuously engaged with the project to provide feedback on deliverables as they are created and to ensure that the product backlog reflects their current needs.</p>— Joelle A Godfrey (@jgodfrey) <a href="https://twitter.com/jgodfrey/status/946718515838545922?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 29, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Above tweet from Joelle stresses the fact that sponsor should be continuously engaged with project and provide feedback on deliverables.
Table 1 represents the probable ask from business sponsor and the parameter to be picked up for improvement.
Table 1 – Relationship between business sponsor ask and improvement parameter
Based on feedback from business sponsor, a specific parameter could be the focus of improvement for Agile method implementation.
Figure 1 shows the role of a Project Office and its contribution as a bridge between Development team and Business community.
Figure 1 – Project Office (PO) as a bridge
I have taken a case study of an organization with issue of quality for delivered Information Technology (IT) system with a high number of issues after production rollout. This impacted the ability of users of the system to carry out their day-to-day business functions. Figure 1 indicates the number of issues for that system post implementation in production. The data is shown as week over week number after implementation of the newly developed system in production.
Figure 2 – Post-implementation issues after production rollout
As can be seen from figure 2, the number of issues post implementation were high. It took almost 10 weeks to get the number of issues under control. A high number of issues also resulted in IT teams continuously working on fixing issues. Business users were unable to use the system effectively because of constant flow of issues for multiple weeks.
For the newly developed system continuous post-production issues also resulted in lack of interest on part of the users to promote the usage. This did not help change management and migration to the new system. Users tended to get disillusioned by the new system and did not want to invest time in learning its functioning and features.
In summary, high volume of post-implementation issues resulted in failure of newly built system to gain traction with business users.
For this case study, a deep dive was performed to understand the issues related to post-implementation defects. Following were identified as root causes:
- Lack of understanding of business analysts for actual user needs
- Lack of participation of business users in reviews for requirement sign off
- Lack of participation of business users in initial testing of new features
- Lack of usability testing of newly developed features
- Lack of phase-wise development for features, development of all features completed and then only business users were involved for testing
- Compressed timeline for testing resulting in less focus on performance and operability testing
Armed with the above analysis, a discussion was scheduled with the business sponsor. Questions were asked about the priority for the organization. This would enable to focus on the right return on investment parameter for use of Agile practice. In the long run, the usage of Agile methodologies would have positive influence on multiple parameters. However, to begin with, specific parameters should be focused to get benefits with respect to most pressing issue.
Business sponsor mentioned that he would like to focus on quality of product to reduce post-implementation issues and improve ease of use of new features, to begin with. The focus should be on these parameters.
An analysis of post-production defects was done. The analysis pointed to a high number of defects for some specific features involving multiple paths to accomplish same business functionality. This needed discussions with business users to make sure they are aware of how the business functions are to be used and how a standard training package could be developed for a larger community of business users.
With respect to usability of the product, special attention needed to be given to a set of test cases pertaining to usability. Assessment of usability of the product had to be carried out as a part of usability testing. Feedback from business users had to be incorporated during development and testing.
In the case organization, Agile scrum was chosen as Agile methodologies to be used for implementation of upcoming product. The team was trained in the usage of Scrum methodology. Appropriate roles were assigned to the identified team members. The team took time to get started as it was a new process. Specific areas identified during the discussion with business sponsor were kept as priority areas of improvement and Agile sprint plans were made in line with specific outcomes in mind. Each sprint took up development of a business feature. Business users could get an early preview of what is coming up in the new product. They provided feedback about specific changes and usability of the product. These feedbacks and suggestions were incorporated in upcoming sprints. Constant communication and interaction with business users helped to create an environment of teamwork and trust. Business users also helped to create a training plan for the product for rolling out to larger organization and community of business users. After complete development and thorough testing the product was released to production. There were very few issues in post-production. The comparison of post-production issues is shown below.
Figure 3 – Comparison of post-production issues before and after Agile implementation
As seen from Fig. 3, there were very few issues after Agile was implemented. The feedback from business users for usability was incorporated while testing was in progress. Business users also contributed to the training plan for a wider organization rollout. All this was possible because discussions with business sponsor helped to identify critical pain points, allowed mitigation actions and stated possible benefits from Agile implementation.
This case study showed that gathering feedback from business sponsor helps to identify priority areas of improvement when Agile is being implemented for the first time. Based on feedback from business sponsor, appropriate benefits could be identified and expected outcomes defined, keeping in mind the critical pain areas.
- Early discussion with business sponsor contributed to the understanding of critical pain points
- Mitigation actions and focus areas were identified
- Possible benefits after Agile implantation were stated
- Agile implementation was successful with perceived benefits being realized