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Disciplined Agilists are Enterprise Aware

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Scott Ambler
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Kashmir Birk

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Enterprise awareness is one of the key aspects of the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit.  The observation is that DAD teams work within your organization’s enterprise ecosystem, as do all other teams.  There are often existing systems currently in production and minimally your solution shouldn’t impact them.  Better yet your solution will hopefully leverage existing functionality and data available in production.   You will often have other teams working in parallel to your team, and you may wish to take advantage of a portion of what they’re doing and vice versa.  Your organization may be working towards business or technical visions which your team should contribute to.  A governance strategy exists which hopefully enhances what your team is doing.

What it Means to be Enterprise Aware

Enterprise awareness is an important aspect of self discipline because as a professional you should strive to do what’s right for your organization and not just what’s interesting for you. Teams developing in isolation may choose to build something from scratch, or use different development tools, or create different data sources, when perfectly good ones that have been successfully installed, tested, configured, and fine-tuned already exist within the organization.  Disciplined agile professionals will:

  • Work closely with enterprise professionals.  This includes working closely with enterprise technical architects and reuse engineers to leverage and enhance the existing and “to be” technical infrastructure; enterprise business architects and portfolio managers to fit into the overall business ecosystem; senior managers who should be governing the various teams appropriately; operations staff to support your organization’s overall development and operations (DevOps) efforts; data administrators to access and improve existing data sources; IT development support people to understand and follow enterprise IT guidance; and business experts who share their market insights, sales forecasts, service forecasts, and other important concerns.  In other words, DAD teams should adopt what Mark refers to as a “whole enterprise” mindset.
  • Adopt and follow enterprise guidance.  Your organization may have, or hopes to one day have, a range of standards and guidelines (guidance) that it wants delivery teams to adopt and follow.  This may include guidance for coding, user interface development, security, and data conventions to name a few.  Following common guidance increases the consistency and maintainability of your solutions, and thus your overall quality.
  • Leverage enterprise assets. There may be many enterprise assets, or at least there should be, which you can use and evolve.  DAD teams strive to work to a common infrastructure; for example, they use the enterprise-approved technologies and data sources whenever possible, and better yet they work to the “to be” vision for your infrastructure.  If your organization uses a disciplined architecture-centric approach to building enterprise software, there will be a growing library of service-based components to reuse and improve upon for the benefit of all current and future solutions.  To do this DAD teams will collaborate with enterprise professionals throughout the lifecycle and particularly during Inception during envisioning efforts.   Figure 1 summarizes the Inception phase goal Align with Enterprise Direction which summarizes the strategies you may choose to follow.  Read Disciplined Agilists Take a Goal-Driven Approach for more information on DAD’s goal-driven strategy.

Figure 1. Inception Goal: Align with Enterprise Direction.
Goal - Inception - Align With Enterprise Direction

  • Enhance your organizational ecosystem. The solution being delivered by a DAD team should minimally fit into the existing organizational ecosystem – the business processes and systems supporting them – it should better yet enhance that ecosystem.  To do this, the first step is to leverage existing enterprise assets wherever possible as described above, often working with enterprise architects to do so. In addition to the enterprise architects DAD teams will also work with operations and support staff closely throughout the lifecycle to ensure that they understand the current state and direction of the organizational ecosystem.  DAD teams will often be supported by an additional independent test team that will perform production integration testing (amongst other things) to ensure that your solution works within the target production environment which it will face at deployment time.  Furthermore, experienced DAD teams will even fix problems that they run into via proven refactoring techniques.  Figure 2 summarizes the general goal Leverage and Enhance Existing Infrastructure which summarizes strategies for how DAD teams may accomplish this.

