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HP Software's community for IT leaders // May 2013

Do Agile your way

Maybe you’ve heard that there’s only one right way to do Agile, and there is: the way that’s right for your business. HP business consultant Shamim Ahmed tells you how to find it.
Agile was never supposed to be a strict set of rules. But it may not even be a continuum. At most large organizations, Agile exists in multiple forms—sometimes not even related to technology. We spoke with Shamim Ahmed, CTO for Apps for HP Software Professional Services, to understand how real-world Agile implementations often differ from theoretical Agile, and why that’s a good thing.

Shamim Ahmed
Ahmed specializes in transforming the entire application management lifecycle, with two decades’ experience in development and large-scale application architecture. His enthusiasm for innovation is such that he holds two patents himself. With that background, we asked him what he sees when he works hands-on with customers’ Agile (or not) development processes.

Q: How is the theoretical implementation of Agile often different from the real world?

Shamim Ahmed: When we talk to our customers, one thing we find is everybody’s got their own interpretation of what Agile means. So one group might consider themselves agile but they’re not really doing Agile, but another is doing something they don’t call Agile but it’s probably closer to Agile than they think. No one is perfectly 100 percent textbook Agile. They’ve got projects that are still being executed the old way, and they’ve got smaller projects that are being executed in Agile. It’s a mix-up of all kinds of things going on, particularly for large enterprise customers.

Q: Do you encourage them to keep that flexible interpretation of Agile?

SA: Yes, because “pure Agile” doesn’t work for everybody. It works great for ISVs, but for big corporations that don’t deliver software, these are IT organizations whose focus is not so much to be purist Agile or purist waterfall. Their focus is how to get their business’s products and services out to their customers. So these customers have to be more flexible in terms of how they adopt a newfangled process in technology.

Q: But it seems flexibility is a fine line. You want flexibility at the organizational level, but not so much flexibility that you have five or six interpretations of Agile in one organization.

SA: True. You’re going to have to have what we call the minimum set of processes and integrations that are enforced: something that is low overhead with the Agile teams, but at the same time provides enough control and command for senior management to get an overall view of where things are and put things in perspective. For example, being able to do cross-project analysis and cross-business-unit health checks. That’s relatively difficult if you don’t have the minimal level of standardization across the enterprise.

Q: Given that implementing Agile is a big investment, how do organizations that aren’t pure software companies know whether they should?

SA: For many of our customers, Agile is more about business agility than software development agility. That’s where I think Agility makes a greater impact—from the business side of things. For example, let’s just say a customer wants to make business decisions around whether to do this or that, strategically. Think about how large organizations work: They have committees. They have to do analysis—so many different perspectives and views and analysis paralysis. And by the time a decision is made, the market opportunity is lost. It’s from the business perspective that our customers are beginning to see a lot of value from Agile principles.

Q: How does mobility affect the way companies are approaching Agile?

SA: Unlike a classic application that takes months to build and months to productize, you can put a mobile app out there and have thousands of customers immediately providing you feedback, and that feedback can make or break the app. You can see how users rate your applications, and the feedback loop is instantaneous. So the focus on quality has got to be very, very high. There is no room for error, and if your app doesn’t measure up, the users will let you know, and they will abandon you.
With classic Agile, you have the two-week sprint from release cycle to handoff. In the mobile world, the sprint is sometimes a week or less, with multiple code drops per day, instead of one. This has forced our customers to think about how to do this right in a competitive business environment. So I think mobile is a great place to apply Agile principles, and to learn to create extreme Agile environments.
Shamim Ahmed is CTO for Apps for HP Professional Services. For more on adapting Agile to the needs of your organization, read Forrester Research’s  “Agile Software Development and the Factors that Drive Success" (reg. req'd).


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