Why Should Business-People Care About Continuous Integration?

Continuous integration, and for that matter, TDD, FDD, and other Agile practices and methods can be obscure to someone who hasn’t run across them before. Since some Agile approaches really relate to engineers more directly than to their managers and executives, I have been asked why business-people should care about some of them?

The question might be examined from the other side – how do things that are important to the business side relate to things happening on the technology side. Put yet another way, is the whole organization in-sync and harmonious, or is the left hand interfering with the right. Finding consistency of vision and values across disciplines within an organization can be very difficult, but there are good examples of business’ values being reflected in engineering practices.

Kaizen, for example, is an increasingly common business watch-word. It’s philosophies of waste-reduction, orderliness, and continuous improvement have radically affected Toyota’s much-vaunted production system, for example. This philosophy, and other principles have influenced Total Quality Management, Lean analysis, Six Sigma, and other value-oriented business management practices. Kaizen is often translated as meaning a continuous improvement in small increments, and in practice is almost a micro-quality-control. The idea that a single defect can bring a production line to a halt, so that the defect is caught early and fixed when it is cheap springs from this approach. (Kaizen is much more than this, and often also refers to a short high-value problem-solving session that uses related principles. Kaizen, in this context, refers to the process philosophy and the practice thereof, cf. Kaizen.)

Continuous integration is a software engineering practice that is quite similar. When combined with test-driven development, it forms a kind of Toyota-style production line scenario. Continuous integration basically means that all changes to the software are integrated with the rest of the software as soon as the developer submits the change to the central repository. At that point, or at very near intervals, the whole system is run through unit and integration tests to see that it is still healthy. If a defect arises, either through a mistaken submission, or the submission of something that breaks something else, the system alerts the developer, and possibly relevant management. The system “goes red”, as the jargon goes, and the developer rapidly fixes whatever is out-of-sync. This is quite analogous to Toyota’s “stop the production-line” approach to quality management.

Assigning power so close to the ground can be frightening to both executives and technical employees alike. This is understandable. People used to controlling everything often find it hard to delegate to the “shop floor”, and people who are used to possessing little power are often afraid to wield it once it is granted. Both the arenas of technology and business, however, have established, through volumes of evidence, that defects caught early can be orders of magnitude cheaper to fix. Toyota leapt ahead in its reputation of quality very soon after implementing such a system. Businesses that use Kaizen or other related approaches to quality management and process evaluation on the business side can see these principles at work in their software development organizations.

As with most good things – simple principles, broadly applied to specific disciplines, work to the overall benefit of the organization. They provide confidence and common vision and value across disparate specialties. Business stakeholders who make these high-level decisions can then have increased confidence that what they’re defining, marketing, and selling won’t fail them in execution in the customers’ hands.


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People are Creators – The Artist’s Way

I have just started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I found it interesting how affirming it is of the first of the Agile Axioms. The following are all quotations taken from the first couple of chapters of the book:

Through my own experience – and that of countless others that I have shared – I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature…


What you are doing is creating pathways in your consciousness through which the creative forces can operate. Once you agree to clearing these pathways, your creativity emerges. In a sense, your creativity is like your blood. Just as blood is a fact of your physical body and nothing you invented, creativity is a fact of your spiritual body and nothing that you must invent.


And few ideas are worse than the ones we have about art.


Why should we all use our creative power . . . ? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. (Brenda Ueland)


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Amplifying Your Effectiveness

At the Scrum Gathering in May, Esther Derby advised me that the AYE Conference is a great place to learn and meet other like-minded people. From the web site:

AYE is a conference that’s designed to increase your effectiveness — in leadership, coaching, managing, influencing, and working in teams.

The AYE Conference is for people who work in arenas where problem solving is a key skill — environments such as systems development, product development, quality assurance, information technology infrastructure, customer service and consulting.


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Some Comments on the Three Agile Axioms

People are Creators

When people are creating, they feel fulfillment. If a person can increase the quality, speed, quantity, or uniqueness of their creation without reducing any of those, then that person will feel increased fulfillment.

