What agile software vendors are missing: Forrester

One challenge facing large agile development shops is keeping track of what individual teams are doing, and allocating developers, testers and other resources across an array of projects.


Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said he’s observed organizations that run multiple concurrent agile development projects having difficulty applying a management process around all that.


“Teams may have a really good idea what they’re working on with their whiteboards and their glass walls with posted notes on it, but it’s really hard to bring the CIO down to see that when he asks what’s going on,” said Hammond.


Hammond is the co-author of a new report released early May about the state of vendor offerings in the agile management software space entitled The Forrester Wave: Agile Development Management Tools Q2 2010.


Basically, agile development tools demonstrate their true value only when they support the practices that teams are engaged in, said Hammond. Development teams typically use burn-up or burn-down charts to map progress against planned milestones, but if agile development tools don’t support that out-of-the-box, Hammond said the full value of the tool will not be realized.


“If it doesn’t (support that), we see teams reverting back to whiteboards and putting up their tasks on the whiteboard,” said Hammond.


The Forrester report lists IBM Corp. and MKS Inc. as having the best feature set among the available offerings on the agile development market. The ideal capabilities in a feature set, according to the report, include integration with other tools and IDEs, reporting capabilities, a flexible process, electronic signatures for an audit trail, and authentication and access to ensure developers are restricted to certain projects and not others.


Hammond said those features that tend to be found missing by developers include out-of-the-box reports, advanced estimation techniques, and wire framing capabilities for fast graphical design. “There is still certainly room for improvement,” said Hammond.


Vendor tools are starting to catch up to where developers are, but they’ve been slow to get there because of vested interests in other more formal development processes that existed before agile became popular, said Hammond.


Weston, Flo.-based Ultimate Software Group Inc. is an agile development shop with about 200 developers divided into 24 teams tasked with building human resources and payroll software. Chief technology officer Adam Rogers agreed that configurability and flexibility are essential in agile development software because most if not all development teams use a modification of Scrum.


“You have to have a really, really flexible tool to account for the whole lifecycle,” said Rogers. The development methodology at Ultimate Software initially began with Scrum but has since morphed into other flavours of programming.


Moreover, each development team at Ultimate Software tracks their progress differently, making it tricky to get a consistent view across projects, said Rogers.


Regarding capabilities generally deemed to be lacking among agile tools, Rogers agreed that reporting capabilities used to be one such headache for the company. “We definitely struggled initially in getting data how we wanted,” he said. They had to pull data into a data warehouse from which reports could then be built.


But interestingly, Rogers said that although the tools they use have good capabilities for charting progress, developers still prefer the physical white board. “Most of our teams actually have the physical boards. They make their changes and someone then scribes those changes into the tool so we can report on them,” said Rogers.


Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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