Figure 2. General Goal: Leverage and Enhance Existing Infrastructure.
Goal - General - Leverage and Enhance Existing Infrastructure

  • Adopt a DevOps Culture. DAD teams will work with operations and support staff closely throughout the lifecycle, particularly the closer you get to releasing into production.  DevOps culture and strategies are baked right into DAD, a topic for a future blog posting.
  • Share learnings.  DAD teams are learning oriented, and one way to learn is to hear about the experiences of others.  The implication is that DAD teams must also be prepared to share their own learnings with other teams.  To do this organizations might choose to support agile discussion forums, informal presentations, training sessions delivered by senior team members, and internal conferences to name a few strategies.
  • Adopt appropriate governance strategies.  Effective governance strategies should enhance that which is being governed. An appropriate approach to governing agile delivery projects, and we suspect other types of efforts, is based on motivating and then enabling people to do what is right for your organization. What is right will of course vary, but this typically includes motivating teams to take advantage of, and to evolve, existing corporate assets following common guidelines to increase consistency, and working towards a shared vision for your organization. Appropriate governance is based on trust and collaboration. Appropriate governance strategies should enhance the ability of DAD teams to deliver business value to their stakeholders in a cost effective and timely manner.  Unfortunately many existing IT governance strategies are based on a command-and-control, bureaucratic approach which often proves ineffective in practice. The DAD book explores appropriate governance, the impact of traditional governance strategies, and how to adopt an appropriate governance strategy in detail.  The article Adopting Agile Governance Requires Discipline also provides greater insight.
  • Open and honest monitoring. Although agile approaches are based on trust, smart governance strategies are based on a “trust but verify and then guide” mindset.  An important aspect of appropriate governance is the monitoring of project teams through various means.  One strategy is for anyone interested in the current status of a DAD project team to attend their daily coordination meeting and listen in, a strategy promoted by the Scrum community.  Although it’s a great strategy we highly recommend, it unfortunately doesn’t scale very well because the senior managers responsible for governance are often busy people with many efforts to govern, not just your team.  Hence the need for more sophisticated strategies such as an “development intelligence” approach supported via automated dashboards.  More on this in a future blog posting too.

Why is Enterprise Awareness Important?

Enterprise awareness is important for several reasons.  First, you can reduce overall delivery time and cost by leveraging existing assets.  In other words, DAD teams can spent less time reinventing the wheel and more time producing real value for their stakeholders.  Second, by working closely with enterprise professionals DAD teams can get going in the right direction easily.  Third, it increases the chance that your delivery team will help to optimize the organizational whole, and not just the “solution part” that it is tasked to work on.  As the lean software development movement aptly shows this increases team effectiveness by reducing time to market.

Challenges to Enterprise Awareness

Unfortunately there are two main challenges to supporting enterprise awareness on agile teams.  First is the cultural challenge within the agile community that some “agile purists” perceive this as unecessary overhead.  Reasons for this misunderstanding include a lack of understanding of the overall enterprise picture or some agilists who have previous experiences with enterprise professionals who struggle to work in an agile manner.  This points to the second challenge that enterprise professionals often don’t understand how to work effectively with agile teams.  Sometimes this is because the agile teams they’ve been working with until now haven’t been sufficiently disciplined to work with them effectively, but more often than not it’s because they still choose to follow older, more traditional approaches to their craft (they may find my articles about Agile Enterprise Architecture, Agile Enterprise Administration, and even The Enterprise Unified Process to be illuminating).

These challenges are cultural in nature, and thus difficult to overcome.  Agilists and enterprise professionals need to respect one another and strive to learn more about what the other group is trying to accomplish.  They must strive to work with one another and thus learn from each other.  Furthermore, they must build a culture of shared commitment and responsibility to the organization.  Not only is this possible it is highly desirable.

In summary, DAD teams and more importantly DAD practitioners are enterprise aware.  They recognize that enterprise aware strategies improve their ability to provide value to their stakeholders both within the scope of a solution as well as at the organizational level.  To coin an environmental cliché: Disciplined agilists act locally and think globally.

Material for this blog posting was modified from Discplined Agile Delivery: A Practitioner’s Guide to Agile Software Delivery in the Enterprise by Scott W. Ambler and Mark Lines (IBM Press, 2012)

Posted by Scott Ambler on: January 30, 2013 02:26 PM | Permalink

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"Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the entire world."

- Albert Einstein