Agile methodology not just for app development

Discussions of the agile methodology are usually in the context of application development, but one analyst thinks it can also be applied to improving IT application management as a whole and helping developers collaborate better with those around them.

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In agile development, applications are built in an iterative manner, peppered with frequent stakeholder reviews to ensure the end result actually does what it is meant to do.

Julie Craig, research director with Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) Inc., said it’s time for agile methodology to move beyond the development team. All too often, an application is swiftly developed only to be put on hold for weeks before being put into production.

“Not much good to deliver applications quickly, if operations has no way to flexibly manage them,” said Craig, during a EMA Webinar entitled Agile IT: A Better Approach to Application Development, Deployment, and Management.

One aspect of agile development is to frequently touch base with all stakeholders. “What would happen if operations met with development on an ongoing basis to make sure everyone was in the loop about changes, requirements and delivery dates?” said Craig.

The result, she said, would be a seamless adaptation to change among all the different layers of the IT organization.

Mike Malloy, vice-president of sales and marketing with San Francisco-based application performance management technology vendor New Relic Inc., agreed that operations can become a “blocker” to putting finished applications into production.

Operations will often delay the process by saying it must first introduce new components to support the application like new hardware.

Malloy suggests including operations in that iterative feedback cycle. But in keeping with agile methodology, each iteration will also create a smaller release allowing for continuous integration of new features into the trunk of code so that potential problems can be tracked.

Development and operations teams are able to monitor the impact of continuous changes, said Malloy. “Are the changes that we just introduced improving or hurting the performance of our application?” he said.

It’s particularly important given current economic challenges that IT must be able to communicate within itself so that the business can keep up with the pace of change, said Craig.

Agile methodology isn’t just something put to practice in large enterprises, noted Craig. In fact, the concept has been long known even outside of IT organizations. She cited a building construction site as one such place where agile methodology has been put to good use.

Similarly, in the world of application management, agile methodology can extend to helping IT better respond to the needs of the business. Particularly when applications are deployed to the cloud, Malloy said the advantages are the ability to acquire the necessary hardware and network capacity as well as deploy and provision new hardware quickly.

If the business needs to add a new application or feature or support a new product line, the expectation is that IT will be able to respond quickly and cost-effectively, said Malloy.

A poll taken of the Webinar attendees revealed that 63 per cent view maintaining past projects as the biggest burden impacting their ability to be agile.

Malloy said the ability for a typical IT organization to be flexible is often hindered by prescribed development and testing practices, overly aggressive security policies, staff turnover, procurement and budgeting processes, and regulatory compliance.

While deploying applications to the cloud is good for management flexibility, it has yet to become commonplace for companies to put the entire development cycle in the cloud, said Craig in an e-mail to ComputerWorld Canada.

So far, the cloud is mainly used for application testing because some companies have security concerns and others just aren’t early adopters, said Craig.

“I think this will change over time, as companies like IBM increasingly offer application development platforms, such as Rational, as cloud-based services,” wrote Craig.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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