Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sustaining Capacity in Maturing Agile Software Teams - Part 2: Entropy

Teams that have adopted an agile approach to software development adopt new disciplines in an attempt to reach a level of productivity and effectiveness above their achievements with previous approaches or methods.

There are common practices and disciplines found on most agile teams, including:
  • Developer testing (unit testing, and possibly Test-First Programming)
  • User stories (analysis and scoping)
  • Time-boxed delivery cycles (iterations)
  • Continuous Integration
  • Automation
  • Collaborative work
  • Deep customer involvement
  • Rapid feedback
Agile teams use these skills and tools to deal effectively with the inevitable change that is part of software development.

Previously, the team may have obstructed necessary change because of an inability to use effective counter measures that accommodate the business and the team in adapting to new opportunities and new constraints.

Counter measures often produce inherent bottlenecks that point the to the need for subsequent optimizations. Bottlenecks manifest in the following ways:
  • Code mass growth. By adopting developer testing, the team has volunteered to double the amount of code and systems artifacts that it maintains. It maintains this added code without increasing the team's resources, often gradually degrading the team's capacity.
  • Design rigidity. The team uses traditional software designs that aren't optimized for the rate of change that the surrounding business and the team itself has become acclimated to.
  • Growth constraints. The pace of an agile team and the incremental successes that allows for advancement of a product drives a need to grow the team and its people. New people are brought in to naturally increase capacity, but it takes longer than expected or desired to become meaningful contributors to the effort.
These constraints are symptoms of the entropy that subsequent optimizations should address.

Without addressing the production entropy, it will ultimately constrain the business's ability to take advantage of new opportunities, which will ultimately lead to decreased throughput and entropy in the business.