Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Cache oblivious" agile management follow-up

I previously said: "Your overall software development process needs to degrade gracefully. This implies that no impediment should block the development machine. The consequence then is that architecture, scrum master and HR related work need special attention!"

Let's see how we can do that!

First think about keeping the productivity has high as possible.
Then, and this is a key concept: you need to set limits! Or, put differently, it is not possible to degrade gracefully if you do not protect your organization from moving out of its competence area. Therefore the real process you want to support is "be efficient and degrade gracefully" AND "understand your limits and act on this understanding"; And that brings us to the core concept of this posting: focus your inter-team collaboration on the limits of your product development ability. This may all sound painfully inefficient, but do not worry, it is not.

The limits of an agile software process are:
  • The work culture and general agility of the team
  • The business understanding and ability to convert business concepts into a solution
  • The underlying architecture and technology choices
  • The granularity of the product
  • The knowledge and skills of each team
Within these limits, the teams have their independence. Company wide management and inter-team work focus on these limits.

A first comment to make is that these overall limits to your development process are a good thing! They are good because they define the borders of the team which shield the team "from the outside"! Without these limits the teams would be in a state of confusion. Thus a first comment is that much of the job of "upper" management is to manage these limits, and ideally to expand them. But they cannot be changed too much, as this would destabilize the teams and downgrade overall productivity. The magic of any good manager is to understand how to achieve change, and even more important when they cannot!

With these insights, the overall software development process can approached as follows:
  • Have a team oriented agile process in place. (I assume scrum for the details below).
  • Each team needs a local work culture and general agility evangelist. The overall HR effort is to help these evangelist improve the culture of their team. Inter-team work is about sharing experience and growing together. In a scrum process, I would give this role to the scrum masters; Although their ownership is formally limited to the scrum process, it makes things simple to give them this ownership too (but not necessary).
  • Each team needs a business evangilist. The overall product management effort is not only to support the continuous flow of getting business requirements understood by the teams, but to improve this process. Teams need education and clarity in business but at the "level" of the team. The product owner takes this responsibility in a scrum process. Again, the job of head product owner to challenge each product owner in improving their team's business knowledge and efficiency of picking up or working with business concept, not just focus on getting the backlog ticked off.
  • Each teams needs to know what are the rules for architecture and technology. The underlying architecture and technology choices need have their limits and therefore I strongly recommend that you have chief architect and chief technologist (if relevant). The hard part is not only to find people with the deep architecture/technology experience to pick up these roles, but also that they have the right work culture to take on these roles. These roles need to understand that there first role is not to choose solutions but limit solutions (the team chooses solutions!). Choices need to be made but these must hold over long periods with the benefit of providing clear limits to the teams.
  • Marketing, sales, product owners, and relevant team member must get together from time to time to discuss the granularity of the product. How you split your product range can strongly limit how teams can pick up their work; As it can limit your market growth and competitiveness; It often also has strong ties into architectural and technology issues too. Product granularity creates strong limits which need extra management care to tackle!
  • Knowledge and skills of each team and their members strongly limit the software development process. Tactical HR is about hiring enough knowledgeable people mixed with staff that are quick learners. Care also needs to be taken to keep up a culture of education. I have always been shocked by how many developers prefer to get drunk than to improve their skills through personal studying.
Now you may ask what has this to do with "cache oblivious" management?

Absolutely nothing! Or even worse. What I have described is pure cache optimization: keep it packed and use it wisely.

Having now spent two month to try to convince myself that there was something in back of my first post, I need now to concede that the granularity of people means that "all or nothing" is more competitive than a work process that is only about graceful degradation.

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