An Agile/XP Transition Continues to Thrive
Industry:Life Science & Clinical Research
You are a market leader, but your competitive edge is razor-thin. You are quantitative experts, but the next big area of growth is qualitative analysis. You must innovate to stay in the game.
Software is the key differentiator. Although it's feature-rich, your software is known to have defects and your teams regularly miss deadlines. You haven't had time to focus on usability problems and your competition is highlighting this in their own advertising. But you are still the market leader.
Fast-forward 10 years: With help from Industrial Logic, all software groups now practice Agile/XP, including cross-functional team members (marketing, testers, usability, coders). The changes have stuck, and software isn't a problem...it's the solution.
As the Product Development Director for software delivery, Ken Delcol had a fundamental problem. His software team was struggling to deliver in a repeatable fashion. They had some success; however, it came with great effort. In addition, the company suffered a bad reputation for its software usability, installation, and bugginess. Ken was looking for a way to overcome these issues quickly to implement a very important project.
He met Jim Highsmith who discussed the discipline of software development with Agile/XP. Ken realized Agile is not about technology, it’s about culture and challenging the barriers that exist in your own organization. He liked what Jim said, in particular demonstrating fully-tested software every two weeks.
Ken knew he had to try something different. He met with the Cutter Consortium, a strategic IT research and advisory firm, and was referred to Industrial Logic as well as an independent consultant to establish metrics and measure the before and after. Together with Jim Highsmith, Joshua Kerievsky and team began a wonderful working relationship with Ken and MDS Sciex.
Ken and his team initially wanted a Testing & Refactoring Workshop. The feedback was extremely positive, so a second class was scheduled. But Joshua discovered that managers were not letting developers implement what they learned. More needed to be done to initiate change, in particular getting full management support. An initial assessment highlighted the following challenges:
- Ken’s team was practicing unsafe software development - risky, feature-rich, traditional waterfall process.
- The workspace had a very closed environment with cubicles everywhere, impeding interaction and communication among team members.
- There was no automated testing and lots of time spent on manual testing.
- The software team and product struggled with usability and a bad reputation, and didn’t integrate usability into the software design as it wasn't part of their culture.
- The team didn’t do constant releases and demonstrations of the software's ability, thinking they had to build the full architecture first.
Industrial Logic laid out a plan for a full Agile/XP transition. The initial project involved a 6-8 month plan:
- Start with an assessment, chartering and release planning for 3-4 days.
- Tear down the cubicles and build an open space with commons and caves.
- Deliver team-based training with everyone working together in their new open space, followed by 12 weeks of coaching (pair and tag-team).
- Learn how to do mini-iterations of 1-2 hours and build something really small.
- Use Behavior-Driven Development, FIT (Framework for Integrated Test), Continuous Integration. Iteration and Project Retrospectives.
- Include a cross-functional team with a marketing manager, usability expert and tech writer.
- Create a safety zone (non-threatening environment) to successfully spread Agile/XP across the company.
Ken wanted hard data to confirm the culture change and pair programming was working. He hired Michael Mah of QSM Associates to measure four essential metrics of the project: timeline (end-to-end), team size (to calculate effort), size of backlog (number of requirements delivered), and defects found and fixed. The data would then be compared to the industry average based on lines of code, coming from Michael's database of over 12,000 companies.
At the end of the day, not all features are that important. Agile/XP forces you to make choices. If an organization is willing to embrace that, the benefits are astounding.Ken Delcol
Results / Benefits
Industrial Logic helped MDS Sciex become excellent at delivering software safely, on-time and within budget, with the right functionality for their customers. And the skills the team acquired almost a decade ago have stuck. Today, the software delivered by AB Sciex (formerly MDS Sciex) is a major reason the company is the global leader in mass spectrometers.
Safe Code: As Ken’s boss said, “The only truth is the code.” The team learned to only develop code where you need to develop code. Refactoring helped to ensure that their software can and will support changes in the future.
Michael Mah analyzed data from 2 projects done in the current method, followed up by three projects with the new Agile/XP method. The graph shows the astounding results. Defects were reduced by a whopping 75%.
“By listening to guidance from Industrial Logic, mission critical software applications similar to what MDS Sciex develops can anticipate reducing defects in their software by a factor of 4.”Michael Mah
Safe Requirements: Working together with the technical marketing representative, tech writer, and usability people helped to build a product that delivered what the customer wanted. People learned how to write good stories, how to write good FIT tests, how to do test-driven development and how to do evolutionary design. And demonstration of the software to users avoided late surprises.
Safe Process: Big “Ah hah”: They learned to build the architecture and requirements along the way. At each iteration, they could deliver the next set of requirements that were two iterations later. The team gave demos every two weeks, allowing them 2-3 options to solve a problem and discover which one was the best for the customer.
Safe Environment: Creating an open office space and introducing pair programming allowed people the environment they needed to work together. They had permission to fail and an escape hatch if the experiment didn’t work. The team learned chartering and had a clear idea of the vision and mission of their work.
The teams did so well that Industrial Logic was asked to help with a third project involving legacy code for their flagship product. The results increased the safety of the code, finances, employee retention, and customer happiness.
The project’s only focus was automated testing, refactoring, and fixing bugs for months - no new features were introduced, and the team practiced continuous integration. Pair programming was a key factor, helping a group of depressed programmers feel safer and more in control of the process.
When the product finally shipped, Ken and team received letters from customers thanking them for the most stable product they had in years. By focusing on the reliability and safety of the software, they were able to delight their customers who realized they didn’t need new features. Stability rocked.
If you are delivering software for demonstration every week or every other week, you've got to know what you are doing.Ken Delcol
Reasons for Success
Why did the transition in software methodology stick at MDS Sciex, and in fact, is thriving?
- There was strong management support to implement Agile/XP across groups, with a clear mandate of, “This is what we are going to do now.”
- Ken Delcol was known as a very strong director who could get things done.
- Fear of failure was eliminated by the way Industrial Logic wrote the contract: After 3 months, MDS Sciex could cancel the rest of training/coaching if they didn't experience significant improvement.
- Chartering helped the team focus and understand the vision and mission.
- Industrial Logic helped to clearly define roles by pairing usability and marketing together with software teams.
- The combination of a new open environment, training and coaching helped boost the confidence of the team to continue safe software development after the coaches left.
- The cross-functional teams involved were no more than 15 people, including a program manager, marketing manager, usability expert and tech writer, along with 6-8 software programmers and 4 testers.
Global Market Share Leadership Award
By the end of the project, the team was feeling very comfortable and confident with the new process, and hoped they would do the same on the next. Teams using the old software method spoke up and wanted to learn, too. Soon, the entire software team converted to Agile/XP.
The teams at AB Sciex today continue to practice the safe software development techniques learned a decade ago, and continue to delight their customers. In fact, AB Sciex is ranked #1 globally and continues to release breakthrough technology. They received the Global Market Share Leadership Award in 2013 for innovation and continuous improvement.
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