Ten things CIOs need to know about agile

Published on the 02/07/2015 | Written by Vendor - media release

agile development cio

CIOs are under pressure to support fast-evolving digital business scenarios, but traditional project and development methods are not always suitable says Gartner…

When executed well, use of agile methods has the capability to transform IT-business relationships and have a major positive impact on IT value delivery. However, the value will be delivered only if the CIO and the entire IT management team are dedicated to the culture change that is necessary for success.

That’s according to Gartner research director Nathan Wilson. “Done well, agile development can be an integral part of the portfolio of methods that the CIO uses to deal with increasing business demand for innovation,” he said. “Done badly, agile development will create a lot more problems than it solves.”

Gartner has identified 10 guiding principles for agile development:

1. Agile is not one thing: Agile is a set of software development approaches that share a common philosophy but are sharply distinguished in the details of their implementations. They therefore tend to be adapted to different sorts of problems. Sophisticated organisations with a lot of experience may well use more than one of these approaches. Those getting started should select one and master it before attempting others.

2. Agile is not ‘pick’n mix’: Agile methods are highly systematic. Every component element is crucial to success. A common mistake is to embrace some elements of an agile methodology, such as the sprint, but to ignore or play down others, such as managing “technical debt.” Such organisations enjoy the kudos that comes from rapid development and release of new code, but they are storing up trouble by failing to address technical debt.

3. Embracing agile is a joint business-IT activity: The full benefits of agile cannot be achieved without engaging with business leaders, management and the user community.

4. With agile, walk before running: Experienced agile practitioners can tackle large-scale developments. But it takes many years to develop the necessary skills to do that.

5. Agile demands continuous learning: Agile practitioners must be committed to continuous improvement in quality and cost-effectiveness. Every development is analysed for lessons that can be used to improve policies and working practices.

6. Agile is about teams and teams of teams: The basic organisational unit of delivery in agile development is a small team, typically expressed as “seven, plus or minus two” people — both developers and quality assurance. From an HR perspective, managing agile teams involves walking a fine line between keeping productive teams together and moving individuals between teams to encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas.

7. Documenting, managing and eliminating technical debt is crucial: Technical debt is the difference between the state of a piece of software today and the state that it needs to be in tomorrow. All development creates technical debt. With agile methods, technical debt is recognised and added to the backlog rather than swept under the carpet.

8. Working with third-party service providers on agile development demands special care: While there is a role for service providers in agile, it is a very different commercial and engagement model. Since colocation with business users is axiomatic, offshoring is curtailed.

9. The agile goes beyond software development teams: Agile implies ‘continuous delivery’ of new and modified software which demands significant changes in working practices for business governance and relationship management and the infrastructure and operations teams.

10. Other methodologies still have a place: In most organisations, the application portfolio presents many development problems. Some will be suited to agile, others to incremental, iterative development and yet others to a modified waterfall model.

Wilson is speaking at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Sydney next month.

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