Agile Methods

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Across North America, businesses in all sectors are adopting standard development methodologies to turn out a higher quality of goods and services. The tried and true approaches that have yielded such great results for competitors are heralded as best practices. But here is the sad news: no one methodology fits all. In fact, different methodologies are appropriate in fitting diverse projects. Some projects are so unique, future-thinking Business Analysts (BAs) are finding that the adoption of new hybrid concepts is the only smart way to go in problem solving tomorrow’s projects.

The word ‘fresh’ describes that feeling of turning over a new leaf when January 1 rolls around each year – and the sentiment we as individuals strive to maintain all year long when we set New Year’s resolutions. Much in the same vein as these annual goals, BAs seeking an innovative means by which they can see their requirements come to fruition are increasingly interested in the study of the existing methods that are in place within the industry, as well as fresh methods established through modeling and fusion.

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The real world is a complex place, resulting in complex requirements for any system that has to work there. This is true regardless of development paradigm. Although "agile in the small" methodologies such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) have done much to show us how to improve our approach, too many people have thrown out the requirements management baby with the bureaucracy bathwater after putting too much faith in the overly simplistic strategies of those processes. Luckily, with a bit of discipline, it is straightforward to address the inherent challenges of complex requirements in an agile manner without resorting to the documentation-heavy practices favored by the traditional community.

The Scrum method has popularized the idea of managing requirements as a stack of small, functional chunks, captured in a prioritized stack called a "product backlog". The idea is that at the beginning of each iteration/sprint, you pull an iteration's worth of work off the top of the stack. If only it were that easy. Although Scrum has helped us to get away from the onerous change prevention strategies (oops, I mean change management strategies) of traditional methods, it has blinded a generation of developers to the inherent complexities and nuances of understanding and implementing requirements.

Author: Scott Ambler

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Study after study has shown poor requirements management is the leading cause of failure for traditional software development teams. When it comes to requirements, agile software developers typically focus on functional ones that describe something of value to end users—a screen, report, feature, or business rule. Most often these functional requirements are captured in the form of user stories, although use cases or usage scenarios are also common, and more advanced teams will iteratively capture the details as customer acceptance tests. Over the years, agilists have developed many strategies for dealing with functional requirements effectively, likely one of the factors leading to the higher success rates enjoyed by agile teams. Disciplined agile teams go even further, realizing that there is far more to requirements than just this, that we also need to consider nonfunctional requirements and constraints.

Nonfunctional requirements (NFRs), also known as "technical requirements" or "quality of service" (QoS) requirements, focus on aspects that typically cross-cut functional requirements. Common NFRs include accuracy, availability, concurrency, consumability (a superset of usability), environmental/green concerns, internationalization, operations issues, performance, regulatory concerns, reliability, security, serviceability, support, and timeliness.

A constraint defines a restriction on your solution, such as being required to store all corporate data in DB2 per your enterprise architecture, or only being allowed to use open source software (OSS), which conforms to a certain level of OSS license. Constraints can often impact your technical choices by restricting specific aspects of your architecture, defining suggested opportunities for reuse, and even architectural customization points. Although many developers will bridle at this, the reality is that constraints often make things much easier for your team because some technical decisions have already been made for you. I like to think of it like this—agilists will have the courage to make tomorrow's decisions tomorrow, disciplined agilists have the humility to respect yesterday's decisions as well.

Although agile teams have pretty much figured out how to effectively address functional requirements, most are still struggling with NFRs and constraints.

Author: Scott Ambler

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Whether you’ve never heard of Agile or you just finished your nth Agile project, you need to understand that Agile is here to stay! Are you, the Business Analyst, an extinct species in this new world? Is your career changing? Do you need new skills?

Agile guru and visionary Scott Ambler talked with Adrian Marchis, ModernAnalyst.com's Publishing Editor, and shared his vision on what’s next for Agile and his thoughts on the role of the business analyst in the Agile world.

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Change seems to be a popular word in this pivotal election year. When I think about change, I recognize that it impacts each of us in many forms. One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced as a Business Analyst was the transition from working requirements in a traditional project lifecycle to an Agile methodology. The change was introduced to my project team as a management directive with management support.

