It’s Not That Simple..

In a recent post, Tim Ottinger & Jeff Langr gets to the inevitable snap-back point for all agilistas; “KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE TOOLS!” (I’m paraphrasing).

I understand the sentiment, but it’s not that simple.

In cases such as ours, we have heavy regulation, we have auditors, we have distributed employees all over the world.  Heck, it’s hard to find a US-based team that isn’t distributed.  I work from home myself, as do something like 18,000 of my co-workers.

We need tools.  Not one, but several to accommodate different technology platforms.  We need to have a centralized repository of stories and reports, like burn charts, velocity reports, test coverage, etc.  We need all those IDEs and refactoring add-ins and Group Chat clients and virtual pairing stations.  All that stuff.

I get the argument from some of the agile practitioners in our organization, “Look, open source projects have governance and distributed team members and all they use is e-mail and maybe Excel.”

Yes they do.

The key differentiator is that an open source team (even a foundation) is governing only one product, or one suite of products, not thousands or tens of thousands of applications.  Did I mention we have something like 100,000 technology staff?  I’m guessing we have 20-30 thousand developers.  Manage a portfolio like that with e-mail and Excel. 

Good luck.

There is no way that we can afford to send auditors to each team room wherever it might be; it’s just not realistic.  If we’re lucky (and sometimes, we are) we can get the whole project team together for initial story workshops and release planning.  The rest of the time it’s conference calls and LiveMeeting.

So, yeah, if you are working in a small company with a small team, or even a large company with a small suite of custom applications and a few teams of developers, use a whiteboard and a bunch of index cards.  It’s way more fun; I’d do it again in a second..

Reality for me and my co-workers is that we don’t have the luxury of that style of intimacy.

It’s just not that simple..


1 thought on “It’s Not That Simple..

  1. Thanks for the response to our blog post. Tim and I both did some time (3 years for me) at a company wanting to be agile; it sounds very similar to yours, although we didn’t have the “audit” requirement. (For comparison purposes, just so you don’t think we’re coming only from a small company mentality: I worked with hundreds of project teams and thousands of developers across several continents; some of the apps had the the highest transaction volumes in the world.)

    My contention is that a lot of the things that the heavyweight agile tools provide normally need not be visible to other project teams. Why in the world an executive needs to see code coverage is beyond me, for example (and every exec I’ve encountered who has insisted on the data has tried to do nefarious things with that information).

    If you have such requirements, then my sympathies go out to you, but I believe the majority of teams out there do make choices that they don’t have to.

    You’re right, it’s not always that simple, but most of the time it can be.

    I could surmise a couple recommendations for such a company:
    1. Grab from agile what useful elements you can, but recognize that your company’s reality goes against the grain of the underlying principles/values of agile. I don’t care about claiming whether or not we are “Agile” (with a capital A), but I do know that most of the practices we employ are based on these principles and values. They don’t work nearly as well in other circumstances.
    2. Find a better tool. I think they (e.g. Rally and VersionOne) try to be everything and thus frustrating to all. Within a working team, you don’t need much more than we recommend. Above that, there has to be a better way to share project information (aside from the audit requirement, and I’m happy to not work in an environment where auditors dictate how can work).

    Best regards,

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