Scott Ambler on Agile

scottamblerScott Ambler talking in Cape Town. For free! One of the Agile thought leaders, now working at IBM Rational. Also a notorious Scrum maligner. I had to go. If only to be equipped to do damage control. So I pitched up with as open a mind as any Scrum Coach and Trainer could…

After coffee and muffins, nearly 200 people filled the small Sports Science auditorium. Scott gave a discursive and entertaining three-hour talk that spanned a number of threads. His blunt style evoked laughter as the audience identified with many of his observations. Here are some of the things I heard him say – I think.

Myths and Facts

  • Software development is an art rather than science with people rather than technology at its core.
  • IT organisations all over the world are messed up in more-or-less the same ways; all making the same mistakes, due to all basing their way of working on the same set of false premises.
  • They discover a problem, put a band-aid over it, discover another problem, fit another band aid and so on. Nothing actually gets fixed.
  • Traditional project management is based on lying, and stakeholders know this.
  • Earned value management is another lie – there is no value until the software is delivered. It is just not the right metric.
  • The US has a $600 billion data quality problem. And it’s not getting smaller.
  • We (IT) are not professionals – we don’t get respect from anybody.
  • Most organisations choose to fail – it’s more comfortable to fail in familiar ways than to succeed in unfamiliar ways.
  • Project retrospectives don’t work – the lessons ‘learned’ are not put into practice, because the project has ended and there is no longer motivation to do so.
  • Doing things against natural human behaviour will always fail.
  • Every hand-off is a risk and a point at which defects are introduced.
  • Media richness theory tells us that the best way to communicate is face-to-face and the worst is via written documents.
  • Change management is a euphemism for change prevention and is unethical.
  • Logged defects older than a year are waste and should be deleted.
  • The most valuable artefact to Agile developers is working software; the least valuable is Gantt charts.
  • There is no statistical difference between the success of projects in organisations who implement the CMMI and those who don’t, whether Agile or not. There is a significant difference in success between Agile and not.
  • Collocated Agile teams report a 79% project success rate compared with 73% who are “near located” and only 55% who are “far located” (requires air travel).
  • Collocation results in increased job satisfaction.
  • Near location often needs only a “decorating decision” to save 6% and payback is achieved in one week!
  • Regarding distributed teams: (1) don’t; (2) observe Conway’s Law – distribute in relation to your architecture; and (3) use appropriate tools and techniques.
  • Most distributed development is based on a lack of trust.
  • Beware of off-shoring: if you’re failing now to manage your own people locally, there is no chance you will succeed in managing people off-shore.
  • Fire the evil bastards who hang art on the wall in your IT department! Fill all walls with white boards or whote board wallpaper.
  • A repeatable process in software development is nonsense. In every instance there will be changes for scaling, distribution, domain, people, …
  • The bureaucrats are out of control…and so are the HR people!
  • You can change your organisation [fix it] or you can change your organisation [move to another]!
  • Lean (“optimise the whole”) helps explain why Agile works
  • Two-thirds of software features built are rarely or never used (Standish report) – so don’t build them! The product backlog addresses the risk of building the wrong things.
  • Business wants estimates in order to manage financial risk. Agile makes this unnecessary – we only have to fund one iteration (at a time).
  • The iron triangle – one of scope, schedule and cost has to be variable; if you fix all three vertices, quality becomes the undesired variable.
  • Traditional development is gambling! We need to remind management that they got burned in the past and there is (now) a better way.
  • Fixed price work is unethical. As wannabe professionals we need to stand up to the bureaucratic treadmill.
  • Every developer should attend a two-day “introduction to usability” course. And an “introduction to security” course.
  • There are simple ways to refactor databases – to learn how, buy Scott’s book!

Call to Action

Scott made a clear call to action amongst IT and business managers in organisations:

  1. Start experimenting with Agile. This is the easiest decision in decades for management to make! There is a very big upside with very little downside.
  2. Train your people.
  3. Get some help (coaching).

Despite his sniping at Scrum, I was pleasantly surprised at the sense he made. And I hope local organisations heed his call – my phone should ring off the hook on Monday…

Read other blog posts written by: Peter Hundermark