Our project was an enterprise initiative funded as a multi-year program. The program was comprised of three parallel workstreams with shared releases. Our workstream’s objective was to build out data and data services for the other workstreams and the enterprise to use. The team was made up of experienced Information Technology (IT) professionals and a brand new business unit. We were halfway through the program’s duration when our workstream was called upon to employ Agile methods. The other two workstreams we serviced stayed with traditional waterfall software development, which presented challenges interfacing with each other. The entire program had already completed a Business Architecture phase that outlined the program’s objectives, future state vision, and capability implementation plan.

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As an analyst practitioner I took it upon myself to act as a proxy for the product owner – which in a corporate environment came with the challenges of multiple stakeholders, the fact that you are not the product owner and thus don't really have the final say, and a number of other challenges that typically stump people trying to move to agile.

My circumstances were unique in some ways. I had worked in the organisation for some time and had established good relationships with all the key stakeholders. They really did trust me with their requirements because, over time, I had learnt (and shown I had earned) their business.

I also maintained high bandwidth communications with the stakeholders throughout the project and kept them informed of what was happening and how the system was shaping up in the context of their business needs. And expectations were managed.

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The ultimate management sin is to waste people’s time, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister told us in their famous book Peopleware [1]. This includes having pointless meetings that prevent people from actually doing anything useful. Nevertheless, some meetings are considered a necessary evil and therefore the so-called “agile movement” in software development has come up with an efficient way of dealing with this: the Stand-up Meeting in 15 Minutes. For those who have just woken up from ten years of hibernation, or having emerged from a cave that had no Internet access, I will explain this briefly.

A stand-up meeting is a daily meeting where people remain standing up to keep the duration of the meeting under 15 minutes. Teams use these meetings to answer three simple questions..

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"As I discussed my May article for Modern Analyst, there's a lot of hype about the role of requirements in agile projects. Many people think you don’t “do” requirements on an agile project. Hogwash. Indeed, agile projects use requirements—but just enough requirements at just the right time."

In this article Ellen covers a number of agile requirements topics including:

  • Agile requirements need to be understood in context of the product, release, and iteration
  • Balancing Business and Technical Value
  • The Product Workshop
  • Release Workshops
  • Iteration Workshops
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The latest progression in software development methods is the agile approach. Its growing popularity proves how effective it is. But two extreme—and even dangerous—views have arisen about agile development. One is that you don’t do requirements at all when you’re working on an agile project. The other is that you don’t need good requirements practices.

In truth, agile development processes are based on good practices. Most of them are not new but are being reconfigured, along with good product development, engineering, and project management practices. In my work with agile teams, I’ve noticed a number of key practices

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Ideally, an agile document is just barely good enough, or just barely sufficient, for the situation at hand. Documentation is an important part of agile software development projects, but unlike traditionalists who often see documentation as a risk reduction strategy, agilists typically see documentation as a strategy which increases overall project risk and therefore strive to be as efficient as possible when it comes to documentation. Agilists write documentation when that's the best way to achieve the relevant goals, but there often proves to be better ways to achieve those goals than writing static documentation. This article summarizes common "best practices" which agilists have adopted with respect to documentation.

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Agile software development teams embrace change, accepting the idea that requirements will evolve throughout a project. Agilists understand that because requirements evolve over time that any early investment in detailed documentation will only be wasted. Instead agilists will do just enough initial requirements envisioning to identify their projec...
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To be honest, I'm not very enamored with the term "best practice". I believe that the term "contextual practice" makes far more sense because what is a "best practice" in some situations proves to be a "worst practice" in others. Having said that, people are interested in best practices so here they are when it comes to agile requirements modeling:...
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Many traditional project teams run into trouble when they try to define all of the requirements up front, often the result of a misguided idea that developers will actually read and follow what the requirements document contains. The reality is that the requirements document is usually insufficient, regardless of how much effort goes into it, the r...
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This article, actually a compilation of three articles, provides proven advice for applying agile strategies on IBM® Rational® Unified Process®, or RUP®, teams. The articles are written by Mark Lines, Joshua Barnes, and Julian Holmes respectively, co-founders of Unified Process Mentors (www.upmentors.com). These three have mentored literally thousa...
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First, I'm a project focused software developer, team lead, designer, architect, jack of all trades, who has been on projects that have used various methodologies over the years, including of late some agile projects. I'm not a big blog reader, or a big blogger, but like most people I have an opinion on things, and for some reason that opinio...
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