Welcome!

Microsoft Cloud Authors: David H Deans, Pat Romanski, Janakiram MSV, Jnan Dash, Andreas Grabner

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Linux Containers, Containers Expo Blog, Agile Computing

Microservices Expo: Article

Fanning the Flames of Agile

The brilliance of agile is that it is easy to understand

Knowledge creation is a major source of value creation. And great companies -and their employees - know that continuous learning is a key to generating knowledge, and thus value. The agile mindset, particularly in development, is gaining popularity, with credit to a suite of powerful ideas and practices commonly known as the agile methodology - defined by Wikipedia as "software development methods based on iterative and incremental development."

Agile on Paper
In February 2001, a group of 17 software developers wrote the Agile Manifesto, the Magna Carta of the agile movement. At just 68 words, it was elegant, but at that point just words on paper. Early attempts to apply it came by adapting existing techniques such as lean manufacturing (adapted from Toyota's methodologies), Crystal, Scrum and XP (Extreme Programming). Admittedly, we were still learning. Buying into "agile" signaled your ideals were more lofty than grounded. Agile supporters were revolutionary, but agile was not.

Later that year, Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle, two of the manifesto's signatories, published the watershed Agile Software Development With SCRUM. The authors noted how the Agile Manifesto could map to tangible business practices and showcased how they actually applied it. They described agile in a real-world setting, and the world hasn't been the same since. They moved SCRUM from abstract rugby imagery to concrete possibility.

We learned that agile is an approach for value generation - an approach for moving ideas from an early ideal to sustainable, real-world changes.

Most of all, we learned that agile concepts are valid.

Agile in Practice
Concepts are one thing, but successful application is quite another.

Let's look at the company where I work. SAS is the world's largest privately held software company, and we have been proponents of the agile mindset since the company's inception in 1976. SAS invests 25 percent of revenues back into R&D and regards itself as a learning company. We learn by listening; we learn by doing.

SAS first evaluated agile Scrum in 2007. Teams heard of early wins and wanted to apply agile in their own areas. Since then, SAS has formally trained thousands of personnel and invested in an infrastructure for its R&D portfolio. At SAS, agile is applied across the enterprise. It's used to manage small projects and very large projects encompassing hundreds of staff members. It's also used to bring a common approach to how SAS manages its products.

Agile is empirical - that is, we apply, learn and adapt. It is true for applying any one specific agile practice, and it is true for applying agile at scale over years. This leads to some questions: What did we learn? How did we adapt? Moreover, what cultural norms did we lean on to help garner such a strong embrace of agile and its benefits? Knowing the answers to these questions could help accelerate your own success story.

We Learned One Size Does Not Fit All
Agile books and blogs make it all sound so clean: Do A, then B, then C. Further, with so much positive press on agile development, it is tempting for any firm's executive or business controls team to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead of mandating the same approach for everyone, we fostered a grass-roots movement. Concurrently, we used a senior executive as an advocate and recruited an operational agile champion to drive the rollout. It is important for the executive team to understand and expect agile from its teams, but not from a single template.

We adapted by creating the flexible SAS Agile Framework. It includes three integral parts: setup (training and coaching), defined practices, and an agile team self-assessment survey. The framework is helping us meet demands and energize teams with the freedom to envision and realize exciting opportunities.

Agile is applied differently in R&D, Pubs, IT, Professional Services, and other divisions in SAS. Practices are configured in the best way for the teams and markets they serve.

We Learned to Nurture the Movement
Bottom line: We watched and we listened. We nurtured our cultural norm of not accepting the status quo, and to keep a skeptical eye. More specifically, we worked hard to make sure teams weren't buying in just because of the buzz. It was important that they understood the business drivers of agile, planned time for training and startup, and applied the right agile practices in the right way for their project.

Just as with every team member, every team is different. When a team member became critical of certain agile practices for a team, we listened closely.

A Journey, Not a Destination
View agile as a journey: It takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master. Teams typically invest in group training, and then a small pilot. Agile is not unlike other practices where at first it's awkward, challenging and even slightly less productive. However, as a team becomes more comfortable, you'll typically hear people say they would never go back. We're all motivated by accomplishments, and agile creates the thriving state of productivity and morale we need to achieve them.

We Adapted Our Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
SAS is like other software development firms where the existence of an overarching software development life cycle is important. At SAS, agile holds ours together. It serves as the glue between all groups and ensures that products flow along an orderly and controlled path. Five years into agile at scale, we re-evaluated the process, then made it less linear and extended it to overlap even more than it already did. We halved the lifecycle size. We reduced the number of management checkpoints and cut back the number of required artifacts. Yet because of how agile overlays the entire process, it resulted in a better way for R&D.

We Adapted by Investing in Agile Coaches
Coaching can make a big difference, and not only in sports.

