agile, top down

In Agile, Top Down Ron Jeffries has written a compelling article describing how he would introduce agile methods into an organisation, starting from the top.

“There’s a recent thread on the Scrum list about how an executive or highly-placed manager could get Agile going. I’ve been one of those guys, and I know a bit about Agile, and here’s how I’d proceed. First, focus management attention on cyclic delivery of running tested software. Second, provide the resources to learn how to do that.”

Ron’s advice centres on measuring the development department by running tested software – that is, by measuring throughput. I very much like Ron’s advice and approach. But I do see some hurdles…

First, if you’re in a position to dictate that the only measure is throughput, that’s great. But if you’re not, the experience of the TOC and Lean guys is that you’re going to have a really hard time convincing the bean counters – and other senior management, for that matter – that throughput is the right measure. Common sense notwithstanding, this is a cost-accounting world. The only saving grace here is that most software development organisations are too chaotic to count anything, so they likely won’t be already counting the wrong things. (An obvious exception being those departments that are or have been in the grip of Accenture-like consulting practices. But then we’re not likely to try introducing agile top down in one of those places, I guess.)

And second, I would expect that the department’s throughput of software will initially (first three to four months) dip until the running and tested parts of the equation are working effectively. Because testing everything, and fixing all of the defects before they go out the door, costs. The investment will eventually be repaid many times over in terms of predictability, trust and speed, but it is an investment nonetheless.

I still think Ron has it right – just don’t expect an easy time of it for the first few months.

Update, 1 aug 05
Discussion with Jason (in the comments on this post) leads me to understand that the choice of metric is critical. In the article, Ron was explicitly and implicitly referring to his own metric, running tested features.

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4 thoughts on “agile, top down

  1. Ron’s article was specifically assuming that you were doing this as an executive or highly-placed manager. I would agree that coming from a different place, the advice would be different.

    I’m also skeptical about the 3-4 months drop of throughput. Ron’s saying measure RTS and then focus on improving that. Just doing the measurement wouldn’t affect RTS. All that does is tell you what it is. If we’re really saying the other stuff isn’t a valid measure of throughput and they drop…

    The changes to improve the RTS might cause a temporary dip but 3-4 months seems a bit long.

  2. I guess you’re right, 3-4 months is a long time. I was thinking of the kind of shop that is already working in iterations, but just not doing testing and stuff. So they’re churning out crap at a really fast rate. Adopting TDD, pairing and the others will slow them down, possibly until the new practices start affecting the incoming defect rate – ie. until customers have started using the new stuff in anger. Only then will they recover the time invested in quality practices, it seems to me…

  3. The important thing to note is that “crap” does not contribute to throughput. The Goal had a reference to this when the main character asked about dropping testing.

  4. Ah! So it’s the tested of “running tested features” that is the key. If it ain’t tested, it doesn’t ship. Or if it does, it doesn’t count to throughput. Cool.

    And by further implication, I guess that any untested part of a feature must disqualify that whole feature. Nice.

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