Simple and flexible process architecture for complex software development structures

May 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

The three principle entities in any software development structure are, releases products and teams. I have seen a wide range of permutations and combinations, from very straightforward to quite complex. A simple and flexible process architecture is outlined below, to deal with range of such situations.

Product is the central entity. Any software system worth its salt is not a single homogeneous product, but actually a product suite which contains multiple product lines. Each of these product lines have their individual backlogs to work from, and hence each can be considered as a separate project for the purpose of this discussion.

On one side, each project needs one or more teams to do the actual work and take the project to its next stable state. Currently I am dealing with an interesting situation, not uncommon these days, where most of the teams are specialized in their own area, while few others are generic cross-functional teams.

On the other side, stories from multiple projects need to be complete before a given release. So this is a many-to-many situation on both sides of a project. If we are able to come with a simple process architecture for this complex situation, hopefully it can be equally applicable to situations that involve one-to-many or even one-to-one relationships. Key to this solution lies in making the main three entities loosely coupled.

We are using agile approach for software development. Hence it needs a shift in the way we look at Scrum Kanban and Lean. Rather than treating them as independent methodologies, we are looking at them as just tools which we can use in combination as needed. Something like when we have a hammer spanner and Screw driver, we use a hammer to hit something in, and then tighten with a screw driver while holding it with a spanner. Once we are clear about the specific benefits & limitations of each tool, we use them just in the right way.

Each project has its own backlog, and the epics and stories are defined at the project level. Agile provides us a way to achieve incremental stability through sprints. The teams work on these user stories to complete the sprints. Releases depend on timely completion of these stories, which is managed through sprints. Scrum works for the projects. Team doesn’t need its own sprints. It can easily pull only the relevant stories from multiple projects on a single Kanban board. In the same way, each release manager can design his own Kanban board which at a single place shows him all the relevant information.

Stories have their own lifecycle, which may extend on each side of a sprint. We need a way for the teams to visualize their current work status as well as progress, for the entire span of their involvement. Each team may have different span depending on the functional compositional of their team. For example, architects may be involved primarily in the grooming activity, product owner & business analysts in grooming certification and acceptance, while the developers (including testers) primarily in the development and certification stage. Being able to visualize their work would help not only in having everybody interested on the same page, but would also provide early warning signals on the risks developing.

The holistic view, focus on customer value, and constant attention to avoiding waste provided by Lean fits well into this picture.

Since we are not using Scrum kanban or Lean alone by itself, there will be interesting challenges that will surface and so will have to be handled. More to follow; stay tuned.

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