Monday, June 15, 2015

Agile Development: The Need For Scrum

Over the last two decades the internet has become ubiquitous in our lives. The speed of our internet connections and performance of our computers have increased several orders of magnitude. These changes have had a cascading effect on the software industry. Software used to be run on hardware to expensive for the average person (or even company) to purchase and maintain. Bandwidth limitations required software to be distributed via a high cost and immutable media like the compact disk. As hardware prices decreased and the bandwidth and speed of our connections increased it became easier to distribute software over the web or even run it entirely in the browser using a combination of HTML, JavaScript and CSS. 

As software became easier to distribute our ability to innovate and provide our customers with fixes and new features became paramount to the success of a software product. The birth of the mobile computing industry with devices powerful enough to run both native and web based software intensified our need to respond to the ever changing needs of our customers.

One of the side affects of software distribution evolving has been that our processes, originally created to manage change over a long period of time, became inflexible and costly in a world where change was frequent. The software industry was plagued with process that couldn't keep up with the rapid multi-platform change the industry was going through.

This inflexibility in the software development process gave birth to the Agile movement. Agile recognized that responding to the changing needs of our customers has become as important or more important than following a long term plan. Collaboration on product requirements needed to take precedence over processes or tools. Agile understood that rather than formalizing requirements and managing those requirements as they flowed downstream that it needed to embrace iterative development and distribution to keep up with the ever changing needs of it's customers.

Agile understood that the cost of downstream change in a rigid process is greater than identifying the change upstream and pivoting earlier. In order to manage this change agile embraced the concept of Scrum. In traditional software development information flowed downstream from product to development, development to test, test to operations, and operations to the customer. If a change was needed it required a renegotiation of requirements and schedule due to the fact that any change restarted the process at the beginning.

Scrum increases the speed and flexibility of software development by bringing product, development, test and operations together into a cross-functional team responsible for adapting to change. Instead of requirements flowing downstream in a rigid process, requirements are collaborated on with product and test. Requirements are turned into features which are developed iteratively. At the end of each iteration the next set of requirements is defined. These requirements can build upon a previous iteration or completely change the direction of the software. Each iteration is time-boxed in order to allow for greater speed and flexibility in change.

Over the next few weeks I'll go in-depth into the different pieces of Agile Scrum with the goal of providing you a framework by which you can apply agile as part of your development process.

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