Is your development process about to be eroded?

The following quote from The Economist (Jan 3rd-9th) provides a reasonable analogy for what some development teams are experiencing as once free-flowing technology investment starts to dry up:

For the more curmudgeonly sort of older manager, the current recession is the joyful equivalent of hiding an alarm clock in a sleeping teenager's bedroom. Once again, the touchy-feely management fads that always spring up in times of plenty are being ditched in favour of more brutal command-and-control methods.

The article refers to how the relationship between old-school management and the net generation is shifting back in favour of the former's approach. While it wouldn't be correct to equate "touchy-feely" with "agile", some relationship is apparent.

I think this may ultimately be for our own good: a chance to experience how things might otherwise be done and to see whether our processes are really as perfect as we preach. Even Toyota, often cited by agile evangelists, is (understandably!) struggling, albeit far less than their american counterparts. Similarly, our software development processes will not make us immune from a downturn in business, however responsive they are to change.

As part of the interface between the business and the technology teams, architects may find themselves in an increasingly divisive position. On the one hand they may need to defend the progress (and investment) that has been made in coaching and process change. On the other, they may have to concede that lower-quality, shorter-term thinking may be required in difficult times. In either case, it would seem prudent to be proactively ensuring that your assumptions, requirements and, ultimately, the resultant process and architecture remain appropriate now that the business drivers may be shifting, if they haven't done so already.

About the author

Kevin has been working with Java for 10 years, in defence research through dot com to investment banking. Currently he works at JPMorgan developing front-office trading solutions.

While getting on well with server-side Java, Kevin's also a keen Swing developer (and possibly masochist).

E-mail : kevin.seal at codingthearchitecture.com


Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

I'm certainly seeing a strong motivation to cut costs, and one approach I'm closely involved with is replacing costly on-shore, on-site developers with managed service equivalents, with a medium term view of paying near / off-shore prices for a similar service.

The first part of this strategy is defining how the existing development team works, formalising the interactions with the stakeholders, and agreeing the desired processes behind those interactions. From this information you can estimate the required effort to provide a particular level of service, and hence price the service.

This end result of this approach is a set of working practices which goes against at least three of the four tenets of the agile manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

This is not necessarily lower-quality or shorter term, but is perhaps an example of a "more brutal command-and-control" method being introduced with the bank balance in mind.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

I'm always amazed by attempts to formalise what the current team does with a view to doing it with another team under different conditions. But then I suppose a brutal command-and-control approach sees the process and not the people as the key.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

I sort of agree with Kenneth. I have working as a Non Functinal Architect for quite some time now and I feel being Agile is definitely better. Especially when dealing with geographic disparate teams. The interactions and sprints would put us in a position to do any changes immediately,till the things are in our control. on the contrary, classic techniques would fail in this recession scenario as the changes would take jsut too long to be communicated across. It's always better to be aligned wrt the deliveries and to keep the stakeholders and bussiness aware about the developments.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

It's ironic that some companies are reacting to economic pressures by canceling initiatives aimed at reducing costs, such as agile software development. It makes one wonder whether their management understands the issues.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

I think we're now living in a much more results-driven environment than before, where stakeholders are expecting delivery regardless of their budgetary constraints and I can understand why traditional management techniques are coming back into favour. What I find interesting though is that we've just introduced agile project management techniques onto one of my projects (e.g. a Kanban board) to provide a very visual reminder of our delivery obligations and milestones. It's a very useful driving force behind the project.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

I agree with some of the other comments here. Companies may start adopting a more 'Tayloristic' command and control approach, but in our industry it's been proven time and time again not to work.

Re: Is your development process about to be eroded?

Times like these are when agile methods will shine. Working closer with stakeholders, prioritizing until it hurts, and constant testing throughout the development lifecycle leads to releasing software to end users sooner. For products, this means generating revenue faster. For internal business applications, this means realizing efficiencies sooner. Both situations result in more to an organization's bottom line - precisely what's needed in these times.

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