Project Scaffolding: Process – Waste + Feedback = Agile

by Call me dave... 25. August 2008 08:30

Scaffolding definition within the building industry

Scaffolding is a temporary framework used to support people and material in the construction or repair of buildings and other large structures. (Wikipedia, 2008)

Scaffolding definition in software project management

Scaffolding are the semi-rigid processes and tools that surround a project that are used to support people in the construction of complex systems such as software.

Each project management methodology is optimised against a particular pain point. When the software industry was young the hardest part of software development was coding. Assembly coding errors was common so reams of upfront documentation was necessary to ensure that coding errors were minimised. Today the pain points are very different. Internet time has shortened product schedules to months instead of years. Customers are far more savvy and their expectations are far greater.

Without delving deeply into the definition of Agile I think that most people would agree that Agile methodologies are optimised to provide constant project monitoring. Unit tests quickly inform developers that code changes have broken working code. Daily stand ups, sprint retrospectives and project post-mortems all ensure that throughout the project, the team is tracking progress and that the progress is visible to external parties such as the client and management teams.

However project monitoring is only part of the Agile way and often it's more important partner feedback is forgotten. In control theory feedback is defined by a system that monitors its output and uses that information to maintain a desired state. For many years I worked for a company that built Autopilots for fishing boats. The ship's captain would dial in a set of way points into the Autopilot and the device would use GPS and other sensors to steer the boat in the correct direction. If the boat was going left or right of the desired target the Autopilot would move the rudder to minimise the error. To a far away observer the boat would appear to be moving in a straight line. However this was not the case.  The rudder would often be moving violently back and forth countering the effects of the wind and current.

Agile projects are at their best when:

  • Process is borderline regimental

    • Daily stand ups (happen even when the team lead is away)

    • Defined sprint durations and outcomes

    • Change tightly managed through the sprint/product backlog

  • Waste is minimised

    • Code that is developed gets into production

    • Development time is spent solving business problems and not creating YABF (Yet Another Bloody Framework)

    • Meetings make decisions

  • Feedback

    • Bugs, Defects, Misunderstandings are caught fast

    • Are fixed faster

    • No surprises for management and the client

    • Project can turn on a dime – features added/removed at will

Unfortunately, over the last couple of years I have seen Agile projects that have failed over and over again in the wild. The projects were humming along nicely and BANG suddenly out of the blue they were 3 months behind schedule and the reporting module which was the project's main deliverable as far as upper management were concerned had yet to be started. I've witnessed highly skilled consultants from companies that are synonymous with Agile being walked out of client sites after project after project had failed. I used to strongly argue that these teams weren't doing real Agile. Like any zealot I nodded my head and sagely predicted that if only they had done some random XP task better they wouldn't have failed or that it was due to poor staff on the project. So it wasn't really Agile's fault. If only they had done more peer programming...

In hindsight, the common problem between all of the failed projects was pretty simple. The project's had lots of alerting and monitoring systems in place such as unit tests, continuous build servers and stand ups but there was no real feedback loop. The projects were in trouble but at no time was the rudder pointed in a new direction.

So, are you on an Agile project; or is the project very good at writing unit tests?

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed