If you can make it, do come along to this great 1 day conference to have some fun, share some thoughts and ideas and meet some interesting people 🙂 Here’s the blurb for our talk first thing (9am) in the morning:
These are not the practices you are looking for
Is your time to market quick enough for your business to respond?
Is your Programme and Project Management smoothly joined up with your agile teams?
Does everyone understand how their work contributes to business value?
Do you know what end-to-end scenarios will be delivered in the next programme release?
Come to this talk to hear how these common problems are easily solved, even in highly complex system-of-systems organizations by using the freely available “Holistic Software Development” (HSD) framework which aligns agile philosophy throughout the enterprise, at-scale engineering, architecture, strategy, portfolio and programme management. Using a novel but lightweight end-to-end scope level requirement type we iteratively drive the development of well understood Releases and customer feedback loops.
Combined with layered iterative or continuous integration and clearly understood progressive Definitions of Done we can simplify the complex resulting in a perfect join up between customers, requirements, planning, delivery teams and governance. HSD is the glue that plugs together your existing agile team practices (e.g. Scrum) with PPM practices (e.g. Prince2) and business strategy providing people focussed, lightweight guidance firmly based in evidence, experience and excellence.
And here’s the learning outcomes we’re aiming at:
- Understanding how to de-conflict agile and enterprise portfolio and programme management
- How to unify agile teams, governance, customers and executives in a simple model
- The “H-Model” of software development
- How to join up different schools of thought/processes into a cohesive way of working
- How a strong approach to understanding business value enables effective software businesses
You may detect a slight Yoda-like grammar to the title… Come or come not, there is no spoiler.
Software is increasingly important to everyone, it’s everywhere. It’s in our phones, runs our cars, our cities, our healthcare, entertainment and utilities. There are few businesses without a software element and many that are critically software dependent. What these organisations are finally beginning to understand is that the business of doing software is difficult, in fact it’s complex. It needs C-suite level direction and coverage.
Being good at software isn’t a matter of hiring the good coders, buying the right workflow management tool, using the right Configuration Management system, hiring the right management consultants or using the correct technology. These things all have a part to play but they’re supporting parts to the most important factor: culture.
Software Development is a team activity and the team is bigger than we used to think it was (a few developers, testers, direct customers, managers, analysts etc.). A good set of development practices at team level isn’t enough to be effective because software development is a business enabling activity and so it touches all parts of an organisation (development teams, hr, procurement, security, business change, legal, financial, business services, operations, support etc.).
As organisations evolve to make the maximum use of technology they are making increasingly complex software products, often through diverse technology stacks, using a variety of in-, near-, and out- sourcing partners. Delivering systems of systems across teams of teams is not simple and so organisations are now looking to embrace the importance of software, technology and ways of working to their businesses at board level.
What is a Chief Software Architect?
Whether a “Chief of Software“, a “Chief Software Officer“, a “Chief Digital Officer” or “Chief Architect” the role tends to include:
- Leading and encouraging a positive software development culture
- Where delivery of business value is the primary measure of success and decisions are based on business value
- Where failing fast is a cause for celebration not a career ending issue
- Where software is designed for users/customers needs
- Where continuous/iterative development integration and deployment are the norm
- Where teams collaborate and co-create with each other and their customers to produce the best products
- Where thinking all day to write a perfect algorithm is worth more than pushing out hundreds of lines of code quickly
- Where professionals are trusted to do their jobs properly
- Where organisational impediments to smooth software development are removed, from board level if necessary (due to Conway’s Law transformational change is often impossible without such top-level leadership)
- Providing top level architectural direction and governance (sometimes called Enterprise Architecture) that strikes the balance between directing technical decisions towards alignment but not imposing restrictive unchanging standards on development teams
- Architecture is understood cohesively at Enterprise, Solution and System levels
- Architecture exists in the form of directed (but community driven) standards, off-the-shelf mechanisms and principles
- Architecture exists primarily as executable software although appropriate weight documentation, models, examples and usage guides describe it
- Architecture provides a context for making technical decisions in normal development, makes technical decisions on commoditized platform/software/operations choices but does not constrain innovation and research (architecture has a different impact in different parts of a hybrid dynamic model)
- Architecture enables control of whole-lifecycle costs by smoothing the flow of work from innovation and research into mainstream development and support
- Ensuring that teams can use the tools they want and need to use, not those that had the best sales pitch to a non-technical board (hint: these are normally small, simple and/or open source, not those provided by large vendors) balanced by creating a cohesive community that isn’t unnecessarily fragmented by every team needing to set up different tools environments
- Tool chains take the pain out of development, testing, build and deployment – automated wherever possible
- Development environments are appropriate for actually developing, building, testing and deploying
- Ensuring, and embodying, the principles of agility, devops, and agility-at-scale at the organisational level – promoting the evolution of working practices, operating models and ways of working while avoiding endless management fads
- Building and championing the needs of the development community, attending to their needs
- Ensuring that portfolio selection takes into account technical issues, shaping it in line with architecture and in turn using business priorities to shape architectural choices
At a business level Architecture exists to guide organisations through the business, information, process and technology changes necessary to execute the organisation’s strategy. Because “architecture” has always been more than just the technology bit, it also focusses on the non-functional aspects necessary to make the technology work terming a “Chief Software Officer” an Architect is an organisation recognising that to be successful at software a holistic approach is required that combines business concerns with technical concerns.
The idea of an “Architect” role with such a broad focus is analogous to that of a structural architect concerned with buildings. Indeed in 25 BCE Vitruvius (a well known Roman writer and architect who inspired Leonardo Da Vinci, hence the Vitruvian Man ) described an architect as:
The ideal architect should be a man of letters, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent of philosophy, acquainted with music, not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.
Virtuvius is famous for stating that architecture must be solid, useful, beautiful (De architectura). The same three qualities relate to software architecture. Architecture is a fine balance between a subtle science and an exact art – as such it is the magic sauce that turns a technology strategy into business benefits.
If your business is reliant on technology and/or software and you don’t have a Chief Architecture, you should promote/get one before you become technically irrelevant, encumbered by lumbering traditional delivery approaches based on manufacturing and negative development cultures.
It’s time for businesses to recognise the important of software, and architecture, before they’re outmanoeuvred by those who have.
For more on Architecture see:
- An overview of architectural purpose and concerns, including detail on different levels and approaches: Holistic Architecture
- Architectural Profiling
- Agile Architecture
- What makes “good” software architecture or design
- Intentional vs. Emergent Architecture
- How to write a good strategy
- Hybrid Dynamic Model
Agile contracts are tricky. In fact Software Development contracts are tricky. Software development is a non-deterministic creative endeavour, you’d be better off trying to nail down the acceptance criteria for one of Michelangelo‘s sculptures than a typical software project. Software is complex.
A few years ago I was involved in putting together a contract model called “Weighted Fixed Price” and recently it occurred to me that I’ve never blogged about it, so I’ve dragged myself away from the source to do so.
What’s wrong with the normal models?
So, fixed price is bad because it only works when you can really accurately define the requirements, acceptance criteria and the potential risk exposure is tiny. Otherwise you get schedule and cost over-runs, formal change control etc. etc. Of course supplier’s always build in their risk buffer into the fixed price so it tends to cost a little more than honest T&M would. Software work is rarely this predictable which is why there are so many high profile failures.
Time and Materials is bad because it’s hard to manage across commercial boundaries and customers can feel that they’re paying for nothing, endlessly. Even defining waypoints is difficult due to changes in requirements and over time. Unscrupulous suppliers could just sit back taking the money, delivering as little as possible to avoid gross negligence but nothing more. Scrupulous suppliers could be working hard but hit by the many and varied risks arising from such complexity and yet perceived by their customers as the unscrupulous.
Of course there’s variations like Capped T&M, Phased Fixed, Phased Capped T&M etc. but they all start getting a bit complicated and hard to manage, not to mention open to gaming.
Then there’s models like pay-per-point and other “incentive” schemes that raise over-complication, missing the point and gamability to an art form. Just say “no”.
The real incentive to suppliers to do a good job is follow on work. That means that as a customer you need your suppliers to be in a competitive market, being locked in to individual suppliers leads to captive market behaviours.
Weighted Fixed Price?
In an attempt to put something in the middle between Fixed Price for low risk exposure and T&M/internal for high exposure I put together “Weighted Fixed Price”. The idea here is to to basically use a Fixed Price model but have suppliers weighted by previous performance affecting whether they get the business or not.
So if a supplier 1 delivers 10% late on Project A then when we’re looking to place Project B for 500k and we’re looking at each supplier’s estimates then we’ll add 10% to supplier 1’s estimate. That means all over things being equal we’ll choose the other supplier’s who typically come in closest to, or even under, their previous estimates. Weighting is transparent to each supplier but not across suppliers.
This provides the following pressures:
- Suppliers don’t want to underestimate, they’ll come in over their initial estimates and adversely affect their weighting and therefore their chance for follow on work
- Suppliers don’t want to overestimate to artificially lower their weighting or build in risk buffers, they won’t get the work because they’ll cost too much
- Suppliers don’t want to take on complex, high risk work because they can’t predict the effect on their weighting (more below)
Out-sourcing doesn’t transfer risks to suppliers, because the customer is still the one needing the business benefit and paying for it, especially when things go wrong. The Weighted Fixed Price model is intended to genuinely transfer the complexity risk to suppliers, if they’re willing to take it.
What happens when the supplier finishes early?
They deliver early, watch their weighting affect their potential for winning future work increase massively and enjoy their fixed price money meaning that they’ve increased their profit margin on this job.
What happens when they deliver late?
They deliver late, their weighting increases and they’re less likely to win against other suppliers next time. However, if they could predict that they’re going to deliver late early in the project then they could renegotiate with the customer in light of what everyone’s learned about the work.
What happens when suppliers don’t want to bid for work because it’s too risky/complex?
Excellent, this means that they’re honestly telling us that the work is too risky to predict. This means we shouldn’t be out-sourcing it in the first place, time to stand up an internal team or supplement with some time-hire contracts if we need extra capacity.
The Weighted Fixed Price model is an evidence based contract model can be used in competitive supplier markets for reasonably well understood work with low risk exposure. It incentivises suppliers to estimate accurately and deliver to their estimates as that affects their opportunities for follow on work. It incentives customers not to out-source overly complex risky work.
It’s not perfect because we’re still trying to contractually define how a sculpture should make us feel but it’s something you can add to the mix of contract models you use.
I’ve been thinking about architecture a lot recently but one thing that I often discuss but have never blogged about for some odd reason is intentional vs. emergent software architecture. Some old fashioned software methods such as waterfall led people into doing a lot of up front architecture work, they analysed and designed away for ages producing huge reams of UML and documentation that no one could ever squeeze into their heads if they had the patience to read it. This is an example of an intentional architecture – the architecture was intended, planned and deliberate.
Lots of folks hated that way of doing things as it meant people were writing docs and drawing diagrams instead of making working software, not to mention an all to frequent tendency to over-engineer architecture past the point of usefulness. This led to some people saying that we’re better off not trying to do any architecture and just letting it emerge from the work we do developing small little customer focused requirements (like user stories or similar). Ok, so there’d be some rework along the way as we encounter a deeper understanding of the system and refactor our emergent architecture but it’d still be better than the old way of doing large upfront architecture.
So, there seem to be two opposed viewpoints: intentional architecture is best, emergent architecture is best.
For me, neither is true. I’ve seen some really terrible examples of badly over-engineered architectures that crippled a project and projects that never got past their over-reaching architectural analysis. Equally I’ve seen products with emergent architecture that had to be entirely re-architected as time went pay because their emergent architecture was so wrong it was comical (imagine a software management tool that only supports a single project, and that concept being deeply embedded in the architecture).
There’s a scale with intentional architecture on one side and emergent architecture on the other.
Various factors might push us one way or another… The second I listed on the right is interesting as if you’ve got a well known technology and problem domain you can get away with emergent architecture, but similarly if you have a totally unknown technology and problem domain it can be very effective to evolve towards a solution and architecture rather than crystal ball gaze by creating a (probably wrong) intentional architecture.
Which rather sums up the point I’m trying to make. The purpose of architecture is to shape the solution and address technical risks. Solving the big problems, creating common ways of doing something (lightweight architectural mechanisms) are all good architectural goals but only if we’re sure of the solution. If we’re not we’re better off evolving an emergent architecture, at least initially.
I think that the extremes at either end of the scale, as with most extremes, are a bad idea at best and impossible at worst. If you gather a group of people together and tell them to create a web app given a backlog but they’re not allowed to think or communicate about the architecture up front then you’ll find they all start dividing the problem in different ways and writing in different languages for different server and client frameworks. Hardly a good idea. Of course on the other end of the scale, believing that we can foresee all of the technical issues, all of the technology and requirements changes that might happen is as likely as a 12 month project plan Gantt chart being correct after a few levels of cumulative error margin have been combined.
For more on architecture see:
I’m not a big fan of metrics, measures, charts, reporting and data collection. I’m not terribly impressed by dashboards with 20 little graphs on showing loads of detailed information. When I’m involved in projects I want to know 3 simple things:
- How quick are we doing stuff?
- Are we on track or not?
- Is the stuff good enough quality?
There can be some deep science behind the answers to those questions but at the surface that’s all I want to see.
Organisations need to know that teams are delivering quality products at the right pace to fit the business need. To achieve this goal teams need to be able to demonstrate that their product is of sufficient quality and that they can commit to delivering the required scope within the business time scales. If the project goal may not be achieved then the business or the team need to change something (such as scope, resources or time scales). This feedback mechanism and the open transparent communication of this knowledge is key to the success of agile delivery.
The goal of delivering quality products at the right pace can be measured in many complex ways however, when designing the Project Forum agile at scale practice we looked at just 3 measures. In fact I should probably call them 2.5 measures as the throughput/release burnup can be considered mutually exclusive (if you’re continuous flow or iterative). The most important measure is people’s opinions when you go and talk to your team.
Note: in the measures section I often refer to “requirements” as a simple number, this could be a count, a normalised count, magnitude, points, etc. it doesn’t matter what’s used so long as it’s consistent.