Agile, Lean, & DevOps Share An Enemy: Complexity

Complexity is the nemesis of application developers everywhere. While software products' complexity may be, to a great extent, unavoidable, we don't have to complicate software development to match it.

That's the conclusion driving many of the new approaches that app dev teams are embracing. For example, Agile breaks down humongous, complex projects into incremental deliverables that are far easier to scope, build, test, and deliver. Lean practices simplify processes, making it easier for teams to achieve a state of flow. DevOps advocates are trying to eliminate the needless complexities that result from throwing software over the wall from one team to the next.

But there's more to Agile, Lean, and DevOps than just a common enemy. It's no accident that practitioners often speak of this trio in practically the same breath. The Kanban board is the symbol of this convergence of practices. Here's an increasingly common use case: an Agile teams uses a Kanban board to manage work with other groups, including the DevOps team. 

The evidence for this convergence is more than just anecdotal. When we survey app dev professionals, they report that they're mixing methodologies all the time, including Agile and Waterfall. For a variety of reasons, Agile teams have made the adjustments necessary to accommodate Waterfall. Not every planning activity at the beginning of a project can be handled in a strictly Agile fashion, and not everyone involved at the end of the project (release management, operations, and business users) is necessarily sold on the idea of rapid, continuous delivery. If you work in a regulated environment, you're required to take extra steps at the beginning and end of a project.

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Agile 2011 Needed More In The Middle

Fiction writers I've met have said that the hardest section of a novel to write is not the beginning or ending but everything that happens in between. The middle chapters trace the course of the protagonist's struggle in way that must be both engaging and credible. The story of how people adopt Agile successfully also has a beginning, middle, and end. The middle part here, too, poses some of the most difficult challenges. The first chapter is a grabber, with teams energetically and fervently doing daily stand-ups, blazing through sprints, christening a product owner, prioritizing their backlogs, and living through all the other exciting events that happen at the very beginning.

And then the plot takes a different turn. Success at the small team level is fantastic, but how do you fit into a development organization? What if you need to work with an offshore team? How do you maintain velocity when builds take several hours or maybe even a full day? Is it possible to deal with compliance requirements without a significant amount of automation? How do you work better with the ops team so that the speed of deployment matches the speed of development?

Since Agile went mainstream, the number of teams reaching the difficult middle chapters of Agile adoption has increased markedly. Both I and my colleague Dave West answer questions about the middle phases every day. Many of these questions also arise during the yearly conference that the Agile Alliance holds in the US. (This year, it's in Salt Lake City to mark the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Agile Manifesto in nearby Snowbird.)

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