Joint creation (people creating something together) develops strong relationships among the people doing the creating. And in a very nice feedback loop, strong relationships among people empower exceptional creation.

Reality is Perceived

We can increase perceptual ability in order to understand reality more completely. In the sciences, this is done by creating tools such as telescopes. For teams, this can be done with coaching and training as well as communication tools and practices.

A team can use a common vision to align perception. Perception that is aligned can create harmonized beliefs. Harmonized beliefs allow a team to work in a united fashion.

People can choose what they perceive. For example, a person can choose the value of some work that has been created. People can also choose how they perceive change.

People disagree because they have chosen to perceive different aspects of reality.

Change is Constant

Stasis, the lack of change, is death.

Responding to change is our natural state. For example, our eye and the neurological system for sight is designed to be attracted to changes in our visual field. Our minds have the capacity to learn which is based on exposure to new experiences or ideas (and new experiences are another sort of change).


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Reporting for Accountability – Article by Geoffrey Slinker

Reporting for Accountability is a nice brief summary of project communications that can be classified as “reporting”, done in an agile environment. Although this article presumes software development projects, many of the basic ideas can be abstracted to Agile Work in general. From the article:

Abstract
Reporting and accountability are essential for business processes. Without those budgets can not be calculated, resources can not be utilized efficiently, as well as many other issues. Reporting has come to a level where one can truly do “more with less.” Daily stand-ups, end of cycle reporting, damage charts, dashboards, and burn charts accurately and concisely disseminate information.

Major topics covered: “Ten Minute Stand-Up”, “Project Planning”, “Release Planning”, “Iteration Planning”, “End of Cycle Reports / End of Iteration Reflections”, “End of Release Reflection”, “End of Project Reflection”, and “Information Radiators”.

One practice in particular is quite different: the “Ten Minute Stand-Up” simply addresses a short series of yes/no questions regarding project status.

While this meeting bears some superficial similarities to the Self-Steering Team practice, it is in reality quite different. One major difference is the lack of a mechanism for team empowerment. In the “Ten Minute Stand-Up”, members of the team are focused on answering a set of questions related to project status and risks, but there is no indication that there is any formal communication from each team member to the rest of what that team member has been doing, plans to do, etc.


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Quotation from the ScrumDevelopment Group

On scrumdevelopment, Mike Dwyer wrote:

Agile is NOT about a logic tree, or a series of causal situations that can be expressed in a state table. Agile is about the management of the anomalous and the leveraging of failure into mind bending, industry shifting, success.


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Agile Stickiness


In the book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, the author describes the idea of stickiness this way:

…the content of the message matters too. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of “stickiness.” Is the message – or the food, or the movie, or the product – memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?

What is it about agile that is its essential stickiness? What aspect or aspects of agile are both memorable and easy to act upon?

In the agile software domain, two examples of stickiness stand out. The first is the Extreme Programming (XP) methodology. The name, as well as some of the more controversial practices of XP such as pair programming and evolving design combine to be memorable and relatively easy to try out. The second example of stickiness is the Agile Software Manifesto. In this manifesto, the four values seem to resonate strongly with IT professionals and software developers… so strongly that many encounter them and then become hooked on trying to implement agile software development in their own sphere of influence.

For agile work in general, the term “agile” itself has some stickiness. The implications of speed, flexibility, responding to change, lack of bureaucracy, and skill rather than chaos are all very integral parts of the word when it is applied to a method of working.


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Agile Project Management

Sanjiv Augustine, with whom I have had the pleasure of working, has created a neat little web site about Agile Project Management, a very close relation to Agile Work. From the site:

Agile principles are also being applied very successfully to non-software development projects. In particular, the underlying values of Agile Project Management (APM) as laid out in the Declaration of Interdependence are being applied in many organizations large and small to deliver value – reductions in time to market, reduced waste; and increased efficiency, collaboration and customer satisfaction.

The main difference is the explicit role of a manager. Agile Work fits with Agile Project Management, but is more generic: any person or team can adopt and adapt Agile Work practices and principles regardless of the existence of management.


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