I’ve recently had occasion to see the same challenge pop up in a couple different settings — namely, bridging the gap between agile development and integration into an enterprise. In both of the cases I saw, development employing agile practices did a good job of producing software, but the actual release into the enterprise wasn’t addressed in sufficient detail, and problems arose – in one case, resulting in wadding up a really large-scale project after a really large investment in time, energy, and development.
Although the circumstances, scope, and impact of problems like this vary from one project to the next, all the difficulties I’ve seen hinge on one or more of these cross-cutting areas: roadmap, architecture, or testing / TDD / CI.
Of the three of these, roadmap issues are by far the most difficult and the most dangerous of the three. Creating and understanding the roadmap for your enterprise requires absolute synchronization and understanding across business and IT areas of your company, and weaknesses in either area will be exposed. Simply stated, software can’t fix a broken business, and business will struggle without high-quality software, but business and software working well together can power growth and profit for both.
Roadmap issues, in a nutshell, address the challenge of breaking waterfall delivery of enterprise software into releases small enough to reduce the risk seen in a traditional delivery model. The web is littered with stories of waterfall projects that run years over their schedule, finally failing without delivering any benefit at all. Agile practice attempts to address this risk with the concepts of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Minimum Marketable Feature (MMF), but both are frequently misunderstood, and neither, by themselves, completely address the roadmap threat.
MVP, taken at its definition, is really quite prototype-like. It’s a platform for learning about additional features and requirements by deploying the leanest possible version of a product. This tends to be easier to employ in green-field applications — especially ones with external customers — because product owners can be more willing to carve out a lean product and “throw it out there” to see what sticks. Trying to employ this in an enterprise or with a replace / rewrite / upgrade scenario is destined to fail.
Addressing the same problem from a slightly different vector, MMF attempts to define a more robust form of “good enough”, but at a feature-by-feature level. In this case, MMF describes functionality that would actually work in production to do the job needed for that feature — a concept much more viable for those typical enterprise scenarios where partial functionality just isn’t enough. Unfortunately, MMF breaks down when you compound all the functionality for each feature by all the features found in a large-scale enterprise system. Doing so really results in vaulting you right back into the huge waterfall delivery mode, with all its inherent pitfalls.
In backlog grooming and estimation, teams look for cards that are too big to fit into a sprint — these cards have to be decomposed before they can fit into an agile process. In the same way, breaking huge projects down by MVP or MMF also must occur with a consideration for how release and adoption will occur, and releasing software that nobody uses doesn’t count!
Architects and developers recognize this sticking point, because it’s the same spot we get into with really large cards. When we decompose cards, we look for places to split acceptance criteria, which won’t always work for enterprise delivery, but with the help of architecture, it may be possible to create modules that can be delivered independently. Watch for that topic coming soon.
Armed with all the techniques we can bring to bear to decompose large-scale enterprise software, breaking huge deliveries into an enterprise roadmap will let you and your organization see software delivery as a journey more than as a gigantic event. It’s this part that’s absolutely critical to have embraced by both business and IT. The same partnership you’re establishing with your Product Owners in agile teams has to scale up to the whole enterprise in order for this to work. The trust you should be building at scrum-team-scale needs to scale up to your entire enterprise. No pressure, right? Make no mistake — enterprise roadmap planning must be visible and embraced at the C-level of your enterprise in order to succeed.
Buy-in secured, a successful roadmap will exhibit a couple key traits. First, the roadmap must support and describe incremental release and adoption of software. Your architecture may need attention in order to carve out semi-independent modules that can work with one another in a loosely-coupled workflow, and you absolutely need to be able to sequence delivery of these modules in a way that lets software you’ve delivered yield real value to your customers. The second trait found in a roadmap of any size at all is that it’s nearsighted: the stuff closer to delivery will be much more clearly in-focus than the stuff further out. If you manage your roadmap in an agile spirit, you’ll find that your enterprise roadmap will also change slightly over time — this should be expected, and it’s a reflection of your enterprise taking on the characteristics of agile development.
Next up, I’ll explore some ways architecture can help break that roadmap into deliverable modules.