Finding the right tool for the agile job
December 14, 2011 —
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Related Search Term(s): agile, agile tools
Choosing an agile methodology? That’s easy. Scaling across a large enterprise? That’s hard, and a real challenge for the most seasoned Scrum Master or agile team.
In speaking with several project managers, Scrum Masters and tool providers, it seems that the key to successful agile adoption is to change the corporate culture. The goal: getting everyone on board. The message (often): Failure is necessary in order to ultimately succeed. The necessity: the right agile tools for the job.
“Tools shouldn’t be there as a hammer; they’re there to help from a visibility and accessibility point-of-view,” said Robert Holler, CEO of VersionOne.
Anders Wallgren, CEO of Electric Cloud, said that while tools won’t necessarily make you agile, the lack of tools could hinder the adoption process.
Alan Bustamante, senior agile consultant at Seapine, recommended watching how other teams in your company, and perhaps in other companies, have adopted agile, and then taking some of your methods from them. He advised, however, against mimicking them completely.
“There is no 'one' process across the board. Teams develop different tools with different processes,” Bustamante said.
Richard Cheng and Fadi Stephan, managing consultants at Excella Consulting, recommended keeping tools as light as possible when starting out.
“It is hard to learn a new tool and a new process, and teams want to be sure that they don’t let the tool mold the process,” Cheng said, adding that teams should be the ones driving the adoption of the tool instead of having it imposed upon them in a top-down approach.
“Once you buy a tool, you’re stuck with it for the time being,” said Victor Szalvay, senior director of ScrumWorks engineering at CollabNet. He added that it is important to evolve your process before picking the tool so that you can decide how customizable your tool needs to be.
Patric Palm, CEO of Hansoft, believed customization should be left to the development team, so team members can decide what exactly they need from the tools.
Bustamante said it is important to recognize that there are high-tech, high-touch tools as well as low-tech, high-touch tools, and that both can be beneficial to the adoption and development process. High-tech, high-touch tools include digital tools specifically built for agile methodologies, and low-tech, high-touch tools include more tangible tools: whiteboards, sticky notes and Web conferencing.
Web conferencing in the early adoption of agile was often a sufficient way to help teams that may be located in the same building but not on the same floor, although Todd Olson, vice president of products at Rally Software, said that isn’t the way to do it anymore.
Web conferencing won’t work for large companies, mainly because you can’t have someone checking a camera that points at a whiteboard all day long, Olson said. He noted that teams have more feedback channels than ever before and that they should embrace tools that give them access to social media channels.
Philip Black, COO of Emergn, also believes that software tools for agile management are absolutely essential to some organizations. “Global enterprise clients always have complex environments. Tools are fundamentally needed,” he said, adding that he believed the process should be defined before the tools are fully adopted within an enterprise.
Distributed teams most commonly look to high-tech tools in order to deliver their software due to the nature of how they work: Some of them work in different offices, different time zones and, sometimes, on different parts of the project simultaneously.
“Traditional agile gurus say you need to be in the same location, but now that’s just not possible," said Andy Singleton, CEO and founder of Assembla. "There are many more distributed teams, and in that situation, you need to have the workload be more visible."
Having access to automated reports is one of the factors driving tool adoption, according to Alex Perec, senior product manager at TechExcel. “Agile processes traditionally don’t [call for tools], but people are realizing that having access to all the reports is great, especially with larger teams,” he said.
Outsourcing is another area where tools are needed, according to Hansoft's Palm. He said that distributed teams need tools in order to stay on top of one another’s progress, but when they’re manufacturing hardware and software, or have software with outsourced components, it’s also important to manage those parts of the development cycle.
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