29 October 2010

Is Agile All That and a Bag of Potato Chips?

Pardon the title to this post, a reference to the Austin Powers movie series, but its a question that has been on my mind a lot recently. Unlike Craig, our resident agile master, my career has been fairly sequestered in waterfall land. Its not that I haven't liked what I've read about agile; its just that no company I've ever worked for has ever done a real agile project.

Sure, some of those companies have claimed to run an agile project or two, but when the daily scrum consists of only managers through VPs and last over an hour, I can't help but laugh at the absurdity of calling that agile. That's simply a waterfall meeting with a new name so it sounds like you're doing something new and important.

When I read an article on requirementsnetwork.com about the impacts on business analysis when moving to agile, it really struck a chord with me, especially given the project I started last week. Our VP came to a group of us: a director, a manager, a supervisor (me), an architect and a contract developer, asking us if we could set up an entire new platform and have it in use by the end of the year. It was a bit daunting at first, especially if you had seen the features list, but our response was agile, even if we didn't think about it at the time.

Putting a Plan Together

First up, we took the functionality list and broke it down by user groups. Then we determined which features would provide the most benefit to our user group. We decided to focus on two specific requirements, plus the underlying architecture, as these features would stop a decent number of calls from landing in our call center.

At this point, I, as the representative for the product owner, sat down with a few of my stakeholders to figure out exactly how these features should work. I put together a small simulation, using Serena Prototype Composer, on day two and then brought my stakeholders down on day three to review. One stakeholder really liked it and the second thought I only got it half right. Back to work on day four, making modifications to the simulation to meet everyone's needs. At the end of day four, the simulation went over to the architect and developer for creation.

Day five is where it really got interesting... they finished the UI. In one day. Now, there were no business rules behind the UI and no service had been created to do the data updates in the back end system, but all of the necessary user elements were in place. Usually after I finish a requirements document, its months if not more than a year before I ever see the first actual working application.

This left me in a weird place... the developers had finished the UI layout, yet I had no business rules or requirements finalized. I didn't even have much in the way of analysis done. The next couple of days saw me spending every moment of time not already allocated to other projects in search of rule, requirements and a UI theme.

Now, its all been turned over to the developers. If the progress thus far is any indication, we'll meet the end of the year deadline. No, we're not doing a formal daily scrum, but we are keeping in touch on a daily basis as questions arise. Its been fun. Hopefully soon I'll be able to update everyone on how the project went and if our stealth agile experience was a success or not.

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