A common question asked with enterprises new to agile is: Who should play the role of the Scrum master? At SAS, this role fell to our project managers. We were fortunate. Publicly held firms find this challenging because of the required mechanisms and extra control systems their project managers must handle. Although SAS is a $3 billion dollar company, we're private and can operate unencumbered.

In our journey we noticed that teams fared better when they engaged with experienced agile veterans - they got up to speed faster. We looked closer and found by internal survey data that coaching has a positive correlation on all of intended benefits of Scrum. We now have a large team of trained coaches engaged with their own teams and others as well.

We Adapted by Tirelessly Encouraging Transparency
We also applied the agile philosophy of transparency about larger project risks and mitigations to being frank and open with individual team members. This helped create healthy, self-directed work teams.

For example, our teams openly discuss the agile self-assessment surveys. Teams independently record and then jointly discuss summary and detailed data scores and write-in comments. The discussion is useful for identifying two to three action items, but even more useful for helping teams build trust and maturity.

A word of caution, however: Be careful when looking at agile metadata between teams. Teams perform at different rates, have different compositions, and come to know requirements estimates (story points) differently. Asking a team why its numbers are different from another's can threaten its freedom and inadvertently move them to game. Can we benefit from enterprisewide analysis? Yes, if we thoroughly describe to teams the intention of such an analysis and why it's being done. It helps drive corporate training and updates upper management on progress, for instance.

We Adapted by Bringing a New Meaning to the Term ‘Flexible'
At SAS, we were able to establish a different type of relationship with our product owners, development and test teams, and support teams. We moved from setting long-range targets with multiple commitments and promises to shorter-range iterative targets. Demos now occur routinely, and that in turn builds confidence with all project stakeholders.

Benefits, Compounded
Practices yield benefits. Better practices yield better benefits.

In the internal survey mentioned earlier, we noticed something profound. Teams that tended to adopt agile practices with a higher degree of maturity tended to have better results overall. Intuitively, one might suspect this to be true - and the data objectively proved it. That evidence makes it even easier for staff members at all levels to commit.

SAS is an agile company. Our customers and workforce are increasingly receptive to the large-scale implementation of agile Scrum. It's now a part of our daily fiber and undoubtedly will continue to be part of our ongoing success.

The brilliance of agile is that it is easy to understand. The danger of agile is that it is easy to understand, and can be underestimated. Be mindful of what it takes to employ it well to yield the most benefit. Engage. Find a cohort, a validation pilot, a way to connect. Most of all, enjoy the journey.

More Stories By Tim Arthur

Tim Arthur, MSMOT, PMP, CSM, draws from the experience of very small to very large private and public projects managed under various models. He’s been with SAS for 15 years. Prior to that he led mission-critical 24/7 global software systems with IBM for 17 years. As the SAS Agile Champion he’s helped train and coach over 3,000 people on teams of all sizes, worldwide.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, I provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading the...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Steve Wilkes, CTO and founder of Striim, will delve into four enterprise-scale, business-critical case studies where streaming analytics serves as the key to enabling real-time data integration and right-time insights in hybrid cloud, IoT, and fog computing environments. As part of this discussion, he will also present a demo based on its partnership with Fujitsu, highlighting their technologies in a healthcare IoT use-case. The demo showcases the tracking of patie...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Have you ever noticed how some IT people seem to lead successful, rewarding, and satisfying lives and careers, while others struggle? IT author and speaker Don Crawley uncovered the five principles that successful IT people use to build satisfying lives and careers and he shares them in this fast-paced, thought-provoking webinar. You'll learn the importance of striking a balance with technical skills and people skills, challenge your pre-existing ideas about IT customer service, and gain new in...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud enviro...
Almost two-thirds of companies either have or soon will have IoT as the backbone of their business. Though, IoT is far more complex than most firms expected with a majority of IoT projects having failed. How can you not get trapped in the pitfalls? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan, Chief IoTologist at Wipro, will introduce a holistic method of IoTification, which is the process of IoTifying the existing technology portfolios and business models to adopt and leverage IoT. He will delve in...
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his Day 2 Keynote at @ThingsExpo, Henrik Kenani Dahlgren, Portfolio Marketing Manager at Ericsson, discussed how to plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new da...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outlyer, a monitoring service for DevOps and operations teams, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outlyer is a monitoring service for DevOps and Operations teams running Cloud, SaaS, Microservices and IoT deployments. Designed for today's dynamic environments that need beyond cloud-scale monitoring, we make monitoring effortless so you...
There are 66 million network cameras capturing terabytes of data. How did factories in Japan improve physical security at the facilities and improve employee productivity? Edge Computing reduces possible kilobytes of data collected per second to only a few kilobytes of data transmitted to the public cloud every day. Data is aggregated and analyzed close to sensors so only intelligent results need to be transmitted to the cloud. Non-essential data is recycled to optimize storage.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Conference Guru has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organizers to pass great dea...
“We're a global managed hosting provider. Our core customer set is a U.S.-based customer that is looking to go global,” explained Adam Rogers, Managing Director at ANEXIA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.