Monday, November 08, 2010

Reverse-Tolstoy continued - from Agile EE

In my last posting I suggested thatif Leo Tolstoy worked in a corporate IT department the opening lines of Anna Korenina might have read:

“Unhappy corporate IT departments are all alike in the same unhappy way; all happy departments are happy in their own way.”

I call it Reverse-Tolstoy (because he actually wrote the reverse, well kind of). I want to continue that rant with some other ways corporate IT departments repeatedly mess up.

Belief that process change is it
I wrote in my previous entry that corporate IT departments do not focus enough on the technical side of Agile, specifically they don’t think about code quality and technical practices. Part of this is caused by a belief that process change is the change they require. That is to say, that changing the process they use, whether that means “Agile” rather than “Waterfall”, or Scrum over ISO-9000, or Kanban over ad hoc, or what ever, well, thats the change they need.

Such a view ignores the technical side of change required. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, I don’t believe you can be Agile if you don’t address the quality issue. I also believe that the best place to start your Agile change is with the quality improvement (thats a TQM, ISO9000 or Six Sigma quality programme by the way).

No customer involvement
For these IT departments actual, paying, customers are a long long way away. This is changing a little but most of the customer they have are internal, i.e. other parts of the business. These customers have little involvement in the development of IT system. Indeed, you will frequently be told that they want minimal involvement.

The internal customers have an image that they can hand over and idea, sign a requirements document, and leave IT to get on with it. They might get involved in some acceptance testing but they don’t want to hear about it before then.

I think this view has been encouraged by corporate IT. I think IT as an industry has trained customer very well, customer now believe if they just write it down, hand it over then it will be. Kind of double-think really because most customers have also seen IT failure. However, they think its “IT failure”. The idea that they, the “customers”, might be part of the solution is strange to them.

Instead they cling to....

“Long” UAT cycles that are separate from development
UAT, User Acceptance Test, the thing that the “business side”, the people who want the software do to ensure you deliver what they originally asked for. Having thrown it over the wall, having waited, having complained the “customer” wants make sure you deliver what they asked for. So the have a user acceptance test cycle.

Unfortunately this normally comes too late in the day to make a real difference, and, real “users” don’t actually want to be involved. So you often find UAT is carried out by dedicated UAT testers who don’t actually do the customers job.

UAT ends up being just another test cycle. All too often it is where real testing takes place, by the time the software reaches UAT it is still buggy. Rather than being about seeing if the users like the software UAT is about finding bugs.

UAT is normally one of those “no go” areas when you start talking Agile. Frankly, the business doesn’t trust IT enough to believe they will deliver anything, let alone that it is of high enough quality or actually meet customer needs.

Personally, I think you can abolish UAT, but I don’t want to try until I’ve fixed the quality problems in the team and got the basics of Agile up and running. But during this time people keep waving big red UAT flags warning you not to mess with UAT.

This is another example of....

Adherence to existing processes and constraints
All the companies have existing processes in place. Many of them are simply “off limits.” You get looked at as if you are mad when you suggest they annual planning cycles aren’t Agile, or time tracking systems are pointless.

The trouble is, too many of these “off limits” areas and you end up with no change. One big off limits process is the time tracking system....

Time tracking systems - measuring inputs not outputs
Nether mind that time tracking is an act of fantasy on a par with Arthur Conan Doyle, or that it wastes a lot of people time and even more energy one thing that is never on the agenda for change is time tracking.

All these big companies seem addicted to measuring inputs rather than outputs. They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Or rather, they think they know costs but really the time tracking systems are so hopelessly inaccurate they don’t reflect what is actually happening.

Time tracking gets really dirty when resources are not visible, that is, when they are offshore. Manager worry that their teams aren’t working hard enough but my experience is the teams are working to hard and just not logging all the hours - the late nights, weekends. The offshore staff thing they are “doing whats needed.” Unfortunately when this short term fix gets ingrained into regular practice its a big problem. It is also a sign, and the cause of, a lack of trust.

SWAGs “High level estimates”
Large companies like to get early “high level” estimates, sometimes called “Seriously Wild Assed Guess”. The idea is to get a ball park number for initial planning and refine it later one.

Trouble is, they don’t. The SWAG is it. It is treated as commitment and people are expected to honour it. In the worst cases the SWAGs appear to work, but thats really because the time tracking system is such a fantasy-land.

Quick Test Pro and Quality Center
All these big messed up IT departments use Quick Test Pro and Quality Center. I’ve looked at these tools, albeit a little, and my conclusion: Emperor’s New Clothes. There is nothing there.

So why so many test groups are stuck on an old version I don’t know.

Message: Save money, throw them out, get FIT, Selenium, JUnit, etc. The best things in life are free.

I look forward to the day when writing a test script in a natural language like English is a criminal offence you can be sent to jail for. If you are going to write a test script then automate it. Precise English takes just as long to write as code. (Even then it isn’t so precise.)

Not really knowing why they are doing “Agile” - seems to be the fashion of the day
At the end of the day most of these corporate IT departments don’t actually know why they are trying to be Agile. I think if they were to really think hard the answer would be Fashion. Yes it sounds good but so did Business Process Re-egineering, ISO-9000 and offshore outsourcing.

Most of the staff inside the companies regard Agile as just the latest change programme. They know it will pass in time. Yes there are some very enthusiastic people in the company, and some highly paid consultants too but that was the case with BPR, ISO-9000, and every other change initiative.

The trick is: keep you head down, look like your going along with it and wait for the next fashion to replace this one. In other words: Don’t want to rock the boat too far.