Amongst all the hype around agile, there is also some concern about the most appropriate agile methodology, especially in the specialized IT and software development outsourcing arenas. Frameworks like SCRUM and SAFe vie for superiority as companies seek to find the right fit for their needs.
Head of Operations at BoxUK, Rob Rees, said: “Agile is about people. Of course, there’s a place for specifications, requirements, milestones and all that stuff but if you get a bunch of people working together with different approaches to the same problem, you get a bunch of people that try to solve each other’s problems.”
He added: “They’re invested and feel a sense of ownership and shared understanding and, ultimately, what you get is a result that is generally achieved more quickly, almost always solves a real problem – sometimes even meeting all customer requirements – and a result that doesn’t come as a big surprise to the customer. There’s no ‘ta-dah’ moment.”
The variety of agile methodologies or frameworks in place can make choosing the right one for the project needs feel like pot-luck, however.
Bill Shoemaker, director at ISG, explained that the debate about Scrum versus SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) should be refocused to a discussion on how to integrate and leverage both methodologies within a product-centric software development environment since many clients and service providers use the foundational principles from the Agile Manifesto and Scrum.
Steve Hall, partner at ISG, said: “The biggest challenge with both methodologies is challenging the ‘purists’. Global delivery and agile development must work in harmony.”
Hall added that while near-shore locations mitigate some of the communication challenges introduced with agile processes, organizations must still have expertise with these processes and implement a hybrid approach that enables a flexible, agile model.
“SAFe aligns with the Agile Manifesto and Scrum values. The diagrams for SAFe are intimidating upon first review but become more digestible after further study,” Shoemaker explained. “Scrum provides a great foundation/framework for individual teams. SAFe provides a framework to harness multiple teams within the same product or value stream. SAFe helps break down the Scrum team constraints/gridlock associated with independent teams and focuses on synchronization at the product or value stream level.”
He went on to say that SAFe upholds Scrum values and principles at the program level. “SAFe takes release planning and product management to the next level of integration. ‘Products’ are now sprinting and harnessing the value of each team… this helps produce an integrated work product and functional software at the product level.”
Shoemaker explained: “Clients are moving toward more domain- and product-focused environments that leverage one or more service providers within an outsourcing relationship to provide services. SAFe can be a common foundation that helps leverage the foundational methodologies (Agile Manifesto and Scrum) to support an integrated workplace.”
Integration and synchronization among teams is a great accomplishment within an outsourcing relationship or within a client organization that maintains their own internal development shop, he added.
Felipe Brito, CI&T’s Business Director, explained: “An Agile-Lean engine is the right solution to tackle the intrinsic unpredictability of current ecosystems where new business models are created and companies are disrupting and being disrupted. For the last 20 years CI&T has been perfecting its development process using Agile and nearshore to not only ‘do things right’ but also help our customers to ‘do the right things’.”
Brito added that Scrum and Kanban are useful approaches when you have a concise team and a small group of product owners driving the solution. “But we evolved our process to be able to implement Agile in the large and we have 100-person programs running nowadays, encompassing multiple areas in large organizations, including global business units, enterprise architecture, security, legal and operations,” he said.
He went on to say that, in the Enterprise Agile world, a framework like SAFe ensures alignment, guaranteeing that the strategic vision will be implemented by the corporation. “Business and architectural epics (complex integrations, API development…) are tackled having in mind that we need to build technical runways and compliant and secure solutions, creating a fortress, not a patchwork,” he said.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Marcelo Lopez, co-founder of UruIT, a global IT services company specializing in distributed agile software development with development centers in Uruguay and Santiago di Chile, emphasized that in their business the mindset is about continuous improvement. “It’s about re-adapting the framework. For some clients, change is imperative. Business priorities change. The Scrum two-week iteration might not be enough to deal with the change. For those types of clients, Kanban might be more appropriate because it can cut down on the number of meetings, and better adapt to change.”
UruIT has an agile manager running across the company to recognize what could work for a given scenario or client. “It also depends on the maturity of the client and the business environment,” Lopez said.
“Some clients run Scrum for one year and then find that maybe Kanban is a better fit. We don’t need to stick to a given framework. We know the processes of agile very well,” he added.
While the development environment might be best suited to agile methodologies, not all areas of IT are as compatible. Francis Miers, director at Automation Consultants, said: “agile works well in development because it’s easy to change direction quickly as long as agile techniques are practised properly.”
He said that agile has left everyone wanting more flexibility and less bureaucracy, but in IT Services Management (ITSM), resilience and security still need to take priority. “If major internal changes go wrong they can do serious harm to an organization. Such changes therefore need sign off from multiple high level stakeholders. By its very nature it’s not a very agile process, but the red tape associated with ITSM is there for a reason, and while agile is popular in development it may not necessarily be suited to this IT function,” Miers said.
Miers explained that, even so, if changes could be made faster without risk to business critical operations, it would be of great benefit. “It may be that applying devops technologies more widely in an organization could be a way to increase speed of change,” he said. “You would no longer only use them for development sprints but also for ‘business as usual’ tasks – if someone requested something fairly complex, like the opening of firewall ports in order to install a new application, then devops tools could be used to streamline the process.”